Members of Bowdoin Climate Action (BCA) constructed a makeshift “climate camp” on the Main Quad Wednesday night, in hopes of pressuring the College’s Board of Trustees to meet with the group next week to discuss divesting the endowment from fossil fuels.
Sarah Nelson ’14, who took over as president of Bowdoin Student Government (BSG) Wednesday evening, informed BCA at around 5:30 p.m. yesterday that it could not have a demonstration on College property without written permission, and asked the students to dismantle the camp by 7 p.m. In response, BCA agreed to lose its status as a chartered student organization in order to prolong the protest.
A statement on the website of the Office of the Dean of Student Affairs explains, “No person shall utilize the College’s property, including photographic reproductions of its property, for commercial, business, political or public purposes without express written consent.”
BCA is a subsidiary of the Green Bowdoin Alliance (BGA), a chartered student organization. Nelson told the protestors on the Quad that by failing to comply with College regulations, BCA put its parent organization, BGA, at risk.
“I explained to them that in not following these guidelines, you risk not being re-chartered as a club,” Nelson said.
Nelson said that the BCA members present initially agreed to leave the Quad. Then, just before 7 p.m., she received an email from Matt Goodrich ’15, one of BCA’s leaders.
“Green Bowdoin Alliance does not have a part in the climate camp—its leaders were not involved in the construction and its active members are not present,” the email read. “We are an unofficial, unchartered group of students who want to meet with the trustees to divest the school from fossil fuels.”
One of BGA’s leaders, Margaret Lindeman ’15, issued a similar statement to BSG, denying involvement with the camp.
“As of earlier today, Bowdoin Climate Action is no longer a subsidiary of Green Bowdoin Alliance. Green Bowdoin Alliance remains a student organization in good standing and chartered by the Student Organizations Oversight Committee of Bowdoin Student Government,” Lindeman’s statement read.
BCA and BGA’s decision to end their affiliation means that the protestors no longer fall under BSG’s jurisdiction.
“Since Bowdoin Climate Action is no longer a subsidiary of the Bowdoin Green Alliance and therefore no longer a chartered student organization, they do not fall under BSG’s authority,” Nelson said.
The Board of Trustees will meet on campus next weekend. Goodrich said that when President Barry Mills stopped by the camp this afternoon, he said he still did not intend to add divestment to the trustee meeting’s agenda.
Katy Longley, senior vice president for finance and administration and treasurer, said that the College’s sustainability efforts have been forgotten amidst the debate over divestment.
“One of our problems has been getting the word out on what we’re doing,” she said. “We wanted to emphasize what we were doing for actual sustainability.”
Over each of the past two summers, the College has reinvested $500,000 worth of energy savings in sustainability projects, according to Longley, who has earmarked $250,000 worth of energy savings for projects next year.
This summer, Longley said, the College will spend $160,000 from its annual operating budget on a lighting audit of Hawthorne-Longfellow Library, energy-efficient refrigeration controls in Thorne Dining Hall, an electric car, weatherizing Copeland House, and lighting upgrades in Smith Union, Massachusetts Hall, Mayflower Apartments, and Greason Pool.
Goodrich said that he appreciates the College’s projects to make the campus greener, but wants to broaden the discussion, since the term “sustainability” does not indicate the “moral gravitas” of the wider problem of climate change.
“We’re standing in solidarity today with the refugees—hundreds of thousands of refugees—who are displaced and are killed every year by natural disasters,” he said. “That’s what divestment is about; it’s recognizing that this is a humanitarian issue and not just about insulating our windows or installing a solar panel.”
Longley said that the College still believes that sustainability is the most effective way it can mitigate the effects of climate change.
As part of the ongoing renovation of the former Longfellow School, the College will install several energy-saving measures, including sensors for lights, according to Longley. Other summer projects include landscaping on South Campus Drive, which will eliminate parking near Moulton Union and create new green space.
After meeting with students and faculty this year, BSG and the College’s administration decided to add two student representatives and two faculty members to its climate action committee, Longley said.
“This whole discussion about conservation and the College doing more for sustainability made us reflect that we need to include faculty and students,” she said. “Meeting with faculty and students—they wanted to be involved.”