Time for change

Divestment advocates hope that switching up tactics will shift the College’s money from black to green

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Last time I checked in with EnAcT’s Divestment Initiative, heads hung rather low after a meeting with the Investment Committee of the Board of Trustees ended with no plan to get ‘Berg’s bucks out of the fossil fuels industry. Their third bi-annual meeting with the committee last October yielded plenty of praise, but no progress, inspiring a shift in the student’s mindset and methodology.

In anticipation of their upcoming meeting with the Investment Committee on Friday, Apr. 27, Devin Domeyer ‘18, one of the lead organizers of the initiative, hopes to branch out with media and advertising campaigns to draw attention to the issue and branch out further than just the student body.

“In the beginning, it was just very confusing because no one really knew what divestment was or what it was asking to do,” said Domeyer. “The more consistent things can stay, the more recognizable it will be, and the more immediately people will know.”

When reflecting on past strategies like demonstrations and presentations, Domeyer notices the need for a change; in addition to a more vocal and consistent media presence, she hopes to use networking and outreach to gain some leverage over the Investment Committee.

“Right now, we don’t have anything. They’re like ‘good job, you’ve done so much research and we are very impressed with you and we would like you to go home, do another six months of research and we will be all ears.’ It’s just a stalling campaign,” said Domeyer.

One of the group’s newest ideas is to spread the word about the college’s current investments in the Environmental Social Governance (ESG) account, which includes stakes in companies like Exxon that profit directly from the fossil fuel industry.

“We all recognize the serious nature of climate change and the impact that the burning of fossil fuels has on our environment. However, we do need to take into consideration the fact that the global economy would not function without these energy sources that we depend on,” said Douglas Peebles, Trustee and Chair of the Investment Committee, in an email interview in October. “It is our belief that Muhlenberg can be good citizens of the Earth without divesting completely from fossil fuels.”

“Even if I had the best plan that was endorsed by the best hedge fund managers in the country, because it’s in a student’s hand being given to the investment committee, they will totally brush it off. It doesn’t matter at all.”

Sure, there’s more green at Muhlenberg than out on the front lawn. There’s automatic lights in most buildings, recycling bins in every room in every dorm and even a few toilets that flush in a water savvy way. “Being good citizens of the earth,” however, extends further than sending a Gatorade bottle or two off to the recycling plant – it’s attacking the issue at the (grass)roots. Progress and sustainability is about an open and driven mind, ready to institute change on a more systematic level.

“Even if I had the best plan that was endorsed by the best hedge fund managers in the country, because it’s in a student’s hand being given to the Investment Committee, they will totally brush it off. It doesn’t matter at all,” said Domeyer. “I’m just so sick of them rolling over students and pretending like we have some kind of input in things but it’s just nominal. It’s like a big conveyor belt that they just move [us] out.”

Admittedly, fossil fuels are profitable in the current market and with the college looking to expand its available funds in anticipation of the Master Plan, fossil fuels’ direct dividends surely show plenty of promise to the committee. But what about long-term returns on the growing clean energy market? What about the moral and ethical issues at play? None of these considerations seem to be factoring into the Investment Committee’s view on where the students’, donors’ and stakeholders’ money should be going.

“The past three meetings we’ve gone to, we’ve kind of laid out a very logical financial argument for why it wouldn’t be so risky to take all money out of fossil fuels and then we peppered it with the moral and ethical reasons why they shouldn’t be invested in it, and that hasn’t worked,” said Domeyer. “You feel so small when you go to these meetings because they just belittle you and patronize you and they’re like ‘you don’t know what you’re talking about.’”

With potential kick-off campaigns, continued media and physical outreach and the usual bi-annual meetings with the Investment Committee, EnAcT and a graduating Domeyer serve as liaisons to ‘Berg’s aspiring and acting environmentalists. If you’re interested in attending the Divestment meeting on Friday, Apr. 27, contact Devin dd250073@muhlenberg.edu or attend an EnAcT meetings on Wednesdays at 8 p.m. in Seegers 110.

“The idea is that this should become something that doesn’t rely on just a couple people to keep it going – other people are able to step in to the role because there’s enough structure that it’s easily able to pick up,” said Domeyer. “We’re still here, we’re still talking about this.”

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