Climate Change and Economic Inequality

Welcome back to my blog! Let’s get right back into it:

Oxfam International just released a study (called Wealth: Having It All and Wanting More) that states that by next year, the richest 1% will be richer than the rest of the world combined. Whoa. That is completely unacceptable. Oxfam is calling on governments to “adopt a seven point plan to tackle inequality:”

  1. Clamp down on tax dodging by corporations and rich individuals
  2. Invest in universal, free public services such as health and education
  3. Share the tax burden fairly, shifting taxation from labour and consumption towards capital and wealth
  4. Introduce minimum wages and move towards a living wage for all workers
  5. Introduce equal pay legislation and promote economic policies to give women a fair deal
  6. Ensure adequate safety-nets for the poorest, including a minimum income guarantee
  7. Agree a global goal to tackle inequality.

Climate change and many of the other global issues we are facing today are intimately connected with this stark economic inequality. These issues are the result of the political and economic system that is keeping people down and destroying our beautiful world. And, in fact, climate change is exacerbating inequality because poor communities are the ones that are on the frontlines of extreme weather and resource conflict. By fighting climate change, we are fighting inequality.


MHC Divest: The Fight for Climate Justice at Mount Holyoke


MHC Divest is a campaign organized by the Mount Holyoke Climate Justice Coalition (CJC). Our focus on justice arises from the need to bring attention to the global inequity of the current economic system, and the effects of climate change.

In pursuit of divestment, MHC Divest is organizing all stakeholders on the issue of divestment: Mount Holyoke students, alumnae, faculty, and staff. MHC Divest aims to work with the Administration and the Board of Trustees to redirect investments away from the fossil fuel industry. We urge Mount Holyoke to take the following steps:

  1. Immediately freeze further investments in the top 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies,
  2. Divest the approximately 2% of its endowment currently invested in fossil fuel companies within the next five years,
  3. Reinvest part of the endowment into environmentally and socially responsible enterprises.

MHC Divest launched in November 2012 and quickly gained the support of many students. During the spring of 2013, the group delivered petitions to President Lynn Pasquerella and participated in productive dialogue and educational opportunities on campus. In the spring of 2014, the group formally registered as Mount Holyoke Climate Justice Coalition.

In spring 2014, MHC Divest organized a successful student referendum in which, of those who voted, 88% of students voted for Mount Holyoke to divest its endowment from the top 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies. Members of CJC attended the Intentionally Designed Endowments Conference in April 2014 with President Pasquerella and presented in a session on engaging in collaborative dialogue on campus. Last spring, MHC Divest also met with President Pasquerella and the Vice President of Finance, Shannon Gurek. Through that meeting, we were able to obtain a meeting with the Chair of the Board of Trustees, Mary Davis, and two other members of the Board, as well as an invitation to the September meeting of the Investment Committee. Two members of MHC Divest attended this meeting, which took place in New York City, and made an impressive presentation to the entire Committee. Following that meeting, the group met with several Trustees in October. Seven members of MHC Divest attended the meeting, as well as Physics Professor Alexi Arango, and a student action occurred outside the meeting in order to encourage the Trustees to support divestment.

At this time, MHC Divest is focusing on building power in all parts of the Mount Holyoke community. In this way, we hope to show the Administration and the Board of Trustees that, not only is divestment a fantastic opportunity for Mount Holyoke to position itself as a leader, but also that the entire community supports divesting from fossil fuels. MHC Divest is working with passionate, collaborate alumnae on a letter-writing campaign, faculty on an open letter to the Administration urging Mount Holyoke to divest, and students (both at Mount Holyoke and other colleges) to form strong relationships and interest in divestment as a strategy for combatting climate change and fighting for climate justice.

Fossil Fuel Divestment

An example of the destruction of the fossil fuel industry: open pit mining of tar sands in Alberta, Canada, where there used to be boreal forest (

The fossil fuel industry has a death grip on our civilization. Although most politicians understand the imminent and catastrophic danger of climate change, most have done nothing to fight for international and local climate policy that will limit carbon emissions.

Almost everything in our world runs on fossil fuels, which is why the fossil fuel industry is the most profitable industry in the world. In fact, Exxon Mobil is the most profitable company in the history of the world. It is also the most profitable company in the Global 500. When oil companies make enormous campaign contributions in order to prevent the public from knowing the truth about climate change and to maintain their power, how are ordinary citizens supposed to avert the catastrophic ecological consequences of a warming planet?

It’s clear that individual consumer changes will never add up to enough to counter the destruction of burning fossil fuels. So we need to go after the most powerful industry on the planet, the fossil fuel industry, and go after them where it hurts most – their money.

This is where divestment comes in. Divestment is the removal of investments from a particular company or industry. It has been used as a tactic to oppose injustices and corporate control and irresponsibility. In the 1970s and 1980s, hundreds of colleges, universities, individuals, and foundations divested their money from the apartheid regime in South Africa. In the 1990s, many colleges and foundations divested from the tobacco industry.

Divestment is a powerful tactic that sends a strong financial and political message, and it is now targeting the fossil fuel industry. Since 2011, more than 400 student divestment campaigns have sprung up across the United States, and there are dozens in other parts of the world as well. ( has incredible amounts of information about the divestment movement, from how to start your own campaign to already existing campaigns and divestment wins.)

The purpose of divestment is not to bankrupt the fossil fuel industry – that is almost impossible. The purpose of divestment is to radically change our views about what activism means and to stigmatize the fossil fuel industry and deprive it of its social license to operate.

Divestment is radical, simple, and unavoidable if we wish to avert catastrophic climate change. In the next post I will discuss the campaign to divest Mount Holyoke’s endowment from fossil fuels.