I wrote the following letter, supporting fossil fuel divestment at Macalester College, and a statement a number of fellow alumni signed to get Macalester College to strongly consider divesting and taking national leadership, once again, on sustainability. It isn’t just what you invest in, but what you won’t divest in, that makes Mission Investing such a powerful tool for social change. – Richard
M E M O
To: President Rosenberg and the Board of Trustees
Dear President Rosenberg and Chairman Deno,
As a clean energy entrepreneur, I can attribute much of my success in helping with the launch clean energy companies like Solar Mosaic and Ethical Electric, with the positive experiences I had collaborating with fellow students, faculty, and your administration launching the Clean Energy Revolving Fund, our Green Building Advisory Committee, and our National Student Design for Sustainability award-winning green roof projects.
As a co-founder of the Macalester Conservation and Renewable Energy Society, I saw Macalester become a national leader in campus sustainability and renewable energy. Over the next several years, I watched the students I worked with on-campus become leaders locally, nationally, and yes, globally.
Alumni who led on those initiatives, as students, have since accomplished the following: built the largest solar photovoltaic array in Scandinavia, founded the largest Solar Thermal developer in the United States, organized the 12,000 person strong Power Shift climate conference, led online organizing for the 17,000,000 person Global Campaign for Climate Action, worked on nano-tech solar panels, and so much more.
Macalester’s leadership and those incredible students are now alumni encircling the world, working to change it as global citizens. At the international climate negotiations, I worked with Kofi Annan’s TckTckTck climate campaign and met many Nobel Prize Winners, including the late Wangari Maathai, who delivered our petition, in Copenhagen, to the assembled presidents and prime ministers. However, the two people that most impacted me were Archbishop Desmond Tutu, of South Africa, and President Mohamed Nasheed, of the Maldives.
President Nasheed, when he met with us, after flying in from a country that many have described as paradise on earth, his voice cracked as he described how they were losing whole islands bit-by-bit every year and he was tasked with figuring out how to evacuate or save his country. He asked us to make sure any treaty was strong enough, so he wasn’t forced to sign what would end up being a suicide pact. We had launched an effort called Project Survival and the students with us got 124 countries to sign a pledge to protect the survival of all nations and peoples from climate change.
Fossil Fuel companies derailed those talks, however, and Archbishop Tutu was the one who gave us the guidance on what kept hope alive during the darkest days in South Africa, when activists were attacked and violence broke out against everyone calling for an end to apartheid. The knowledge that students, like those at Macalester today, were standing in solidarity to fight for them and that the companies profiting from business in South Africa were under pressure, every moment they let Apartheid stand.
We are at such a moment today.
In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, record drought across the Midwest, raging wildfires in the West, and freak storms like the Derecho tearing across the country at 600 miles perhour from Chicago to Washington, D.C. Climate change is no longer a hypothetical problem, still constrained to the whiteboard in Olin-Rice. It is a problem of now, one that the students graduating today will spend decades coping with. The current path we are on, with a six degree Celsius rise in temperatures, leads to projections from the National Academy of Sciences that sound like science fiction, of the dystopian variety.
However, divesting from Fossil Fuels can be done with effectively no risk and perhaps major gains for the financial future of the college, as well as launch careers of recent graduates into new opportunities in sustainable finance. As Tom Steyer, who along with his billionaire colleagues Michael Bloomberg, James Simons, Jeremy Grantham, and Julian Robertson, have funded major efforts on climate, said in Rolling Stone:
“From a selfish point of view, it’s very good for colleges that they know something about the future that others don’t. Because investing is not about what’s happened in the past – all prices are really anticipations of what’s going to happen in the future. As soon as the trouble we face is really common knowledge it’s going to be reflected in the price. But it’s not reflected in the price yet.”
Moreover, as a clean energy entrepreneur, who has watched my Macalester classmates have similar success starting and launching businesses in clean energy and sustainability, I know there are incredible opportunities to invest in making the future a better place.
When I divested my entire holdings in Fossil Fuel companies, I did so a year before the Deepwater Horizon explosion wiped billions, in a day, off the value of BP. I had invested in green technology and clean energy and to this day, I have outperformed my peers. Our Clean Energy Revolving Fund had an annualized ROI of 26.5% and the 52 funds on colleges across the country have performed at around 28-30%.
Once you explore this topic, the reasons are diverse as to why to divest from Fossil Fuels and reinvest in clean energy and sustainability, but the simplest is the most important.
Climate Change is a matter of life and death for millions of people and it is immoral to profit from companies who stand in the way of solving the problem.
Thank you for your thoughtful engagement and I hope this letter and the attached statement signed by Macalester Alumni moves you to weigh in and decide to act.
Richard Graves ’06
We, the undersigned, call on Macalester College to once again rise to the call of action from its students and in what has become a hallmark for Macalester, take innovative and decisive action to divest from Fossil Fuel companies and reinvest in clean energy solutions to climate change.
Richard Graves ‘06
VP, Business Development, Ethical Electric
Sustainable Planet Committee, Threshold Foundation
Zach Axelrod ‘06
CEO, Skyline Innovations
Justin Lee ‘08
Sustainability Program Manager
Jackson Family Wines
COO, GreenGo Energy A/S
Laura Bartolomei-Hill ‘10
New Organizing Institute
Timothy DenHerder-Thomas ’09
Board Chair, Cooperative Energy Futures
Margrette Thompson ’07
Common Purpose Project
Matt Kazinka, ‘11
Green Business Coordinator
Latino Economic Development Center
Jeff Jay, ‘08
JD + MPP Candidate
University of Michigan
Sandy Robson ‘08
Assistant to the Executive Secretary
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Nathaniel Bell ‘08
MSY2 UW School of Medicine
Matt Klaber, ‘07
Director of Research & Development