Reed Union Raises Important Questions, Leaves Many Unanswered

Panelists discussed divestment, sustainable practices, and the steps that Reed has already taken to combat climate change

On Thursday, Feb. 6, Reed hosted a Reed Union titled, “Community Responsibility in a Time of Climate Crisis,” which focused on what the college has done and could do for the environment. The discussion highlighted topics such as being more transparent about the policies currently in place affecting the environment, divesting from fossil fuels, and creating a Climate Action Plan for Reed College.

This hour-and-a-half long panel discussion included five panelists: Student Sustainability Coordinator Hayden Hendersen, Director of Risk Management and Environmental Health and Safety April Sams, Professor of Philosophy and Humanities Troy Cross, former Chief Investment Officer for Lewis & Clark College Carl Vance, and Professor of Sociology and International & Area Studies at Yale University and Reed College trustee Julia Adams ‘80.  

Photo by AJ Adler

Photo by AJ Adler

Students at the event specified their concerns regarding Reed’s policies towards sustainability and openness, with multiple questions regarding divestment, a mention of the Paradise Papers and Reed’s place in them, and a question of whether or not Reed should have another audit. However, Sams contended that Reed had already taken many steps towards environmentally friendly action — there just had not been much coverage of it.

“We just do things as a facilities department, that necessarily might not be known to the public, and we just start doing them all the time.” said Sams. “And I think that’s one of the things that we’re really lacking in the sustainability front, is that we’re not communicating things and not allowing people to weigh in on our decisions.”

In order to open up communication, both Sams and Henderson invited the Reed community to come to their office hours or email them with questions or suggestions concerning Reed’s environmental work. 

However, neither of them have a direct say in the current hot-button issue on campus: divestment. Divesting from fossil fuels was easily the most talked about subject at the Union. Vance, who was the Chief Investment Officer for Lewis & Clark College when Lewis & Clark divested from fossil fuels, answered questions concerning every aspect of divestment, including how divestment would be implemented, what that would look like, whether it’s economical to divest from fossil fuels and invest in environmentally friendly solutions, how Lewis & Clark divested, and if Reed can replicate that process. 

According to Vance, each college’s divestment process looks different, and it would be up to the college to decide what divestment would look like. The process to begin and undergo divestment would take years and would encompass several stages as Reed College would slowly leave the companies associated with fossil fuels and invest in environmentally friendly alternatives. This process is also not a one-time thing: Reed College would have to consistently revisit the goals and policies implemented for divestment based on new data being introduced every day about how the environment is impacted by Reed College’s investments. 

Along the lines of transparency, there would need to be some way for Reed College to be held accountable for keeping up with any divestment goals set, such as publishing a yearly divestment report like Lewis & Clark. However, according to Vance, it is economical to divest, as fossil fuels are a limited and declining resource. Vance offered his future assistance if Reed goes through with divesting.

While transparency and divestment are huge issues within the current Reed community, Henderson addressed some smaller issues, which appear more accessible to community members. She specifically spoke about what community members could do based off of her Climate Action Plan for Reed, which included some events that need the college’s approval and some than can be done through community action. As part of this plan, Reed would hire a Sustainability Coordinator to help organize environmental events and programs, which would include expanding Reed’s recycling center, adding more solar panels, maintaining the Reed environment, expanding composting, reducing the animal products in Commons, attending conferences about sustainability, adding secure bike shelters, and setting up funds specifically for sustainable donations. Henderson also stressed the need for someone to conduct a study of Reed’s carbon footprint, as larger action cannot be taken until Reed’s environmental impact is fully understood.

Aside from these plans, she also mentioned that many people on campus mixed up recycling with trash. This is a common problem in the United States, but one that can be fixed through sustainable methods education. 

Two suggestions of Henderson’s were already approved by the Board of Trustees and President Audrey Bilger on Wednesday. Bilger announced that the trustees would be willing to hire someone to fill a new Sustainability Coordinator position by the start of the 2020-21 academic year and that there will be a new fund that allocates money for secure bike-parking solutions, encouraging the Reed community to bike to campus. In this sense, it seems the Reed Union has already made change within our community — but the question of divestment has yet to be answered.

A video of the Union will be uploaded to the Reed Union website.

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