Pomona College students voting in ASPC elections this week have the opportunity to take action against rising levels of greenhouse gases. The ballot will include a question on whether students support the College divesting its endowment from the fossil fuel industry within five years. Pomona would be the first school on the West Coast to divest and the first in the country to divest an endowment greater than $1 billion. The College therefore has an opportunity to set an example for other institutions of higher learning.
We believe Pomona students should vote to divest from fossil fuels. The Board of Trustees ultimately has decision-making power when it comes to divestment, and we recognize that the Board acts based on what they think is best for the College in general and its financial health in particular. Yet with a vote for divestment, Pomona students can show their support for ethical investing. They can show the Board that this planet’s health is more important than the revenue accrued from fossil fuels. They can show the general public that addressing climate change must be a global priority.
Climate change is already happening, and it demands a response. 2012 was the warmest year on record in the U.S., and Superstorm Sandy caused millions of dollars in damages and almost 300 deaths. Rising oceans threaten island and coastal communities across the globe, while ocean acidification threatens shellfish and corals, which are the foundation of both marine ecosystems and coastal economies. The global community needs meaningful action to address climate change before its effects are truly catastrophic.
Divestment from fossil fuels has recently emerged as a tool with which institutions of higher learning can challenge society’s dependence on fossil fuels. Yet the tactic of divesting in order to effect political change is nothing new. In the 1990s, divestment on the part of American institutions (especially the University of California) helped end South Africa’s policy of apartheid by bringing international attention to the issue. Divestment has worked before, and it can work again.
The power of divestment from fossil fuels is more symbolic than economic. It will not have a significant financial impact on fossil fuel companies or lead to a marked reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. It is an easy action, and could potentially distract students and college leaders from more effective avenues for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Yet climate change is a global problem that demands a wide range of solutions. Divestment alone is not enough, but it is a powerful catalyst for change.
Pomona has a sizable endowment and significant prestige. If it decides to divest, it could motivate other similar institutions to do the same. A vote on the ASPC ballot in support of divesting from fossil fuels is a step towards greater national attention on the issue of climate change. Now is the time to take action for a sustainable future.