Hope in a World on Fire: a Divest Carleton message

By Gina Atwood, Mindy Bell, Patrick Dunleavy, Rebecca Hahn, Britta Johnson, Brett Smith and Ben Stiegler – October 20, 2022

It can be difficult, in the midst of the climate crisis, to focus on the good things. Lands are flooding, forests are burning, deserts are spreading, climate refugees are increasing, entire species are disappearing and lies about climate change abound. These realities make it almost impossible to find hope.

The danger, when we focus on the bad, is that we may start to believe that things can never change. Yet we know that our duty as citizens, as friends, as humans is to confront the crisis and to do our part to build a better future. If we are to take action, we must have hope.

The alumni and students of Divest Carleton seek to operate from and build on hope: the hope that the many global movements aimed at the climate crisis, including divestment campaigns, will produce a better world. Based on that hope, for the last several years we have been calling on Carleton to divest its endowment from fossil fuels. We’ve found that by doing this work, we grow our own hope.

We learn that we are not alone. As the years go by and the effects of climate change grow ever more obvious, the support for divestment also grows. 244 alums added their voices to the petition at Reunion this summer. Divest Carleton students have gathered several hundred signatures from classmates in just one year. Altogether, 3,721 students, alumni and friends of the college have called on Carleton to divest from fossil fuels. These supporters have written letters to the Board of Trustees, created Youtube videos, posted on social media, marched, talked to their fellow classmates, organized panels, researched, created handouts and on and on. Alone, any one of us would have faltered. Together, we are strong.

Hope also comes from seeing the difference we can make. When our fellow liberal arts colleges — Pitzer, Lewis & Clark, Whitman, Middlebury, Macalester, Wellesley, Smith, Amherst, Reed, St. Olaf, Wesleyan, Vassar, Mt. Holyoke — decide to exit fossil fuels, we find hope in our similarities. If they can do it, so can we! Likewise, with every step we take, from increasing awareness of climate change in the Carleton community to building positive connections with the decision makers of the college, we learn we are making a difference. This births hope.

Finally, we find hope by seeking it. The 2022 climate bill (the Inflation Reduction Act) recently enacted does not solve the climate crisis, but it is the strongest attempt made by our government to act on it. This is a beginning, not an end. The climate protests that made headlines over the past few years have never stopped. Recently, Blame Wall Street protesters in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York City and Chicago called on banks to stop funding fossil fuel projects. They may have a tough battle, but they are not giving up. The proliferation of fossil-free and ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) funds shows there is a growing understanding that values have a role to play in investing. We certainly haven’t figured out how to build a just, fair and ethical economy. Many of us are trying to take the first steps. This is hope.

Like ourselves, Carleton is not perfect. We hope that our college decides soon to divest from fossil fuels. We believe the right and the hopeful thing to do is to invest our money in the health of our planet. Carleton has done so much good in other ways. We would not have pressed this hard and for this long if we did not believe that. We are thrilled about the upcoming unveiling of the new sustainability plan that many in the Carleton community have been working diligently to bring to life. Their hard work and persistence give us hope.

It may be discouraging at times, but building a better world will require every one of us doing whatever we can in our own ways.

That is also where our greatest hope lies. A better world can be built by you. And us. And everyone.

Visit divestcarleton.com to learn how to get involved and to sign the petition.

On behalf of Divest Carleton Alumni: Gina Atwood ‘91, Mindy Bell ‘80, Patrick Dunlevy ‘72, Rebecca Hahn ‘09, Britta Johnson ‘97, Brett Smith ‘64, Ben Stiegler ‘77

Published in The Carletonian Viewpoint


A Personal Story of Divestment

by Catherine Suter, October 20, 2022

As Carleton Trustees weigh the pros and cons of divesting the College’s endowment from fossil fuels, I want to share the thought process behind my own decision to divest.

I am a great-great-granddaughter of Lauren J. Drake, president of Standard Oil of Indiana (later Amoco, now part of BP) and director of Standard Oil of New Jersey (later Esso, now part of ExxonMobil). When my father died a few years ago, my brothers and I inherited the remainder of ExxonMobil stock that had been passed down through Drake’s daughter, my great-grandmother. It was not a lot, but it was a family legacy. Thus, I was presented with a conundrum: 

Do I keep the stock for sentimental reasons?

Do I benefit from the shares’ skyrocketing value?

Could I be okay with earning money off a company that has and continues to lie, mislead and destroy so much?

Can a single person’s divestment make any real difference?

I had an endless supply of questions like and beyond these.

Ultimately, the decision was easy because my gut knew. I sold the stock. I put the proceeds toward an electric car and felt a big relief, I must say. But it took me a while to find good answers to the questions, and I still question what my best course of action, given my values, is almost daily.

Here is a list of truths that I have found:

  • I’m enormously privileged to “suffer” such a conundrum, to have choices like these in my life. Thank you, great-great-grandfather Drake, for providing our family with so much. I strive to use my privilege for good and not hinder my motivation with shame or guilt.
  • To judge my great-great-grandfather’s work with today’s knowledge is unfair.
  • To feel that I cannot disagree with the oil companies because I have benefited leaves no room for progress.
  • I vehemently oppose ExxonMobil and many other (but not all) natural resource extraction companies on environmental, ethical and economic grounds. I want nothing to do with their profits, even if my daily life depends in some part on them.
  • There’s more than one way to invest wisely.
  • I am one person, no more and no less. I make decisions and interact with others every day. Living by my principles gives me internal peace, and is an important tone in my cacophonous community.

Divestment is what I chose, in my circumstances at the time. And the work continues: I still struggle with both what to do with my privilege and how to make a meaningful impact regarding climate change and environmental degradation. But I never once have doubted my decision to divest.

What will you do with this story? Activism can be complicated, but if you’re sympathetic, you’ve got options. Join me in calling on the Carleton Board of Trustees to divest from fossil fuels and the banks that support them. Further, websites like http://www.fossilfreefunds.org can tell you how your 401(k), retirement plan and other investments measure up vis-à-vis climate impact. The ‘B corp’ designation indicates if a company meets social and environmental sustainability criteria. Keep in mind that publicly-traded fossil fuel companies, as odious as they may be, represent only a fraction of the world’s oil extraction and, also, only the supply side of oil, not the demand for it. We have a lot to do to find a sustainable balance on this planet, and a next step that people — especially those of us with privilege — can take is to address industries that have outsized carbon footprints (e.g. cement, air travel, aluminum). Wherever you are in your motivation to address climate change, keep it going! We all, as individuals and as communities like Carleton, have a role.

Alumni and students who have not already signed the petition calling on Carleton to divest its endowment from fossil fuel companies can do so at bit.ly/DivestCarleton. For more information about Divest Carleton, go to https://divestcarleton.com.

Published in The Carletonian Viewpoint