As the Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing considers a decision on fossil fuel divestment, many Boston University students, faculty and officials still see a need for the divestment movement.
Deliberation continues in the wake of local counterpart Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s decision on Oct. 21 to remain invested fossil fuels.
For BU, the debate over fossil fuel divestment began in September 2014, when 245 BU faculty members signed a petition in support of divestment, The Daily Free Press reported.
Faculty members along with students from Divest BU presented the petition to BU President Robert Brown and the Board of Trustees, the FreeP reported. Brown then turned the issue over to the ACSRI for further review.
BU spokesman Colin Riley gave no word on when the committee would reach a decision, but said the ACSRI would make recommendations to the Board of Trustees regarding fossil fuel divestment once they are finished with the review process.
“[The ACSRI] is still discussing it, and at some point, the members of the Board will make a recommendation,” Riley said.
Nathan Phillips, a professor of earth and environment in BU’s College of Arts and Sciences, said the committee’s review is a crucial starting point for Divest BU’s efforts.
“We want to accelerate action on climate change in many other ways,” Phillips said. “We’re not thinking of [the committee’s decision] as the only thing that’s needed. We believe it’s one important element of a range of things that need to happen on climate change action.”
Phillips added that BU’s decision to divest from fossil fuels would spark a wave of environmental transformation.
“I think [fossil fuel divestment] is important because it makes a very strong symbolic statement to universities and students everywhere that BU is not going to continue to promote the expansion of fossil fuels on the planet,” Phillips said.
In regards to MIT’s decision not to divest from fossil fuels, Marygrace Kennedy, secretary of Divest BU and a senior in CAS, spoke to the group’s disappointment with the university.
“It’s not a matter of denying climate change, which we know is being fueled at an unnatural rate by the burning of fossil fuels,” Kennedy said. “We know that everybody there, not to generalize, knows that this is a problem and we have hopes that as a university, [MIT] would want to be the forerunners on helping to develop infrastructure for renewable energy, and really want to lead changes for this new era of energy consumption.”
Kennedy said despite the decision, Fossil Free MIT, the student divestment group on that campus, continues to push for change.
“We’re really excited that the ‘MIT divest’ student body is not discouraged and are still going to work really hard to make sure [fossil fuel divestment] happens,” Kennedy said. “We’re standing with them, like we’re standing with Harvard [University], Brandeis [University], and the other Boston schools who have gotten ‘noes’ and are still working for divestment.”
Beside their efforts to help other universities, Divest BU has used the support from students within the BU community to promote its own initiatives, Kennedy said.
In the Spring 2015 semester, there was a school-wide referendum on the BU Student Government ballot that showed 75 percent of students were in support of divestment from fossil fuels, Kennedy said.
Kennedy said the referendum was the group’s biggest accomplishment in allowing them to make connections with other students interested in the issue on campus.
“We’re going to have a series of events working with other student groups for people to come out and learn more about divestment,” Kennedy said. “We’re having weekly meetings and really getting more support from students and active members working to put together some visual events to really rile up that momentum, so that the Board of Trustees, when they meet, see that this is something that would be met with enthusiasm by the student body.”
Several students said fossil fuel divestment is an ideal way to enhance BU’s positive efforts on climate change, but are wary on its practicality.
Christian Schmidt, a freshman in the College of General Studies, said MIT’s decision not to divest from fossil fuels was the wrong choice, and that he would like to see BU choose differently.
“It would be good for BU to divest from fossil fuels [and] we wouldn’t really lose that much from doing it,” Schmidt said.
Sonya Chang, a sophomore in CGS, said although BU has achieved significant efforts in sustainability, divesting from fossil fuel would heighten BU’s positive impact on climate change.
“We’re supposed to be helping the environment,” Chang said. “We’re investing money into programs to help with the environment, but our university is not helping efforts by not divesting. It’s very contradictory.”
Jared Lorusso, a sophomore in Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, said fossil fuel divestment at BU would be ideal for the environment, but the concept seems to be out of reach.
“Divesting in fossil fuels would be great because it promotes clean energy, but at the same time where would you place the large investment that would be pulled out of that?” Lorosso said. “You have to find a place to fill that gap and fill that gap with something ether as profitable or even more profitable, which is a huge task for BU’s financial staff. I just don’t see it being something that would happen in the near future. I understand the movement, but I don’t see it happening.”