In reply to the recent “Every Carl for Carleton” campaign, set to raise the college’s endowment to over $1 billion, alumni are enhancing pressure for the administration and board of trustees to divest from fossil fuels. The response campaign, “Every Carl for Divest,” intends to highlight Carleton’s moral ideals that the capital campaign advertises, the greater financial possibility of divestment with a larger endowment, and alumni involvement within the divest movement.
With an increasing number of colleges divesting from fossil fuels each year, the pressure has mounted in 2019. Among the colleges that have already divested are many familiar liberal arts institutions, including Whitman College, Pitzer College, and Lewis & Clark College. Now, support for Carleton’s own campaign is at an all-time high — and alumni are playing an important role.
The Divest Carleton movement began among a small group of alumni in 2013, and, with the help of the recent Every Carl for Divest response, has now expanded to include a vast network of passionate alumni and students. A recent alternative fund established in 2017, known as the Carleton College Fossil Free Fund, highlights alumni involvement in the campaign while enhancing the pressure to divest.
The money raised through the fund will support the college’s endowment only if the college provides a written agreement to divest from fossil fuels. After the college declined to divest during the first year of the fund’s existence, the money was donated to 350.org and MN350, environmental organizations that oppose the use of fossil fuels. Last year, after another divestment refusal, the money was again donated to benefit environmental organizations. As of 2019, the funding continues, with June 1st of each year remaining as the deadline for the college to commit to divestment.
Rebecca Hahn ‘09 is among the group of alumni devoted to the campaign. To Hahn, divestment is “a refusal to profit from the destruction of the planet and a way of pushing back against the narrative of climate denial.” She has become one of the leading alumni voices in the campaign, heading the Fossil Free Fund and extensively reaching out to other alumni.
In 2014, Hahn signed a divestment petition at her fifth year reunion and emailed the administration and board of trustees about her support for the movement. According to Hahn, in the response, the board and the administration “claimed that divestment would limit free speech on campus,” an answer she found confusing and illogical.
In September 2015, the Board of Trustees rejected the Carleton Responsible Investment Committee’s (CRIC) recommendation to divest, which was the tipping point for Hahn. She decided to stop giving money to the college until it decided to divest from fossil fuels. “It seemed to me that the administration was not taking the divestment movement seriously and that view only grew stronger when the Board rejected the Carleton Responsible Investment Committee’s recommendation to divest in September 2015, with (in my opinion) much less thorough reasoning than the CRIC had demonstrated in its own decision,” said Hahn.
Both Hahn and David Roizin ‘20, leader of the student sector of the Divest movement, recognize the crucial role of alumni in the Divestment campaign. “We have support from an incredibly broad spectrum of class years, majors, and professions,” said Roizin. “The alumni side of this is big and robust.” Hahn mentioned that “as of 2017, the students had collected over 1000 signatures on their petition, while the alumni have gathered 1,350 signatures, 300 of which were added this past June.”
Many other notable individuals have supported the Fossil Free Fund and acted in favor of Carleton’s divestment campaign. David Loy ‘69 and Gary Paul Nabhan, both honorary doctorate recipients, have returned their degrees to the college as an objection to the college’s refusal to divest.
In speaking with David Loy about his decision to return the degree, he conveyed his belief that investing in fossil fuels is “immoral,” and in many ways hypocritical given the college’s values. “If the trustees are only concerned about investing in ways that will bring the greatest return, then that is no different than what the fossil fuel companies themselves are doing,” stated Loy. He also alluded to the future financial implications of continuing to invest in fossil fuels. “In general, fracking investments are unprofitable,” said Loy. “I strongly suspect that the college’s investments in fossil fuels are unprofitable.”
The 2015 CRIC report also explored the possibility that fossil fuel investments may less financially profitable. The report alluded to research indicating how divestment might actually help endowment performance. Quoted from the report, an analysis done by the S&P Capital IQ found that over the past ten years, a $1 billion endowment, a number close to Carleton’s $815 million, with no fossil fuel investments would have yielded $119 million more than an endowment with typical fossil fuel investments. Another analysis included in the CRIC report found that in the past five years, endowment portfolios containing significant investment in renewables and efficiency and no investment in fossil fuels benefit from a .5% greater increase than portfolios investing in fossil fuels.
Alumni continue to work alongside students to address both the financial and environmental risks involved in fossil fuel investment. Hahn and Roizin look toward a hopeful future for the campaign. Though the trustees have yet to agree to divestment, Hahn and Roizin see the growing number of colleges committing to divestment each year, as well as Carleton’s own growing divestment campaign and the increasing pressure derived from the Fossil Free Fund, as a positive sign.
As of this year, 1,000 institutions have divested about $7.93 trillion frwom fossil fuels. “Divestment in general is increasing every year at an astonishing rate, and as for divestment at Carleton, I really do feel we’re getting closer every day, it’s only a matter of time,” said Roizin.
The Carletonian incorrectly stated that Carleton alumni have gathered 13,500 signatures on a Divest petition. The correct figure is 1,350 signatures.
by Yoshiko Lynch