by Morissa Zuckerman
This Valentine’s Day, the Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign put together a heartfelt message that even included a special valentine for President Trombley. At 2:30pm on Friday, crowds started gathering outside West Hall, where the Climate Action Task Force was meeting to discuss the future of fossil fuel divestment and climate action at Pitzer. At 3pm, when the Board of Trustees, staff members, professors, and student leaders of the task force exited the meeting, they were greeted with a “human oil spill” and Trombley was presented with a valentine card that read “Break up with fossil fuels. Divest now!” A white fabric pipeline stretched through West Hall and out onto the Service Road, where dozens of students dressed in black lay down on the ground, their bodies representing spilled oil. The human oil spill was a visual symbol of the destructiveness of fossil fuels, and a reminder to the trustees of the harms done by this industry in which Pitzer remains invested.
The Claremont Colleges Fossil Fuel Divestment campaign began in November 2012, when 75 Claremont students attended Bill McKibben’s “Do The Math” speaking tour at UCLA. McKibben spoke of a new global movement, spearheaded by the climate change organization 350.org, to take on the fossil fuel industry in a way in which students could directly participate: fossil fuel divestment. Since 2012, this movement has spread to more than 500 college campuses around the world, as well as hundreds of cities, religious organizations, pension funds and other institutions.
All five of the Claremont Colleges now have active divestment efforts, with Pitzer having made the most progress so far. Last October, the Pitzer Board of Trustees met to discuss divestment but failed to make any kind of commitment. Instead, the trustees created a task force to examine and determine a general climate action plan for Pitzer, which they said may include but is not limited to divestment. The task force, comprised of three trustees, two staff members, two professors, and three students, will continue to meet in the coming months and make a recommendation to the full Board of Trustees about divestment and climate action at its May meeting.
After the task force meeting on Friday, students from the “human oil spill” spoke of Pitzer’s moral obligation to live up to its core values of social responsibility and environmental sustainability, and behave in a manner that is ethically consistent with its mission statement. Pitzer professors Paul Faulstich and Dan Segal and Harvey Mudd professor Paul Steinberg spoke to the crowd of students, parents, trustees, and President Trombley about the increasing urgency of climate change and the need for action. They discussed divestment as a tactic used in the fight against apartheid in South Africa, and emphasized that the same ethical responsibility exists in the fight for climate justice. Although divestment from South Africa and fossil fuel divestment are not identical, both campaigns ask that institutions commit to no longer financially and politically supporting these destructive practices.
As the impacts of climate change intensify, specifically those that affect the world’s poor and communities of color, the moral obligation of people and institutions with the ability to create change also increases. At Friday’s action, Laurie Covarrubias from the Indigenous Students Alliance implored Pitzer to consider the plight of those most harmed by climate change and the fossil fuel industry. She read a letter from her 5-year-old son, who wonders why he can’t play in rivers in Canada anymore, why so many fish are dying and why there are rainbow slicks on top of the water. His letter tells just one of the numerous stories about people who are suffering from the impacts of climate change, oil spills, pollution, and all the health impacts that come along with these problems.
As an institution of higher learning that is preparing its students for the future, Pitzer has an ethical responsibility to act on this issue. It is unconscionable for our school to profit from the fossil fuel industry while it is condemning the world to an unstable future. As the effects of climate change continue to worsen, the environmental movement and divestment campaign are spreading and gaining momentum every day. These efforts are building the power that is necessary to combat the financial influence of the fossil fuel industry over our government, and to implement impactful and large-scale climate action legislation. While divestment is not an end-all-be-all-solution, it is a critical step forward and is part of a powerful movement in which Pitzer must participate.
Pitzer has always been ahead of its time, and acted as a leader in environmental sustainability and social responsibility. The College’s consistency with these values and the urgency of the climate crisis requires that by no later than the May 2014 meeting, the Board of Trustees make a commitment to a holistic climate action plan that includes complete fossil fuel divestment. Now is the time for Pitzer to act as a leader once again, both to uphold our institutional integrity and for a sustainable planet for current and future generations.