To the Editor:
In the 1980s, students occupied college campuses and took the fight against South African apartheid into their own hands, adding their voices to the call for the liberation of 23 million people. Now, a new challenge has emerged in which students can play a critical role.
Climate change, largely driven by the burning of fossil fuels, threatens the food we eat, the homes we build and the future we hope for. This daunting problem is solvable, but only if we come together against it. Unfortunately, fossil fuel companies are less interested in solutions and more interested in their pocketbooks. Andover, which invests in such companies, profits from the destruction of the planet.
Sure, Andover also invests in alternative energy sources such as wind and solar energy companies, but we still continue to invest in “the exploration, production, and delivery of fossil fuels and/or byproducts”, according to Michael Reist, CIO of Phillips Academy in an email to The Phillipian. Not only is such investment morally wrong, but this support also goes against our school’s fundamental values. Thus, we call upon Phillips Academy to divest its endowment from fossil fuel companies.
Some have tried to frame climate change as a scientific abstraction—a theory that needs more evidence or, even worse, the brainchild of rogue scientists. Yet the scientific consensus on climate change is clear. According to a 2007 Report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “warming of the climate system is unequivocal.” It has been attributed to “human-induced emissions of heat-trapping gases” that “come mainly from the burning of fossil fuels,” according to the U.S. Global Change Research Program. 97-98 percent of American climate scientists support these assertions and have called for action.
In the U.S., the effects of climate change are emerging. Consider Superstorm Sandy: more than 100 Americans dead, millions without power and over $60 billion in damages. While climate change may not have caused the storm, it did make the storm bigger, according to the “Scientific American” article “Did Climate Change Cause Hurricane Sandy?”. Or take the American drought, which is still in effect and has cut into crop yields and foreshadowed a 21st century Dust Bowl. Evidence cited in the “Wired” article, “U.S. Drought and Climate Change: Science Points to Link,” suggests that climate change was a cause. Such events will only become more extreme and frequent on a warming planet.
Fortunately, there are solutions. Stricter regulations on mining and drilling would keep more carbon underground and protect public health. A tax on carbon would promote green innovations and sustainable living. A recent Yale survey found that 88 percent of Americans want government action on climate change.
However, in the face of popular will and a moral imperative, one group stands in the way: the fossil fuel industry. As the only industry that dumps its waste for free, fossil fuel companies run up huge profits at the expense of our future. To protect their business model, they spread doubt about the legitimacy of climate change by funding misleading ads and widely-discredited climate skeptics, attested by “The Carbon Brief,” a website dedicated to fact-checking articles about climate change, in the article, “Analyzing the ‘900 papers supporting climate scepticism’: 9 out of top 10 authors linked to ExxonMobil.” As one of Washington’s biggest lobby groups, fossil fuel companies spend millions securing themselves tax breaks and subsidies, crushing renewable energy with an unfair advantage. Thanks to Big Oil’s money, many politicians of a certain political party drag their heels on climate change’s urgency.
In the face of this political stranglehold, there is one thing concerned institutions like Andover can do: divest. That is, to stop investing their endowments in these companies.
Environmentalist Bill McKibben and 350.org have turned this call to action into a vibrant national movement on over 200 college campuses. Unity and Hampshire Colleges have already made the decision to divest, along with the city of Seattle. Other college groups continue to make progress in what will be a long but crucial fight. Now is our chance to join it.
For Andover, this would not be unprecedented. In 1987, the Board of Trustees unanimously voted to divest from companies operating in apartheid South Africa. In 2008, the Academy divested from companies funding the Sudanese government because of atrocities in Darfur. The Trustees then adopted an ethical investment framework that calls for divestment from companies causing grave social injury. If climate change and its associated consequences do not meet this standard, then what does?
As an institution known for Non Sibi, Andover can help send the message that fossil fuel companies must stop thinking purely of short term profit if that profit endangers life on Earth. If a wave of institutions divest from fossil fuels, these companies will lose their social license and, consequently, their powerful grip on the political process. This opens the door for real government action to achieve climate justice.
This past fall, we listened to Mr. Palfrey in his investiture speech ask how the Academy, “in the spirit of Non Sibi and our guiding principles [can make] the world a better place?” An opportunity now presents itself. Will you join us?
To stay up to date with our campaign, like [our Facebook page](http://www.facebook.com/DivestAndover). For alumni who want to take action, consider [signing our petition here](http://act.gofossilfree.org/act/phillips-academy).
Mimi Leggett ’13
Haonan Li ’13
Edward Mole ’13
Justin Wang ’13
Suzanne Wang ’13