Thoughts on Divestment

By Brendan Birth '16, Columnist

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On Thursday, April 11, environmentalist Bill McKibben spoke to hundreds of people in ATS. However, he directed most of his attention towards student senators and college administrators, for he spoke about divesting from fossil fuels, a process that would result in Dickinson not holding any investment in corporations like Exxon-Mobil, Chevron, or BP. McKibben got his wish . . . sort of. Student Senate passed a bill on April 15 to support more research into the pros and cons of this action, instead of agreeing to divestment. As I discovered when attending this session of Student Senate, there was a lot of confusion about both the bill itself and divestment in general.

For starters, people on both sides were speaking as if the bill would flat-out support or reject divestment. While people spoke about issues that the committee should consider when researching the issue, the April 15 vote was not about either issue. As many student senators, professors, administrators, and a few other onlookers said correctly, passage of the bill instead gave an opportunity to look at these issues more closely. The debate on divestment didn’t end with the vote; instead, it began a new chapter in which people should look more closely into the problems at hand.

One such issue should be Dickinson’s image as a sustainable school. As McKibben pointed out when he spoke, Dickinson College has become a tier one school because it has rebranded itself on two things: Benjamin Rush and sustainability. If Dickinson did not divest from fossil fuels, it would send a message that we talk the talk but don’t walk the walk. In other words, we would come across as hypocrites. Critiques by people on both sides of the climate change issue would surely follow.

Our image is also important because it could hurt endowments. While critics point out that divestment would deplete the college of $81 million in endowments over a period of 20 years, there is also the danger that potential donors might refuse to donate to Dickinson because of such inaction. At heart, endowments are tied directly with public image, so any damage to the college’s perception, including critiques of the Dickinson’s continued investment in fossil fuels, could make potential donors steer away from the college. It would be hard to say whether Dickinson would lose more money from endowments if the college chooses to divest or not.

Another argument against divestment claims that divesting would have no impact on the fossil fuel industry. This is true, but the point is not to kill Exxon-Mobil. This instead involves making a statement that Dickinson does not invest in the same companies that pollute our planet with greenhouse gases. It would be another sign that the college recognizes global warming as a threat to civilization, and we are taking action to try combating the problem.

Finally, those against divestment say that it is too difficult. However, if Dickinsonians avoided what was difficult to confront, John Dickinson and Benjamin Rush would have not voiced their oppositions to slavery during the nation’s infancy. If Dickinsonians avoided what was difficult to confront, students would have stayed home instead of joining in civil rights marches. If Dickinsonians avoided what was difficult to confront, students would have remained silent instead of protesting the sexual violence policy in Memorial Hall of Old West. Rejecting a stance because it is “difficult” goes against the character of past and present Dickinsonians.

Divestment is the right thing to do because it will keep the college’s reputation for sustainability, keep donors, and send a message that the college cares about global warming.

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