Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Swarthmore’s Mountain Justice has officially stepped into the big leagues. Sara Blazevic ’15 of Mountain Justice was invited to speak about divesting from the fossil fuel industry at a Saturday night gathering in Philadelphia that featured high-profile climate activist Bill McKibben as the keynote speaker.
The event, part of the national Do the Math tour spearheaded by McKibben and his Project 350, also included Josh Fox, director of the anti-fracking film Gasland, and a speaker from New Yorkers Against Fracking. Approximately 30 Swarthmore students were present in an audience that included Vice President for College and Community Relations Maurice Eldridge ’61.
“Do the Math” aims to raise awareness about the role fossil fuels play in climate change. The campaign, which has taken a strong stand in favor of divestment from the fossil fuel industry, began with a Rolling Stone article by McKibben this August.
The divestment solution would “require asking often-good institutions to change their ways,” McKibben said in his talk. He proposes they wind down their investments in the fossil fuel industry over the next five years.
Blazevic said that Swarthmore should be able to “leverage its financial weight to mobilize influence,” and that it would be “financially feasible” to do so. She also pointed out the need for a larger backbone of support. “We alone can’t convince Swarthmore to divest,” she said. “We need a mass movement, faculty, churches, and banks giving back.”
“Swarthmore’s in the lead,” McKibben said in an interview with The Daily Gazette. “It’s one of the places in the country where the argument’s more advanced, going further down that road.” He said that “Do the Math” had reached 70 college campuses thus far, and he anticipated as many as 200 by Christmas.
“Swarthmore’s one of my favorite colleges in the country,” he said. “I admire it and its students immensely partly because it comes from a deeply moral tradition. That Quaker background means it should be more reflective than most places.”
“[Swarthmore Mountain Justice] have discovered what a hard argument it is,” McKibben said. “Especially in a place like Swarthmore that should be more receptive. It’s hard to buck it, but we’re so proud of the work they’re doing.”
Although Project 350 started by “going after politicians” and making big political statements, such as a march on Washington to protest the Keystone-XL pipeline, the movement turned to the fossil fuel industry after the Rolling Stone article, according to McKibben. He said that his argument in that article “made it clearer that we needed to go after the industry above all, that’s where the real power lay, that’s why we’re getting nowhere in almost any capital on earth.”
Mountain Justice was first inspired to get involved in divestment by activists on the frontlines who they had encountered through their work in rural West Virginia and in Texas at the Keystone-XL pipeline, said Blazevic. McKibben’s invitation to speak at Saturday’s event enabled Mountain Justice to tell that message to a much larger audience.
“We’ve been working on it for a while, so it makes sense to connect with the national energy around it,” said Mountain Justice Member Ali Roseberry-Polier ’14.
“We made an alliance [with Project 350] because of their clout in the political and social movement world,” Blazevic said. “Us being backed by 350 will give the message more force on campus.”
McKibben noted that the divestment movement was not limited to students but instead should involve the entire college community. He also encouraged faculty to step in. “This is what tenure was made for,” he said in his speech.