Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Barriers to Fossil Fuel Divestment at Tufts University

Cooper McKim is a rising junior at Tufts University fascinated by the dynamics of environmental work with policy, entrepreneurship and activism. McKim studies environmental policy and helps write a monthly newsletter for the environmental studies program. He has interned with Massachusetts Rivers Alliance, a New Jersey Congressman and the NPR affiliate station WSHU.

"Tufts will divest, whether that's 50 years from now when the environment is so chaotic that fossil fuels are simply not a good investment, or in one, two or five years. It truly is a moral imperative. Every day that we invest in fossil fuels, we continue to say that they are a good investment." Photo credit: Tufts Divest

In a liveleak video, an iPhone screen rises above the back of a chair showing a grainy image of a room full of prospective Tufts student, and an admissions person. She explains the differences between engineering psychology and management, when a female Tufts student next to the camera, raises her hand, "I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about Tufts investment in the fossil fuel industry."

The flustered admissions person tried to shrug it off, but the student, Eliza Slocum, persisted, "Could you just make a general statement..." The two students next to Slocum then intervene, hoping to get a statement. One of them, Pearl, tries one last time saying, "We don't want to take up any more of your time..."

Then a father marches down to the aisle and leans over Pearl: "Enough, enough, no. That's too much time. She's done with you, okay? She's done with you. Stop wasting our time. I'm gonna get security if you don't shut the hell up, okay?" The packed room of prospective families clap. 

This small catastrophe was Tufts Divest first direct action aimed at admissions. At a school where admissions is sacred, the public reaction was not good. Membership for Tufts Divest dropped by 30 percent, including leaders like Kit Collins, who couldn't align with those tactics.

Collins, a percussionist and rising Senior said, "This environmental justice community is being co-opted by a desire to be seen as activists and to do righteous activist-y things for people's egos as opposed to doing activist-y things because they're good for our goal."

Evan Bell, a soft-spoken remaining leader of Tufts Divest, admits that there was a certain sense of urgency regarding this action: "I think it was dealt with in somewhat of a state of panic, a measured panic. It wasn't highly strategic and as it went poorly, it just went more poorly." The tactics were not well-defined and most of the organizing happened amongst a small group on Facebook, the day or two before. The leaked video fueled the controversy, reinforcing the stigma already glowing around the Tufts' Divest movement.

Despite all of these negative reactions, Bell insists the action was still important: "We needed a Board of Trustees meeting, that's part of the story we were trying to tell. We worked within the bureaucracy and it didn't work, we had to push it." In the end, this action did get the attention of the administration, and opened the door to a Board of Trustees meeting.

Like this action, divestment is more complicated than its pithy title suggests. Bell says, "I don't do divestment because I care about Tufts endowment that much. It's about setting cultural precedents, stigmatizing the fossil fuel industry... and offering an on ramp, where college students can plug-in and join an international movement." With more than 150 other campus divestment movements, it really does offer an international network at a local scale. Events like Powershift and Climate Summer, organized by 350.org and Better Future Project, allows divesters around the world to coordinate, build an informed local movement and present a united front. Bell, having participated in many of events like this says, "I've been able to see so many people go from knowing and caring, to acting and making real change."

The larger divest movement provides direction to the local movements, and individual secondary targets provide momentum. For example, Tufts Divest banded with other northeastern schools to perform a direct action in the TransCanada offices in Massachusetts in 2013, making young people's opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline very clear. In 2014, Tufts was one of schools across the country to create a blockade in front of the White House also opposing Keystone XL. The efficiency, power and unity represented by young people at the blockade was all thanks to divestment. Each secondary target at a local level contributes to movement building and overall momentum.

Tufts Divest does still has a problem, though. The Board of Trustees responded with a stern no regarding divestmentAfter that meeting and the admissions faux pas, the group must rebrand and commit to a firm direction for next year. Bell says, "It's not just about bringing on more people and asking the same questions. Tufts Divest has yet to find an intermediate ask, and intermediate way of building that power." Bell has confidence that Tufts will eventually make the right choice, "Tufts will divest, whether that's 50 years from now when the environment is so chaotic that fossil fuels are simply not a good investment, or in one, two or five years. It truly is a moral imperative. Every day that we invest in fossil fuels, we continue to say that they are a good investment."

 

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Critics charge the legislation induces poor communities to sell off their water rights. Pexels

By Eoin Higgins

Over 300 groups on Monday urged Senate leadership to reject a bill currently under consideration that would incentivize communities to sell off their public water supplies to private companies for pennies on the dollar.

Read More Show Less
People enjoy outdoor dining along Pier Ave. in Hermosa Beach, California on July 8, 2020. Keith Birmingham / MediaNews Group / Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images

California is reversing its reopening plans amidst a surge in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations.

Read More Show Less
A protest against the name of the Washington Redskins in Minneapolis, Minnesota on Nov. 2, 2014. Fibonacci Blue / CC BY 2.0

The Washington Redskins will retire their controversial name and logo, the National Football League (NFL) team announced Monday.

Read More Show Less
The survival tools northern fish have used for millennia could be a disadvantage as environmental conditions warm and more fast-paced species move in. Istvan Banyai / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 3.0

By Alyssa Murdoch, Chrystal Mantyka-Pringle and Sapna Sharma

Summer has finally arrived in the northern reaches of Canada and Alaska, liberating hundreds of thousands of northern stream fish from their wintering habitats.

Read More Show Less
A mother walks her children through a fountain on a warm summer day on July 12, 2020 in Hoboken, New Jersey. Gary Hershorn / Getty Images

A heat wave that set in over the South and Southwest left much of the U.S. blanketed in record-breaking triple digit temperatures over the weekend. The widespread and intense heat wave will last for weeks, making the magnitude and duration of its heat impressive, according to The Washington Post.

Read More Show Less
If you get a call from a number you don't recognize, don't hit decline — it might be a contact tracer calling to let you know that someone you've been near has tested positive for the coronavirus. blackCAT / Getty Images

By Joni Sweet

If you get a call from a number you don't recognize, don't hit decline — it might be a contact tracer calling to let you know that someone you've been near has tested positive for the coronavirus.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Aerial view of burnt areas of the Amazon rainforest, near Porto Velho, Rondonia state, Brazil, on Aug. 24, 2019. CARLOS FABAL / AFP via Getty Images

NASA scientists say that warmer than average surface sea temperatures in the North Atlantic raise the concern for a more active hurricane season, as well as for wildfires in the Amazon thousands of miles away, according to Newsweek.

Read More Show Less