Op-Eds do not reflect the editorial opinion of The Daily Free Press. They are solely the opinion of the author.
The Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing (ACSRI) is going to be meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 23. The topic up for discussion: divestment from fossil fuel. By asking for divestment from fossil fuels, we are asking that our university divest from the 200 largest publicly-traded fossil fuel companies that hold a vast majority of the world’s proven fossil fuel reserves. And in doing so, we take an important principled stand against the destruction of the climate crisis.
This is not another op-ed that is going to say what the vast majority of people hold to be indisputably true. We are past saying that climate change is happening. We know it is being driven primarily by human activity, especially by the burning of fossil fuels. We know that the people in frontline communities and underdeveloped countries, who produce the least amount of greenhouse emissions, are the people being hit hardest by hurricanes and lost access to drinking water. We know that if sea level rise does not slow, there will be a day in the too-near future that our beloved Charles River Campus will be flooded. We know all this. But having a theoretical understanding of the climate crisis is not enough. We can’t just talk about climate change. We need to take action. We need to divest.
There are several arguments against divestment, the first of which centers around the economic ramifications. This concern is justifiable. After all, this is our university, and the economic stability of the school is directly linked to the available opportunities for students. When one actually runs the numbers, however, it is calculated that a change in returns would be so minor that it would increase or decrease returns by only about one-tenth of a percentage point. Furthermore, there are already working models for divestment in place. Many institutions, cities, towns and churches have already committed to divesting from fossil fuel. Syracuse University — an institution comparable to Boston University in size — is one of the most recent. Boston University also needs to consider what investments will be profitable into perpetuity.
According to Bill McKibben’s Rolling Stone article “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” we have five times more fossil fuels in reserve than we can burn if we hope to stay below a temperature increase of two degrees Celsius — the most we can allow if we hope to maintain an environment that can sustain our global population. So while people have invested in the entirety of the fossil fuel reserves, only one-fifth of that investment is valuable. In other words, we are currently sitting on a carbon bubble, and much like the housing bubble, it is going to burst. In order to protect long-term investments, we must move to a sustainable investment portfolio.
Some people question the effectiveness of divestment as a tactic. Many have claimed it is a fruitless endeavor. After all, how is one university pulling its investments from the fossil fuel companies going to affect one of the most profitable industries in the history of money? One would be surprised at how powerful an action divestment is. In fact, the divestment movement that swept across college campuses is credited as being a major factor in stopping the South African Apartheid government and ushering in an era of democracy. We are confident that fossil fuel divestment will also be successful. We already see that fossil fuels are being phased out. The movement to renewable energy is happening all over the globe. The 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference resulted in the Paris Agreement, a global agreement on the reduction of climate change. Even the Rockefeller Foundation — the very foundation that built its empire on the back of fossil fuels — has divested. According to gofossilfree.org, 504 intuitions have divested, totaling approximately $3.4 trillion. That’s sending a big message.
Another question, and perhaps the most important one: Who cares?
Why did BU divest from Apartheid? Why did we divest from the violence in Darfur? Because there is no such thing as an innocent investor. As a university dedicated to “Learning, Virtue and Piety,” it would have been unfathomable to continue to profit from genocide or racial segregation. BU understood its moral obligation to put the health and safety of its international community ahead of monetary gains. Hurricane Sandy alone directly took 117 lives and thousands of homes in the U.S. We are seeing increased food shortages, drought and wildfires due to climate change, yet we continue to profit from the very industry that is unequivocally contributing to the climate crisis. This needs to end.
The fact of the matter is that times are changing, and some of those changes are scary. Drastic weather changes have been experienced on every continent of the globe. Terms such as “super-storm” have become part our regular vocabulary. Climate change is indisputably one of the greatest threats our generation is facing. Environmental action is no longer a matter of planting a tree, changing your light bulbs or taking a shorter shower. It’s a matter of taking unified steps to ensure we do not irrevocably alter the climate that sustains us.
Boston University is a global leader in creativity, scholarship, professionalism and forward thinking. We have produced civil rights leaders and Nobel laureates. As such an institution, it is our moral imperative to be a leader in reducing the disastrous effects of climate change. Every single incoming class is made up of eager students looking to positively impact the world. In April 2015, 75 percent of Boston University student voters supported fossil fuel divestment. That referendum accompanied an ever-growing list of undergraduates, alumni, graduate students and professors who have signed a petition in support of divestment. We need to make sure our votes are heard. When the ACSRI committee brings the issue of the divestment to the Board of Trustees at the end of the semester, the question the Board should be asking themselves should not be, “Why divest BU from fossil fuels?” It should simply be, “Why wouldn’t we?” It is our job to make that happen. We need to demand fossil fuel divestment. Join us at 6 p.m. in the GSU this Tuesday, Feb. 23 to show the ACSRI that the BU community is serious about climate action.
Marygrace Kennedy, [email protected]