Frequently Asked Questions
We are demanding that Bates divests the endowment from all coal companies within 2 years and all other fossil fuel companies within 5 years. We propose the formation of a task force composed of students, faculty, staff, and alumni to oversee the divestment process over the 5 year period and to ensure the task is completed.
What is divestment?
Bates has an endowment, like all other colleges and universities. The endowment is a large sum of money (approximately $250-300 million) that has been built up from donations over time. The Trustees Investment Committee oversees the investment of the endowment in stocks, real estate, bonds, and hedge funds in order for it to grow. Divesting means selling Bates’ investments in a certain industry or groups of companies.
Will divestment hurt the endowment?
No. Investment professionals have said repeatedly that fossil fuels are terrible investments. Schools, towns, and religious organizations across the country have divested from all fossil fuels without feeling any negative consequences. Bates, like other institutional investors already use socially screened funds — avoiding investment in such things as tobacco, firearms, and gambling, military contractors and nuclear weapons manufacturers. Divestment from fossil fuels would work in the same way.
Will it make a difference?
Divestment campaigns find strength in numbers. When one investor sells its stock in a company, another investor simply buys that same stock. In isolation, this does not have a significant impact on the viability of the company. However, when many investors sell the same stock, the stock price will drop. This effect is compounded when money managers create special portfolios in response to a divestment campaign. For example, during the apartheid divestment campaign, investment managers created apartheid-free mutual funds. This created a serious disincentive for corporations to support the apartheid regime.
Divestment also has a serious political impact. National divestment movements affect the way ordinary people and the media think about and portray an issue. This inspires action in the political arena. Using again the example of apartheid, the apartheid divestment movement caused the United States government to change its political relationship with South Africa.
In just 4 months, the number of student groups running fossil fuel divestment campaigns has jumped from 6 groups to over 120 groups. As large numbers of people get behind divesting from fossil fuels, we can change the political dialogue around the fossil fuel industry, and will help to dismantle the extraction industry’s social license to operate. Our ultimate goal is to delegitimize the fossil fuel industry and inspire strong political action from state and federal governments (Swarthmore Mountain Justice).
Coal is the single largest source of global carbon dioxide emissions compared to other fossil fuels.
Coal fired power plants produce the largest amount of human-generated mercury in the United States.
The Gross External Damages (GED) attributed to coal are larger than the next three fuel types combined: crop production, $15 billion/year, livestock production, $15 billion/year, and construction of roadways and bridges, $13 billion/year.
Pollution from coal exacerbates asthma and heart disease, causing thousands of premature and preventable deaths each year. Air pollution from coal killed between 8,000 and 24,000 people in the United States in 2005. The economic costs associated with negative health consequences of coal total $100 billion.
In Appalachia, coal is mined using a technique called Mountain Top Removal (MTR) in which entire mountain tops are destroyed and the coal within the mountain is removed. Water and air pollution very frequently follow a MTR event. People living near mountaintop removal coal mining sites are 50% more likely to die of cancer and 42% more likely to be born with birth defects compared with other people in Appalachia, according to 21 peer-reviewed scientific articles, which are summarized here.