Grassroots student group calls on SMC Board of Trustees to divest from the fossil fuel industry.
By Kiera O’Hara-Heinz
Formed in fall 2021, Climate Action SMC is a student-led group committed to fighting climate change. Taking inspiration from other college campuses, the group's current focus is pushing Saint Mary’s to divest from the fossil fuel industry.
The leaders of the group consist of seniors Grace Clinton, Amaya Griego, Payton Reil, and sophomore Thomas Weldele, as well as faculty member Daniel Larlham. Coming from all different academic disciplines but united by their passion for the environment, the group aims to address the topic of divestment from a variety of perspectives.
Weldele explains that divestment is the opposite of investment in that it describes taking money out of industries instead of putting money in.
“What divestment is, or at the very least how we're using divestment is to take your money out of like fossil fuel companies and we're saying we don't want to invest in them,” Weldele says. “Because by investing in them, they're using that money, or they're using their growth, to continue to do more fossil fuel extraction, which is hurting our planet.”
Weldele explains that research from Blackrock and other firms has shown that divestment will have little to no effect on the school’s financial portfolio and may in fact have a marginally positive impact.
Despite the relatively small size of Saint Mary’s financial portfolio and the school’s investments in the fossil fuel industry, the action, Weldele says, will be largely symbolic. If the school were to divest, he says, we would join other schools with successful divestment campaigns like Stanford, the UC system, as well as a number of other small liberal arts colleges similar to SMC in size and values.
Amaya Griego argues that divestment is a good decision for SMC not only because it benefits the environment, but also because it falls in line with the Lasallian Core Principles that SMC values as a Catholic institution, particularly “concern for the poor and social justice,” as the climate crisis will disproportionately harm those already most vulnerable.
Last semester the group kicked off their call to action with the Climate Change Theatre Action performances in Dante quad, which Thomas Weldele describes as an energizing moment meant to engage the SMC community in the fight against climate change and the campaign for divestment.
The group also hosted several smaller events around topics like eco-anxiety. Community members may also be familiar with the group's “fossil-free SMC” petition that circulated around social media several weeks back and received over 350 signatures. Both Weldele and Griego urge SMC community members to sign the petition asking for divestment and to keep their eyes out for events coming this term.
The issue of divestment at Saint Mary’s came to a vote in front of the Board of Trustees in 2018, after passing unanimously in the Academic Senate. The proposal was popular but ultimately unsuccessful.
Griego blames COVID-19 for causing the previous divestment campaign to fizzle out and believes the issues presented by previous campaigners have become increasingly direr in the past few years. She says that the current campaign for divestment differs from the 2018/19 campaign because the urgency of the climate crisis has gotten so much worse.
“We're coming from a place of, we cannot afford to wait anymore,” Griego says. “We're trying to refresh the old campaign with a sense of urgency in the sense of, okay, we waited, and we've had this conversation a million times. So now it's done, let's start acting.”
Griego cites student engagement as the most important factor in the success of the current divestment campaign and says that Saint Mary’s has a responsibility to listen to the demands of students.
Weldele agrees with the urgency of acting on the climate crisis. “This isn't something we can just keep, like, pushing down the road. Like, eventually, climate change is just going to kill us all. And I don't know about everyone else. But I certainly like being alive. And I would like to be alive for the entirety of my lifetime”
Ryan Ford '23,