To divest, or not to divest? That is the question. However, for many Colorado College students, it is not much of a question at all, but a necessary moral and environmental initiative. The issue of divestment is one that encompasses social, economic and political issues, and, thus, is one that has no easy answers. The pressure from student groups has been to divest, but is that the only option?
Before I dive into my thoughts on the subject, a little background might be necessary for those who are not familiar with the divestment movement and the motivation behind it. Historically, “to divest” has meant that an institution or individual rids itself of a particular type of asset or investment. More recently, however, divestment has come to apply specifically to one particular resource: fossil fuels. Especially on liberal college campuses in the United States, to divest has meant that a college removes fossil fuels from its investment portfolio. Across the country, the “divest” movement is gaining momentum as students come together to protest the environmental, climatological, political and social impacts of our reliance on fossil fuels as a nation and a world.
Thus, the question must turn to what is the best option not only for Colorado College, but also the environment, cultures, and civilizations that are influenced by the pursuit of oil and other fossil fuels. As many activists will not hesitate to inform you, investing in fossil fuels is to support, by association, oppressive regimes and governments that not only neglect the environment, but their own people as well. Middle Eastern countries such as Saudi Arabia are used as examples of this phenomenon. By divesting, it is argued that institutions distance themselves from the actions of the corporations and regimes that are benefiting from environmental and human abuse. However, to argue this perspective is to ignore a fundamental function of American corporations and the individual citizen’s ability to own stock.
By investing in a business and owning stock, one gains the ability to have a say in the business’ proceedings and corporate strategy. After all, to own stock, no matter how insignificant, is to own a portion of a business, and what sort of enterprise doesn’t allow the owners to have a say in how the business is run and what the goals are? While the natural response to this is to say that there are billions of stocks available – and thus there are (possibly) billions of owners, it comes down to a similar argument that environmentalists and divestment advocates rely on: every bit counts.
If Colorado College were to divest, it would certainly be a stand against the corporate energy giants that dominate the fossil fuel industry. However, it would also be an act of submission. Instead of having a say, no matter how small, in the proceedings of a company, we would be giving the voice to the free market and the consumers. And, if we have learned anything from the colossal success and expansion of the oil giants, it is that consumers demand oil and are willing to pay for it. This will continue even if Colorado College divests from oil and fossil fuel interests. Perhaps we should consider our role as active investors. Instead of separating ourselves from the situation entirely, the college should use its voice as partial owners and investors to protest the actions of the companies we are invested in. In an age where the balance between the economy and the environment hangs in constant peril and uncertainty, there exists no simple or unequivocal answer. As such, it is our duty as students, activists, and citizens to question all that we can: the initiative to divest might indeed be the best possible answer, but it is far from the only course we can try. We can participate as investors and shareholders in order to protest the actions of corporations, and we can do so without risking the financial security or stability of Colorado College. We can stand up, but it does not require rebellion.