This Saturday evening, Bowdoin Climate Action hosted a panel discussion about divestment from the fossil fuel industry. Speakers included President Mulkey of Unity College, Read Bruegger of 350 ME, Glen Brand of Sierra Club ME; and Skyping in, Dan Apfel of the Responsible Endowments Coalition, and special guest Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org. A mix of students, faculty, and area residents attended, and I found it personally heartwarming to hear older folks calling for intergenerational equity in dealing with issues that will affect future generations so profoundly.
The panelists brought up various reasons that colleges, as well as other institutions, municipalities, and even pension funds, should divest. I was especially interesting hearing that the divestment campaign started in Maine in part because the government has stalled on the debate over whether fossil fuel companies should receive enormous subsidies (read: no), and so widespread divestment emerged as a way to remove those companies’ social standing. Of course, we also discussed the moral argument that Bowdoin Climate Action has stood by – that colleges strive to do good by educating us, and they care about the environment, but that should be held to a certain consistency and refrain from doing harm to that environment in the process of doing other good things. Which could be phrased, alternatively, that colleges should not only talk the talk, but walk the walk.
The audience also challenged the panelists to address the hard financial side of the decision, and they responded by saying that of course there is an opportunity cost, but there is in opportunity cost to everything we do. There is no one answer to what Bowdoin can do to protect itself financially, options include investing in clean energy, green revolving funds, and working with investment managers to have more direct control over what companies our endowment is exposed to. But the question of what options will work really remains a mystery without more comprehensive study. And why not study this question further? Bowdoin’s administration may be opposed to the idea of divestment right now, but what do we have to lose by really investigating? We have all been taught to be open in our thinking and thorough in our research.
Saturday’s panel reinforced my own opinion that climate change is the most urgent issue that we as humans and we as a planet face today, and that we need to try everything within our power to solve the crisis climate. We all, people and institutions alike, have other concerns on our minds, but the fact is that climate change will not wait until we are finished studying. Nobody knows when it will be too late to avert this crisis, so we need to get moving, fast. Divestment is one important strategy out of many, and we cannot afford not to take every possible strategy seriously. As Glen Brand said during the panel, “Every strategy by itself is necessary, but not sufficient.” We need to strategize furiously and act, in a big way.