Divestment is literally the talk of the town- the talk of the state, the nation, and beyond. Green Mountain College just announced that they will divest their endowment from fossil fuels, becoming the 5th college to do so. Kudos to GMC’s Campus Activism group!
Recently, UVM hosted the New Economy Summit, and the panel on divestment was introduced by Sierra Helmann. Her introductory words follow, and they are a moving call to action!
I am Sierra Helmann and I am here to talk to you about your responsibilities. As you take your seats I don’t want you to just take your seats I want you to think about your seats and your choice to sit here at this University and what that implies about you. I want you to take ownership of your seats. This may seem silly but where are you? You are in a university building, paid for in part by fossil fuel companies. Gas was fracked, tar sands were extracted and oil was spilled, to pay for these chairs. Suddenly these seats are no longer just seats they suddenly have a story attached.
Investment has a story attached to it whether we choose to acknowledge it or not there are stories around us and by taking ownership we are choosing to believe in a new economy; an economy where we know how our investments are affecting the planet and society and we are actively changing our practices to make sure we are not investing in exploitation. An economy where we are not just satisfied because we have high returns in dollars but because we are have high returns in human quality of life and environmental stability. We need to take ownership of everything that goes into making our economy. This past summer, Vermont resident, 350 co-founder and now… international celebrity Bill McKibben brought to our attention that our education is being subsidized by investments in fossil fuel companies. These very fossil fuel companies currently have in their reserves 5 times the amount of carbon that is safe to burn—or, in other words, in order to avoid runaway climate change, we need to keep 4/5ths of our fossil fuels in the ground. It becomes clear to us that investment in fossil fuel companies is not sustainable . McKibben’s campaign alarmed people and caused divestment efforts to spread across the country. The divestment campaign now spans over 350 college campuses as student organizers and faculty alike seek to “sever the ties with those who profit from climate change.” Now we are starting to look beyond the high returns, we are demanding to know where our money is going and to what end and rightfully so. We want the full story. We are past being passive. We are past being apathetic. Our planet is at risk, our lives are at risk and we are dying for divestment. This process of taking greater ownership over our investments is essential in the transition to the New Economy. Of course, a hydrocarbon investment screen alone won’t be nearly enough; we’re going to have to transform the way we think about investing. Fossil fuel divestment is simply a tactic to get the ball rolling in the right direction towards a safer and more stable future.
-Sierra Helmann is a rising sophomore at the University of Vermont.