Columns, Opinion

Welcome to the Greenhouse: Boston University has announced divestment from fossil fuels

Fiona Broadie is a member of the Divest BU organization.

Boston University President Robert Brown emailed the BU community Sept. 23 to announce that the Board of Trustees voted to “end the investment of our endowment in fossil fuels.”

This announcement comes at the scheduled time the Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing said they would review their recommendation (five years after their decision in 2016) — but also less than a month after Harvard’s announcement to do the same.

Yvonne Tang / DFP Staff

The email stated that in 2016 the ACSRI recommended to the Board of Trustees revisit fully divesting from fossil fuels and reinvesting in sustainable energy five years later. Now, five years after the initial decision, the board has deemed the climate change impacts are “more apparent,” according to the email, and require more immediate action. The urgency raises the question: why has it taken them so long to end investments?

Though BU intended to revisit fossil fuels this year, the timing is nonetheless a cause for analysis. Because Harvard announced their divestment so recently, one wonders if Boston University felt pressure to quickly follow in their footsteps. By no means would this be a bad thing — if Harvard can influence schools to divest, that will be fantastic.

President Brown’s email included a succinct and clear plan of action, including promising that BU will “commit to no new, direct investments in companies that extract fossil fuels,” “divest from current, direct investments in fossil fuel extractors” and “commit to no new investments in dedicated fossil-fuel-focused products.” This list is great in its inclusiveness: leaving no possibilities of any investments slipping under the wire.

But other points mentioned in Brown’s email raised the question: how? For example, the email states: “we intend to systematically address energy use for all 345 buildings occupied by the University.” This is a great proposal, but how will this be overseen? How do we know they will follow through? These questions should be considered by the BU community moving forward. The Board of Trustees must be held accountable.

What can BU Divest, an environmental club on campus that has been campaigning for this moment since 2012, do to make sure BU sticks with its divestment promise?

BU Divest announced in an Instagram post about BU’s divestment that they are committed to monitoring these changes. Their continued strong leadership throughout the years has allowed for this decision, and they are looking forward to the creation of another club to monitor these changes.

In terms of looking at the work of how divest organizations at other universities monitored their university’s divestment plans, perhaps we can look to Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard’s strategy.

The FFDH student-run organization has been campaigning for Harvard’s divestment for nearly a decade. The FFDH is convinced that Harvard’s decision to divest is partly because of their tireless organizing efforts. Now, post-divestment announcement, the FFDH knows their work is not done.

They are watching Harvard closely to make sure that it closes the gaps in its “net-zero by 2050” endowment pledge by creating interval targets to make sure they are meeting decarbonization goals in a rapid manner and transition to investing in sustainable, clean energy rather than products that indirectly benefit the fossil fuel industry.

It is important to show the administration of BU that we, as students, care about what happens with our endowment. We care that it took way too long to divest, and we care that our divestment is thorough, honest, and effective. Any attempt to hold on to a profit from fossil fuels is a foolish endeavor in the face of a rapidly developing climate crisis.

We are already seeing the effects of climate change, and money is far less important than doing what we can to mitigate the damage of climate change. Is it not about avoiding it now — for that ship has long sailed — it is about making it less terrible than it could be. The sooner those in charge realize that and continue to act on it, the better.

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