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A march for divestment at Swathmore. — PHOTO: http://swatmj.org

Spring push for fossil fuels divestment launched on campuses

Students with Swarthmore Mountain Justice took action outside board member Rhonda Cohen’s off-campus office this week, calling on her to recuse herself from future conversations on fossil fuel divestment due to her personal financial ties to the fossil fuel industry.

The demonstration marked the launch of a two-month series of nonviolent direct actions on colleges and universities.

"We refuse to stand idly by as Swarthmore continues to align itself with an industry that is incompatible with our future," said Sophia Zaia, a sophomore and divestment organizer with Swarthmore Mountain Justice. "Board members can’t make objective decisions on divestment when they have a personal financial stake in the future success of the fossil fuel industry. We have no choice but to escalate to ensure that the conversation on divestment, an issue that leaves us without a moment to lose, is transparent and free from compromising conflicts of interest."

Students across the country are taking action this spring, calling out links to the fossil fuel industry on their boards and demanding divestment in a campaign sponsored by 350.org.

“We know that change will only come when we take the lead and push our institutions to stand on the right side of history,” said Julia Berkman-Hill, a divestment campaigner and leader with Bowdoin Climate Action. “As long as Bowdoin refuses to move forward on divestment, we will continue to use our voices to show that we do not consent to the College's relationship to this industry's inherently destructive business model. Our schools betray us when they invest in the exploitation and deception that the likes of Exxon and Big Oil perpetuate."

Reports from InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times revealed that Exxon knew about climate change since the 1970s but poured extensive resources into discrediting its own research and sowing doubt and confusion among the public and world governments.

Exxon is currently being probed by the criminal branch of the FBI and four Attorneys General have launched investigations into the corporation’s alleged climate crimes. Also, 20 Attorneys General have launched a coalition to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable for their decades of deep deception, according to 350.org.

“Around the world, those who have done the least to contribute bear the brunt of the worst effects of climate change. From Pakistan and the Philippines, to New Orleans and New York, climate change threatens the lives of frontline communities every day by actively making our planet uninhabitable,” said Sarah Jacqz, an organizer with Divest UMass. “Any action on climate is undermined if our institutions continue to invest in this violent industry.It is high time that our institutions do everything in their power to tackle the climate crisis — that starts with divesting from fossil fuels.”

To date, more than 500 institutions representing more than $3.4 trillion in assets under management have committed to some level of fossil fuel divestment.

For the student activists involved in the divestment campaign, personal ties to the fossil fuel industry among their school’s decision-makers pose disturbing conflicts of interest.

“We have made our choice clear, and we choose to stand on the side of a just and stable future,” said Zaia. “Now, we’re demanding that our institutions of higher learning stand with us and make a choice: the future of a destructive, outdated and rogue industry or the future of your students?”

 

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