Op-Ed, Opinion

OP-ED: Environmental racism is a legacy of white supremacy

Op-Eds do not reflect the editorial opinion of The Daily Free Press. They are solely the opinion of the author(s).

Andrea Wetzler is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences and president of Divest BU.

Boston University’s continued investment in the fossil fuel industry is utterly indefensible. Despite the anti-racist initiative BU purports to promote, fossil fuels disproportionately harm those who are Black, Indigenous and people of color, as well as their communities. Indeed, the climate crisis inflicts slow violence upon those most vulnerable and least responsible for the effects of emissions.

Our struggle to divest is a global one. From Massachusetts to Mi’kmaw territory across the border, pipelines that transport fossil fuels pose environmental and public health risks upon environmental justice communities.

Here in the Bay State, protesters have demanded the Weymouth compressor station — which will funnel natural gas to Canada — to cease construction and operation for years. BU Earth and Environment professor Nathan Phillips launched a hunger strike against the compressor last year.

Meanwhile, the Line 3 pipeline faces mounting protest from Indigenous water protectors as they defend their ancestral lands on the Minnesota-Canada border. Enbridge, the Canada-based energy firm spearheading this pipeline, is also the corporation behind the Weymouth compressor.

BU’s investment in fossil fuels indirectly supports the harm these pipelines impose. For this reason, Divest BU, College of Arts and Sciences Anti-Racist Initiative, Action BU and Uprooted and Rising BU will convene Wednesday to discuss environmental racism. In co-hosting this event, we acknowledge our demands for fossil fuel divestment unfold on local and global scales.

We believe conversations surrounding fossil fuel investments must address the enduring legacies of white supremacy. Our upcoming event will reckon with how exploitative, capitalist-driven practices degrade the global environment. It is egregious that BU has yet to truly reflect on its role in this exploitative process, and we implore BU to divest immediately as outlined in Divest BU’s 2018-2019 Reinvestment Proposal.

Alexia Nizhny/DFP STAFF

The administration proclaims to have a sustainability mission while maintaining its fossil fuel investments, which shows the University either fails to recognize or ignores its participation in the perpetuation of harm against environmental justice communities.

The only justification left for BU’s investments is fiduciary requirements, which nevertheless run counter to the increasing instability of fossil fuel investments. This suggests that the Board of Trustees are more concerned with perceived or personal financial concerns than the well-being of past, present and future students.

While BU’s sustainability mission underscores that the University is “institutionally responsible as a steward of our environment,” we struggle to comprehend how its endorsement of and continued investment in the fossil fuel industry aligns with its claims to sustainability, social responsibility and implied support for BIPOC communities.

Let us therefore remind our readers what we mean when we demand divestment now: no more five-year reconsiderations and no more meetings surveying student engagement. This could also be a good moment for the University to reflect on reconciling its “sustainability” with Trustees who directly profit off of extractive activity.

Instead, we ask you to pause and listen to our speakers at the upcoming environmental racism panel. Kerrina Williams, one of the panelists and a digital disruption organizer with Divest Ed — a nationwide training hub for student-driven divest campaigns — understands the climate crisis as much more than carbon emissions.

“It’s about food sovereignty, land rights, public transportation, housing, etc.,” Williams wrote in an email.

In educating college students on how fossil fuel investments perpetuate violence against local and global communities, Williams wrote that “BIPOC, poor and working class, and other marginalized identities need to be centered in all social justice movements and especially climate justice movements.”

Kerry Labrador, native of tribes Mi’kmaw and Passamaquoddy, is another of our upcoming panelists and an environmental activist who opposes the aforementioned Weymouth compressor. She has witnessed firsthand how wealthy, white neighborhoods are favored over low-income, predominantly BIPOC communities and Indigenous reservations.

“Just because we’re poor we’re expected to sit quietly and accept our government digging up our lands to lay pipes that WILL eventually kill us,” Labrador wrote in an email.

Perri Meldon, a doctorate student in BU’s American Studies and another upcoming panelist, also protested against the Weymouth compressor. Outside of BU, Meldon organizes with #TakeBacktheGrid, an energy democracy campaign committed to ensuring environmental justice for all — especially low-income and BIPOC communities in Massachusetts.

In being attuned to the ways in which environmental injustices are a manifestation of white supremacy, Mari/River Rooney, the upcoming event moderator and co-founder of CASARI and member of Uprooted and Rising, is “particularly interested in what we, who inhabit the settler state, can learn from Indigenous peoples about caring for, cherishing, and living with their land,” they wrote in an email.

Aasiya Norris and Homar Murillo, co-presidents of Action BU, wrote that they want this panel to spark a conversation about how BU’s involvement with the fossil fuel industry disproportionately impacts BIPOC communities. 

Recognizing that environmental activism has largely catered to a white audience, they believe centering marginalized voices “is critical for our collective liberation,” Murillow wrote in an email.

BU, how are you centering those voices? When will you uphold your sustainability and anti-racist mission and divest from fossil fuels?

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