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Boston area students push schools to divest from fossil fuels

Signs made by members of Divest BU line the stairs up to the BU Castle during a rally in September. PHOTO BY BETSEY GOLDWASSER/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF
Signs made by members of Divest BU line the stairs up to the BU Castle during a rally in September. PHOTO BY BETSEY GOLDWASSER/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

The Massachusetts Appeals Court last week dismissed the Harvard Climate Justice Coalition’s lawsuit against the Harvard Corporation’s investment in fossil fuels, according to Divest Harvard officials. It was a decision not unfamiliar to divestment advocates in Greater Boston.

Many student-run divestment organizations have been calling for their universities to stop investing in fossil fuel companies over the last few years.

Both Boston University and Northeastern University student groups have held rallies and protests since the beginning of the school year to encourage their respective schools to divest from fossil fuels.

Nathan Phillips, a professor in the Earth and Environment department at BU and a faculty affiliate for Divest BU, said the movement came about because college students are aware of what is happening to the environment and they believe change needs to happen quickly.

“The leadership and the push has really come from students,” Phillips said. “The older generation is more hand-wringing and unable to appreciate how fast we need to move. In terms of the theory of change, young people have seen, with the revolution in social networks and technological and communication systems, how fast things can move.”

The Harvard Climate Justice Coalition drove the legal push for Divest Harvard, a student-run organization at Harvard advocating for the divestment from fossil fuels, according to Naima Drecker-Waxman, the co-coordinator of Divest Harvard.

“[Harvard Climate Justice Alliance] began a lawsuit against Harvard on the basis that Harvard was not fulfilling its requirement to its mission as a charity because it was putting the charity at risk with … immoral investments,” Drecker-Waxman said.

Drecker-Waxman explained the lawsuit was not allowed to go forward because the court ruled the relationship the students had with Harvard as a nonprofit organization was not enough to qualify them to sue the university over its charitable standing.

Harvard University was unavailable to comment on the lawsuit.

BU settled on a course of action leaning toward divestment in late September, The Daily Free Press reported on Sept. 20. In an email sent to the members of the BU community, President Robert Brown wrote that the university will “commit, on a best efforts basis, to avoid investing in coal and tar sands extractors.”

However, the Divest BU student movement believes the fight for divestment isn’t over yet. The email sent by President Brown was vague, Divest BU President Matt Thacker said, as it promised the university will try to not invest in fossil fuel companies in the future without actually using the word “divest.”

“To us, [the wording] doesn’t even sound like [the Board of Trustees] intend[s] to fully divest from even those smaller segments of the fossil fuel industry,” Thacker said.

A member of DivestNU hangs a sign on the front wall of Centennial Common. PHOTO BY NATALIE CARROLL/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF
A member of DivestNU hangs a sign on the front wall of Centennial Common. PHOTO BY NATALIE CARROLL/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

The students of DivestNU, the divestment movement at Northeastern, have been protesting against fossil fuel investment since 2013, Alissa Zimmer, a member of DivestNU, said in an email.

DivestNU held a sit-in at Northeastern’s Visitor Center in April to raise awareness about divestment, Zimmer said. The Free Press reported on Oct. 4 that the protesters began an occupation of the school’s main quad.

Northeastern said in an official statement, released in July, that the university has been dedicated to sustainability on their campus.

“In recent years, those efforts [for sustainability] have been supported by the work of students, faculty, and staff on the university’s Social Impact Council and Fossil Fuel Divestment Working Group,” the university statement said.

In the press release, the university announced it plans to direct $25 million toward sustainability efforts including clean energy, renewables, green building and sustainable water and agriculture, according to the university statement.

The statement claims the university supports the actions of the students involved in DivestNU.

“We encourage a spirited exchange of ideas on our campus, and we commend these students for their continued passion to address the challenge of global climate change,” the university stated.

Zimmer said in an email that students have been camping out ever since Oct. 4 to encourage divestment, and the administration has not taken notice of their protest.

“We do not plan on backing down until Northeastern recognizes that its community is more important than the fossil fuel interests they currently prioritize,” Zimmer said. “We have been camping out for nine days, and still the administration has made no effort to meet with us and address our grievances … Northeastern is choosing to ignore what is right in front of them, dismissing the voices of the community.”

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Breanne is a former editor-in-chief and city news editor. She is a senior in the College of Communication and an oxford comma enthusiast. Follow her on Twitter @breannekovatch.

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