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Change starts from the bottom. Those at the top have the responsibility to make certain decisions for the betterment of our society, environment and future. Unless we demand that those decisions be made, nothing will ever change.
Currently, BU invests money from its endowment in fossil fuel companies. The exact total of the money and the companies in which it is invested remains unclear — transparency is not the forté of the Boston University Board of Trustees, the few dozen individuals who make financial decisions for the university. This week, they will be making the final decision on fossil fuel divestment in response to the Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing’s recommendation to prohibit further investments in and to divest from companies that continue to search for new fossil fuel reserves of any kind, or that extract coal and tar sands.
Divestment is crucial to the fight against climate change. By divesting money from fossil fuel companies and morally discrediting them, they are branded as abhorrent forces that do more damage than good to our society. Only when this happens will there be sufficient public outcry against new infrastructure projects and against the industry’s influence in our political system to demand independent decision making.
As an educational institution, divestment from fossil fuel companies is the only morally right decision. Fossil fuel infrastructure is often built despite the presence of abundant, greener alternatives and scientific warnings about the environment catastrophes that will inevitably result from more extraction. And once that infrastructure is established, it sticks around for a long time. These companies are making the transition to clean energy, therefore making the fight to combat climate change more difficult for future generations. As long as BU is an institution that prepares future leaders, we should not support the forces that make preserving that future more difficult. Why are we stacking the odds against ourselves?
The forces of industry that push for morally bankrupt decision making are too strong for us to be complacent. The fight against fossil fuel extraction and its pernicious effects is too often shut down by the very political bodies that should protect us. Take the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline — the decision to begin construction on land sacred to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe despite serious environmental concerns was made by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the federal agency that is supposedly tasked with ensuring the safety of interstate pipelines. In making this decision, they relied on an environmental assessment prepared by Dakota Access, LLC, owned by Energy Transfer Partners, the Texas-based oil company building the pipeline, instead of an independent agency.
The fossil fuel industry sways decision-makers worldwide, including our politicians, our researchers and yes, even our Board of Trustees. Sitting on the Board of Trustees are a number of individuals with close ties to the fossil fuel industry. To name a few:
- Kenneth Menges is a partner at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer and Field, which lobbies for Chevron.
- Richard Godfrey defended BP in court for the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
- Rajen Kilachand is the Chairman of the Dodsal Group, which explores for oil and gas in Africa.
- Bippy Siegal is the CEO of Raycliff Captial., which owns Crystal Energy Group, an oil and gas exploration company.
A decision that would morally discredit all fossil fuel companies is clearly not in these individuals’ financial interests; yet ultimately they, not we, have the power to make that decision. This is why we must ensure our voices are heard.
The students of BU have been speaking for a long time. Since BU’s fossil fuel divestment campaign began four years ago, we have witnessed a series of victories revealing overwhelming student support for the cause. In a Spring 2015 referendum, an overwhelming majority of students voted in favor of divestment. We have made our voices heard with rallies, banner drops, and email blasts that ultimately led to the ACSRI deliberating on the topic of divestment. All of this hard work will culminate this week with the votes of a few dozen people in a board room, and we want to remind them that we’re still here.
If BU divests, it is not only a win for us, but also a win for the movement. Students at universities all over the world are rallying their administrations to divest from fossil fuel companies. If we persuade our administration to make the right decision, we’re not only setting an international precedent for divestment, but we’re also inspiring other students to act.
It is imperative that the Board of Trustees makes the decision to divest this coming week; but they will only do so if we, the students of Boston University, push for it. If you believe that we should divest, I am calling on you to speak up. Show up to our rally this Wednesday, Sep. 14, at 5:30 p.m. at Marsh Plaza, and be a voice of change.
Masha Vernik, Member, BU Divestment Campaign, [email protected]