On Tuesday, Bowdoin Climate Action (BCA) renewed its divestment efforts and began collecting signatures on a petition that asks the College “to permanently divest its endowment from the top 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies over the next five years” with the hopes of submitting it to Bowdoin Student Government (BSG) for a referendum.

If the petition, accessible through Blink, receives signatures from at least 20 percent of the student body (around 360 students), BCA can submit it to BSG. Then, after a three week period, the referendum would open to the campus for voting. If more than one third of the student body votes in the referendum and two-thirds of the voting population votes in favor, BSG will submit the referendum to the Board of Trustees on behalf of the student body. As of press time, the petition has 70 signatures.

According to BCA member Jonah Watt ’18, the group has long focused on divestment as the main method of climate activism on campus.
“Divestment has always been our tactic, with climate justice being our larger goal,” said Watt.

This is not the first time that BCA has petitioned for divestment. In 2013 and 2014 BCA collected signatures from students, and instead of delivering the petition to BSG, BCA submitted the signatures to former President Barry Mills, which resulted in the group presenting a proposal for divestment to the Board of Trustees.

Due to the relatively informal nature of the previous petition, there was a discrepancy between the number of signatures that BCA claimed it had when it was submitted to Mills and the actual number of valid signatures. Research into the petition revealed that there were a number of duplicate signatures, lowering the stated count of 1,000 to Mills to 825 valid signatures.

“Last time we petitioned, we petitioned across semesters and we petitioned students that had graduated, we petitioned across five class years. This time it’s only for students who are enrolled this semester,” said Watt.

This new petition gives BCA a chance to gauge on-campus student support for divestment.

“I think the referendum is a way for us to re-engage and re-educate and then get a very clear sense of where the student body stands and so that way we can have a greater sense of how we can leverage that support and who we need to be reaching out to and what education we need to be doing going forward,” Watt said.

BCA has been planning the petition for a referendum since the end of the summer. Watt cited this year’s negative returns on Bowdoin’s endowment—mentioned by President Rose in a recent email to the college—and Senior Vice President for Investments Paula Volent’s attribution of these negative returns to falling oil prices as affirmations of the petition’s timeliness.

Watt indicated that in addition to divestment symbolizing the moral urgency of confronting climate change, BCA also feels that divestment is a financially responsible course of action, citing the “plummeting” value of oil.

BCA hopes that submitting the petition for a referendum through BSG will bring awareness of divestment to current first years and sophomores, who may not be as exposed to the issue as upperclassmen.

According to Watt, BCA hopes that both the petition and referendum will draw the consideration of the Board of Trustees, which has historically been dismissive of the possibility of divestment.

“I don’t really expect an answer from the Board because we’ve never gotten an answer from them. We’ve met with them, we’ve presented to them, we’ve delivered petitions to them, we’ve held a sit-in and we’ve never gotten an answer,” said Watt.

“I think that the referendum could be a way to finally elicit a response from the Board, and hopefully a response that listens to the student body.”

Watt also hopes that the Board to Trustees will be more transparent about how Bowdoin invests its endowment. As of 2013, 1.4 percent of the College’s endowment was invested in fossil fuels. Watt believes that the number is likely lower now.

“Part of what we’ve been demanding for four years is greater transparency, greater conversation both with our Board of Trustees and with our fund managers,” said Watt.

There is no clear timeline for the petition itself at this point, as it can be left open until 20 percent of the student body signs it and BCA can wait to submit it for referendum indefinitely.