Letter to Swarthmore’s Board Supporting Divestment

Just sent this letter to Swarthmore’s board (managers@swarthmore.edu), exciting things are happening around divestment!

For those interested, here is:


Dear Mr. Kemp and Swarthmore Board,

I know you are busy people, and I will try to be brief.

I understand your concerns and truly appreciate your stewardship of the college through presidents, new generations, recessions, and more. The steadiness and sobriety of the board is important to keep Swarthmore on the right path.

However, after much consideration, I have to respectfully disagree with the board’s decision not to divest our endowment from fossil fuels. Our college for many years has espoused ideals around sustainability, and to keep ourselves honest we must take this step and lead. Yes, we should not use the endowment as an active political tool without great hesitation. Yet, when 97% of scientists agree on an issue and the college’s public statements for years have agreed that climate change is an issue, to not act would be in violation of our Swarthmore’s principles.

Others more elegant have argued why this is useful morally, and others have also demonstrated its utility as a tactical move (it will not be an empty symbolic gesture, but an important signal in how fossil fuels are perceived).

As you all are practical people, however, I’d like to point out some reasons why this is prudent for Swarthmore, moral arguments aside:

  • We must align our investments with our values, or risk reputationally being seen as hypocritical
  • There is a very strong likelihood that the Carbon Bubble is real – removing our investment in fossil fuels avoids the large downside we are risking if those fossil fuels stay in the ground, which basic logic suggests is likely
  • We gain reputation & prestige by leading the charge instead of following meekly

As the moral and financial evidence that this is a good idea becomes more clear, the risk that we are leading down the wrong path diminishes. Let us reap the practical gains by leading this movement, as well as some of the financial gains by being among the first to divest.

Young alums are watching this issue closely, as we know that ultimately it will be us who have to deal with the more extreme effects of climate change. We know that you are working with the best interests of Swarthmore and future generations at heart, and hope that the many arguments in favor of divestment are strong enough to stand up to your intellectual scrutiny. I believe they are strong enough, and that it is time to divest. I believe the moral, financial, and other pragmatic reasons suggest it is time as well, and that we will look back at this decision with pride as a time Swarthmore led the way to a better outcome for both humanity and for itself.

Thank you for your time,
Colin Schimmelfing 2010

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