Pledge to Escalate this April


Last Spring, 975 students, 96 faculty members and 950 alumni joined Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC Christiana Figueres and Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon in calling on Swarthmore to divest from fossil fuels. Just this past month, six noted honorary degree recipients, including Noam Chomsky, Arlie Hochschild, Lorene Cary and John Braxton, added their names to the chorus calling on Swarthmore to divest.

Divestment is an urgent and necessary step in delegitimizing the fossil fuel industry and combatting catastrophic climate change. Yet despite a widespread community mandate and the endorsement of international leaders, Swarthmore’s Board chose not to divest last spring. Gil Kemp claimed that the Board was concerned that divesting would harm the college’s endowment, yet prominent financial institutions such as investments bank HSBC have warned that continued investment in fossil fuels actually poses a financial risk to the endowment. Just last month, oil giant ExxonMobil reported its worst quarterly profits in over a decade, and crude oil prices have dropped 70% since 2014. If we honor the agreement set at the Paris Climate Talks of keeping warming below a rise of 2 degrees Celsius, the value of fossil fuel stocks will plummet.

Since divestment would not harm the endowment, why does the Board continue to invest in an industry that kills millions of people every year and is actively making our planet uninhabitable? A recent investigation into the personal finances of Board members revealed that three prominent members are connected to companies with a total of 3.6 billion invested in the fossil fuel industry. These conflicts of interest clearly compromise these Board members and their ability to make a good faith decision on divestment. Last month, we demanded that these three Board members, Rhonda Cohen, Samuel Hayes III and Harold Kalkstein, recuse themselves from future discussions on divestment to ensure transparency. The Board has failed to respond.

The staggering human toll that climate change wreaks on frontlines communities around the globe makes this a moral crisis of the highest order. We cannot sit idly by while our institution fails to take meaningful action to stigmatize the fossil fuel industry and prevent the worst consequences of climate change. Just as the fossil fuel industry has blocked meaningful progress on combating climate change, these three board members’ ties to the industry block our college from being a global leader.

That’s why we’re asking students, alumni and faculty members to pledge to take escalated action with us this spring. We cannot let the personal financial interests of Board members continue to block meaningful action on the most important global issue of our generation. If you pledge to take nonviolent direct action this April, add your name to this form.


Noam Chomsky, Arlie Hochschild, John Braxton, Lotte Bailyn, Lorene Cary and Barbara Hall Partee Call on Swarthmore’s Board of Managers to Divest


TO: Board of Managers of Swarthmore College

We are writing to you as proud recipients of honorary degrees from Swarthmore College. Whether it was divesting from Apartheid, refusing to bow to McCarthyism, developing leaders in the civil rights and peace movements, or admitting women from its founding, Swarthmore has been a powerful voice for justice at critical moments in history.  Right now, we are at one of those points.

Scientists say that we must substantially reduce global carbon emissions within the next several years in order to avoid runaway climate change with devastating effects. While the Paris accords represent a significant step towards the goal of reducing greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, the absence of firm commitments by the parties means that we still have a long way to go if we are to prevent the rise in global temperature from reaching 2 degrees Celsius. To keep the increase to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius, which the Paris accord set as a desired goal, will be even more difficult.

Climate change is without doubt one of the most important moral, economic, and political issues of our time.  We call upon you to exercise intellectual and moral leadership by implementing a plan to divest from fossil fuels over the next few years. Hundreds of other institutions including Oxford University, Stanford University, the city of Seattle, multiple Nordic national pension funds, and even the Rockefeller Fund—which was built off the profits of Standard Oil Company—have divested funds totaling $1 trillion.  If they can take that stand, surely Swarthmore can also.

None of us can wait for someone else to end the addiction to fossil fuels that is causing the climate chaos that is just beginning.  Ending Apartheid required the force of many different streams in the movement.  But Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu have stated that one key stream was the delegitimizing of Apartheid that resulted from the divestment campaign.  Swarthmore played a significant role in that campaign.  It is time for Swarthmore to stand up and do the right thing once again.


Noam Chomsky, John Braxton and Arlie Hochschild

As of February 19t 2016, honorary degree recipients Lorene Cary, Lotte Bailyn and Barbara Hall Partee have signed onto the letter.

Alumni Update — Where We Stand, September 2012

by Pat Walsh ’14


For alumni who are just joining us, we’d like to introduce ourselves. We’re current students at Swarthmore College. We’re all members of Mountain Justice, a student group dedicated to ending mountaintop removal coal mining as well as other forms of fossil fuel extraction. For the past year and a half, we’ve been busy with an activist campaign based on Swarthmore’s campus.

We oppose fossil fuel industries for several, overlapping reasons: The extraction and burning of fossil fuels pollutes the environment and propagates climate change. Extraction poisons drinking water, harms local economies, and generally creates unsafe living conditions for people who live nearby. Furthermore, the people most affected by fossil fuel extraction are predominantly people of color and the economically disadvantaged. The extraction and burning of fossil fuels are clearly social justice issues.

Across the country, communities that face fossil fuel companies have been working to educate themselves and resist these injustices. At Swarthmore, however, we aren’t physically confronted with the noise, pollution, and destruction of extraction. In an effort to work with those local communities that fight back, we decided to leverage the power of Swarthmore’s endowment against the fossil fuel industry. After inquiring about the specifics of Swarthmore’s investments and being denied that answer, we publicly launched our divestment campaign.

We researched divestment, its feasibility, and previous uses of divestment in social justice movements. We communicated with organizations like the Responsible Endowments Coalition, which provide advice and guidance to students working with their schools for more socially responsible endowments. We contacted other schools that have similar fossil fuel divestment campaigns currently happening. We motivated students on our campus with rallies, information, speakers, and a petition that received 700 student signatures.

We asked that Swarthmore divest its endowment from 16 of the worst fossil fuel companies. In spring of this year, we met with both President Chopp and the Social Responsibility Committee of the Board of Managers to describe our divestment proposal and ask for their support. They listened to our proposal but declined to consider divestment as an option.

In researching divestment campaigns in the past, we’ve realized that successful campaigns don’t happen overnight. We have to build a lot of support and educate more people, including faculty, alumni, and prospective students. We know that fossil fuel extraction and climate change are crises that demand action. It’s our job to convince the Board of Managers that divestment is an action worth taking. Join us in making this happen.