Green Mountain College today announced that it is divesting its $3.1 million endowment from fossil fuel companies, making the Poultney liberal arts school the fifth college in the nation — and the second in Vermont, after Sterling College — to endorse a campaign playing out on more than 300 campuses across the country.
The goal isn't necessarily to hit companies like Mobil, Exxon and Royal Dutch Shell in the pocketbook; most divestment advocates agree that even the wealthiest universities won't make much of a ding in these corporation's profits by divesting.
“I don’t think financially we can cripple them. They’re so big and so rich,” Vermont resident and environmental activist Bill McKibben told Seven Days in December, as the divestment campaign was gaining steam. Rather, McKibben said divestment represents an “inherently moral call, saying if it’s wrong to wreck the climate, it’s wrong to profit from that wreckage.”
GMC's board of trustees voted on Friday to immediately divest from the top 200 fossil fuel companies targeted in the nationwide divestment campaign headed up by the environmental activism organization founded by McKibben, 350.org. Currently 1 percent of GMC's endowment is tied up in these companies, which collectively own the vast majority of the world's coal, oil and gas reserves.
"We see this as another step in an ongoing effort to connect our investment decisions with our ideals,” said GMC president Paul Fonteyn in a statement released today. "Investing endowment funds on the basis of social, economic and environmental criteria is one of the ways Green Mountain College expresses its values."
The divestment campaign is playing out largely on college campuses, but a handful of cities and towns have jumped on the bandwagon. Last month 350.org announced that mayors in 10 cities — Seattle, Madison, Wisc., Bayfield, Wisc., Ithaca, N.Y., Boulder, Colo., State College, Penn., Eugene, Ore., and California's Berkeley, Richmond and San Francisco — are calling for the divestment of their cities' pension funds from fossil fuel companies.
Whether other Vermont colleges follow in the footsteps of Sterling and GMC remains to be seen. University of Vermont trustees will meet on Friday, May 17, and student activists there say divestment will undoubtedly be a topic of conversation. Meanwhile, trustees convened at Middlebury College — where students have been rallying for divestment for months — last weekend. McKibben is a scholar-in-residence at the college.
Middlebury sophomore Teddy Smyth, who is studying environmental policy and advocating for divestment on campus, says students are frustrated by what has largely been a closed-door discussion on divestment among trustees. While the board's investment committee met for two-and-a-half hours on Friday, Smyth says there was no "tangible" outcome.
"We're very much on the outside of Old Chapel," says Smyth, referring to the building on campus that houses the college administration. "So far we've been more or less excluded."
Smyth adds that while he's thrilled about the news of divestment coming from GMC, he wishes Middlebury would follow suit, and soon.
"I feel like Middlebury's falling behind," says Smyth. "Sterling College went, and now Green Mountain College went. ... All these other schools are living up to their reputations as environmental leaders … but Middlebury is slipping."