On April 3, hundreds of students passing through the Diag saw a lawn staked with orange flags and saw statements provided by over half of the Divest and Invest Coalition’s partner groups. This was the first event put on by the Divest and Invest campaign aimed at educating the greater University community, rather than just interested students, about why divestment from fossil fuels is the right action for our university to take in the fight against climate change.
The goal of the Divest and Invest campaign is for the University to disclose and divest all of the nearly $8-billion endowment’s almost $1 billion that’s invested in the fossil fuel industry — hence the orange flags, each representing $1 million of our endowment invested — and then to reinvest in environmentally, socially and economically responsible companies. Part of a national movement, we of the Divest and Invest campaign and the national divestment movement acknowledge that the fossil fuel industry will not be hurt by universities’ divestment. We aim to change the national attitude toward fossil fuels and the political climate surrounding them. If enough people acknowledge that the only way to combat climate change is to target the fossil fuel industry — by far the biggest contributor to our Earth’s destruction — then politicians will stop accepting massive donations from the fossil fuel industry and start voting in favor of the climate.
You’re probably all sick of hearing about how climate change is destroying the Earth’s ecosystems and environment. But, something that is less widely understood is climate change’s affect on humans. It’s obvious that humans will be greatly affected if our air is so polluted that we can’t breathe. But what I want to explain is how climate change is also a human rights and social justice issue.
If you grew up in an affluent community, chances are there wasn’t a coal-fired power plant or an oil refinery in your backyard. What do you think would happen if one of these were proposed to be built near your house? Dirty polluters that would make you, your family and your neighbors sick are very rarely found in middle to upper-class zip codes, but they’re all too common in places where residents don’t have the resources (i.e. money) to fight back. These dirty energy facilities are located in areas comprised primarily by minorities, and in communities with limited access to hospitals or healthcare. Residents of cities like Detroit, which has the largest trash incinerator in the world, suffer higher rates of asthma, heart problems, hypertension, cancer, neurological disorders and diabetes than residents of communities without large sources of pollution.
When social justice meets environmentalism, you get environmental justice. Environmental justice activists aim to fight back against dirty-energy facilities in low-income communities, and they aim to shed light on the fact that those of us in the western world — mainly Americans — use 99 percent of the energy that causes climate change, but are currently only receiving 1 percent of the negative affects. In countries like Bangladesh and Myanmar, coastal residents are being forced to move inland due to rising sea levels. People are forced to leave their homes, where their families have lived for hundreds of years, and migrate to less favorable conditions inland.
These are just a few of countless cases where human beings are being mistreated and negatively affected by the destruction of our Earth. This is why the Divest and Invest campaign has partnered with organizations like Human Rights Through Education, United Students Against Sweatshops and Students for Choice. The movement against fossil fuels is about much more than lowering the rising sea levels and making sure winter sticks around. It’s about the people who we share our Earth with. Whether or not you feel a connection toward nature, we can all agree that every human has the right to stay in their homes and breathe clean air.
Marissa Solomon is an LSA sophomore.