Every student, faculty and staff member here at Macalester is familiar with our college’s efforts to become a more sustainable campus. By now, we should all be used to the separate bins for recycling, compost and trash commonly found across campus. Macalester’s attempts to eliminate waste are admirable and should be lauded. Unfortunately, I was upset to learn just weeks into my time here that our college’s board of trustees doesn’t seem to agree with this vision of sustainability. Macalester has invested approximately $40 million into the top 200 fossil fuel companies. This sum comprises five percent of our endowment, the pool of money that funds the daily operations of our school — from paying faculty and staff to providing us with financial aid. It flies in the face of Macalester’s values for this $40 million investment to exist.
How can a college be dedicated to internationalism, when it holds a stake in fossil fuel giants that feed international conflicts and the wholesale degradation of the global climate? How can Macalester truly pledge itself to the goal of total sustainability, if its investments fuel the collapse of the global climate? It is hypocritical, and almost insulting, for Macalester to enforce sustainability measures on campus while contributing to its endowment funds from the ultimate enemies of global sustainability and stewardship.
On Friday, Oct. 4, Macalester’s Board of Trustees, the body charged with managing the school’s endowment, will meet to vote on a proposal of divestment from these corporations. I urge you, the reader, to support this proposal.
When Macalester divests, it will withdraw its financial holdings in producers of fossil fuels. In doing so, Macalester would prove to its community, as well as to the world, that it is truly taking its mission of sustainability seriously. This gesture would be more than symbolic. Divestment campaigns in colleges across the country have grown more successful as these movements themselves have grown in number, leading to millions of dollars divested from fossil fuel giants. Divestment has sparked a dialogue about the role the fossil fuel industry plays in the health of our world, and Macalester should passionately join that conversation.
Would divestment prove a risk to Macalester’s finances? No, it would not injure or destabilize our endowment. Macalester’s endowment tops $700 million, and roughly five percent of that loss would not negatively impact anything the endowment helps to fund. And, the elephant in the room here, financial aid, would remain untouched by a successful divestment campaign.
Let’s assume the board of trustees does the right thing and divests from fossil fuels. What’s next? How can Macalester reset its endowment to be future-oriented and also engage in a global discussion of environmental stewardship and sustainability? The Macalester community should join those calling for divestment in suggesting that Macalester invest in a more stable market: alternative or green energies. This industry is rapidly growing, not to mention better for the environment than greenhouse gas-emitting fossil fuels. At the same time that the alternative energy industry becomes a better investment, the fossil fuel industry rapidly destabilizes. Just think of the events of the past weeks: a drone strike in Saudi Arabia caused that country to cut half of its oil production. That’s 10 percent of the global supply of oil, right there, gone. Clearly, Macalester has chosen to invest in a deeply unstable market. It doesn’t have to be this way.
The call for divestment here on campus is not a new one. Since 2013, Fossil Free Mac, a student-led organization, has been fighting tooth-and-nail for divestment. Six years of work have led to the board finally deciding the future of our school’s investments — but they need your help for the final push. Next Friday, on the day the board will vote, Fossil Free Mac will be having a sit-in at the meeting as a final reminder to these individuals that our school’s finances are meaningful. They define our community and the role it wants to play in fighting for a green future. These finances should be representative of the student body, those who Macalester is meant for. Last semester, in a referendum where 48 percent of the student body cast a ballot, 96 percent of respondents indicated support for divestment. Anything other than divestment is a slap in the face of a huge majority of Macalester students. It’s that message, and everything else enumerated above, that Fossil Free Mac will be hitting home as they host their sit-in.
They can’t do this without your help. If the entire Macalester community converges at this pivotal moment and asks for divestment, it will be incredibly hard for the board of trustees to refuse us. All we ask is for a little bit of your time. Your time, your presence can literally decide Macalester’s future, and the role it plays in all of our fates. If you want Macalester to stand up for you and the college’s proclaimed values, then please, support the sit-in — support divestment.