Why Macalester must divest from fossil fuel corporations

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In February of this year, Fossil Free Mac began the formal process of asking Macalester to divest our endowment from fossil fuel companies. We wrote and presented a proposal to the Social Responsibility Committee, a group of faculty, staff and students who serve to advise the administration on issues of responsible institutional behavior.

Next Tuesday, April 7 we are meeting with them for the second time. This committee has the power to endorse our proposal and pass it on to be heard by the Board of Trustees. The Board takes notice when campaigns have the support of the campus community. So why should you support fossil fuel divestment?

The First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit in 1991 set forth the foundational principles of environmental justice. These principles demand the “fundamental right to political, economic, cultural and environmental self-determination of all peoples.” Incredibly, the fossil fuel industry has been denying us this simple right for the duration of its existence.

Enbridge Inc., an energy company currently proposing to build the Sandpiper pipeline through Minnesota, provides just one example. On June 26, 2010, Enbridge was responsible for the largest inland oil spill and most costly pipeline disaster in US history. 877,000 gallons of oil poured into Talmadge Creek, turning the water black, sickening the air with toxins, and running straight into the Kalamazoo River. The people of Kalamazoo were inexcusably hurt, economically and physically. Full health and environmental costs of the disaster are still unknown, but it is obvious that the Enbridge crude oil transportation company is guilty of both environmental and social exploitation.

The fossil fuel industry’s unjust practices are broad reaching. The industry’s methods of extraction and transportation are unsafe, often causing spillage or explosive train derailments. They harm communities’ environmental health, polluting the air and water supplies. Its expansion continues to disrespect Native peoples’ land-use rights. The foundation of its business model is the main contributor to global climate change. Not only is there no penalty for carbon emissions, but the active destruction of our planet effectively pours money into the industry’s pockets.

This industry has been allowed to continue its exploitative practice in part due to unfair subsidies that afford gas and oil companies significant power over policy-makers through lobbying. This hinders the process of democracy. The communities most harmed are typically those who are least represented by our democratic system: disadvantaged people and communities of color who do not have the power to fight back against the injustice they face.

This defiance of the principles of environmental justice should be considered particularly relevant to the Macalester community. Our school has pledged itself to the pillars of multiculturalism, internationalism, academic excellence and service to society. Our identity as globally-engaged citizens gives us the responsibility to work towards an environmentally and socially sustainable future for our planet.

Given the fossil fuel industry’s disregard for these goals, we of Fossil Free Mac feel that Macalester should withdraw our financial support from the industry by divesting our endowment from the top 200 companies with the greatest amounts of fossil fuel reserves. According to our estimates, around three percent of our endowment maintains exposure to these companies. We all hold that divestment is a positive step forward in our community. Not only would it align our investments with our values as a school, but it would also help protect our endowment from the financial risk that will come as fossil fuel assets become stranded.

Fossil Free Mac has been researching and campaigning for Macalester’s divestment since the spring of 2013. Now is an exciting time for us to join the hundreds of schools, cities, foundations and institutions that are sending the fossil fuel industry and policymakers a message: We refuse to allow fossil fuel companies, as well as our own institutions, to profit from the destruction of the planet.

Campaigns around the world this spring are joining together in asking their schools #WhoseSide they are on, escalating their campaigns, and stepping up the pressure on fossil fuel companies. We meet on Wednesday evenings at 6 p.m. in the CC 206. We welcome your support, questions and opinions. Feel free to come to a meeting or send us an email at [email protected]