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Opinion

Fossil fuel divestment is an opportunity for growth

By By Students, faculty and employees

December 5, 2013

I. Mission statement:

Our goal is for Hamilton College to be the best institution possible, and we believe divestment from fossil fuels will further this goal. Divestment from fossil fuels offers Hamilton College an opportunity to emerge as a leader among its peers in social responsibility and it demonstrates concern for the voice and edification of students while facing climate change head on. For these reasons, and the additional reasons that follow, we believe fossil fuel divestment would benefit Hamilton College.

II. Importance to Hamilton College:

The ultimate goal of fossil fuel divestment is for Hamilton College to disconnect itself from the fossil fuel industry. Obviously, international policies and regulations need to be implemented immediately in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reduce the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and maintain an environment that is viable for our civilization. Our hope is that a widespread divestment movement amongst colleges, cities, religious groups, etc., unified in opposition to the negative externalities of the fossil fuel industry, will not only change the conversation about fossil fuels, but also financially discourage unsafe and unsustainable energy practices.  
Fossil fuel divestment offers numerous advantages including: 1) It moves institutional investment away from environmentally destructive fossil fuels. 2) When successful, widespread divestment would shift financial resources away from a highly influential industry that has actively used its money to successfully lobby against or undermine climate regulations and environmental protection. 3) It provides a concrete focus for institutions and citizens to increase awareness and generate discussion about climate change and to help create the grassroots political conversation and mobilization that are essential to meeting this serious threat.
Divestment is not about trying to ‘wash our hands’ of fossil fuel use or about morally condemning those who use or market fossil fuels. We understand that Hamilton College is entangled in the fossil fuel economy and that divestment will not, by itself, put an end to that involvement. Nor will divestment itself end the College’s use of fossil fuels, though a 2007 article published online by Hamilton College, written by Vige Barrie, outlines the College’s commitment to reduce its carbon footprint. However, for the reasons listed above, divestment by Hamilton and other institutions will help make possible the ultimate decarbonization of our economy. It is a critical step in this process.

III. Environmental necessity:

There is a consensus among the scientific community that an overall warming of the Earth will drastically alter our environment in ways to which we are unfit to respond. According to an August article in Science Magazine authored by Noah S. Diffenbaugh and Christopher B. Field,  Earth’s temperature has already risen 0.8 degrees Celsius leading to even more unfavorable changes than expected. Changes in climate will negatively and significantly alter primary production, resource abundance, weather patterns, sea levels, migration patterns, ecosystems, food chains, biodiversity and other factors that play essential roles in making our planet habitable. Just how serious these impacts will be is not fully certain; it is not fully known how climate change will impact human infrastructure, population centers, agricultural zones and political, economic and other social systems. What is certain is that the velocity of change is unprecedented in human history, that the impacts will be quite damaging and costly, and that we face a significant risk of unmanageable and even catastrophic changes. The time to act on climate change and minimize serious impacts is now. The campaign for fossil fuel divestment will not solve the climate problem, but it is a key starting point in which a leader in social responsibility, such as Hamilton College, should play a preeminent role.

IV. A leader among our peers:

Hamilton College cannot singlehandedly solve the climate crisis by divesting, but we view divestment as an opportunity for the College to be a leader among our peers in terms of social responsibility and green innovation. More than three hundred colleges and universities, including our peer institutions, have student divestment campaigns. According to the Fossil Free webpage that tracks commitments to divest, some institutions have already begun the process, but none are comparable to Hamilton in endowment size. If Hamilton divests soon, we would emerge as a leader and innovator among comparable institutions.

V. Institutional relationship with students:

The successful creation and implementation of a divestment plan would demonstrate Hamilton College’s ability to foster unique collaboration between students, faculty and administrators in order to affect institutional change. The College’s divestment movement is one example of such a collaboration. While taking very seriously both Hamilton’s institutional integrity and the fiduciary responsibilities of our Trustees, we decided to pursue divestment after realizing that this project is not only Hamilton’s ethical responsibility, but will also generate positive publicity for the College. Specifically, the divestment movement will contribute to Hamilton’s overall devotion to fostering student leadership.

VI. Objectives:

We understand that divesting overnight would be both unfeasible and irresponsible. Sudden, complete divestment from fossil fuels would not only call for an impractical reallocation of our endowment, but would likely disrupt the success of the current distribution of our portfolio.
We propose gradually divesting from fossil fuels in intervals, either by percentage of holdings, specific companies or specific kinds of fossil fuels. Gradual divestment is not only more economically feasible, but it would also allow us to understand better the unknowns and inherent risks in fossil fuel divestiture.
As part of this plan, Hamilton College should set a clear timeline for a divestment effort. Though divestment will be gradual, implementation of the plan should begin immediately.

Please forward all responses, criticism and feedback to divests@hamilton.edu.

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