To: Andover Board of Trustees
Phillips Academy: Go Fossil Free!
Because it is unconscionable to pay for our education with investments that will condemn the planet to climate disaster, we call on Phillips Academy to immediately freeze any new investment in fossil-fuel companies, and to divest within five years from direct ownership and from any commingled funds that include fossil-fuel public equities and corporate bonds.
Why is this important?
In the 1980s, students occupied campuses and took the fight against South African apartheid into their own hands, contributing to 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 all come together against it. Unfortunately, fossil fuel companies are less interested in solutions and more in their pocketbooks. Through investing in such companies, Andover profits from the destruction of the planet. Not only morally wrong, this 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% of American climate scientists support these assertions and have called for action.
In the U.S., the real effects of climate change are emerging. Consider Hurricane Sandy: More than 100 Americans dead, millions without power, over $60 billion in damage, the entire Northeast at a standstill. Or take the unrelenting American drought, which has cut into crop yields and foreshadowed a 21st century Dust Bowl. The science is clear that such events will only become more extreme and frequent on a warming planet.
Around the world, climate change is even more unjust. In fact, African nations that emit the least carbon will be hit the hardest by its consequences. For small island nations such as Seychelles or Fiji, their very existence is threatened by the ocean’s rise. From Miami to Mumbai, the dangers of climate change loom larger by the day.
Fortunately, there are steps toward a solution. For example, stricter regulations on mining and drilling would keep more carbon underground while protecting public health. A price on carbon would promote green innovations and sustainable living. A recent Yale survey found that 88% of Americans want government action on climate change. In the face of popular will and a moral imperative, one group has stood 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 of established science by funding misleading ads and widely-discredited climate skeptics. As one of Washington’s biggest lobby groups, they spend millions securing themselves tax breaks and subsidies, crushing renewable energy with an unfair and unnecessary advantage. Thanks to Big Oil’s money, many politicians of a certain political party drag their heels on climate change’s urgency and even reject the hard science behind it.
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 of 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 send the message that fossil fuel companies must stop thinking purely of short term profit by endangering current and future life on Earth. Like the civil rights activists who made the country aware of segregation’s evils, we can bring fossil fuel companies’ grave social injury to the national consciousness. 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