Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 9
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Divestment Should Be More than Just Symbolic

This column was contributed by Martha Sebald ’14

This past weekend, a few dozen students and student representatives crowded into Reid Campus Center for an informational hearing to help ASWC determine whether or not it will support divestment: an important conversation indeed. Here I would like to bring up an issue that was not fully addressed at the hearing.

Divestment needs to be more than making a motion and putting up a fight. Campaign leaders see physical divestment as not directly affecting fossil fuel companies, but rather as getting the issue out there and arguing that the first step towards a fossil-fuel-free campus is a divested endowment. Unfortunately, while divestment tends to focus on advocating for a movement to curb tendencies and affect our consumption of oil, we often see activism as an alternative to individual adjustment. It’s wrong to eschew our responsibilities to consumption and the environment by demanding that they change, without being willing to change ourselves.

Oil companies only supply oil because we demand it. Even as divestment campaigns demonstrate that we don’t support their practices, we do support their products. Transportation to and from Whitman was brought up at the hearing. Costs and consequences of transportation are huge, and the airplanes, cars and trains we take to fun and informative cultural seminars, conferences and study abroad trips don’t run on solar power. It’s important to recognize that our actions directly affect oil companies via demand. Our continued consumption and economic support only reinforces their influence and our hypocrisy.

We should focus on adjusting our own consumption rather than asking more of the Earth or for fossil fuel companies to adjust it for us. Proving to companies and communities that we can run a college without fossil fuels would be incredible and important. The divestment campaign has made it clear that divesting does not directly affect oil companies; surely there are more effective ways to both make a political statement and reduce fossil fuel demand.

Instead of making a purely political motion, the divestment campaign should focus on divesting locally. There are many important ways we could affect the demand for oil and gas within our own community, and energies currently going towards the divestment campaign could be redirected into pre-existing projects the CCC has, and new projects specifically divesting from campus.

Whitman already does its students and faculty a good service by not selling bottled water on campus, composting and supporting organic gardens and research. But to say we are maximizing our sustainable and green potential would be a mistake. Some students have suggested that the school invest in aquaponics in the future. Energies should be used for projects like this and other initiatives that reduce fossil fuel consumption on a local level, a statement in itself.

Divestment is an important campaign to pay attention to, of course, but eventually energies and resources should shift to efforts on a more tangible level. We can’t politely ask that everyone around us change, oil companies included, if we can’t take the first step and change ourselves.

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