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40 Students Arrested Demanding Their Schools Divest From Fossil Fuels

Climate

As students across the country engage in nonviolent direct action calling on their administrators to divest from fossil fuels, calling out conflicts of interest embedded within their decision makers over the last two weeks.

Kicking off the month of action last Wednesday, students at Swarthmore College with Swarthmore Mountain Justice took action outside their board member’s off-campus office, calling out the personal financial ties that she and other board members have in the fossil fuel industry.

Students with Divest UMass at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst are in their sixth day of a sit-in that has already resulted in the arrests of 34 students and garnered endorsements from Sen. Benjamin Downing, legislators Sen. Jamie Eldridge and Rep. Marjorie Decker, numerous academic departments and faculty members and presidential candidate Jill Stein.

“Four years after first launching our campaign, over 100 UMass students, faculty, alumni and community members are sitting in to call on our university to divest from all fossil fuels," Mica Reel, a student at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, said.

Following the announcement that Chairman Woolridge and President Meehan would publicly endorse the students’ demands, the campaign announced that it would continue taking action until administrators took action in the form of a proposal moving forward divestment. More than 500 students, faculty, alumni and community members having participated in their action over the past several days.

Exactly one year to the day that four students were arrested in protesting for fossil fuel divestment, the University of Mary Washington committed to divesting 98 percent of its endowment from the top 200 fossil fuel companies, making it the first public university in the South to divest.

After five years of public pressure to divest their $25.6 billion endowment from fossil fuels, Yale University became the first Ivy League to move towards divestment, taking initial steps of divesting $10 million from coal and tar sands. Just one year ago, Yale administrators’ refusal to consider divestment culminated in the arrest of 19 students.

"It's important to recognize this as a victory, and  it is important that we keep fighting for what we believe in and don't rest until we start to see concrete change at Yale," Arabelle Schoenberg of Fossil Free Yale said. "We are going to keep fighting until we divest the rest. Universities and people in power are starting to hear us, they're starting to see us, they're starting to listen."

Exactly one year since students participated in Harvard Heat Week, a week-long sit-in outside Massachusetts Hall, four students with Divest Harvard at Harvard University were arrested for sitting in at the Federal Reserve Bank building, home to the offices of the Harvard Management Company.

“A number of schools have already divested from fossil fuels. Meanwhile, Harvard hasn’t divested at all," Jonathan Hiles, a student at Harvard University, said.

"Instead it’s making a large investment to support struggling fossil fuel companies and get them back to business as usual disrupting the climate. Harvard Management Company is contributing to the climate crisis even as it threatens to submerge parts of Boston within our lifetimes.”

On Thursday, in the wake of arrests at UMass and Harvard and a victory on divestment at Yale, students launched a sit-in at Columbia University outside of the office of the president of the university, calling on President Bollinger to meet with them immediately and issue a statement in support of divestment.

This wave of on-campus escalation will continue over the next month with actions at Bowdoin College, the University of Montana and more. In just three weeks, the global fossil fuel resistance movement will participate in Break Free, an unprecedented global mobilization to demonstrate the global resolve to transition off fossil fuels and build the new kind of economy that we know is possible—one centered on a just transition to 100 percent renewable energy now.

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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

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At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.