Pitzer College 

Leadership in Climate Action through Fossil Fuel Divestment

Report to the Trustee Investment Committee

Submitted on April 22, 2013 

Authors: Jess Grady-Benson, Emma French, Kai Orans, Meagan Tokunaga, Liza Farr,  

Melanie Paty, and Members of the Claremont Colleges Divestment Team

“It is not an investment if it is destroying the planet.”

--Vandana Shiva


Introduction.................................................................................................................................. 2

Climate Change............................................................................................................................ 2

Our Moral Obligation to Act........................................................................................................ 5

Social and Intergenerational Justice.............................................................................................. 6

The Debate................................................................................................................................... 8

Divestment Victories................................................................................................................... 10

The Fossil Fuel Industry: Why Divest from the Top 200 Publicly Traded Companies?................................................................................................................................. 13

Pitzer: A Leader in Sustainability................................................................................................ 14

Divestment: Our Best Tactic....................................................................................................... 14

A Smart Choice for the Future.................................................................................................... 16

What Happens Next?.................................................................................................................. 17

Conclusion.................................................................................................................................. 18


We would like to thank the Trustee Investment Committee for considering our initial proposal for fossil fuel divestment and for giving us the opportunity to expand upon the moral imperative of this commitment. This report focuses on the moral impetus for divesting from fossil fuel companies, the power of divestment as a tactic for curbing climate change, and how divestment relates to Pitzer’s role as a socially and environmentally responsible institution of higher education.

Climate Change

There is scientific consensus that global warming is happening right now and will continue to alter the climate at an ever-increasing rate.  According to the Executive Director of the National Physical Science Consortium, James Powell, “among 33,700 authors of peer-reviewed scientific articles on global warming published between 1991 and November 2012, only about one author in a thousand rejects human-caused global warming.”[1] 

From an international perspective, the Copenhagen Accords in 2009 set one thing straight.  In Copenhagen, 167 countries, who together are responsible for more than 87 percent of the world's carbon emissions, agreed that global warming above 2˚C (3.6˚ F) would have devastating effects on human health and the environment.  Even the United Arab Emirates, which makes most of its money exporting oil and gas, agreed to limit global temperature rise to 2˚C.

More than a third of summer sea ice in the Arctic is gone and will continue to melt at ever-increasing rates due to positive feedback cycles, the oceans are 30% more acidic, and the cost of extreme weather events has increased from an average of $40 billion per year in the 1990s to ~$400 billion per year in the past few years.[2]

We have already raised global temperatures by 1˚C and global greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise each year.  Last year, the International Energy Agency reported a 3.2% global increase in global emissions led by China, India, South America, and much of the developing world.  According to an International Energy Agency study that is referred to as the most comprehensive energy analysis of its kind, if this trend continues, we will exceed the 2˚C upper “safe” limit in 15 years.  In the report, the IEA’s chief economist Fatih Birol wrote, “This trend is perfectly in line with a 6˚C increase in global temperature by the end of the century. The door is closing... I am very worried – if we don't change direction now on how we use energy, we will end up beyond what scientists tell us is the minimum [for safety]. The door to holding warming to 2˚C will be closed forever.[3]  The study points out that even though scientists have made great progress in uncovering truths about human impact on the climate in the past 20 years, carbon efficiency improvements in infrastructure have lagged far behind.  Birol predicts that economies will continue to grow.  Thus, if there is no international agreement by 2017 that mandates a drastic shift in the carbon impact of new infrastructure projects worldwide, the “lock in” effect of the cheap, carbon intensive building methods that we have developed and continue to use will spell certain climate disaster.  So in other words, according to the IEA, known to be a reputable, even at times conservative source, we have no more than five years to turn global emissions around 180˚, or we lose out on the opportunity to hold warming to 2˚C.

Arctic Sea Ice Comparison  1984 to 2012 [4]       

Even a 2˚C temperature increase, which seems optimistic given our current trajectory, would result in intolerable heat waves and Dust Bowl-like conditions for the semi-arid regions of the United States, the desertification of much of California’s arable land, the forced migration of millions of coastal inhabitants and farming communities, the loss of up to 50% of the world’s biodiversity, and incalculable losses both from an economic and social perspective.[5]  We can only begin to imagine the effects of a 6˚C global temperature increase.  It is not hyperbolic to say that the earth we know would be an entirely different planet and inhospitable to many of the species who have acclimatized to specific conditions.  

To establish the connection between climate change and the fossil fuel industry, we cite an analysis conducted by the Carbon Tracker Initiative, which estimates that the world’s major energy companies hold the equivalent of 2,795 gigatons of coal, oil and natural gas in their reserves.  Scientists estimate that we can only afford to emit the equivalent of 565 additional gigatons of CO2 in order to stay at a global temperature increase of 2˚ C.  Therefore, fossil fuel companies must keep 80% of their reserves in the ground in order to avoid the worst effects of climate change.  Yet, Exxon continues to spend $37 billion a year (about $100 million a day) searching for more oil and gas.  When asked his opinion on the Colorado fires, CEO Rex Tillerson said “global warming is real”, but dismissed it as an "engineering problem that has engineering solutions.  Changes to weather patterns that move crop-production areas around – we'll adapt to that.  The fear factor that people want to throw out there I do not accept," Tillerson said.  

The attitude in Washington D.C. is no more assuring. Although President Obama campaigned aggressively on a platform of sustainability and a promise to implement environmental policy in his first term, he has yet to gain any ground short of ushering in some minor policies mandating a steady increase in the fuel efficiency of automobiles.  Furthermore, all indicators point to Obama approving the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, which would expedite the extraction, transportation, and burning of the equivalent of 240 gigatons CO2 of the dirtiest oil on earth and the destruction of the Athabasca region in Alberta.


Image of the destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy[6]

Image of Tar Sands in Alberta, Canada[7]

Our Moral Obligation to Act

It is essential for Pitzer College to act in a manner that is morally consistent with its mission and the values it espouses.  By investing in fossil fuel companies, Pitzer is passively condoning the continued extraction and burning of fossil fuels, and this is morally impermissible. Bill Mckibben said, “It’s simple.  If it’s wrong to wreck the climate than it’s wrong to profit from that wreckage.” While Pitzer is working hard to reduce its carbon footprint, educating students on environmental stewardship and social responsibility, and publicizing its commitment to these social and environmental values, the College is profiting from social and environmental destruction.  It is inconsistent for Pitzer College to fight climate change with one hand and endorse it with the other.  Until Pitzer divests, we will be an active sponsor of climate change. We should be investing in the solution, not the problem.  Possibilities include reinvestment in positive renewable energy projects and the creation of a Green Revolving Fund.  

As a socially responsible and environmentally sustainable institution of higher education, Pitzer has a responsibility to speak out against injustices affecting current and future generations. We must do what is right, not what is expedient.  History shows that Pitzer College is not afraid to take a stand on issues of international importance, as exhibited by its divestment from South African Apartheid in 1987.  By threatening the livelihoods of not just one group, but communities of humans, animals, and plants current and future, climate change is a worse evil than Apartheid and a far greater danger than smoking.  The time to act is now.  We have support, power, and a growing movement behind us.  For far too long have sustainably focused, socially responsible institutions remained silent about the injustices of continuing to warm the planet.   Let us not look back in 30 years with regret about what we could have done. Let us not be afraid to lead on this moral issue of our time.

Social and Intergenerational Justice: Apartheid Divestment and Fossil Fuel Divestment

In 1987, Pitzer College divested its funds from companies associated with the South African Apartheid regime on the basis that Apartheid was a human rights offense.  Then-President Frank Ellsworth supported divestment because, “from a political and moral point of view such action is significant.”[8]  Not only was Apartheid divestment the right thing to do, but it made a real impact. Nelson Mandela “credited American divestment as one key to [South Africa’s] liberation, not because it bankrupted companies, but because it started to make them pariahs.” [9] South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu won a Nobel  Peace Prize for his role in the South African Apartheid struggle.  Today, Tutu calls upon American Colleges and Universities to pursue fossil fuel divestment to fight climate change, “the human rights issue of our time”. [10] 

Whereas apartheid oppressed a target group, climate change threatens every inhabitant on earth.  According to James Lawrence-Powell, president of many prestigious colleges,“Today, scientists and many others recognize global warming as a far greater threat than Apartheid or smoking.”[11] Research sponsored by 20 governments across the world shows that climate change is already responsible for 400,000 deaths per year, and fossil fuel usage is expected to cause 100 million deaths over the next 18 years.[12]  According to award-winning Ohio State climatologist Lonnie Thompson, “virtually all of us scientists are now convinced that global warming poses a clear and present danger to civilization.” [13]

The world’s foremost experts on human rights have long acknowledged that social justice is at the very core of the climate crisis. The United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution in 2008 stating that “climate change poses an immediate and far-reaching threat to people and communities around the world and has implications for the full enjoyment of human rights.”[14] The UN also clarifies that the world’s poor are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change and also tend to have limited adaptation capacities.  Climate change is not only a current social justice issue, but also a problem of intergenerational equity. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggests that that future decades will be exposed to rising sea levels, increased intensity and frequency of extreme weather events, tremendous harm to biodiversity, net reduction in crop yields, more disease and pestilence and a general increase in climate-related human suffering.  These “impacts will fall disproportionately upon developing countries and the poor persons within all countries.” [15]

The impacts of climate change threaten food sovereignty and the security of livelihoods of natural resource-based local economies. Increased droughts, severe storms, and changing weather patterns are dramatically affecting food production. The wildfires that ravaged Colorado in the summer of 2012 and the droughts currently destroying mid-West farmers have caused food prices to rise 10 percent.[16] These prices will only continue to rise as desertification and drought in semi-arid regions, such as Southern California, intensifies exponentially with climate change.

Low-lying and small island countries, such as the Maldives, are particularly at risk despite the fact that their greenhouse gas emissions are insignificant compared to those of developed countries like the United States. The Maldives, which sit at the same sea level as New York City, stand to lose their homeland and culture due to rapidly rising sea levels and increasingly intense storms.  In addition, Desmond Tutu says his continent is being devastated by droughts, which have only intensified as we continue to extract and burn fossil fuels.  According to James Lawrence-Powell, “Global warming is immoral because the third world countries and foundering island nations who are the least responsible will suffer the most. Colleges who showed enough concern for the human rights violations in South Africa should recognize that climate change is an issue of greater moral significance because we continue to profit from the exploitation of the earth at the expense of all beings present and future.  Climate models project a future of increasing drought over most of Africa, southern Europe and the Middle East, most of the Americas, Australia, and Southeast Asia.” [17] To remain inactive is to passively accept the immediate and long-term injustices that our actions impose on marginalized communities and future generations. As Dante Alighieri said, “the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of great moral crises maintain their neutrality.”  

Bali and other threatened countries are calling for leadership in the industrialized world to act now so that their culture and homeland can be saved. The United States alone is responsible for 19% of global greenhouse gas emissions.[18] It is past time that the United States takes responsibility for its enormous contribution to climate change as the second largest emitter of fossil fuels in the world.  If Pitzer College truly values social responsibility, the College must lead in climate action for the sake of human rights -- now and for generations to come.

The Debate

So far 5 colleges have committed to divest from fossil fuels within 5 years. Although no schools have completely rejected the possibility of fossil fuel divestment, both Bowdoin and Harvard have published statements giving reasons why they are not considering divestment right now.  Among those reasons were:

The Issue: The lack of a national and international consensus on the gravity of climate change and the threat that it poses to humanity.

Our Response: The 1988 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) clearly expresses the scientific consensus the anthropogenic nature of climate change and the magnitude of its impact. This statement is supported by the National Academy of Sciences, the American Meteorological Society, The American Geophysical Union, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science and other professional scientific societies.  

Whereas oppression in Darfur and South Africa targeted a specific group, climate change threatens all inhabitants of earth and disproportionately affects those who have done the least to cause climate change as well as future generations. See following sections for more information on the human rights implications of climate change.

The Issue: Markets are efficient, so the international market would eagerly absorb any divested shares, thereby resulting in no impact on the balance sheet of these companies.  

Our Response: Divestment is primarily a statement about the immorality of continuing to profit from the extraction and burning of fossil fuels.  The divestment movement seeks to increase environmental consciousness, generate public discourse about climate change, and build political power to make broad-based change.  However, to claim that markets are efficient seems like an over simplification of a complex issue.  Fear, new information, political and national shifts, and finally, hype, both positive and negative impact the way a company is perceived and therefore valued.[19]   

The Issue: These multi-billion dollar companies are more than capable of handling bad press.

Our Response: Increasing awareness and changing the public’s perception of these companies is one of the primary aims of divestment.  We cannot continue to allow BP, Chevron, Shell and other fossil fuel companies to get away with catastrophic oil spills, human rights abuses, buying off politicians, and crony capitalism.[20] 

The BP Gulf Oil Spill, 2010 [21]

Image from one of Chevron’s many oil spills in Ecuador[22]

Divestment Victories [23]

  1. Hampshire College (MA) - Committed to fossil free investment in December 2011

In October 2012, Hampshire committed to divest from fossil fuels as a part of a new revised responsible investing policy to align their investments with their values. This policy seeks to invest in, "...products and policies align with our core values of social responsibility and sustainability... providing beneficial goods and services, pursuing research and development programs that hold promise for new products of social benefit and for increased employment prospects, maintaining fair labor practices and a safe and healthy work environment, demonstrating innovation in environmental protection, [and] using their power to enhance the quality of life for underserved segments of our society..."  

College President Jonathan Lash stated, "Among other changes, our policy has led us to invest in developers of renewable energy technologies rather than the producers of fossil fuels. Our donors gave money to create our endowment as an investment in the future. Our business as an educational institution is to invest in the future. In a rapidly warming world the future of our students will depend on quickly expanding the use of wind, solar power and other carbon-free sources of energy, and deep reductions in the use of fossil fuels."

  1. Unity College (ME) - Committed to fossil free investment on November 5, 2012[24]

Unity College was the second college to commit to divesting from fossil fuels. In an interview, President Stephen Mulkey explained, “I believe it is my ethical obligation to act in every acceptable way possible to provide a viable future for the students in college today.”

In an article to presidents and administrators of other colleges, President Mulkey wrote, “As college presidents, we are committed to the highest standards of honesty and integrity. Failure to provide ethical leadership on an issue that has the potential to be the most profoundly negative factor in the lives of our students is unacceptable...While endowments must be managed to insure growth, we must turn away from the embedded acceptance of the notion of profits at any price. Regardless of financial considerations, we must demand the highest ethical standards from our universities and colleges. It is ethically indefensible that an institution dedicated to the proposition of the renewal of civilization would simultaneously invest in its destruction. In this respect, divestment is not optional. As presidents, you do not control your institution’s investment policy, but you do have great influence. Urge your board to take a stand and make it possible for your institution to speak from a position of integrity.”

This is especially true for Unity College, where Sustainability Science, as developed by the U.S. National Academy of Science, guides our academic mission.” This is also true for Pitzer College, where environmental sustainability and social responsibility are core values.

  1. City of Seattle - Committed to fossil free daily operations ($1.4bn) on Dec. 21, 2012[25]

The City of Seattle is also moving forward on deferred compensation ($700m) and pension ($1.9bn) plans.

In a December 21 blog post, Seattle Mayor, Mike McGinn wrote, “Divestment is just one of the steps we can take to address the climate crisis. Through the Green Ribbon Commission, we are working to integrate our climate goals with our job creation and social equity goals. Cities that do so will be leaders in creating a new model for quality of life, environmental sustainability and economic success. We’ve got a head start on that here in Seattle, but there’s a lot more work to do.”  

  1. Sterling College (VT) - Committed to fossil free investments on February 2, 2013  

On February 2, 2013 Sterling College’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously to divest from fossil fuels.  

Trustee Tian Fried stated, “With this action, not only will the social return on the portfolio increase, the safety of the long-term financial returns will also be significantly enhanced by shielding the College from direct exposure to companies whose production levels are unsustainable.”

President Matthew Derr said in an interview, “Our legacy and our focus on food, water, health, energy, and governance through conservation, education, and sustainable agricultural practices absolutely compels us to take action. We hope that we inspire other colleges and universities to take this important next step toward divestment in fossil fuels because higher education is an important bully pulpit, and we need to focus the nation's attention on this critical issue for future generations of our students.”[26] 

  1. College of the Atlantic (ME) - Committed to fossil free investment on March 11, 2013

Students at COA began their divestment campaign in January (2012) and within a week the administration had agreed to a provisional agreement to divest. The Board of Trustees was scheduled to vote on April 1, but the administration decided to speed up the process and on March 11, the board voted in favor of divesting from the top-200 fossil fuel industries.

“Without a doubt, our actions send a strong message,” said COA President Darron Collins, in an interview with a student. “One we are following with a student-driven energy framework based on empowering our students to go out and make a difference in their communities and throughout this world.”[27]

  1. Conservation Breeding Specialist Group - Committed to fossil free investment on March 18, 2013[28]

        Conservation Breeding Specialist Group is a global network of conservation professionals dedicated to saving threatened species by increasing the effectiveness of conservation efforts worldwide.[29] 

        “We want CBSH’s divestment to serve as a model and provide an invitation to the zoo and aquarium community to join us in this movement,” said Onnie Byers, CBSG chair. “Many zoos and aquariums are going to great lengths to green their institutions. It is equally consistent with their mission for them to green their portfolios as well.”

  1. Santa Fe Arts Institute (NM) - Committed to fossil free investments on February 13, 2013

On February 15, 2013 Santa Fe Arts Institute (SFAI) voted to divest from fossil fuels. Richard Martinez, Chairman of SFAI Board of Trustees said, “In light of the realities of Climate Change and when so many artists are urging actions, and striving for solutions, it is imperative that we support their efforts and act to make the changes that their work promotes. It would be hypocritical to ask our audience to absorb the dangers of the unbridled consumption of fossil fuels when, as an institution we have not acted accordingly.” [30]         

  1. First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee (WI) - Committed to divest any and all fossil fuel stocks on March 26, 2013[31]

        The First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee passed a Resolution in Support of Divestment from Fossil Fuel Companies on March 26, 2013. The resolution begins, ‘WHEREAS, the First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee, a Unitarian Universalist Congregation, has covenanted to affirm and promote seven principles, including “justice, equity, and compassion in human relations,” and “respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part”.


We recognize that these colleges have different endowment structures than Pitzer and for this reason, our divestment process will be different. We ask the Trustee Investment Committee to propose divestiture of fossil fuel assets to the college’s fund managers, and that the managers then investigate the likely financial impact. We ask that a copy of their findings be shared with the Claremont College Divestment Team. If it is found that divesting may significantly impact our College’s endowment, we are open to further discussion with the committee.

The Fossil Fuel Industry: Why Divest from the Top 200 Publicly Traded Companies?  

We request divestment from the 200 companies responsible for 95% of the extraction executed by publicly traded companies.  We recognize this designation as symbolic of our statement about the immorality of continued fossil fuel extraction and burning, and our mandate for a cleaner energy economy and a just future for all.  

The fossil fuel industry is responsible for social and environmental injustices: “communities and the environment feel the impacts of the fossil fuel economy at every stage of its life cycle, from exploration to production to refining to distribution to consumption to disposal of waste.” [32] Yet, the industry continues to get away with “taking out the trash” for free.  A 2012 study conducted by Epstein et. al at Harvard University titled  “Full cost accounting for the life cycle of coal,” measured the total cost of coal in terms of added health costs, missed days of work, polluted water, land, air, workplace injuries in the mines, etc.   The study concluded that the coal industry costs America at least $345 billion each year, not including the cumulative nature of many of these costs.  Yet fossil fuel companies continue to pay little to nothing to account for these negative externalities.  

 This injustice is not specific to individual companies; it applies to the entire industry. If we are to make a strong statement about the role of fossil fuels in US politics and economics, we should divest from the 200 companies with the largest reserves, rather than a smaller number of more recognizable companies. We are not attempting to simply villainize a few companies with particularly bad practices, but rather to denounce the continued exploration, extraction, and burning of fossil fuels by the industry as a whole. Divestment of the top 200 companies highlights the environmental and human harm inflicted by this industry, thereby beginning to tarnish the reputations of and cast doubt on the richest companies “in the history of money”. [33]

Due to limited information on the details of our investments, we propose divestment from 200 companies to represent divestment from the vast majority of those companies responsible for the major extraction and burning of fossil fuels. A vote to divest will allow us to look further into what specific companies we are invested in.

Pitzer College: A Leader in Sustainability

As a Pitzer administrator said at the recent opening of the Robert Redford Conservancy for Southern California Sustainability said, “Sustainability is in Pitzer’s DNA”.  Like many things at Pitzer, the core aspect of sustainability is student involvement.  Pitzer students have and continue to lead the way towards a sustainable future in their work on and off of campus.

Despite being relatively small, Pitzer has a plethora of environmentally focused, student-run clubs including, but not limited to: Eco-Center, Garden Club, Compost Club, Beneficial Bees Club, the Green Bike Program, the 5C Sustainability Coalition, and the Shakedown organic cafe. When the Gold LEED certified PAS residence halls were completed in 2007, students took it upon themselves to design a sustainability tour so the incoming students understood how the residence halls can be used to save energy and water. A group of Pitzer students initiated the campaign to remove trays and get reusable togo boxes in the dining hall, and now all five Colleges have followed suit. A student proposal to add a sustainability requirement to graduate is currently being debated and will hopefully be approved by students and College Council in the upcoming year.  Students are at the forefront of Pitzer’s environmental initiatives, and are constantly working at improving sustainability on campus and in the surrounding community.  

In 2007 Pitzer College, along with 600 other colleges and universities, joined the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment.  In 2011 and 2012, four students worked with Pitzer’s environmental consultant, Michael Wolfsen to complete a Greenhouse Gas Emissions Audit of the entire campus.  The data from this audit was compiled into an official Climate Action Plan which outlined strategies for carbon neutrality.  In the Climate Action Plan, Pitzer committed to achieve a 20% reduction in emissions by 2020.  However, this is a quiet commitment, rather than something that is prominently displayed at the institution's public venues, influencing public discourse and making a strong statement.  We need vocal and public leadership on action against climate change in this time of dire need.  

Divestment: Our Best Tactic

From a moral standpoint, we should divest because continuing to profit from the extraction and burning of fossil fuels is unethical.  From a social and political standpoint, the strength of divestment lies in the moral statement that it makes.  By divesting, we begin to shape the way our nation thinks about the role of fossil fuels in exacerbating climate change.  Alternative tactics such as buying carbon credits, lobbying congress, disallowing cars on campus, or going carbon neutral would all be great steps for Pitzer College, but none of these tactics raise questions about our nation’s fossil fuel addiction, and about the stranglehold that the fossil fuel industry has on this nation’s politics, economy, and collective consciousness.   Divestment is the best tactic now because it will generate media attention, initiate conversations, and most importantly because it has already fueled campaigns at 323 colleges and universities and in countless cities, churches, pension funds, and other public institutions around the world.  To underestimate the potential and power already amassed by this movement would be a grave mistake.  

For too long, the environmental movement has focused on shifting individual consumption choices as a primary means to tackle climate change.  This mindset is engendered by skepticism and a lack of understanding of the political system.  The emphasis ought to be aimed towards collective, consolidated, unified action, which is a more effective means of implementing broad-based change.[34]   We acknowledge that divestment is one of many possible climate actions.  However, we support divestment over other initiatives for two reasons: (1) Unlike other possible actions, divestment already has a strong network and base;  (2) The scale of the impact.  Taking all automobiles off American roads would cut greenhouse gas emissions emissions by 3 million tons of GHGs annually, whereas stopping the Keystone Pipeline would prevent the immediate extraction and burning of 21 million tons of GHGs.  We cannot continue to channel our efforts exclusively towards reducing secondary and tertiary impacts such as driving cars.  We must begin to fight the hard fights, challenge the real power holders, the companies and individuals who are responsible for the Keystones of the world and are driving the perpetual cycle of fossil fuel dependency.

By divesting, Pitzer College draws attention to the gravity of climate change and raises the moral standard for other institutions.  In boardrooms across the country, trustees are thinking hard about whether and when to divest.  As a college with a national reputation for its leadership in issues pertaining to sustainability and social responsibility, Pitzer should divest earlier rather than later in order to uphold and live out this reputation.  Additionally, Pitzer’s divestiture may be a tipping point in this movement; it will compel other institutions that claim to share Pitzer’s values to follow suit and divest.  Pitzer has the unique opportunity to lead west coast schools in fossil fuel divestment.

Additionally, we believe that universities and colleges have always had an important role in instigating and shaping national change.  America’s colleges and universities are respected worldwide as socially responsible, mission driven institutions aimed at molding future generations to make a positive impact on the world.  Divestment not only aligns with our responsibility to shape current and future communities of Pitzer College, but also raises the bar for the rest of the country to start putting thought to action.  We believe that when the bar is set, people respond.  They have in the past and they can now.  It is time to set that bar.

And we can divest, right now.  According to Tom Steyer, the founder of Farallon Capital Management, a $20 billion hedge fund and a member of Stanford’s Board of Trustees, "Divestment can be done.  It asks you to make a statement of principle now, stop investing money in this area, and then spend a number of years winding down positions. I can tell you, from my experience building one of the larger hedge funds, that this is entirely possible, and well within the skills of your expert advisors whom I know and respect.”  

A Smart Choice for the Future

As countries commit to reducing their contribution to climate change, investments in the fossil fuel industry will become increasingly risky. The industry’s current value is based upon the assumption that all of their reserves will come to bear.  However, if countries commit to the 2˚C temperature increase agreed upon in the Copenhagen Accord, 80% of fossil fuel reserves must stay underground. A report by HSBC entitled “Unburnable Carbon” warns that policy in line with a 2˚C temperature increase would put 40-60% of the leading fossil fuel firms’ current market capitalization at risk.

Furthermore, in his paper, “Victory at Hand for the Climate Movement?” Paul Gliding reflects on the volatility of fossil fuel investments.  Gliding writes: “A disruptive economic shift is already underway in the global energy market. There are two indicators of this, the first being the much noted acceleration in the size of the renewable energy market with dramatic price reductions and the arrival of cost competitive solar and wind.  It is hard to overstate the significance of this as it changes the game completely. . . Of equal importance is the awakening of the sleeping giant of carbon risk, with open discussion in mainstream financial circles of the increasing dangers in financial exposure to fossil fuels.”[35]

Economists point to a decreased reliance on fossil fuels in coming years. As the industry becomes increasingly volatile, healthy portfolios will inevitably shift away from fossil fuel companies. We argue that this natural shift is not immediate enough. Tom Steyer believes fossil fuel volatility is underestimated by financial experts: “At the moment, other investors have not fully realized the risk that carbon reserves will become a stranded asset; if you acknowledge what your own science departments are telling you, this gives you an edge relative to those investors.”[36] If our endowment is going to shift away from fossil fuels over time, why not capitalize on the opportunity to take leadership in this growing movement? According to Energy analyst and journalist Antonia Juhasz, “Big Oil is looking backward: divesting from clean energy and doubling down on dirty energy. Investments in Big Oil are an investment in an increasingly dangerous and dark energy past.”  Pitzer College should instead look forward to ensure that our investments help guarantee a clean energy future.  

Divestment aligns with the culture and the mission of the college, which brings students to campus every year.  For many of us, Pitzer’s record as a leader on sustainability and social responsibility are two of the main reasons why we chose to attend Pitzer College.  Therefore, we should divest in order to uphold this reputation and to continue to build upon the culture of this college.  

What Happens Next?

We acknowledge that fossil fuel divestment is by no means the final solution for mitigating climate change.  However, it is an essential first step for Pitzer College and for the climate movement as a whole. In less than a year, this movement has grown internationally and spread to 323 colleges, many non-academic institutions, and city and state governments.  The global power of this movement is growing exponentially as international universities and institutions join the campaign for fossil fuel divestment.  We have built a strong network, exchanging ideas during frequent regional and national campaign strategy calls to coordinate actions and plan future steps.  Multiple environmental organizations are also invested in our campaign, including the Responsible Endowments Coalition, the Sierra Club, and 350.org.  We will leverage the power we have built in this movement to push for policy change, propose multifaceted solutions, and reject dirty projects like the Keystone XL pipeline. The commitment and conviction that we have seen from members of this movement make us confident that our power will not wane once divestment is achieved.

        The international movement has already spread beyond strictly divestment to fight issues of environmental justice and political inaction.  We have built coalitions with frontline communities, who lack access to clean air, land and water because of contamination from mines, refineries, and power plants nearby.  The 5C Divestment Campaign is working with these allies; fighting the Keystone XL pipeline, lobbying for climate legislation, and educating our communities about the threat of climate change. This summer, members of the 5C Divestment Campaign (5C Climate Action) will travel to Istanbul to take part in strategizing for the global climate movement at an international conference.  Four students will unite with First Nations peoples of Canada and American Indigenous communities to participate in the Compassionate Earth Walk along the route of the Keystone pipeline.  Though we are committed to the campaign for fossil fuel divestment, it is by no means the only action we are taking to fight the climate crisis.  

        At Pitzer, divestment is a jumping off point from which we can begin to make broad-based change.  Our team, 5C Climate Action, is committed to continual action beyond divestment.  We see divestment as a moral statement that raises questions and initiates important conversations.  To this end, we have already begun incorporating educational programs on climate change such as public forums and movie screenings to inform the community on climate change and environmental justice issues.  Throughout the remainder of our campaign, we plan to organize actions on campus to connect our divestment work with the national movement for climate justice.  We will continue to host letter writing parties to influence our public officials to take action on climate change and stop dirty energy projects.  In the future, our team aspires to achieve broader changes on campus to further integrate Pitzer College into the international climate movement. We will use our power to push the College closer to carbon neutrality and use reinvestment to make the most impactful positive statement possible.


Why is divestment the first step?  If we suppose that a shift in our social consciousness and our policy in line with 2 degrees C warming is the end goal, how can we accomplish this?  How can we mobilize enough political power to challenge and correct our heavily ingrained business as usual politics and practices?  How can we break the apathy, passivity, and silence on climate change?  Unified divestiture gets the ball rolling on all of these fronts, right now.  It is a direct uncompromised statement about the necessity to move away from fossil fuels.  It is our recognition of the passivity that has overcome our nation and our mandate to change this mindset.  So let’s take initiative, with boldness and conviction.  At this point, LEED certifying our campuses and cutting our emissions is necessary, but insufficient.  In fact, the US and other developed nations could lower their emissions to zero, but unless China, India and the global south get on board, our efforts will be in vain.  We need to reduce our global emissions 80% below 1990 levels by 2050 in order to limit global temperature increase to 2 degree C.  So we better get to work.  Fast. And build a movement that unites all of our interests under a common banner: the imperative to move forward for the sake of all beings current and future.  So we reiterate, divestment is not the end, it is a small step that we must take to begin to tackle climate change, the most challenging and complex problem that humanity has faced.  And we need to start by facing the dilemma at hand: should we continue to profit from the unfettered extraction and burning of fossil fuels?  We say divest.

With the submission of this report, we would like to request that the Trustee Investment Committee further discuss fossil fuel divestment and come to a vote at the final meeting of the Spring semester 2013.  On behalf of the entire Claremont Colleges Divestment Team, we would like to thank you for your time and consideration throughout this process.  We look forward to continued discussions with Pitzer’s administration, the Trustee Investment Committee, and the Board of Trustees.

Pitzer College: Leadership in Climate Action through Fossil Fuel Divestment                                  

[1] http://www.jamespowell.org/

[2] “Target atmospheric CO2: Where should humanity aim?” J. Hansen, 1998. NASA.

[3] http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/nov/09/fossil-fuel-infrastructure-climate-change

[4] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-09-27/arctic-sea-ice-maps-before-after

[5] http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/10/opinion/game-over-for-the-climate.html?_r=3&ref=opinion& 

[6] darkroom.baltimoresun.com

[7] http://s.ngm.com/2009/03/canadian-oil-sands/img/candian-oil-sands-615.jpg

[8] http://articles.latimes.com/1986-05-15/news/ga-5536_1_claremont-colleges


[10] http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2012/10/2/divestment-harvard-oped/

[11] http://gofossilfree.org/president-of-2-prestigious-colleges-explains-why-divestment-makes-urgent-sense/

[12] A Resolution Calling Upon Tufts University to Divest its Endowment from the Top 200 Publicly Traded Fossil Fuel Companies

[13] http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/TBA--LTonly.pdf

[14] http://ap.ohchr.org/documents/E/HRC/resolutions/A_HRC_RES_7_23.pdf

[15] Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2002, pg 12

[16] http://edition.cnn.com/2012/08/31/business/world-food-prices/index.html


[18] http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/global.html#four

[19] http://smallbusiness.chron.com/five-factors-events-affect-stock-market-3384.html

[20] http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-01-28/payoffs-to-ex-judge-are-latest-twist-in-chevron-case

[21] http://www.maritime-executive.com/media/transfer/img/alg_oil_spill

[22] http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-01-15/top-u-dot-s-dot-lawsuit-firms-chevron

[23] http://gofossilfree.org/victory/

[24] http://sustainabilitymonitor.wordpress.com/2012/11/05/unity-college-board-of-trustees-votes-to-divest-from-fossil-fuels/

[25] http://mayormcginn.seattle.gov/an-update-on-fossil-fuel-divestment/

[26] http://www.sterlingcollege.edu/divestment.html 

[27] http://newsworthy.coa.edu/2013/03/coa-divests/ 

[28] http://www.cbsg.org/cbsg/news/display.asp?id=484

[29] http://www.cbsg.org/cbsg/

[30] http://www.sfai.org/images/pressreleases/2013/Oil%20Divestiture%20PR.pdf 

[31] http://www.uumilwaukee.org/content/fossil-fuels-divestment-resolution

[32] Bali Climate Justice

[33] http://progressive.org/mcKibben1210.html

[34] Michael Maniates, “individualization: plant a tree, buy a bike, save the world?” 

[35] http://paulgilding.com/cockatoo-chronicles/victoryathand.html

[36] Steyer letter to the Middlebury College Board of Trustees