Trinity College wins divestment from fossil fuels

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Timing
Time Period:  
October
2015
to
November
2016
Location and Goals
Country: 
Ireland
Location City/State/Province: 
Dublin, Ireland
Location Description: 
Trinity College
Goals: 
According to Fossil Free TCD's website, the goal was for "Trinity College and its subsidiaries to divest completely from fossil fuel companies. This means selling existing stocks, bonds, or investment funds and freezing any new investments."
 

The fossil fuel divestment campaign originally started at Swarthmore College in 2010, through a student group called Mountain Justice. This campaign gained national traction and spread to other universities in America as well as around the world. Students from Trinity College, located in Dublin, Ireland, began their divestment campaign in 2015.

In July 2015, students acquired various documents through a Freedom of Information inquiry, which revealed that Trinity College had 6.1 million euros indirectly invested in fossil fuels. Upon learning this information, students at Trinity decided to join the many other campaigns for fossil fuel divestment at universities around the world.

In October 2015, the Trinity College Dublin Student Union (TCDSU), together with the Trinity Environmental Council, launched a campaign called Fossil Free TCD. The campaign’s goal was full divestment of the university’s investments in fossil fuels. Over time, the campaign shifted to direct communication and collaboration with the college administration.

A key part of their campaign was an open letter petition, signed by over 1,000 people. The letter, addressed to the Trinity College administration, demanded Trinity divest from fossil fuels and made a compelling case for their demand. Members of Fossil Free TCD made a concerted effort to get signatures from key public figures, including 27 Trinity professors as well as renowned activist and linguist Noam Chomsky. The group also obtained signatures through an online forum.

Fossil Free TCD held the college’s first ever ‘Divestment Week’ in February 2016 to raise awareness about the importance of divestment from fossil fuels and the campaign itself. Divestment Week consisted of forums and panels involving climate change experts and other opportunities for students to learn more about fossil fuels, climate change, and divestment. Organizers succeeded in helping students and faculty gain a better understanding of the divestment movement..

Five months into the campaign, on 30 March 2016, the College Board, along with the Finance and Investment committees, directly engaged with Fossil Free TCD and held a meeting to discuss the ethical and scientific arguments for divestment. At the meeting, Fossil Free TCD representatives presented the open letter with over 1,000 signatories. The meeting concluded with several members of the board agreeing with the reasons to divest.

Momentum continued to pick up for the campaign in July 2016, when Fossil Free TCD became the first Irish delegation to attend the annual People and Planet conference, considered widely to be one of the premier events for student activists in Europe. Their presence at the conference marked Fossil Free TCD as a powerful student activist group and lent legitimacy to the campaign. Fossil Free TCD was able to engage with other divestment groups and discuss best nonviolent practices.

Along with pressuring administrators to take action, the student-run campaign focused on creative efforts to raise awareness about the importance of divestment. For example, they created a satirical exhibit called “Sell the Kells”, asking students to sign a petition to sell the Book of Kells, a ninth century calligraphic copy of the Gospels and a national treasure held at the College. Students explained that Trinity College “only had 6 million euros invested” in fossil fuels, and the large amounts of money from selling the Book would go towards investing more in fossil fuels. They then explained more about the fossil fuel industry and the effect the investments have on the environment. Students of course responded with outrage to the proposal and the action helped them gain more signatures on the petition. This somewhat facetious action raised awareness about the campaign and encouraged more students to sign the actual petition for the college to divest from fossil fuels.

Portrait of John in the Book of Kells
Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44748
Source: https://web.archive.org/web/20170501025244/https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:KellsFol291vPortJohn.jpg

Throughout the campaign, Fossil Free TCD held regular open meetings, inviting all students of the college to come learn and get more involved in the campaign. These meetings prompted open discussion and opportunity for students to get involved in a variety of projects. Fossil Free TCD continued to host educational sessions and programs and obtain signatures on the growing petition, which amounted to over 1,600 by the end of the campaign.

The Trinity Financial Board met again on 15 November 2016 to debate whether the college should or should not divest. On this day, Fossil Free TCD held various rallies around campus and encourage students to come out and show their support for divestment.

On 12 December 2016, 15 months after the campaign began, the Trinity College Board announced that it would divest its endowment from fossil fuels, a clear victory for the students. This also meant Trinity College would join the Divest-Invest movement, a global divestment campaign made up of over 670 institutions at the time. The campaign also was one of the fastest and most effective student divestment campaigns to date. Fossil Free TCD continued to organize around environmental and human rights issues, including the struggle over the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline in the United States, which gained international attention in 2016.

Research Notes
Influences: 

Trinity students were influenced by divestment campaigns at universities around the world, which started with Swarthmore College's divestment campaign.

Sources: 
Ryan, C. 2015. “The Students Fuelling the World's Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaigns.” 5 November 2015. Web site: The University Times. Retrieved 22 February 2017 (https://web.archive.org/web/20170319112924/http://www.universitytimes.ie/2015/11/the-students-fueling-the-worlds-fossil-fuel-divestment-campaigns/)

Ó Murchú , Eoin. 2016. “TCDSU and Fossil Free TCD kick off first ever Divestment Week with fossil free forum.” 9 February 2016. Web site: Trinity News. Retrieved 22 February 2017 (https://web.archive.org/web/20170320175441/http://trinitynews.ie/tcdsu-and-fossil-free-tcd-kick-off-first-ever-divestment-week-with-fossil-free-forum/)

Colmzh, /. (n.d.). Tcdfossilfree. Retrieved February 22, 2017, from https://web.archive.org/web/20170320175620/https://tcdfossilfree.wordpress.com/

De Barra, C. 2016. “Trinity officially announces plan to divest from fossil fuel companies.” 12 December 2016. Web site: Trinity News. Retrieved February 22, 2017 (https://web.archive.org/web/20170320175702/http://trinitynews.ie/trinity-officially-announces-plan-to-divest-from-fossil-fuel-companies/)

Dolliver, J. 2017. “Fossil Free TCD holds open meeting.” 3 February 2016. Retrieved February 22, 2017 (https://web.archive.org/web/20170320180201/http://trinitynews.ie/fossil-free-tcd-holds-open-meeting/)

Gerard, E. 2016. “Chomsky and 27 Trinity Professors Among 80 Public Figures Urging College to Divest.” 14 March 2016. Web site: University Times. Retrieved February 22, 2017 (https://web.archive.org/web/20170319100803/http://www.universitytimes.ie/2016/03/chomsky-and-27-trinity-professors-among-80-public-figures-urging-college-to-divest/)

Hearn, C. 2016. “A Revival of student activism: Fueling divestment with Fossil Free TCD.” 15 November 2016. Web site: Trinity News. Retrieved February 22, 2017 (https://web.archive.org/web/20170320180437/http://trinitynews.ie/a-revival-of-student-activism-fueling-divestment-with-fossil-free-tcd/)

McGrath, D. 2015. “Campaign to Push Trinity to Divest from €6 million in Oil Assets.” 22 October 2015. Web site: University Times. Retrieved February 22, 2017 (https://web.archive.org/web/20170319112857/http://www.universitytimes.ie/2015/10/campaign-to-push-trinity-to-divest-from-e6-million-in-oil-assets/)

Power, R., & McGrath, D. 2016. “After Year-Long Campaign, Trinity to Divest from Fossil Fuels.” 20 November 2016. Web site: University Times. Retrieved February 22, 2017 (https://web.archive.org/web/20170302065451/http://www.universitytimes.ie/2016/11/after-year-long-campaign-trinity-to-divest-from-fossil-fuels/)

Ryan, C. 2016. “At People and Planet's Oxford Summer Gathering, Fossil Free TCD Find an International Community.” 15 July 2016. Web site: University Times. Retrieved February 22, 2017 (https://web.archive.org/web/20170319114959/http://www.universitytimes.ie/2016/07/at-people-and-planets-oxford-summer-gathering-fossil-free-tcd-find-an-international-community-2/)

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Ploy Promrat 03/20/2017