Students Occupy Swarthmore College Demanding Fossil Fuel Divestment
Early this morning, Swarthmore Mountain Justice launched a sit-in for fossil fuel divestment at Swarthmore College. Students at this Quaker college in Pennsylvania helped launch the campus divestment movement, which is now active at hundreds of universities across North America, Europe and Australia. The 37 students and six alumni are asking the Swarthmore Board Investment Committee chair Chris Niemczewski and board chair Gil Kemp to "return to the negotiating table and agree to end the college’s investments in a rogue industry that violates Swarthmore’s Quaker values and recklessly imperils a just and sustainable future for our generation," according to a statement from the group.
“It is unconscionable for Swarthmore, as an institution of higher education with a commitment to social responsibility, to invest in an industry that is actively destabilizing the future that our education is meant to prepare us for,” said Sophia Zaia, a freshman and sit-in organizer.
The campaign has strong support from the campus community: 1,100 faculty and alumni and 970 students (61 percent of the student body) signed a petition demanding the college divests from fossil fuels. It even has a very high profile endorsement: Christiana Figueres, the UN climate chief, who graduated from Swarthmore in 1979.
The group has chosen to sit-in because talks with the university, which started four years ago, have stalled, according to The Guardian. The group has a proposal, on which they consulted with the vice president of finance at Swarthmore, that shows how the college can fully divest by 2020, the same year that global emissions must peak in order to avoid catastrophic climate change. "Despite this, the board rejected this historic opportunity to show international leadership on climate,” said Chris Malifronti, a freshman and sit-in organizer.
It's hard to believe the university wont budge because even the Board of Manager's recently-hired investments expert, Gregory Kats made a public call for fossil fuel divestment. The university "dismissed divestment as a symbolic gesture and warned divestment would slice $10 to $15 million off the income generated from Swarthmore’s $1.6 billion endowment, much of which goes for scholarships," said The Guardian. The students reject that argument. “The investment committee denies the existence of the carbon bubble and false claims that no active managers can pursue a fossil-free investment strategy effectively. We know this is wrong,” Guido Girgenti, a political science student, told The Guardian. “The carbon bubble poses a serious financial threat to our endowment.”
The sit-in is happening at a pivotal time in the divestment movement. Many campuses have been pushing for divestment for years and many of those campaigns have succeeded. Norway made headlines last month when its sovereign wealth fund, the largest in the world, made plans to divest. The wildly successful Global Divestment Day took place a little over a month ago with fossil fuel divestment groups taking direct action all over the world. Jibreel Khazan of the Greensboro Four lunch counter sit-in has called climate change young people's "lunch counter moment for the 21st century." Young people must be taking Khazan's message to heart: Oxford alumni occupied a building on campus on Monday to peacefully protest the university's decision to put off addressing fossil fuel divestment until May. One alumna went so far as to say, “If the university does not divest from fossil fuel extraction I have decided to hand back my degree, in protest."
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By Dolf Gielen and Morgan Bazilian
John Kerry helped bring the world into the Paris climate agreement and expanded America's reputation as a climate leader. That reputation is now in tatters, and President-elect Joe Biden is asking Kerry to rebuild it again – this time as U.S. climate envoy.
Energy Is at the Center of the Climate Challenge<p>The <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/1/" target="_blank">effects of climate change</a> are already evident across the globe, from <a href="https://theconversation.com/100-degrees-in-siberia-5-ways-the-extreme-arctic-heat-wave-follows-a-disturbing-pattern-141442" target="_blank">extreme heat waves</a> to <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/12/" target="_blank">sea level rise</a>. But while the challenge is daunting, there is hope. Solar and wind power have become the <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2020/Jun/Renewable-Power-Costs-in-2019" target="_blank">cheapest forms of power generation globally</a>, and technology progress and innovation continue apace to support a transition to clean energy.</p><p>In the U.S. under a Biden administration, long-term national climate legislation will depend on who controls the Senate, and that won't be clear until after two run-off elections in Georgia in January.</p><p>But there is no shortage of <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2020-biden-climate-change-advice/" target="_blank">ideas for ways Biden</a> could still take action even if his proposals are blocked in Congress. For example, he could use executive orders and direct government agencies to tighten regulations on greenhouse gas emissions; increase research and development in clean energy technologies; and empower states to exceed national standards, <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-autos-emissions-california/defying-trump-california-locks-in-vehicle-emission-deals-with-major-automakers-idUSKCN25D2CH" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">as California did in the past with auto emission standards</a>. A focus on a just and equitable transition for communities and people affected by the decline of fossil fuels will also be key to creating a sustainable transition.</p><p>The U.S. position as the world's largest oil and gas producer and consumer creates political challenges for any administration. U.S. forays into European energy security are often treated with suspicion. Recently, France blocked <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/frances-engie-backs-out-of-u-s-lng-deal-11604435609" target="_blank">a multi-billion dollar contract</a> to buy U.S. liquefied natural gas because of concerns about limited emissions regulations in Texas.</p><p>Strengthening cooperation and partnerships with like-minded countries will be critical to bring about a transition to cleaner energy as well as sustainability in agriculture, forestry, water and other sectors of the global economy.</p>
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We Need More Than Listening<p>By now we have all become sadly accustomed to the current administration sidelining scientists, most prominently Dr. Anthony Fauci, because the facts they provide do not fit with the political rhetoric of the moment.</p><p>I have <a href="https://www.csldf.org/2019/08/22/csldf-helps-climate-scientist-maria-caffrey-fight-for-scientific-integrity/" target="_blank">my own history</a> of filing a scientific integrity complaint with the National Park Service (which falls under the Department of the Interior) after senior ranking employees attempted to censor one of my scientific reports. I know all too well the damage and pain that these actions cause, not just for the individual scientist, but also because these <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/attacks-on-science" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">attacks on science</a> over the last few years have undermined sound, evidence-based decision making.</p><p>President-elect Biden has repeatedly said that he will <a href="https://thehill.com/homenews/521638-trump-biden-will-listen-to-the-scientists-if-elected" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">listen to the scientists</a>. While this is certainly a welcome change, listening can only take us so far. This past week Lauren Kurtz from the <a href="https://www.csldf.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Climate Science Legal Defense Fund</a> and my colleague <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/about/people/gretchen-goldman" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gretchen Goldman</a> published <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/ten-steps-that-can-restore-scientific-integrity-in-government/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an article</a> listing 10 actions the new administration should implement to show their commitment to strengthening government science:</p><ol><li>Clearly prohibit political interference and censorship.</li><li>Protect scientists' communication rights.</li><li>Acknowledge that attempts to violate scientific integrity, even if ultimately not fruitful, are still violations.</li><li>Protect federal scientists' right to provide information to Congress and other lawmakers.</li><li>Commit to incorporating the best science as part of agency decisions.</li><li>Elevate agency scientific integrity policies to have the full force of law.</li><li>Publicly release anonymized information about scientific integrity complaints and their resolutions at every agency.</li><li>Institute an intra-agency workforce, potentially under the White House <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/2020-09/strengthening-science-and-si-at-ostp.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Office of Science and Technology Policy</a>, to coordinate scientific integrity efforts across agencies, foster discussion of policy improvements, and standardize criteria for policies across agencies.</li><li>Strengthen whistleblower protections.</li><li>Ensure that policies cover all actors who will be dealing with science.</li></ol>
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