Fossil Fuel Divestment is a Moral Issue
Over the last year or so, the word divestment has taken on new meaning. Until recently, this term popularly referred to the movement in the 1970s and 80s to remove all investments from South Africa. The goal was to retract financial support for companies participating in Apartheid. Divestment now refers primarily to fossil fuel divestment: freezing and removing all investments in fossil fuel companies.
Why would the DePauw Community ask our Board of Trustees to divest from fossil fuels, and how is this issue related to ethics? In my eyes, the number one reason for divestment is to align the values and actions of an institution that I financially support (DePauw) with my own. Since the burning of fossil fuels is the number one source of greenhouse gas emissions, fossil fuel companies are culpable of driving the increased concentrations of GHGs in the atmosphere, and thus, climate change. Their crimes against the climate are becoming even more atrocious as they continue to drill for oil in remote and fragile places and as they resort to unconventional sources such as tar sands. While I fully understand that it is our demand for fossil fuels that is driving these actions, I think that we must look for ways to remove our support from this industry. This is only the first of many steps in the journey to move away from our carbon-central society and economy.
Some may argue against divestment saying that it will have no impact on fossil fuel companies. They argue that other people will buy up the stocks that DePauw sells. I agree that this is the case, but I don’t think that it is an argument against divesting. Divestment is a moral issue. It’s about acting in a way that is consistent with our values. In addition, through the process of divestment, we can educate the community about climate change and engage in open discourse about the issue. This is perhaps the most valuable part of the divestment movement.
We have made great headway on our divestment campaign at DePauw in the last month. We wrote President Casey a letter requesting divestment, which he promptly shared with the entire faculty. He even mentioned his intention to share it with the Board of Trustees. Additionally, we have two events in the next week. The first is a Divestment Rally in MeHarry Hall at 3pm on April 13th. Tricia Shapiro, author of “Mountain Justice”, will be joining us to talk about the coal industry’s impacts in Appalachia. Bill McKibben will also be skyping in to talk about his work with 350.org. The second event is a forum on Monday, April 15th in the Watson Forum. Joining us for a panel discussion will be Michelle Villinski from the Economics Department, Jen Everett from the Philosophy Department, and Jim Mills from the Geology Department. Divest DePauw, the group of students involved in this campaign, is immensely excited to engage in discourse with faculty and students on this topic.