Bowdoin Climate Action (BCA) announced over Spring Break that it would escalate its fossil fuel divestment campaign by turning to civil disobedience, starting with a sit-in that will occur in the coming weeks. The group distributed a press release stating that more than 50 students have pledged to participate. BCA says “divestment is the tactic, climate justice is the goal.” We, and many members of the Bowdoin community, agree with BCA’s goal of working toward climate justice, but we do not believe that a narrow focus on pressuring the Trustees to divest is BCA’s best path forward.    

The group has honed the rhetoric it uses to justify its escalation, repeatedly stating that since BCA members presented their case to the Board of Trustees in October, the Trustees have been silent for over 140 days. Group members also accuse President Barry Mills, who recently stated that he is the liaison between the Board and BCA, of failing to engage with them and failing to take climate justice seriously. Though Mills has been an imperfect liaison, we believe that BCA’s argument is misrepresentative. Both Mills and the Trustees have met with BCA and engaged with the group’s proposal. According to Mills, the Board concluded that divestment was not viable for Bowdoin, yet BCA continues to focus on this singular goal.   

BCA would be better off reaching out as opposed to sitting in. In a recent survey conducted by Associate Professor of Government Michael Franz, only 24 percent of 311 respondents supported divestment, while 37 percent opposed it, and 35 percent reported that they did not have enough information to make a decision. If BCA wants to continue the divestment conversation, it should engage both the 37 percent of students who are opposed and the 35 percent who are undecided. BCA often asks, “Whose side are you on?” Until there is a more meaningful and balanced debate on the issue, many students will not know their answer to that question. We are beginning to see students who do not support divestment speak out. Kuangji Chen ’15 wrote a detailed op-ed this week in which he argues that the financial costs of divestment outwiegh its symbolic value.

BCA might also consider putting its divestment campaign on the backburner and focusing its efforts on other climate initiatives. There are other steps that can be taken toward the goal of climate justice. For example, when Middlebury announced that it would not divest from fossil fuels in 2013, Divest for Our Future Middlebury changed its tactics. It began encouraging Middlebury to increase its investments in renewable energy companies. BCA could also shift its focus away from the endowment entirely. Maine is confronting a number of environmental issues. Environmentalists working on local problems and climate change researchers at Bowdoin and elsewhere could all benefit from the work of committed college activists like those involved with BCA. 

Climate change is one of the most pressing issues our generation faces. However, the single-minded pursuit of a symbolic goal is not the best way for Bowdoin students to address it. Sitting in will do little more than perpetuate a divestment campaign that is, for the time being, a lost cause. If BCA wants to make a difference, it should begin to pursue other options. 

This editorial represents the majority view of the Bowdoin Orient’s editorial board, which is comprised of Garrett Casey, Ron Cervantes, Sam Chase, Matthew Gutschenritter, Nicole Wetsman and Kate Witteman.