Yesterday, Bates College disappointed many students and alumni that have been pushing the campus to live up to its “green” image. President Clayton Spencer released a public letter to the community stating that Bates would not be divesting from the fossil fuel industry.
The letter begins by explaining that Bates understands the urgency of climate change and that Bates has been a “leader in environmentally sustainable practices.” President Spencer then cites the meetings that have occurred between the Bates Energy Action Movement (BEAM) and the administration. However, she wrote that section as if BEAM is an isolated group of students that are pushing for divestment. She did not mention the 500+ petitions signed by Bates students that we hand-delivered to her office calling for transparency within the endowment, or the 73 petitions signed by Bates alumni asking for divestment.
The last blog post we wrote was filled with hope, and yet somehow we have landed here. Throughout all of our meetings with the administration, it was made clear that the board of trustees would vote on this issue during an in-person meeting. However, it is unknown if that ever happened. In an email, President Spencer told us that this was a decision she made with the trustees. BEAM is shocked by the sudden lack of transparency in this process, particularly after we worked so closely with the administration.
During our past meetings with the trustees and President Spencer, we provided many articles that prove that divestment would not lead to losing money or increased risk. In President Spencer’s letter, there is no indication that they have read any of the sources we provided.
President Spencer writes, “...the transition would result in significant transaction costs, a long-term decrease in the endowment’s performance, an increase in the endowment’s risk profile, and thus a loss in annual operating income for the college.” Where is her evidence? What types of research and analysis did she and her advisers use to arrive at this conclusion?
In the spirit of MLK day, we want to push back on Bates’ claim that the endowment should not be used for political purposes. In his letter from Birmingham Jail, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. writes, “We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.”
There are tensions that exist in this world regarding climate change. As MLK said, Bates cannot be free of political tension. We can either choose to be passive and allow the fossil fuel industry to destroy our world, or we can choose to divest and be on the side of climate justice, on the side of our grandchildrens’ future.
The fossil fuel industry is radically changing our world. The concept of divesting our endowment from this industry is not radical. Extracting fossil fuels ruins communities and poisons water; burning fossil fuels releases toxic chemicals and climate-disrupting carbon pollution into the air, putting children’s health at risk. The fossil fuel industry is radical.
If divesting from fossil fuel companies is considered to be political, isn’t investing also political? By investing in dirty energy companies, are we not endorsing their behaviors and encouraging them to grow?
President Clayton Spencer thought that she could end the conversation on divestment with her four-page letter. She is sorely wrong. BEAM will be taking up her offer to meet with her to discuss this decision. But even more than that, the 300+ campuses all around the United States will continue this fight against the fossil fuel industry through divestment, and we are prepared to continue fighting alongside them.
As we strive to make our campus community a leader in the larger movement to stop climate change, we appreciate President Clayton Spencer’s willingness to have an open discussion with the students who will feel the greatest impacts of a changing climate.