“Olin is a community striving to change the world and positively impact people’s lives […]. What change do you hope to be a part of?”
You might recall this question from Olin’s common app. Even if you’re not a student, you’ve probably had this question rattling around in your head for some time.
Well, here’s a change for you: we are calling on Olin to eliminate its investments in fossil fuels, or divest. Our new strategic plan states a commitment to sustainability, equity, and justice, bringing into question our endowment’s investments in fossil fuel companies.
Over 1,500 institutions have already committed to divestment, totaling over $40 trillion in divested funds, including Harvard, Princeton, Wellesley, Boston University, Brandeis, Brown, Dartmouth, Cornell, Columbia, the University of California system, U Mass, and 200 other colleges with all sizes of endowments.
$40 trillion is not inconsequential. Fossil fuel companies are stating on record that divestment poses a material risk to their business. Peabody Coal, the largest coal producer in the world, declared bankruptcy in 2016, citing divestment as one of the main reasons; divestment was also the key reason for the coal sector’s credit de-rating between 2013 and 2018.
The writing is on the wall: fossil fuels are a sunsetting industry. The global effort to prevent climate catastrophe will require an enormous, unprecedented decrease in fossil fuel usage, guaranteeing that fossil fuels will be poor long-term investments. If Olin hopes to “protect and sustain our natural, built, and financial resources so that they might equitably benefit future generations”, as stated in our strategic plan, divestment is the smart choice economically, too.
So how much do we have invested in fossil fuels? According to past conversations with Olin’s board of trustees, we have between 1-2% of our $450 million endowment, or $4-9 million, invested in fossil fuel companies.
“Only $9 million?” we hear you ask. The fossil fuel industry has trillions of dollars, what difference will that make?
While our student body may be tiny, Olin is influentially huge. Our model of impact-centered education is emulated by many institutions around the world. As leaders in engineering education, we set an example.
Olin is in an unusual position: we are an engineering school without petroleum engineering programs, that doesn’t receive fossil fuel research funding, or send alumni to fossil fuel companies. While we’ve fallen behind so many of our liberal arts peers, we can be one of the first engineering schools to commit to divestment. Morally, we can send a clear message that if it’s wrong to wreck the planet, it’s wrong to profit from that wreckage.
As Gilda has stated, “the climate crisis is one of the biggest, most complex challenges that we’re facing”. It’s already here. As you read this, people in Pakistan are mourning loved ones lost to floods, Californians are fleeing ever-worsening wildfires, and Florida’s residents are just beginning to assess the damage from Hurricane Ian. Let’s show that we’re committed to sustainability, equity, and justice.
So what are we doing about it? We have started a new group, Olin Climate Justice, to work towards divestment and broader institutional change to combat the climate crisis. We spent the summer talking to over 30 faculty, staff, alumni, trustees, as well as divestment activists at other schools, and we’ve compiled our research into a 50-page proposal outlining the importance of divestment, the history of divestment efforts at Olin, and how we can make it happen here.
We’ll be doing a lot this semester—you’ll hear from us very soon!
What can you do?
- If you’re a current student, know that this is your college and you have the power to create change. We plan to hold one of Olin’s first-ever formal full student body social referendums. Keep an eye out for this in late November—your participation will be essential. Want to get involved? Show up to our meetings happening every Thursday at 6 PM in the MAC 3rd floor endcap!
- If you’re a faculty or staff member, your opinion matters. If you’re interested in getting involved or just learning more, we ask you to reach out to us or show up at our meetings! Your support and experience are invaluable, and we are working on ways to involve you.
- If you’re an alum, we ask for your support. You have an outsized influence on the direction and future of Olin. Many successful divestment campaigns at other colleges involved the critical backing of passionate alumni. Contact us if you want to get involved!
- If you’re an Olin parent, we haven’t forgotten about you! Climate activism isn’t only for college campuses. We invite you to engage in this process with us—we’d love to hear from you.
- If you’re an Olin board of trustee member, you are the final decision-makers on divestment, and we ask you to raise this issue. We are here to work with you. We understand that this decision takes fortitude and consensus, and we want to find out the best way to make this happen for all of us.