A Personal Story of Divestment

by Catherine Suter, October 20, 2022

As Carleton Trustees weigh the pros and cons of divesting the College’s endowment from fossil fuels, I want to share the thought process behind my own decision to divest.

I am a great-great-granddaughter of Lauren J. Drake, president of Standard Oil of Indiana (later Amoco, now part of BP) and director of Standard Oil of New Jersey (later Esso, now part of ExxonMobil). When my father died a few years ago, my brothers and I inherited the remainder of ExxonMobil stock that had been passed down through Drake’s daughter, my great-grandmother. It was not a lot, but it was a family legacy. Thus, I was presented with a conundrum: 

Do I keep the stock for sentimental reasons?

Do I benefit from the shares’ skyrocketing value?

Could I be okay with earning money off a company that has and continues to lie, mislead and destroy so much?

Can a single person’s divestment make any real difference?

I had an endless supply of questions like and beyond these.

Ultimately, the decision was easy because my gut knew. I sold the stock. I put the proceeds toward an electric car and felt a big relief, I must say. But it took me a while to find good answers to the questions, and I still question what my best course of action, given my values, is almost daily.

Here is a list of truths that I have found:

  • I’m enormously privileged to “suffer” such a conundrum, to have choices like these in my life. Thank you, great-great-grandfather Drake, for providing our family with so much. I strive to use my privilege for good and not hinder my motivation with shame or guilt.
  • To judge my great-great-grandfather’s work with today’s knowledge is unfair.
  • To feel that I cannot disagree with the oil companies because I have benefited leaves no room for progress.
  • I vehemently oppose ExxonMobil and many other (but not all) natural resource extraction companies on environmental, ethical and economic grounds. I want nothing to do with their profits, even if my daily life depends in some part on them.
  • There’s more than one way to invest wisely.
  • I am one person, no more and no less. I make decisions and interact with others every day. Living by my principles gives me internal peace, and is an important tone in my cacophonous community.

Divestment is what I chose, in my circumstances at the time. And the work continues: I still struggle with both what to do with my privilege and how to make a meaningful impact regarding climate change and environmental degradation. But I never once have doubted my decision to divest.

What will you do with this story? Activism can be complicated, but if you’re sympathetic, you’ve got options. Join me in calling on the Carleton Board of Trustees to divest from fossil fuels and the banks that support them. Further, websites like http://www.fossilfreefunds.org can tell you how your 401(k), retirement plan and other investments measure up vis-à-vis climate impact. The ‘B corp’ designation indicates if a company meets social and environmental sustainability criteria. Keep in mind that publicly-traded fossil fuel companies, as odious as they may be, represent only a fraction of the world’s oil extraction and, also, only the supply side of oil, not the demand for it. We have a lot to do to find a sustainable balance on this planet, and a next step that people — especially those of us with privilege — can take is to address industries that have outsized carbon footprints (e.g. cement, air travel, aluminum). Wherever you are in your motivation to address climate change, keep it going! We all, as individuals and as communities like Carleton, have a role.

Alumni and students who have not already signed the petition calling on Carleton to divest its endowment from fossil fuel companies can do so at bit.ly/DivestCarleton. For more information about Divest Carleton, go to https://divestcarleton.com.

Published in The Carletonian Viewpoint

Reunion 2022!

Divest Carleton was well represented at this year’s June and August reunions. We gathered hundreds of new signatures, spread awareness of our campaign, and proudly waved our flags at the Parade of Classes! THANK YOU to everyone who tabled, created swag, organized, raised funds, signed, or brought by friends to sign. It’s great to see such enthusiasm as we build momentum toward a divestment decision.

Divest Carleton alumni letter to President Byerly and Carleton Trustees

April 27, 2022 

Dear President Byerly and Carleton Trustees: 

As the alumni of Divest Carleton, we echo the support for an official Carleton plan for fossil fuel divestment expressed by Divest Carleton students and the Carleton Responsible Investment Committee (CRIC). Below are our additional thoughts on how the College might implement such a plan and why we believe fossil fuel divestment is in Carleton’s best interest and aligns with its values. 

Continue reading

BIG NEWS! Carleton Board to consider divestment this May. PLEASE TAKE ACTION!

Carleton’s Board of Trustees meets May 12-14, and for the first time in many years, divesting Carleton’s endowment from fossil fuels is on the agenda. Divest Carleton needs your help to demonstrate the broad support this issue has from alumni and students.

We’re asking divestment supporters to send an email (or letter, if you can) to key decision makers in advance of the meeting. Your personal, heartfelt message is the most effective way to show the Board that Carleton has prepared us to “lead lives of learning” and “to be of service to humanity.” And in service to humanity, we urge the Board to ensure that Carleton’s $1.1 billion endowment is secured in investments that are aligned with the values Carleton instills in its students.

Send your messages to:

Sample message:

My name is _____, and I am (an alum / a student) of the class of ___. I am writing to request that you support divesting Carleton’s endowment from fossil fuel companies.

I feel strongly that it’s time for Carleton to follow many of its peer institutions and publicly commit to divesting from companies that extract and exploit fossil fuels. 

The burden of climate change falls hardest on citizens of the developing world and the young. In other words, on those who have done the least damage. This makes climate change a human rights issue on an almost unimaginable scale, and it demands immediate and forceful action.

>>This is a great spot to insert a message on your personal experiences with climate change. Among our students and alumni, we have people whose lives have been touched by hurricanes, wildfires, floods and drought, events that have been exacerbated by climate change. Let the Board know that this is not abstract for you.

Thank you very much for considering this issue. Carleton needs to bring its investment policy in line with the values demonstrated by its commitment to a carbon-neutral campus. I believe that divestment from fossil fuels is the right choice for the future of Carleton’s endowment and will help ensure a better planet for current and future graduating classes.

Sincerely,

Your signature

It Is Time to Be on the Right Side of Climate Change History

Published in The Carletonian on March 1, 2022

By Patrick Dunlevy, Rebecca Hahn, Mindy Bell, Joshua Rabinowitz, Ben Stiegler, Pam Costain, Gina Atwood, Eleanor Haase and Karl Snyder

The following is a letter from Divest Carleton Alumni, a group of alumni calling for Carleton to divest their endowment from the 200 largest fossil fuel companies:

The following colleges and universities have made formal commitments to reduce their investments in fossil fuel companies. The schools are grouped below by the time period in which they announced their decisions regarding fossil fuel holdings.

2021

Amherst College

Boston University

Brandeis University

Continue reading

Letter to President Byerly prior to meeting

In September 2021, Divest Carleton alumni leadership sent the new Carleton president a letter requesting a meeting to discuss our concerns, which resulted in an online call between the president and alumni and student leaders. Here is that letter:

Dear President Byerly,

On behalf of the Alumni of Divest Carleton, welcome to Northfield! We hope you have had a good summer settling in and are looking forward to the 2021-2022 school year. No doubt you will find much to love at Carleton, as we did during our years as students. We wish you success in meeting the challenges of your new position.

The challenge of special concern to us is Carleton’s response to the risks associated with the continued use of fossil fuels. As an alumni group with more than 2600 members from 70 unique graduating classes, we would like to set up a call with you and a few of our members before the end of October so that we can further explain our concerns and answer any questions you might have. For now, in brief, here is an overview of our group.

Continue reading