This week, Middlebury’s Board of Trustees voted for a plan that will divest the college’s endowment from fossil fuels within the next 15 years. Our neighbors in Vermont will also be switching to 100 percent renewables by 2028 and have pledged to reduce their energy consumption on campus by 25 percent. As Bowdoin looks for new goals in the wake of attaining carbon neutrality last spring, we encourage the College to reopen the conversation on divestment and other significant measures to combat climate change.
Bowdoin’s administration has been sharply opposed to divestment in the past. In 2013, President Barry Mills said that the College would stand to lose $100 million over 10 years if fossil fuel investments were removed from the endowment portfolio. The College understandably has to consider finances—but six years later, it might be time to run the numbers again.
Middlebury and Bowdoin were not always out of step. In 2013, Middlebury published a statement detailing the difficulties it would face if it were to divest. Repeatedly in that statement, Middlebury categorized divestment as “unlikely.”
Now, Middlebury’s Board of Trustees has changed its mind. If one of our closest peer schools, whose stance has long mirrored Bowdoin’s, has chosen to divest, shouldn’t the College reconsider it as well?
In 2013, Mills also disclosed that 1.4 percent of Bowdoin’s endowment was invested in the top 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies. This number is considerably lower than the amount Middlebury plans to divest—they currently have four percent of their endowment in fossil fuels. At the very least, Bowdoin should assess how much of the endowment it has invested in fossil fuels now and what it would take to get that number to zero.
And this conversation is only becoming more relevant. In 2013, most Bowdoin students agreed that climate change was real, but melting ice caps and rising sea levels seemed foreign and not entirely pertinent. Now, it is much clearer that the threat climate change poses is incredibly dire. Droughts, fire and polar vortexes dominate the news—and these issues disproportionately affect low income communities. Climate change costs lives. If we are a school that holds the Common Good in high esteem, combating this crisis should be our highest priority.
In an interview with the Middlebury Campus, the college’s president, Laurie L. Patton, said that Middlebury’s divestment plan “acknowledges that [they] do not have all the solutions at [their] disposal at this moment to meet these goals, but it commits [them] to make every effort to do so.” Acknowledging the immense complexity of the issue, Middlebury is still willing to take the plunge and work towards this important goal.
In 2012, Mills said, “At this point, we’re not prepared to commit to divest from fossil fuels, but I would never say never.” Seven years later, with clearly different circumstances, let’s take Mills at his word. If Bowdoin is serious about maintaining a reputation as a school on the forefront of environmental studies and action, it should consider matching Middlebury’s ambition.
This editorial represents the majority view of the Bowdoin Orient’s editorial board, which is composed of Emily Cohen, Nell Fitzgerald, Roither Gonzales, Dakota Griffin, George Grimbilas, Calder McHugh, and Jessica Piper.