This year, a movement is launching at Boston University and across the nation. It will be the boldest, largest attempt to fight global warming yet. It is the intent of Divest BU for BU and universities nationwide to pull their investments out of the dirty energy industry, and for students to discover the incredible voice we have when we speak out together.
The real human cost of global warming has already begun to display itself. This summer’s corn-belt drought could become America’s second costliest weather event ever. We’ll all get pinched by these rising food prices in the coming months, but for the world’s poor who may spend as much as 80 percent of their income on food, this pinch will be more of a stab. Unable to make up the difference by simply eating out less, they will sit down to empty tables and difficult conversations with their children. Conversations I prefer not to imagine.
I won’t sugarcoat it: the situation is dire. If we do nothing, our children will witness 6 degrees Celsius warming by the century’s end. This would truly be hell on earth. In order to avoid more than 2 degrees Celsius of warming, generally regarded as a serious threat to global stability, we can only emit another 565 gigatons on CO2. Yet, fossil fuel companies own 2,795 gigatons in their reserves. While it’s all physically in the ground, economically it’s very much on the table. It’s bought, sold and traded. These assets permeate the financial markets. Everyone owns a bit, including Boston University. This must change.
Frankly, these companies are killing people — an estimated 100 million people in just the next 18 years. That’s a third of the U.S. population, more than all the WWII deaths. This is an unprecedented number of people that these companies are killing. If global warming were just the next 18 years, that alone would make it the greatest injustice members of humanity have ever perpetrated. And for what? To return a profit to their investors. That’s us. Those deaths are on us. By holding these assets we commission these crimes and implicitly endorse the idea that it’s perfectly reasonable to burn all 2,795 gigatons of that carbon. While we hope that this will be the birth of a large movement that stops climate change, we think ending our contribution to the crisis is a worthy objective in its own right.
Divesting from fossil fuels is also in BU’s financial interests. There are many possible planets that our children could inherit from us, but on none of these potential earths will we have burnt all of that carbon. Maybe a hurricane will finish off the District of Columbia. Maybe the next drought will double grain prices. Maybe it happens next year, maybe in 10. But something’s gonna push, something’s gonna shove and something’s gonna click in the minds of millions of Americans. Once we realize the reality of our reckless behavior, America will quickly abandon fossil fuels, rendering all of those assets that we’re invested in utterly worthless. BU should get out before the next economic bubble strikes. Barring a specific company or industry from a portfolio is common, easy to do and as studies have shown, does not affect investment returns. In the ocean of all possible investments, there are many fish. Salaries and scholarships are terribly important to finance — I wouldn’t be here without them — but these debts must be paid in cash, not lives.
As young people, our future hangs in the balance of this fight, and this fight depends on us. Only by working together will we be able to support great change. Are you in?
Ben Thompson, GSAS
Divest BU member