I write in response to Alex Daugherty’s October 9th op-ed piece, calling attention to its misleading claims and lack of evidence. Daugherty argued that BEAM (Bates Energy Action Movement), through its fossil fuel divestment campaign, is willing to hurt Bates’ endowment, compromise financial aid, and decrease alumni donations to the college. Both claims are glaringly incorrect. However, BEAM believes strongly in divestment and is willing to have a conversation about it. We are not bound by rigid ideology and want to include the Bates community in this discussion. So, we recognize this response as a golden opportunity to do so.
Unfortunately, some claims looked more like personal attacks on BEAM by the Editor-in-Chief of The Bates Student. Some highlights: BEAM is making Bates students “political pawns” in their game, and those students pushing for divestment are “slacktivists.”
Our “game” is not one of politics. We do not take this issue lightly, and hope to educate and appeal to the ethical sensibility that we know the Bates community has. BEAM is not composed of “slacktivists” – we use online petitions because they are free and easy. BEAM has also organized lectures, protests and workshops, is committed to campus sustainability, has collaborated with a wide variety of other clubs, and has met with Bates’ trustees. We have marched on Washington – twice.
The first substantive issue raised by Alex concerns our latest effort to pressure the Board of Trustees into divestment. We created a petition for Bates alumni to sign which acts as a pledge to withhold their donations until the Board commits to taking steps toward eventual divestment from fossil fuels. Alumni are an integral part of the Bates community and clearly deserve to be part of this conversation. Even before our divestment campaign began, several alumni voiced their refusal to donate until the endowment is divested from fossil fuels. BEAM is only giving these alumni a vehicle to express their dismay with the status quo. Colleges who have already divested from fossil fuels have all seen a significant increase in donations. I cannot see it being any different here at Bates.
Why are we targeting the fossil fuel industry? Some say that “they are just businesses doing business.” But, they are companies that wreck the planet, and their business is pollution and corruption. Furthermore, these companies use their considerable financial and political power to block environmental regulation, score government subsidies, thwart renewables and limit consumer choice. They are writing government policies and fundamentally distorting our democracy. Any industry whose economic interests are aligned with destroying the planet must not be this untouchable.
Divestment, as we propose it, would have our $216 million endowment divested from coal companies in two years, and from the remaining top 200 dirtiest fossil fuel companies in five years. The overall goal of this divestment movement is to change the public and political dialogue, not stock prices. According to a University of Oxford study released last week, “[t]his movement is growing faster than any previous divestment campaign and could cause significant damage to coal, oil and gas companies…having major financial consequences.”
Divestment will start to politically bankrupt these fossil fuel companies, and make their job of dominating the planet’s politics that much harder. Bates needs to sever its ties to this sector and make these companies moral pariahs, similar to how the public has treated tobacco companies.
Alex boldly assumed that divestment would hurt the endowment, thus lowering financial aid and diversity on campus. The evidence – something completely missing from Alex’s piece – is not on his side. According to a Trustee report, only a miniscule portion of the endowment is invested in fossil fuels. Clearly, divestment would not place our endowment in peril. Furthermore, returns on coal-industry investments diminished over the last year, making this sector a dangerous investment. Over 100 coal plants have been shut down in the past two years. Last month, a large Scandinavian asset manager divested $74 billion from all coal companies citing both moral and economic reasons.
Coal isn’t alone in its high risk. A premier Norwegian Pension Fund recently divested from all fossil fuels, stating that “[a]s the stated climate goals become reality, these resources are worthless financially.” The implementation of serious limits on carbon emissions are being considered for the next global climate summit, which would make fossil fuels very risky investments for anyone, including Bates College.
Other companies are divesting for purely financial reasons. A recent article in Forbes magazine notes the impressive success of many renewable stocks in the past year. “Renewable energy – solar, wind and biomass projects – are evaluated strictly on their merits as cash generating assets.”
Financial management experts have supported divestment. A study by a premier Canadian investment manager – Phillips, Hager, and North – affirms the economic viability of divesting. An Aperio Group study found that divestment poses only a .0044% risk to a typical endowment, which amounts to nothing when considering the ups and downs of the stock market.
BEAM students also depend on financial aid in order to attend Bates. Obviously, our administration should prioritize financial aid so that even if returns were slightly impacted, it wouldn’t and shouldn’t be the one thing cut. Bates does not need to choose between diversity and divestment, and such claims seem like an attempt to divide the student body on divestment. We must also consider that tuition has crept up relentlessly while Bates has been invested in fossil fuels. Dare we say that moving towards new investments and social paradigms would make education more affordable for all?
The college endowment is something out-of-sight to students and alumni, but its effects spread to every corner of the globe, both financially and morally. It is a lasting legacy of alumni philanthropy and generosity, and should therefore reflect the values that Bates has instilled in us all. Would divestment not show the “stewardship for the wider world” as the college mission statement reads?
Bates was founded by abolitionists and is described as “a school for coming times.” It is only logical to think that Bates would take a strong stand on the most pertinent issue of the time – the move toward sustainability and environmental responsibility. If slavery is wrong, is it wrong to make a profit from it? If Apartheid is wrong, is it wrong to make a profit from it? Bates College has already answered yes to these questions. So, if it is wrong to wreck the planet, is it wrong to make a profit on it? Three hundred colleges and universities have a divestment movement on campus. Six colleges and eighteen cities have already divested. When it comes to facing global climate change, Bates can still be a leader.
BEAM is not the extremist in this situation. We are not radical. The top 200 dirtiest fossil fuel companies are the extremists of our generation; they value obscene profits and luxury over a healthy environment and a stable climate. When future generations look back to this critical point in history, will Bates’ reputation as a moral leader hold strong? If so, then we must act now.
I would like to finish with a peace offering to Alex. It is clear to me that you are a persuasive writer and intelligent individual who has taken on the role of the naysayer. Rather than attack us, unprovoked, I implore you to raise the level of discourse. Come to a meeting. Debate us, with facts and logic, instead of hyperbole and condescension. Any movement requires its critics: we are not perfect, do not have all the answers, and we need all the help we can get in order to make progress. Alex, come over from your editorial desk, roll up your sleeves, and help us.