Author: Charlotte Umanoff
Five members of Fossil Free Oxy met with members of the Board of Trustees’ investment committee April 19 to present a formal proposal for the organization’s fossil fuel divestment campaign.
Fossil Free Oxy member Julia Kingsley (senior) said the divestment campaign’s demand for the college is a large one: divesting from companies that extract fossil fuels from the earth (coal, gas, natural gas, oil) and reinvesting in sustainable industries. The movement originated from the Urban and Environmental Policy community organizing and leadership class in Fall 2013.
At Occidental, the current goals of Fossil Free Oxy are attempting to increase student awareness and support for divestment, showing the campus’s commitment to environmental justice and emphasizing the necessity of divestment to the Board, according to Fossil Free Oxy member Linnea Propp-Pearson (sophomore).
“Oxy students really are doing everything they can to make the campus greener,” Propp-Pearson said. “This is the next step we need to take to join a bigger movement and make a bigger nationwide and worldwide change.”
Although it was their first meeting with representatives from the Board of Trustees, members of Fossil Free Oxy felt the presentation was well-received and started an important dialogue.
“We had a really productive conversation, and it was definitely a back-and-forth,” Kingsley said.
The feelings of progress after the presentation were mutual, according to Chris Varelas ‘85, Board member and head of the investment committee.
“Regardless of the outcome of this specific proposal regarding divestment, the challenge by Fossil Free Oxy to the whole Oxy community to act and to advocate responsible actions to change the arc of environmental risk is a challenge which the trustees intend to accept,” Varelas said via email.
Fossil Free Oxy member Tsering Lama (senior) debunked some of the myths about divestment and environmentalism that may make some students hesitant to join the cause. One concern, he said, is the potential negative effect on scholarship and financial aid resources. While divesting seems like a significant risk in this regard, Lama noted the increasing attractiveness of “socially responsible” funds.
“There are multiple reports that show that if a fund is divested, there is a very negligible effect on the returns. Maybe 0.01 or 0.1 percent,” Lama said.
Another concern Lama addressed was the perceived homogeneity of divestment supporters.
“I think that currently, campus views the divestment movement as a very white movement,” Lama said. “However, the reality of it is that the majority of the people affected by climate change are these underserved communities and minorities. The entire global south is going to be affected drastically.”
The group’s push to divest from fossil fuels is part of a larger movement gaining momentum in cities, universities, religious institutions and corporations worldwide. The international Fossil Free website cites UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, former Archbishop Desmond Tutu and United States President Barack Obama as global leaders who have formally endorsed divestment.
According to the international Fossil Free website, only 22 American universities have divested, including Pitzer College and Stanford University. Occidental has the potential to emerge as a leader in the movement, according to Propp-Pearson.
“We don’t want to be the ones who know the most, but do the least when it comes to divesting,” Kingsley said.
The investment committee will review the proposal in mid-May before forming a recommendation to give to the full Board of Trustees. Members of Fossil Free Oxy expressed hopes that they will make a favorable decision on their cause.
“We hope Oxy can be on the right side of history,” Lama said.
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