Students at Green Mountain College. (Courtesy of Divest Green Mountain.)

Kudos to Green Mountain College for its announcement this week that it is committing to divest its $3.1 million endowment from companies profiting from fossil fuels. GMC is the fifth college nationwide and the second in Vermont to commit to divestment as part of a nationwide campaign that has spread to over 300 colleges and universities and more than 100 cities and states across the country.

The GMC Board of Trustees voted on Friday, May 10 to immediately divest from fossil fuels and establish a process for aligning future investments with social, environmental and governance goals. GMC has a $3.1 million endowment, only 1 percent of which is currently invested in the 200 fossil fuel companies that own the vast majority of the world’s coal, oil and gas reserves. So it’s a symbolic victory, yes, but one that demonstrates the increasing traction of the divestment movement.

“We’re pleased with the conversation that has occurred this semester between students and administration, resulting in the divestment from the list of the most destructive 200 fossil fuel companies,” said a statement issued by Divest GMC, the student group on campus who led the divestment campaign. “As students of an environmental liberal arts college we look forward to continuing the dialogue of authentic sustainability, both environmentally and socially. In this way we are strengthening student voice in all aspects of institutional education.”

Students at GMC began their divestment campaign last February. In March, a number of students participated in Mountain Justice Spring Break, traveling to West Virginia to witness the devastation of mountaintop removal firsthand. In April, the GMC Student Senate voted unanimously to support divestment and more than 50 percent of the student body signed on to a petition supporting the move.

“A heartfelt thanks to the handful of students of Club Activism at Green Mountain College who never lost hope and to the administration and board of trustees at Green Mountain College who listened as the murmur became a broad movement across the college community,” said Dr. Paul Hancock, professor of economics and director of the Sustainable Community Development Center at GMC. “This small place has accomplished so much to sound the alarm about climate change and overhaul the way we work and live. As we blow past 400 ppm let’s hope the folks in our nation’s capital respond to the demands of these young leaders.”

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The GMC announcement provides a boost of momentum for divestment campaigns at other Vermont colleges including Goddard, St. Michaels, Johnson State, Middlebury and the University of Vermont. “This puts huge pressure on Middlebury’s Board of Trustees to divest,” said Middlebury College sophomore Teddy Smyth. “Our school’s reputation for environmental leadership is lagging behind our neighbors at Green Mountain College.”

Activists are also pushing for divestment at the state and city level. Mor than 957 people have signed a petition, to date, calling on the state legislature to pass legislation to divest the state’s pension funds from fossil fuels.

“Vermonters want to align the state’s financial holdings with our strong environmental ethic,” said Maeve McBride, an organizer with 350 Vermont. “The Vermont legislature has banned fracking and set ambitious efficiency targets, but our state pension funds are invested in companies that frack, drill and pillage. We were the first state to ban fracking, and we can lead again by divesting our state pension funds from fossil fuels.”

Over the coming weeks, students across the country will continue to meet with their boards of trustees to push for divestment. This summer, the Go Fossil Free campaign aims to expand the divestment movement and lay the groundwork for an even bigger fall of organizing on campus.

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