Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 5
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Letter from Divestment Movement to Whitman Board of Trustees

This letter was authored by members of the Divest Whitman organization in response to the Whitman College Board of Trustees’ decision to not divest the college’s investments from fossil fuel companies. 


Dear Ladies and Gentlemen of the Whitman College Board of Trustees:

Thank you for your thoughtful response to the divestment campaign and ASWC Resolution SRS13.3. We were especially glad to hear you praise the creation of “an environment that fosters this critical thinking and discussion.” This is, after all, what a liberal arts college ought to foster. Therefore, we ask that this discussion not end with your rejection of the resolution’s demands but continue through the months ahead. Let this letter be just the next piece of an ongoing and constructive dialogue.

We would like now to respond to several points raised in your statement. First of all, we are glad that you share our understanding of the scope of climate change. The precipitous rise of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is the greatest threat humanity currently faces. Preventing calamitous environmental upheaval by reducing carbon emissions will require unprecedented effort, cooperation and sacrifice by all members of our society.

Unfortunately, we are not yet all united in this struggle. Fossil fuel companies have an acute interest in ensuring that carbon emissions continue unabated. These companies have spent billions of dollars acquiring vast carbon reserves with the expectation that they will be able to sell these fuels far into the future. Any reduction in global carbon emissions will be a direct hit to their bottom line. Recognizing this, they have funded an immense lobbying effort over recent years to distribute misinformation about climate change and block action to address it. Thus, while we might currently need these companies to “heat our buildings, power our electronics and fuel our transportation,” we must still oppose them wherever we can. In so doing, we are not protesting just the use of energy but rather the grip fossil fuel companies have on our energy system. If we stand idly by, they will ensure that we never transition to sustainable energy sources.

This opposition must advance in two directions. First, we must reduce our emissions on both a personal and an institutional level. You are right to laud the college for success on this front. The college’s achievements in creating a more sustainable campus make us proud to be Whitman students. But this is not enough. Small-scale reductions in carbon use cannot counter the fossil fuel industry’s sustained campaign to keep our society as a whole carbon-driven. This is where divestment comes in.

Divestment erodes the current perception of public support for fossil fuel companies and urges them to halt their obstructive action while calling attention to the gravity of the climate crisis. As you have stated, divestment would not be easy for the college. However, this difficulty is precisely what gives the act value. Were it not a pain to divest, divestment would not be able to make the statement it does make. Divestment demonstrates that a respected institution of higher learning cares enough about the future of its community to put a portion of its endowment on the line to change things. This sends a powerful message to the companies and politicians currently reclining on the investments and consent of America’s intellectual elite.

However, we also believe that there are ways to mitigate the financial risks of divestment. The committee requested by the ASWC resolution would be able to explore how this could be done at a depth the Board of Trustees as a whole cannot. This committee could also consider how the college might reinvest the freed capital in the renewable energy sector. Specifically, the college could expand its investments in wind and solar real assets or invest in environmentally-oriented mutual funds. While divestment would have a negligible monetary impact on fossil fuel companies, the impact of reinvesting those funds in the much smaller renewable energy sector is quite significant. We hope that you will continue to consider creating this committee. For doing so would merely allow divestment to get consideration commensurate to the size of the crisis it would counter. That is hardly an unreasonable request.

Thank you again for your response. We very much hope that this discussion and critical engagement can continue. After all, at stake is not only the future of the Whitman community, but the future of our entire planet.


The Students of Divest Whitman

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