Letter to the Editor: Divest the Rest

For three years the word “divestment” has been peppered throughout campus publications, plastered on the walls of Val and scrawled with chalk on the steps of Frost. But what does it really mean?

One could say the word arrived on campus in September 2012, when environmental activist Bill McKibben came to speak in Johnson Chapel. He argued that by investing in fossil fuel companies, Amherst College was an active participant in the climate crisis. The Green Amherst Project decided to ask the board of trustees to divest from coal, reasoning that divestment from one fossil fuel was more realistic than divestment from all of them. After all, Amherst didn’t even have any direct investments in coal companies, so all the board had to do was promise not to invest in them in the future.

Last February, the board released their answer on coal divestment — not a yes or a no, but a 1,200-word “Statement on Sustainability and Investment Policy” in which they argued that divestment from coal would be a hollow act with little financial impact on the industry. Flummoxed by this response, the Green Amherst Project spent the rest of the spring semester planning its response.

Which brings us to this year. Now its own group separate from the Green Amherst Project, Divest Amherst is asking the board to divest not just from the coal industry, but from the fossil fuel industry as a whole. By doing this, we align ourselves with the majority of college divestment movements around the nation, which have been asking for complete fossil fuel divestment all along, as well as with our own faculty and alumni, who have released statements in favor of complete divestment.

It might seem misguided to demand more of the board when they were so dismissive of our smaller request. But that’s precisely the point: The board asserted that divesting from the coal industry would be pointless, so we’re asking them for something more meaningful. Complete divestment would show the industry that Amherst will not support the environmentally destructive and morally reprehensible practices that the industry represents. If the industry fails to respond to the people whose lives — and planet — it is destroying, it will eventually collapse.

As first-years may know from their summer reading, Naomi Klein wrote in “This Changes Everything” that “Young people have a special moral authority in making this argument to their school administrators. These are the institutions entrusted to prepare them for the future; so it is the height of hypocrisy for those same institutions to profit from an industry that has declared war on the future at the most elemental level.”

We ask the board to recognize this hypocrisy and divest now.