WALLA WALLA — Whitman College students are planning to protest the college’s continued investment of its endowment in fossil-fuel producing companies and let it know the campaign known as Divest Whitman isn’t over, despite the college’s refusal to explore divestment.
The protest, set for 4 p.m. Wednesday at Whitman’s Memorial Building, will be a “mock wedding” between Whitman and the fossil fuel industry to illustrate the college’s connection to them as a result of its investments.
Divest Whitman is organized by the Walla Walla private college’s chapter of the national Campus Climate Challenge and based on a nationwide divestment movement started by 350.org, which aims to push colleges nationwide to pull their investments in businesses that have large fossil-fuel reserves.
Companies like Exxon Mobile, for example, could produce enough oil and gas with its current holdings to add 41 billion tons of carbon to the Earth’s atmosphere, according to data from the Carbon Tracker Initiative (bit.ly/1mLPo58).
After protests led by Divest Whitman last year, the Associated Students of Whitman College adopted a resolution asking the college’s governing Board of Trustees to form a committee to examine the effects of divesting from fossil-fuel producing companies on its endowment.
But in February the board announced it would not move forward with divestment or establish a committee.
“The protest objective is to raise student support and let the trustees know the campaign isn’t over,” said rally organizer Dani Hupper, a freshman environmental studies-politics major. “The eventual goal of the campaign is to have the trustees establish a committee, and ultimately divest.”
According to reports from the Whitman Pioneer, more than 200 students, staff and community members marched to support divestment in April of last year, shortly after which the ASWC passed its resolution.
“Whitman claims to be a very environmentally focused community,” Hupper said, “and we think that not only should we talk the talk, but we should walk the walk.”
The board, in its announcement on Feb. 7 (bit.ly/1iVFdI2), cited the college’s relatively small amount of money invested in fossil-fuel oriented companies — about two percent of its endowment — and the complexity of how the endowment is managed as reasons not to proceed with divestment.
“Although the investment in companies (which have large fossil fuel reserves) is small,” the board said in a prepared statement, “a divestment of fossil fuels would adversely affect a significant portion of the college’s endowment portfolio causing a withdrawal of over 25 percent of the portfolio and risking both future potential returns to the College and the programs and students that these returns support.”
In its release, the board said it didn’t debate the merits of climate science, but “we find divestment difficult to reconcile with our reliance on these companies to heat our buildings, power our electronics, and fuel our transportation.”
Ben Wentz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8315.