Editorial: Divest Kalamazoo

By Colin Lauderdale, Contributor

Kalamazoo College is invested in fossil fuel companies; and it shouldn’t be.

The world – in particular the West – runs on coal, oil and natural gas.  Because of this, fossil fuels are a lucrative enterprise.  In fact, fossil fuel companies broadly writ, and oil in particular, are hands-down the most profitable companies in history.

As a consequence, companies that extract, transport or combust fossil fuels make handsome investments.  Like most institutions, some portion of Kalamazoo College’s approximately $130 million endowment is stored in mutual funds, hedge funds and equities that invest in the fossil fuel industry.  The College should remove these investments.

Divesting from oppressive industries is a particularly effective way for students, staff and faculty to “put their money where their mouth is” and take real action for their values.

As an organizing strategy, divestment has roots in the anti-Apartheid movement of the 1980s.  More than 150 institutions across the United States at least partially divested from lucrative South African extractive industries that profited by perpetuating Apartheid.  The strategy was predicated on financial harm to oppressive companies, but held a more important goal: isolating the Apartheid state.

Today, oppression from fossil fuel extraction, transportation and combustion is far more diffuse than the oppression of Apartheid.  Usually, the laws supporting fossil fuel extraction aren’t as blatantly unjust as those of Apartheid South Africa;  and the victims of fossil fuel industries are less unified and concentrated than black South Africans.

But the victims are many.  From mountaintop removal in Appalachia to deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, to tar sands development in Alberta to fracking Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale and the crushing boom of the Bakken to modern-day colonialism by oil giants in the Niger Delta to the oil-drenched bed of the Kalamazoo River, fossil fuel companies do violence to local people, land, communities and the global climate at every step along their supply chain.

Though it may seem indirect, our investments support that violence – not due to any malicious practices, but as a result of intelligent asset management.  Our endowment should be protected, but it should also speak our values.  Our endowment is a tool.  Consciously managed, it can be used to help build the future we want, not support its destruction.

As a campus, a community, an institution, we do not want our money invested in the marginalization of people living near fossil fuel extraction; we don’t want it in an industry that depends on dangerous faulty infrastructure to bring its product to market; or in the overproduction of greenhouse gases that are accelerating the damage caused by irreversible global climate change.

Divestment has an exciting flipside: reinvestment.  Fossil fuel industries are by definition temporary.  Though investment bankers will tell you fossil fuels are a stable place for your money, science disagrees.  The domestic coal market is dying; some geologists believe we have already hit peak oil; impending carbon legislation aimed at protecting the climate will end the remaining fossil fuel markets.  Clean alternatives and new technologies will have to take their place.

As students, as young people, we must recognize that the future we want is incompatible with the current fossil fuel industry.  A livable future requires clean air, clean water, clean energy, vibrant communities, a healthy democracy and a strong, diverse and resilient economy.  Let’s invest in those things, not a dying industry being crushed under its own weight.

For more information on the effort to divest K’s endowment from fossil fuel companies, attend the first divestment meeting in Harmon Lounge at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, November 7th.