It’s an attestable fact that climate change is upon us. Ocean levels are rising, diseases are becoming more lethal, and wildfires are out of control. We’ve been aware for decades, but what are we supposed to do with less than an estimated seven years to change?
Environmental Action Club co-presidents Chloe Marshall and Katelyn Sedig are attempting to answer that question by holding the Clark College Foundation, a non-profit that donates funds to the college, accountable for its indirect spending in the fossil fuel industry by campaigning for divestment.
According to the Clark College Foundation chief executive officer, Lisa Gibert, the foundation doesn’t have direct investments in fossil fuels, including coal, oil, or gas companies and the foundation does not aim to invest their assets in fossil fuel corporations. The full letter can be read here.
“We have instructed our investment consultants to actually take a look at what our indirect exposure to fossil fuels is,” Gibert said. “We don’t have the answer to what the exact percentage is at this point in time, but we are looking into that.”
Both co-presidents of the club were not surprised that the foundation only has indirect investments in the fossil fuel industry, however both agree that still being indirectly involved is still not enough to solve the problem.
The Environmental Action Club is dissatisfied with the foundation’s response.
“By saying you have indirect investments, it’s just another way of saying, ok, I’m not handing Exxonmobil a check, but I am giving money to a mutual fund that includes fossil fuels.” Marshall said.
According to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, a mutual fund is defined as a company that brings money together from multiple individuals and invests it in different assets.
“It’s 2021, we need an actual commitment against fossil fuels,” Sedig said. “I don’t think they are doing enough to actually support that. It’s clear it’s just not really a priority.”
Sydney Brahmavar, advisor to the Environmental Action Club and a professor of Global Climate Change at Clark said she thought the letter was belittling and talked down to the club members as if they didn’t understand what a mutual fund is.
“The last few sentences seemed like you [students] had accused them of some kind of misconduct or fraud, when investments in fossil fuels is clearly not fraud, but could be perceived as unethical given what we know as an academic institution what climate change means for the future of our students.” Brahmavar said.
Marshall and Sedig still plan to pursue the foundation to achieve divestment from all fossil fuel investments, thanks to the help from Taryn Oakley, Environmental Science instructor at Portland Community College and activist with a focus on college divestment for 350PDX.org, a non-profit organization dedicated to climate justice. Oakley said she felt the letter was vague and a placeholder to get the club off the foundation’s back.
“Just because you’re not invested in Chevron or Exxon, if they’re invested in other corporations that are financing these projects, it can seem maybe like it’s more indirect but it’s not necessarily as indirect as one might think. ” Oakley said.
Oakley thinks that if the foundation released more information about their investments, this would help the club understand what the actual exposure to the industry is. However, she said this may be difficult to gain access to, so she thinks the club should focus their energy on being educated and educating others for now.
“These fossil fuel corporations are able to do what they are doing because people are giving them money, they’re investing money into these projects,” Oakley said. “If we stop this flow of money, and they no longer have the money to build new pipelines or make new projects, then we’ll start to see fossil fuels decrease.”
Kathleen Perillo, professor of Environmental Science at Clark College and other co-advisor to the Environmental Action Club had similar ideas. Perillo thinks that shifting spending to renewable energy is a possible solution. It all starts with our community.
“I think Clark should be a leader in the community,” Perillo said. “In that way I think we should be demonstrating what it means to be an ecological citizen on the planet.”
Perillo is delighted to see students getting involved in the action because she said that we are already seeing the effects of climate change in our community with the wildfires that are occurring in the Pacific Northwest. Marshall said she feared for a friend’s life when the heat wave in the Portland metro area happened last July, further pushing her to start the campaign.
The club has been asking for signatures at every turn, even going so far as to ask people at the Vancouver’s Farmers market for pledges. The goal is 500 signatures, and currently they are at 110.
Pushing the Clark College Foundation to divest completely is just the first step. Each member of the club had their own personal reasons why they decided to join the Environmental Action Club. Friends, family, and communities all affected by the damage happening to the planet. When asked why they joined, no one stated their feelings quite as strongly as club member Diego Quintero.
“I think it could be boiled down to three words: join or die.” Quintero said.
The Environmental Action Club meets every Friday at 3 p.m. in Penguin Union Building room 161 and are planning a tree planting for Nov. 6. More information about the Environmental Action Club and their activities can be found on their website at https://clarkclimateaction.wixsite.com/home. You can contact Chloe Marshall at (360)-448-5448 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.