Divest Carleton

Moving Carleton College beyond fossil fuels and toward sustainability

Divest Carleton

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

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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.

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Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson calls for divestment in convocation

At Carleton’s May 21, 2021, convocation, Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson made an explicit appeal for Carleton to divest its endowment from fossil fuels.

The college was celebrating the significant achievement of shutting off its steam heating plant and switching to its new geothermal system. Many congrats to everyone who has worked so hard to make that happen!

The moderator of the talk asked Dr. Johnson what Carleton’s next steps might be toward increasing sustainability. You can listen to her answer on Carleton’s convocation website, linked above, starting at 28:43. Or read the transcript of that exchange below:

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For many reasons, the time has come for Carleton to divest

By Maddie Halloran, Rebecca Hahn, Mindy Bell and Patrick Dunlevy on May 16, 2021 in The Carletonian

When the fossil fuel divestment movement began at Carleton almost a decade ago, few colleges or universities had committed to moving their endowments out of fossil fuels. By 2014, only two U.S. liberal arts colleges had made divestment pledges: College of the Atlantic and Pitzer College

But today, 10 U.S. liberal arts colleges have made divestment commitments, and not just smaller, environmental schools. Middlebury, Smith, and Wesleyan all committed to divestment within the last few years, and most recently both Amherst and Wellesley did the same.

Besides liberal arts colleges, Rutgers University, Columbia University, the University of Southern California, and Cambridge University have all made divestment commitments in the last few months. Midwest powerhouse University of Michigan committed to divestment this March.

This movement is growing, and Carleton is falling behind.

From a financial perspective, the writing is on the wall. In January of last year, Jim Cramer, the host of CNBC’s Mad Money and the co-anchor of Squawk on the Street, announced:

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Divest Carleton from fossil fuels to save our school

By Rebecca Hahn, Maddie Halloran and Mindy Bell, on October 3, 2020

For weeks now, five of the six largest wildfires in California’s history have been burning, turning skies orange across the state. This year’s Atlantic hurricane season is already breaking records, with an unprecedented thirteen tropical storms named before September. 

In August, Iowa’s crops were devastated by a 100 mph derecho windstorm that flattened 10 million acres, followed by a subsequent drought. And of course, throughout the country, 200,000 people have died from a raging pandemic that has shut down the economy, cancelled sports and most other activities, and changed the way that our own Carleton College educates its students.

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Divest Carleton Statement on Letters4Carleton

Divest Carleton stands in solidarity with the alumni group Letters4Carleton and its asks of the college: 1) acknowledge the systemic nature of racism on campus, 2) commit to a 10-year plan for anti-racism, and 3) engage all stakeholders, including students, alumni, faculty, and staff, in the process of building this plan through a public, interactive, and transparent forum.

You can learn more about Letters4Carleton by reading its open letter, and join more than 2,000 alumni in signing onto it HERE. It’s time for Carleton to take racial justice and the concerns of its alumni seriously.

Divest Carleton Racial Justice Solidarity Statement

With so many others around the world, Divest Carleton mourns the loss of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and the countless individuals before them whose lives were cut short by racism and racist violence.

We stand in solidarity with the protesters fighting for justice, with the Black Lives Matter movement, with the free press, and with the Carleton organizations that are working to push our own community toward greater equality, including Black Student Alliance (BSA), African and Caribbean Association (ACA), Men of Color (MOC), Women of Color+ (WOC+), Students with Interracial Legacies (SWIRL), and Africana Studies Student Department Advisors.

Alongside these communities and organizations, we demand justice for the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless others. We demand that Carleton provide appropriate accommodations for Black students affected by national events, including academic, mental health, and emotional support. Divest Carleton stands behind the demands of BSA in response to the current crisis, which are found in this document.

We stand as firm allies with any in our community who need or ask for support around racism and equality. People who suffer under systemic discrimination every day should not, by themselves, have to carry the burden of constantly speaking out against it. This commitment also means assisting each other in self-examination of our own internalized racism; racism that affects how we see and treat those who look like us, and those who don’t.

The fossil fuel divestment movement strives for a just and healthy world not only for future generations but for everybody alive today. Marginalized communities in our nation and worldwide are disproportionately affected by both the toxic outputs of the energy industry and the ecological disasters caused by the climate crisis. Divest Carleton holds that our future will not be sustainable unless it is just. Nor will it be just unless we have a sustainable environment for all.

The racist violence of our police forces directly undermines the changes sought by the environmental movement, as the communities most affected by environmental degradation cannot protest safely. When the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe defended their land from the Dakota Access Pipeline in 2016, police used tear gas and bean bags to remove them, labeled the movement a riot, and arrested journalists. Divest Carleton recognizes that we will not accomplish our environmental goals without overcoming systemic racism and its many effects, including police brutality.

BSA’s Townhall Takeaways includes ideas for things to do at home, places to donate, and how to join a working group to help affect change. Below you can find some articles exploring the intersections between climate justice and racial justice. Please join us in supporting current Carleton students and standing in solidarity for racial justice all over the country.

Onward,
Divest Carleton

Why Every Environmentalist Should Be Anti-Racist

Black Environmentalists Talk about Climate and Anti-Racism

I’m a black climate scientist. Racism derails our efforts to save the planet.

The Climate Justice Movement Must Oppose White Supremacy Everywhere–By Supporting M4BL

Climate Activists: Here’s Why Your Work Depends on Ending Police Violence

The climate movement’s silence

Revealed: oil giants help fund powerful police groups in top US cities

Dangerous parallels: Links worth noticing between COVID-19 and climate change

 

Like many, I have recently had more time on my hands. In case you were not yet tired of hearing about COVID-19, here is another opinion. In honor of the 50th Earth Day, this article applies some of the very hard lessons that this crisis has taught us to climate change, which will likely be another hallmark of the 21st Century.

Before delving into the parallels between denying climate change and denying COVID-19, I first wish to develop the connection inherent to pandemics and climate change. Large volumes of research indicate that increased habitat loss, or decreased biodiversity in other words, renders us more vulnerable to pandemics. Biodiversity and Emerging Diseases, an academic report from The New York Academy of Sciences, summarizes well: “biodiversity appears to function as an important barrier (buffer), especially against disease-causing organisms…”. A 2017 report from the Annals of Clinical Microbiology and Antimicrobials goes further to suggest that “due to global warming the burden of vector-borne diseases… will increase in the coming years in the tropics and beyond.”

Curbing greenhouse gas emissions and slowing habitat loss are key to preventing an increase in the frequency of pandemics. Causational analysis of COVID-19 is still underway, and no conclusions or implications about its definitive causes ought to be implied here; rather, this Viewpoint hopes to highlight the thematic trends between climate change and the current pandemic.

On COVID-19 protests and climate denial

I wish to discuss my takeaways from a publicly-available webinar from Grist.org, a Seattle-based climate news organization that has covered climate change since 1999. The panel for this discussion includes two members of Grist, as well as George Mason University Professor John Cook, who specializes in the study of climate change and misinformation. In short, this webinar discussed the philosophical ways in which we can use one global crisis, and the denial thereof, to think about another.

Cook identifies five primary techniques of denial: fake experts, logical fallacies, impossible expectations, cherry-picking, and conspiracy theories. Cook has found that these techniques have been applied to cast doubt on both issues and that in some cases, “it’s the same people.”

Shannon Osaka of Grist describes both COVID-19 and climate change as relatively predictable scenarios; that is, they are not surprising, nor unparalleled. The climate crisis has been an obvious threat for some time now, and arguably, the best connection of this argument to COVID-19 is how early the Trump Administration was briefed on COVID-19 as a serious threat, as early as January, versus when the administration began taking legitimate action: March. Despite their strong scientific base, these issues are still unduly controversial.

One of the principal differences between climate change and COVID-19 is what Cook refers to as psychological distance. Osaka summarizes the difference as “Climate change means they might die, coronavirus means I might die.” I contend that until early-mid March, COVID-19 was still in the they category for many, especially President Trump. This explains many of the reprehensible attempts by the far-right to distance the U.S. from COVID-19, referring to the disease as “Kung Flu”, the “Chinese Virus”, and the like. In part due to this racist, naive attitude, the U.S. now has more than 843,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases, a 600,000 case margin between us and our runner-up, Spain.

I hope not to be too pessimistic, but rather to shed light on how dangerous dissociating with an issue can be. Our current emissions trajectory is set to send us well over emissions targets specified by The Green New Deal, The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), The Paris Agreement, and other criteria. The climate crisis, like COVID-19, is only going to become harder to deny as it intensifies. Needless to say, we should not wait for that to happen.

On COVID-19 protests and ulterior motives 

This past week has marked an increase in outspoken criticism of COVID-19 protection efforts. Protests to prematurely reopen the economy have gained significant attention. There are many criticisms of these protests that can be made in the realm of privilege and hubris, but I wish to highlight a specific subset of those categories: greed.

One of the protests that took place Wednesday, April 15, was outside the Capitol of Michigan in Lansing, MI. Nothing more than a quick Google search indicates that the DeVos family, who Sen. Bernie Sanders speculated in 2017 has donated over $200 million to the Republican Party, was also the top funder of this protest. Per The Guardian, “The Michigan Freedom Fund (MFF), which said it was a co-host of the rally, has received more than $500,000 from the DeVos family, regular donors to rightwing groups.” PRWatch frames the information slightly differently: “From 2017-19, the Michigan Freedom Network (MFN) [political extension of MFF] has been almost entirely financed by members of the DeVos family, according to state campaign finance records… 98 percent of the MFN’s contribution revenue during that time.”

Speculating is not an especially strong suit of mine, but I do have one question: if the DeVos family cared deeply enough about these protests to donate such large sums of money, where were they at the protest? Mind you this is strictly speculative, but their actions parallel motives of the fossil fuel industry. A different article from The Guardian makes the highly-corroborated claim that industry behemoth ExxonMobil has been well aware of climate change for at least four decades. Nonetheless, the industry has spent billions to hinder the path toward clear climate progress.

Easily surpassing the DeVos family, The New York Times notes that the Koch brothers donated approximately $400 million in 2012 to help defeat Obama, and made large contributions to flip the Senate in 2014. I would argue that one of the most notorious examples of climate change denial in U.S. politics took place in February 2015, when Sen. Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) brought a snowball onto the Senate Floor to disprove the warming climate. Unsurprisingly, The Guardian notes that Sen. Inhofe’s largest donor is Koch Industries.

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