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Divest From Fossil Fuels Movement Explodes Across the U.S.
Many students have vowed to ramp up their divestment campaigns at universities across America this spring. One group who has garnered much media attention is Divest Harvard, which is wrapping up a week-long campaign known as "Harvard Heat Week." Harvard has the largest endowment of any university in the world at $36.4 billion, and hundreds of alumni including Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, and former Colorado Senator Tim Wirth are participating in the group's efforts this week.
Shout out from Harvard Yard to brave students arrested yesterday @DivestUMW pic.twitter.com/HpXm6FYJQo
— Bill McKibben (@billmckibben) April 16, 2015
After a week of sit-ins that have shut down administration offices at Massachusetts Hall, President Faust finally reached out directly to students with Divest Harvard. ''I would be happy to meet with you and a representative group of your student colleagues when you have ceased disrupting university operations,'' wrote President Faust in an email.
The students however were not pleased with the offer for another closed door meeting and called for a more open process on divestment that schools like MIT have convened. Divest Harvard has made multiple requests for a more transparent process involving the entire student body, faculty and alumni. The group knows there is strong support for divestment because the student body voted 72 percent in favor of divestment and hundreds of faculty and thousands of alumni signed a letter supporting the initiative.
Divest Harvard has agreed to the meeting with the president, but explained that they would not stop protesting as long as Harvard continued to invest in fossil fuel companies. "Recent SEC filings revealed that the university septupled its investments in oil and gas companies last fall," says Divest Harvard.
New data released this week from the South Pole Institute and Fossil Free Indexes reveals the massive climate impact of Harvard's stock portfolio. South Pole Institute concluded that the current CO2 emissions of Harvard's investments equal 11 million tons of CO2, equivalent to the state of Rhode Island. A different study by Fossil Free Indexes put the emissions from the total reserves owned by Harvard's portfolio at 100 million tons of CO2, which is equivalent to the emissions from thirty-three 500 megawatt coal fired power plants running for a year.
"Assuming that Harvard will continue in the meantime to invest in fossil fuels, we will continue to act with the full support of the movement that you have seen this week. This is what the urgent climate crisis requires," they continued. "After three years, we are glad to hear that you are interested in having a productive discussion about divestment. We look forward to moving this process forward."
Yesterday afternoon, Divest Harvard received a powerful endorsement with Harvard Overseer Kat Taylor, an alumni, releasing a statement in support of divestment. Hundreds of students from surrounding area colleges are expected to join Harvard activists this evening for a rally to close out the week of sit-ins on campus.
Democracy Now! covered Divest Harvard's campaign yesterday on their show. They spoke with Harvard student Talia Rothstein, one of the coordinators of Divest Harvard, and Harvard science professor Naomi Oreskes, author of the book Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues of Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming.
Rothstein talked about the actions students, faculty and alumni have taken this week to demand divestment, and Oreskes talked about the apparent disconnect between what we say we know about climate change and our failure to take meaningful action.
Two other schools saw some heat yesterday, as well. More than 35 students at Wesleyan University occupied President Michael Roth's office. They are part of the newly formed Coalition for Divestment and Transparency, calling for divestment from the prison-industrial complex, the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the fossil fuel industry. The students chose to take action yesterday because it marked the anniversary of Roth's participation in a sit-in for divestment from South African apartheid as a Wesleyan student in 1978.
More than 35 students at Wesleyan University occupied the president of the university's office demanding divestment. Photo credit: Coalition for Divestment and Transparency
The coalition read a manifesto signed by Students for Justice in Palestine, Wes, Divest!, the campus divestment campaign, and Ujamaa, an identity group for black students. The manifesto cited that both Students for Justice in Palestine and Wes, Divest! have passed resolutions in the Wesleyan Student Assembly and have met with Roth.
The Committee for Investor Responsibility, another student-led organization, recently proposed coal divestment to the Board of Trustees but they refused to vote on the matter. The students are calling for a commitment to divest from socially and environmentally irresponsible industries and for greater transparency and accountability of Wesleyan's $793 million endowment.
Organizers from Fossil Free CU at the University of Colorado Boulder also took action yesterday. Some of the members were participating in a three-day occupation of an administrative building, while other activists had their fourth meeting with the Board of Regents this school year.
“Fossil Free CU is occupying Norlin Quad to send a message to our administration that investing in the corporations that are perpetuating climate chaos is wrong," said graduate student Alana Wilson. "So, we’re asking the nine CU Regents, ‘Whose side are you on?’"
Fossil Free CU invited three finance experts to the meeting with the Board of Regents. John Powers, an alumni of CU-Boulder’s Business School, founder of Alliance for Sustainable Colorado, and a member of the Boards and Finance Committees of the Educational Foundation of America and Prentice Foundation, joined Fossil Free CU and has agreed to be a resource for the CU Regents. “The question isn’t if CU is violating its fiduciary responsibility by divesting; it's whether CU is violating its fiduciary responsibility by not divesting,” Powers said.
Ultimately, the CU Board of Regents voted 6-3 against the formation of a committee that was proposed to focus on sustainable investments and divestment possibilities. A resolution affirming their standard portfolio, proposed by Regent Carson and seconded by Regent Sharkey, who said she does not agree that there is a problem with the climate, passed. Fossil Free CU has vowed to keep up the fight.
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By Tracy L. Barnett
Sources reviewed this article for accuracy.
For Sicangu Lakota water protector Cheryl Angel, Standing Rock helped her define what she stands against: an economy rooted in extraction of resources and exploitation of people and planet. It wasn't until she'd had some distance that the vision of what she stands for came into focus.
Last week, the Peruvian Palm Oil Producers' Association (JUNPALMA) promised to enter into an agreement for sustainable and deforestation-free palm oil production. The promise was secured by the U.S. based National Wildlife Federation (NWF) in collaboration with the local government, growers and the independent conservation organization Sociedad Peruana de Ecodesarrollo.
The rallying cry to build it again and to build it better than before is inspiring after a natural disaster, but it may not be the best course of action, according to new research published in the journal Science.
"Faced with global warming, rising sea levels, and the climate-related extremes they intensify, the question is no longer whether some communities will retreat—moving people and assets out of harm's way—but why, where, when, and how they will retreat," the study begins.
The researchers suggest that it is time to rethink retreat, which is often seen as a last resort and a sign of weakness. Instead, it should be seen as the smart option and an opportunity to build new communities.
"We propose a reconceptualization of retreat as a suite of adaptation options that are both strategic and managed," the paper states. "Strategy integrates retreat into long-term development goals and identifies why retreat should occur and, in doing so, influences where and when."
The billions of dollars spent to rebuild the Jersey Shore and to create dunes to protect from future storms after Superstorm Sandy in 2012 may be a waste if sea level rise inundates the entire coastline.
"There's a definite rhetoric of, 'We're going to build it back better. We're going to win. We're going to beat this. Something technological is going to come and it's going to save us,'" said A.R. Siders, an assistant professor with the disaster research center at the University of Delaware and lead author of the paper, to the New York Times. "It's like, let's step back and think for a minute. You're in a fight with the ocean. You're fighting to hold the ocean in place. Maybe that's not the battle we want to pick."
Rethinking retreat could make it a strategic, efficient, and equitable way to adapt to the climate crisis, the study says.
Dr. Siders pointed out that it has happened before. She noted that in the 1970s, the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved itself out of the flood plain after one too many floods. The community found and reoriented the business district to take advantage of highway traffic and powered it entirely with solar energy, as the New York Times reported.
That's an important lesson now that rising sea levels pose a catastrophic risk around the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world's cities are along shorelines. In the U.S. alone coastline communities make up nearly 40 percent of the population— more than 123 million people, which is why Siders and her research team are so forthright about the urgency and the complexities of their findings, according to Harvard Magazine.
Some of those complexities include, coordinating moves across city, state or even international lines; cultural and social considerations like the importance of burial grounds or ancestral lands; reparations for losses or damage to historic practices; long-term social and psychological consequences; financial incentives that often contradict environmental imperatives; and the critical importance of managing retreat in a way that protects vulnerable and poor populations and that doesn't exacerbate past injustices, as Harvard Magazine reported.
If communities could practice strategic retreats, the study says, doing so would not only reduce the need for people to choose among bad options, but also improve their circumstances.
"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."
To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.
"It's not that everywhere should retreat," said Dr. Siders to the New York Times. "It's that retreat should be an option. It should be a real viable option on the table that some places will need to use."
Leaked documents show that Jair Bolsonaro's government intends to use the Brazilian president's hate speech to isolate minorities living in the Amazon region. The PowerPoint slides, which democraciaAbierta has seen, also reveal plans to implement predatory projects that could have a devastating environmental impact.