Middlebury College announced today that it will be divesting from fossil fuels. The school will be finally joining over a thousand other institutions around the world–including major cities like New York and entire countries like Ireland–but for a number of us here at 350.org, this victory is especially sweet.
Fourteen years ago this January, a few of our 350.org founders walked into a class at Middlebury titled something like, “What Works: Climate Change and Social Movements.” The course was taught by an economics professor, Jon Isham, and over the course of the month we read a mix of books, some like Heat, about the growing crisis of global warming, and others like Doing Democracy, a classic treatise on social movement theory by Bill Moyer.
It was a potent combination. By the second week of the course, a group of us had started meeting on Sunday nights to discuss how we could build more of a movement on campus (and dare we dream, beyond?) to tackle the climate crisis. The meetings grew and grew, pulling in student leaders from the organic garden club, the fair trade club, the campus arts group, and others. Already, we’d learned an important lesson: climate change impacted everyone and everyone could get involved. We started calling our meetings the Sunday Night Group, mostly out of a lack of creativity, but also out of some early sense that calling ourselves a “climate club” didn’t really get at the scope of what we were taking on.
Now, fourteen years later, some of those dreams we dreamed at those late night meetings in Vermont have become reality even as the crisis around us has deepened. A group of us who started those Sunday night meetings went on to partner with our scholar-in-residence on campus, writer Bill McKibben, to found 350.org, which has now grown to over 150 staff and hundreds of thousands of supporters around the world. Other Sunday Night Group alumni have gone on to start organizations of their own, lead massive campaigns, run for office, found sustainable businesses, and find other, creative ways to plug into the ever growing climate movement. Together, we’ve connected with a growing movement of inspiring and deeply committed friends and allies in every corner of the globe who have continued to teach us deep lessons and help us grow in new ways.
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Posted by Divest Middlebury on Tuesday, January 29, 2019
When 350.org helped launch the fossil fuel divestment campaign back in 2012, we had high hopes that Middlebury would be amongst the first to divest. After all, we thought, what better way to honor their prestigious alumni! But even at an environmentally leaning school like Middlebury, the Board of Trustees was still mostly constituted by creatures of Wall Street. Citing “risks” and “returns,” the Board didn’t just decline to divest, they announced that they would never do any such thing.
How the world changes. Since 2012, the economic risks of investing in fossil fuels have become ever more clear, as have the real world risks of the crisis at hand. Meanwhile, the returns from fossil free portfolios have consistently outpaced those of their dirtier peers. That logic alone should have been enough to convince the Middlebury board to reconsider, but as we learned in our class on social movements back in 2005, logic alone is rarely enough to convince the powers that be.
Change requires pressure, which is exactly what a new generation of Sunday Night Group and Divest Middlebury members have generated and maintained on campus all these years later. This new class of activists have proven far more digitally adept, socially aware, and, let’s face it, just more intelligent, then we were a decade and a half ago. They’ve rallied student support, pulled in alumni, negotiated with the administration, and successfully made the case that Middlebury couldn’t afford not to divest. The credit for today’s announcement is theirs, above all others.
We’re proud of our alma mater today and especially proud of those students who kept up the fight. We all can’t wait to see what they go onto do next.
–Jamie Henn, May Boeve, Jeremy Osborn, Will Bates, Jon Warnow, Kelly Blynn, Jason Kowalski, Phil Aroneanu