5,400 signatures in solidarity with Mountain Justice sit-in

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8 days ago, 44 students, faculty, and alumni began a sit-in at the College’s Finance and Investments office to call on Investments Committee Chair Chris Niemczewski and Board Chair Gil Kemp to reopen dialogue and collaborate with Mountain Justice to move forward on divestment. Since then over 100 students, faculty, and alumni have joined the sit-in.

As one of the nation’s most prestigious colleges, and one with a strong tradition of civic responsibility and leadership for the common good, we the world looks to us for leadership on the pressing social issues of our time. As the college where the divestment movement began (and escalation), Swarthmore’s fossil fuel investments are in the international spotlight. By investing in the fossil fuel industry, Swarthmore is saying that the fossil fuel industry’s business plan to burn over five times as much carbon as is reasonably safe to burn is compatible with our institutional values of social responsibility, truth, and leadership for the common good. As the world prepares to draft the most critical climate agreement ever, this is the wrong message being sent at the worst time.

Yet the Swarthmore community recognizes that it doesn’t have to be this way. A majority of the student body, nearly half the faculty and over 1100 alumni, including UN Climate Chief Christiana Figueres, have called on Swarthmore align our investments with our values. Since our sit-in began 5,438 people from around the country have signed onto a letter of solidarity with our campaign and asking Swarthmore to take vital leadership on climate.

We are pleased to know that divestment is on the agenda at the May Board meeting, however that is no guarantee that this will result in the action the Swarthmore community deserves. The decision will be made behind closed doors by thirty-nine board members. The several thousand Swarthmore community members who have voiced support for divestment will not be at the table during the May Board meeting. We are continuing our sit-in to call on the Board to reopen dialogue with us because we need to ensure that divestment will be seriously considered in May, and that the Board is committed to seizing the historic opportunity that we have before us.

We are here to ask that President Hungerford urge Mr. Niemczewski and Mr. Kemp to work with the Mountain Justice to discuss commitments for divestment ahead of the May Board meeting in order to ensure that the May meeting is productive and produces results in line with the urgency of this crisis.

UN Climate Chief and Swarthmore alumna Christiana Figueres ’79 Supports Sit-in

UNFCCC Executive Secretary and Swarthmore alumna Christiana Figueres ’79 endorses our sit-in, rebukes Chris Niemczewski’s (Chair of the Board’s Investments Committee) misleading report, and calls on Gil Kemp to move forward with divestment.

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BREAKING: 37 Swarthmore Students and 6 Alumni Begin Sit-in in Finance and Investments Office for Divestment

Swarthmore_Divestment_SitInEarly this morning, Swarthmore Mountain Justice launched an extended sit-in for fossil fuel divestment on the campus that birthed the now global divestment campaign, kicking off a historic spring of escalating nonviolent action throughout the student divestment movement. The 37 students and 6 alumni are asking the Swarthmore Board Investment Committee Chair Chris Niemczewski and Board Chair Gil Kemp to return to the negotiating table and agree to end the College’s investments in a rogue industry that violates Swarthmore’s Quaker values and recklessly imperils a just and sustainable future for our generation.

Our goal is to engage Mr. Kemp and Mr. Niemczewski in a productive dialogue on how to move forward on fossil fuel divestment. But to ensure that this dialogue is productive, Mr. Kemp and Mr. Niemczewski must reckon with the increasingly deadly impacts of the climate crisis on our world’s most marginalized communities, as well as the possibility of an uninhabitable future for our generation. Our action today reflects the urgency of this crisis.

Our campaign is one of many campaigns that will be taking nonviolent direct action for divestment this spring. This marks a turning point in the fossil fuel divestment movement, as students are, for the first time ever, taking escalated action on their own campuses and targeting the decision-makers at their own schools. Our movement calls on institutions to divest from the 200 coal, oil, and gas companies most responsible for the climate crisis, and reinvest in community-led solutions at the frontlines of poverty and pollution.More than any other climate campaign before it, the fossil fuel divestment movement has eroded the power of the fossil fuel industry and shifted the conversation on climate. The fossil fuel industry’s recent attacks on the divestment movement are a testament to its success.

We are calling on our college – the very institution tasked with preparing us for the future – to stand with us in ensuring a just and stable future. The Swarthmore community recognizes this opportunity to align our investments with our values. Over 1,100 faculty and alumni, along with 970 students (61% of the student body), have signed a petition calling on the College’s Board of Managers to divest from fossil fuels. Despite this, the Board has rejected this historic opportunity to show international leadership on climate. We cannot stand idly by as Mr. Niemczewski and Board Chair Gil Kemp continue to prevent the Board of Managers from responding to the mandate from the Swarthmore community to align our investments with our values.

Climate change is already an unprecedented crisis that affects us all, but we know that it will be low-income communities and communities of color that will endure the worst of our inaction. When we extract and burn fossil fuels, low-income communities and communities of color around the world are the first to be burdened with poison and pollution, and when the tides rise and the storm comes, those same communities are the last to be evacuated and rebuilt. Humanity is running out of time for the world to change course and prevent catastrophic climate change. According to UN’s latest climate report, if we are to have a chance of avoiding ‘runaway’ global warming of over 2 degrees Celsius, global emissions must peak within 5 years. This means the coming months are pivotal as world leaders try one more time this fall to negotiate an international climate treaty in line with the climate science.

Right now, the Swarthmore Board is choosing to be a part of the problem. As a small liberal arts college, our $1.8 billion endowment is one of our most powerful political tools. By investing in this industry, Swarthmore is saying that the fossil fuel industry’s business plan to burn over five times as much carbon as is safe to burn is compatible with our institutional values of social responsibility, truth, and leadership for the common good. As the world prepares to draft the most critical climate agreement ever, this is the wrong message being sent at the worst time.

When the Board hired investments expert Greg Kats to advise on sustainability initiatives, Mr. Kats responded with a public call for fossil fuel divestment. The Board should take the recommendation of their own advisor. The conflict between Swarthmore’s values and the catastrophic impacts of its investment has become untenable, and our action further highlights this discrepancy. We fully expect the Board to move forward on fossil fuel divestment.

The coming months are critical for the future livability of this planet. Chris Niemczewski and the Board of Managers have a choice: to make history or be vilified with it. To invest in a rogue industry or join us in declaring the end to the fossil fuel era. To stand with us as our generation demands a stable future, or to side with an industry attempting to extract every last bit of profit from the earth. As the birthplace of the fossil fuel divestment movement, the world is watching us. Whose side are you on, Swarthmore?

Swarthmore Board’s Investment Expert Calls for Divestment

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From the Daily Gazette (3/5/14).

The Financial Advantages of Divestment

By Gregory H. Kats
March 5, 2015

This note is prompted by two wonderful days that I spent engaging on the issue of sustainability and fossil fuel divestment with students, faculty, staff and trustees of Swarthmore.  As a long time investor, including as a Managing Director on the investment committee of a fund investing $500 million a year, I offer a perspective from beyond the Swarthmore community.

Two years ago, the inclusion of fossil fuel companies in an endowment portfolio was considered a reasonable and prudent position. Today, divestment from fossil fuels — especially coal — has become the more fiscally rational and morally grounded option.

The moral arguments for divestment are well articulated by Swarthmore students and faculty, and underlie the accelerating movement toward divestment by other higher education institutions. It is clear that Swarthmore is an exceptionally moral, socially conscientious, and engaged institution, and that these values and characteristics are central to the institution’s excellence. But because the moral dimension of the divestment discussion is more subjective than and sometimes viewed as subordinate to the financial one, for purposes of this note I will focus mainly on the financial prudence and stewardship aspect of the divestment decision.

Let’s start with two points we can all agree on: first, climate change is real and has started to drive large changes in weather, emigration, drought, and storm frequency/severity. As a result, it is beginning to drive substantial changes in physical design of cities, infrastructure and in asset allocations towards clean energy, backup power, utility energy mix, shifts in insurance, and more. Second, the reality of climate change on the ground and the greater scientific certainty and consensus on anthropogenic climate change trends both indicate that the severity of climate change is worse than we had previously imagined.

There are a few arguments against divestment which I would like to address before I lay out the reasoning behind divestment. These arguments against divestment, many of which appeared to be funded by the fossil fuel industry, typically rest on three assertions, none of which are correct.

First, they argue that the fifty year return history of fossil fuel stocks has been good. The implication is that fossil fuel share returns will continue to be good and therefore Swarthmore could or would experience lower future endowment returns from divestment. However, this 50 year time frame is not relevant to the climate change divestment and stock price risk. The relevant stock price return period is the last five years or so, during which time fossil fuel share price returns have actually underperformed the larger market.

Second, they argue that reweighting portfolios to exclude fossil fuels could be expensive both in switching to a new portfolio mix and in terms of ongoing management fees. However, at the scale of the Swarthmore portfolio, and assuming orderly exit over a few years, there is no reason for any increase in fees or costs. A reweighting of stocks against fossil fuel free criteria, especially done in conjunction with other institutions, might actually lower transaction/management fees.

Third, they assert that the exit of fossil fuel firm holdings resulting from divestment would involve dollar amounts too small to have any material impact and is therefore a pointless gesture. However, a divestment decision by Swarthmore and other leading academic institutions would have a very large public relations, moral and leadership impact vastly larger than the dollar amount involved, as demonstrated by the success of the South African divestment movement.

The financial rationale for divestment today compared to two years ago now takes into account that the likelihood of political and market intervention is far greater than it was then, which means that much of current and future fossil fuel reserves will not be burned. This would drive large valuation reductions of fossil fuel firms. Because fossil fuel companies currently represent a significant percent of Swarthmore’s endowment allocation, a large reduction in the value of fossil fuel shares would result in a corresponding reduction in Swarthmore’s endowment value. The current climate change trajectory is consistent with fossil fuel stocks starting to underperform the overall market as early smart or motivated money (such as the Stanford University and Rockefeller Foundation divestment decisions) begin to divest or reallocate toward cleaner energy.

In terms of divestment timing and risk, late exiters would experience large losses in capital. From a financial returns perspective, this means that the return upside from fossil fuels is less today than it was two years ago, while the downside is far larger as well as likely to happen sooner. This changes the risk return equation for Swarthmore’s portfolio.

The last year has seen the emergence of substantial rigorous analysis around the argument that in a carbon constrained world unburnable fossil fuel reserves are  stranded assets. For example, this Forbes piece mentions that a “2013 report commissioned by the Associated Press and performed by the research firm S&P Capital IQ […] found that a university endowment that pulled out of the 200 fossil fuel companies targeted by the divestment campaign would have avoided substantial losses.” An important threshold in the recognition of fossil fuel asset value risk was the December 2014 decision by the Bank of England to “set a new standard for all central banks and financial regulators on climate risk by agreeing to examine, for the first time, the vulnerability that fossil fuel assets could pose to the stability of the financial system in a carbon constrained world.”

If we agree that climate change is a huge threat that society will act on, then it necessarily follows that divestment will occur to limit losses, that fossil fuel company prices will drop substantially and that institutions with these stocks in their portfolios will experience large losses. Aside from the financial risk of being a late exiter, the moral and brand damage to Swarthmore from being a late mover would likely be large.

A January 15, 2015 letter by many of Stanford’s faculty to the Stanford President and Board of trustees puts the issue this way: ”If a university seeks to educate extraordinary youth so they may achieve the brightest possible future, what does it mean for that university simultaneously to invest in the destruction of that future?” A Swarthmore student leader, Stephen O’Hanlon ‘17, argues that “as the school where this movement began, the world is watching us. It is unconscionable for Swarthmore… to invest in and legitimize the fossil fuel companies that are wrecking the climate, poisoning communities, and jeopardizing the very future for which our education is meant to prepare us.”

Given Swarthmore’s origins as a Quaker school, its deep engagement around civil rights, its perhaps late but ultimately successful apartheid divestment campaign, and above all the moral passion and intelligence of its students on this issue, the Swarthmore brand protection case for short term divestment is very strong.

Swarthmore rightly views itself as morally engaged on big social issues, and climate change divestment is a big issue where the benefits of being an early exiter are clearly large and the costs of being a late exiter are also clearly large. I keep coming back to the sustained, morally and logically founded divestment demands of Swarthmore’s engaged and articulate student body. It is precisely these qualities of its students that make Swarthmore great. On this issue — the defining issue of their generation and arguably many future generations to come — their voices need to be heard.

Gregory H. Kats is the President of Capital E, which invests in cleantech firms and works with companies and public institutions  to  transition to a sustainable economy.

Faculty Deliver Open Letter to Board Signed by 92 Faculty


Photo Credit: Mindy Cheng

On Friday, February 20th, faculty members delivered an open letter signed by 92 faculty to the Board of Managers at the Faculty-Board reception. Read their full letter below. Faculty members can add their name here.

Swarthmore’s largest financial advisor, Cambridge Associates, recently announced that it would actively assist institutional investors to implement fossil fuel divestment. The door to fossil free investment is open to Swarthmore and the dozens of other schools whose endowments Cambridge manages. We call on Swarthmore College, as an institution deeply committed to justice, sustainability, and civic responsibility, to immediately reply to Cambridge’s offer and identify pathways to a fossil-free endowment.

As the Board of Managers has acknowledged, climate change is one of the most pressing issues of our time. Climate change and our fossil fueled energy infrastructure cause millions of deaths every year and the potential damage wrought by unchecked fossil fuel extraction is unthinkable. We believe that Swarthmore must take leadership on this incredibly urgent, global problem. In order to diligently do so, we must consider fossil fuel divestment, particularly following the announcement by Cambridge Associates.

Following the Cambridge Associates announcement, the recent U.S-China climate deal, and the UN’s latest climate report, fossil fuel investments are in the public eye more than ever. If the world is to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius - a commitment that can only be fulfilled by leaving 60%-80% of known carbon reserves in the ground — the fossil fuel industry will face a potential devaluation of up to 60%, according to the investment bank, HSBC. Continuing to invest in fossil fuels not only increases our endowment’s risk to the carbon bubble’s devaluation, but signals that we, as an institution, believe the fossil fuel industry is a legitimate long-term investment. This is the wrong message being sent at the worst time.

Fortunately, the tide is turning rapidly. 2014 has already been a historic year for the climate movement. Over 400,000 people, including over 200 Swarthmore students and faculty, joined in the People’s Climate March. The next day, the Rockefeller Foundation, built off the wealth of Standard Oil Company, divested. The fossil fuel divestment movement began here at Swarthmore just three years ago. Since then it has grown to 500 campaigns around the world. The movement has assembled a groundbreaking coalition of universities, cities, religious institutions, and world leaders including World Bank President Jim Yong-Kim, U.N. Climate Chief Christiana Figueres ‘79, and U.N. General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon. The movement has begun to move large pools of money. Sweden’s AP2 and Norway’s public pension fund, totalling over $100 billion, divested.

In his recent letter to the college community, Board of Managers Chair Giles Kemp reiterated arguments made in May 2013 that divestment would slow the growth of our endowment’s by $10 to $15 million per year. This figure was based off the assumption that the College would need to move out of commingled funds and into indexed funds. While commingled funds screened against fossil fuels existed in May 2013, they have become much more widely available due to a rapid growth of institutional demand for fossil free investment. Now that Cambridge Associates has offered to assist Swarthmore in finding those individual managers offering fossil free investment opportunities, the Board’s claims are outdated.

Our endowment is one of our most powerful levers for social change. Given the urgency of the climate crisis, we, as a community, must seriously engage with divestment.

We, the undersigned 92 faculty, call on Swarthmore’s Board of Managers to make a public commitment to fossil fuel divestment.

Peter Collings, Physics and Astronomy
Sibelan Forrester, Modern Languages and Literatures
David Cohen, Physics and Astronomy
Peter Schmidt, English Literature
Barry Schwartz, Psychology
Tessa Wegener, Modern Languages and Literatures
Les Sikos, Psychology
Stella Christie, Psychology
Jodie Baird, Psychology
Lara Cohen, English Literature
Bakirathi Mani, English Literature
Micheline Rice-Maximin, Modern Languages and Literatures
Deb Bergstrand, Mathematics and Statistics
Craig Williamson, English Literature
Carl Grossman, Physics and Astronomy
Sangina Patnaik, English
Benjamin Cherel, Modern Languages and Literatures
Allen Schneider, Psychology
Nathalie Anderson, English Literature
Jean-Vincent Blanchard, Modern Languages and Literatures
Christopher Fraga, Sociology and Anthropology
Giovanna Di Chiro, Environmental Studies
Lee Smithey, Peace and Conflict Studies
Mark Wallace, Religion
Sarah Willie-LeBreton, Sociology and Anthropology
Cheryl Grood, Mathematics and Statistics
Yvonne Chireau, Religion
Christy Schuetze, Sociology and Anthropology
Rachel Epstein, Mathematics and Statistics
Betsy Bolton, English
Milton Machuca-Galvez, Latin American Studies
Michele Reimer, Psychology
Peter Baumann, Philosophy
Cynthia Halpern, Political Science
Richard Eldridge, Philosophy
Eric Song, English Literature
Nick Kaplinsky, Biology
Vincent Formica, Biology
Alex Baugh, Biology
Eric Jensen, Physics and Astronomy
Luciano Martinez, Spanish
Amanda Bayer, Economics
Nanci Buiza, Spanish
Robert Weinberg, History
María Luisa Guardiola, Modern Languages and Literatures
Felipe Valencia, Spanish
Julia Vila, Spanish
Ganapathy Narayanaraj, Environmental Studies
Jose-Luis Machado, Biology
Brad Davidson, Biology
Thompson Bradley, Emeritus, Modern Language and Literatures
Alexandra Gueydan-Turek, French
Bruce Dorsey, History
Amy Graves, Physics and Astronomy
Jodi Schottenfeld-Roames, Biology
Sara Hiebert Burch, Biology
Elizabeth Vallen, Biology
Syd Carpenter, Art
Maya Nadkarni, Sociology and Anthropology
Shervin Malekzadeh, Political Science
Alan Berkowitz, Chinese
Kelly McConville, Mathematics and Statistics
Nathan Sanders, Linguistics
Donna Jo Napoli, Linguistics
Ken Sharpe, Political Science
Daniel Grodner, Psychology
Logan Grider, Art
Farid Azfar, History
Joseph Gregorio, Music & Dance
Elaine Allard, Educational Studies
Nora Johnson, English
Edwin Mayorga, Educational Studies
Farha Ghannam, Sociology and Anthropology
Catherine Norris, Psychology
Tamsin Lorraine, Philosophy
Hugh Lacey, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy
Andrew Hauze, Music & Dance
Diego Armus, History
Jill Gladstein, Writing Program
Gwynn Kessler, Religion
Jamie Thomas, Linguistics
Lisa Smulyan, Educational Studies
Marjorie Murphy, History
Steven Hopkins, Religion
Thomas Whitman, Music and Dance
Helene Shapiro, Emerita, Mathematics and Statistics
Steven Piker, Emeritus Professor of Anthropology
Steve Viscelli, Sociology and Anthropology
Ellen Ross, Religion
Nina Johnson, Sociology and Anthropology
Jennifer Bradley, Educational Studies
Joy Charlton, Sociology and Anthropology

60 Swarthmore Students Pledge to Take Bold Action for Divestment


14 February 2015

Contact: Stephen O’Hanlon, 610-955-7398, sohanlon22@gmail.com, Swarthmore College Sophomore, Swarthmore Mountain Justice

60 Swarthmore College Students Pledge to Take Bold Action to Pressure Board to Divest College’s $1.8 Billion Endowment from Fossil Fuels

SWARTHMORE, PA — On Friday evening, dozens of students, faculty, alumni, and community supporters gathered to launch the national Divestment Escalation Pledge at Swarthmore College. Following the Swarthmore Board of Managers’ unwillingness to move forward with a proposal for divestment, over 50 students pledged to take bold action this spring to pressure the Board of Managers to divest the College’s $1.8 billion endowment from fossil fuels.

The event was part of an international day of action, Global Divestment Day. Thousands around the world took action calling on their cities, states, universities, and faith institutions to divest from fossil fuels.

Swarthmore Mountain Justice’s campaign has been active for over three years and was one of the first of a growing movement. On more than 500 campuses across the United States, students and faculty have organized to demand that their endowments divest from fossil fuels. At Swarthmore, the divestment campaign is growing too. 970 students, over 60% of the student body, nearly half of the faculty, and over 700 alumni have called on the Board to divest from fossil fuels.

On February 2nd, Swarthmore Mountain Justice brought a plan to the Board, developed in consultation with the Swarthmore College Finance and Investments Office, for how Swarthmore could divest by 2020. “It became clear that the Board had no intention of allowing any proposal for divestment to be discussed by the full Board,” Stephen O’Hanlon, a sophomore and member of the campaign said.

“Despite the mandate from the College community, the Board of Managers has repeatedly refused to move forward with divestment,” says Sara Blazevic, a senior and member of the campaign. “Over the past three years, we have met over 30 times with members of the Board and the administration. It’s clear now that negotiation alone is not going to lead us to fossil fuel divestment.”

This spring, Mountain Justice is preparing to take bold action calling on the Board to respond to the community mandate for divestment. “We know every successful social movement for justice and equality reaches this point - when negotiations can lead no further and when bold action becomes necessary to shine a spotlight on injustice and force those in power to take responsibility,” Guido Girgenti, a senior and member of the campaign said.

“By committing to escalate our campaign we are affirming Swarthmore’s values and Quaker heritage,” said Sophia Zaia, a freshman and member of the campaign. “By taking bold action to demand social justice, we are upholding the very values this school has helped foster in us and capitalizing on the best our education has to offer.”


Swarthmore Mountain Justice (swatmj.org) is a student group at Swarthmore College and founded the first fossil fuel divestment campaign. There are now over 500 fossil fuel divestment campaigns worldwide.  Swarthmore Mountain Justice is calling on the Swarthmore College Board of Managers to divest from fossil fuels and reinvest in sustainable solutions to the climate crisis.

Mountain Justice member Sara Blazevic talking about her work helping coordinate escalation across campuses nationwide during Swarthmore Mountain Justice teach-in and training on Feb 13th.

Peace and Conflict Studies Professor Lee Smithey speaking on the importance of social movements and the power of nonviolent direct action.

Response to Investment Committee Announcement



Yesterday, after nearly 100 students delivered over 800 student signatures calling for divestment, the Board of Managers announced that our Investments Committee “acted to include our investment managers in the ongoing conversation” about the College’s climate initiatives: “the investment managers of our endowment have been asked to detail their methods of evaluating direct costs of climate change…and related [carbon] regulatory policies on future returns.”

We know that the climate crisis and climate regulations significantly threaten the viability of fossil fuel investments. If our Investments Committee begins to evaluate these threats, this can only lead to fossil fuel divestment.

The financial risk posed by unburnable carbon is clear. If we take the necessary action to avoid catastrophic climate impacts and leave 60% – 80% of current carbon reserves in the ground, roughly $20 trillion in assets will be stranded. Fossil fuel companies could be devalued by 40% to 60%, the investment bank HSBC estimates. U.K. Energy Secretary Ed Davey warned that fossil fuel stocks could be the “sub-prime assets of the future.” And UN Climate Chief Christiana Figueres ‘79 notes that either “we will move to a low-carbon world because nature will force us, or because policy will guide us,” and that continued investment in fossil fuels despite this threat constitutes a “blatant breach of fiduciary duty.”

We applaud our Investments Committee for beginning the process of evaluating the effects of climate change and climate regulation on our endowment’s financial health. But the answer is clear: a growing chorus of political and financial leaders have sounded the alarm, warning of the significant financial risk posed by the carbon bubble.

The Board’s fiduciary duties obligate them to take action to protect action to protect the endowment from the risks posed by the carbon bubble. We look forward to working with the Board and our College’s financial advisors to create a plan for fossil fuel divestment.

Thank you all for marching with us yesterday and calling on the Board to what is right. We’ve reached this milestone because of your commitment and support. Onward.

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