Letter to the Editor: It’s Time to Divest

Submitted on 5 February 2020

Letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Quest or the Editorial Board.

Over the past two years, tens of millions of students from over two-hundred nations have gone on strike. “How dare you?”, they’ve asked, as those they are meant to look up to, those they aspire to be, have traded away their futures in the interest of short-term profits. It is not those who deny the existence of the climate crisis which scare them, but those who grasp how close we are to an irreversible tipping point, yet regard the required solutions as unserious or unrealistic. These students have challenged us to question the roles of institutions we see as ‘neutral’, the value of an education meant to prepare us for a future which may not exist, to question the roles that we occupy: whether that be student, professor, administrator, or citizen. 

For thirty-five years, generations of Reed students have been calling on the administration to divest themselves, divest our education, our tuition, from the purveyors of hatred, greed, and ecological crisis. Our arguments are sound. Fossil fuel companies have been among the worst performing sector of the market for the past 5 years, past shareholder engagement with large oil companies has been a mockery, any competent investment portfolio manager should be able to navigate divestment, and the standards for divestment of the Reed Investment Responsibility Policy have been met. Reed prides itself as having some of the brightest students in the country, so why don’t they listen to us?

It is important to note that the stock-price value of oil corporations are largely based on the reserves they plan to burn— and currently these companies have on the books the reserves necessary to raise the Earth’s temperature by 10°C. At that point, there would be enough CO2 in the atmosphere to cause human cognitive ability to decrease by 21%, and more than half the world’s population, as distributed today, would die from hyperthermia, due to the inability to dissipate metabolic heat. Our institution is betting financially on these outcomes. They are outcomes catastrophic beyond words— but Reed fears it cannot take a stand against them without making a “political statement”. 

In Hannah Arendt’s Life of the Mind, the 20th-century philosopher of totalitarianism and epistemology expands on the ideas introduced in her study Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. She delves deeper into the prospect that evil doesn’t arise from a sense of malice, from psychopaths, or monstrous hatred, but from people who simply follow orders, who are incapable of thinking for themselves. In the book, she proclaims that “the true test of thought is to be steadfast in our convictions of what is right and wrong”, she argues that true thought must not be confused with stoic contemplation, that our understanding only extends as far as we are capable of demonstrating it. It goes without saying that ‘the life of the mind’ will not function if human cognitive ability decreases 21%. 

Over the past three years which I have been campaigning for Reed to divest from fossil fuels, many well-meaning faculty members and alumni have told me that Reed’s position on divestment will never change, that institutions are too difficult to move. I sincerely hope, and believe, that they are wrong. To close with a quote from Greta Thunberg, “The one thing we need more than hope is action. Once we start to act, hope is everywhere. So instead of looking for hope, look for action. Then, and only then, hope will come”. 

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