Ryan V. Stewart
If you follow global affairs, you will undoubtedly have come across perilous predictions of the future. It seems increasingly popular for news outlets to publish jarring forecasts of what life may be like in, say, 2030, 2050, and so forth. If you find yourself keen on reading about the future, you may also find that, among these projections, there is one phrase in particular that stands out: “climate change.”
From sea level rise, to droughts, floods, crop failure, and more extreme and frequent storms, climate change is one of the most pressing challenges facing our world today. And if you’ve been paying attention to the press surrounding global warming and the growing momentum of the worldwide campaign for a safe climate, you will have invariably come across a movement within the movement: fossil fuel divestment.
Fossil fuels have long been the primary focus of the world’s energy and transportation demands, and thus investment in them can be a considerably lucrative practice. They are traditionally cheap and plentiful, and boast a high EROI (energy returned on energy invested). It has been sensible for universities in particular to invest in order to boost often-inadequate endowments.
However, we are now well aware of the hugely detrimental effects of burning fossil fuels: by changing the carbon content of the atmosphere, it traps more incoming heat from the Sun, warming the Earth’s surface. In effect the Earth is, because of human actions, exiting the relatively consistent climate of the Holocene epoch (our current geological timeframe) and quickly departing into a new, climatically volatile age. This is, by my own estimation, the greatest threat humanity has ever faced, and the definitive issue of the 21st century. To ignore this issue is to do so at great peril, and at the cost of our own quality of life and that of future generations.
That being said, there are many actions being taken, and that can be taken, to halt the threat of a warming world. (How adequate these measures will prove, however, remains to be seen.) Some universities are beginning to take their money out of dirty fuels. Recent headlines feature various pressures being put on prestigious schools—Cambridge and Harvard, for example—to divest. Meanwhile, campaigns for university divestment are gaining more and more traction by the day, touching not only Ivy League schools but smaller, public universities as well.
WestConn has, unsurprisingly, fallen into the fold. Fossil Free, an extensive side project of climate crusader Bill McKibben’s environmental advocacy group, 350.org, features a page on its website which tracks campus divestment campaigns, and Western has been listed on the site for several months. WCSU’s divestment petition can be found under the heading “Fossil Fuel Divestment: Colleges & Universities,” and is addressed to President Schmotter. The petition was started by Mr. Matthew Curran, who could not be reached for comment. As of April 12, 2015, it claims 17 out of 100 needed signatures. The petition calls on WCSU to divest entirely from climate-destroying fuels, making note of the disastrous consequences of 2012’s Hurricane Sandy to bring its point home. The WCSU divestment page can be found at https://campaigns.gofossilfree.org/petitions/western-connecticut-state-university.
In an effort to elucidate the exact nature of the fossil fuel investments made by WCSU, or the collective Connecticut State Colleges & Universities (CSCU), I contacted Robert Schlesinger, Western’s Vice President for Institutional Advancement. While Schlesinger couldn’t comment on specific investments, it is appropriate to assume that CSCU maintains investments in fossil fuels, or fossil fuel-related stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and so forth. Hence, the petition featured on Fossil Free’s website is one germane to the larger divestment movement, and divesting WCSU and the CSCU system from dirty fuels is a step in the direction of climatic stability.
As Earth Day approaches, let us, as a university and as a community, press for a future that is promising for all people, and for the planet on which we all depend.