By Biola Jeje
CUNY Divest, a group of students, alumni, faculty, staff, and other concerned individuals went to last Monday’s CUNY Board of Trustees hearing to urge the board to divest their endowment holdings in fossil fuels, and to reinvest the funds in socially responsible, renewable energy enterprises.
“If we don’t change it, we think that we will not be held accountable. In my Nursing ethics class, we call inaction, negligence. It is no less a crime. In the future, much like when people don’t pay taxes, or when they let children die, we will be tried for our inaction. And we will be held responsible, whether we want the responsibility or not, because we can do something” said Ana Paola White, Hunter-Bellevue School of Nursing.
CUNY Divest has spent the past 18 months pressuring the administration, most notably CUNY Vice Chancellor of Budget and Finance, Matthew Sapienza, to pull funding from groups that benefit from fossil fuels. The campaign has already gained widespread support in the form of a University Student Senate resolution, a Professional Staff Congress resolution, and ten student government resolutions passed in favor of divestment from the so-called Carbon Tracker 200—that is, the 200 largest fossil fuel companies by proven reserves.
For the members of CUNY Divest, investment in fossil fuels is not only morally repugnant, but is also contradictory to the mission of the University. In the words of CUNY Divest member and Hunter College student Jessica Johnson: “A student body ravaged by food insecurity, global instability, degrading infrastructure and uprooted communities will be unable to participate in intellectual life the way we have been able to.” CUNY’s sustainability requires climate sustainability.
August Wojtkiewicz, a Hunter Alumnus majoring in Economics, promoted the potential benefits of a world without fossil fuels, utilizing cleaner, more advanced energy, and cited the recent massive People's Climate March. "Yesterday, the People’s Climate March was held right here in New York - The largest Climate March in History. Former Vice- President Al Gore, Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon, Mayor Bill De Blasio and 400,000 others came to make a statement to the world leaders present in New York this week for the United Nations Climate Change Summit. We need strong collective action and right choices by decision makers to promote the better, sounder alternative of a 100% Renewable energy future which will bring about a myriad of benefits, some which we can foresee, and many which will pleasantly surprise us." A world without pollution from expensive outdated fossil fuels will provide positive externalities.
Cambridge Associates, a financial advisory firm for 70% of U.S. colleges, including CUNY, has most recently made a statement describing divestment from fossil fuels as a feasible endeavor for investors. “There are a number of avenues institutions can elect...from a focus on alternative energy and fossil-free investment managers, to various degrees of divestment. Cambridge Associates stands ready to help institutions pursue any of these paths.” This marks a turn in Cambridge’s stance and an important victory in the divestment campaign. With financial experts foreseeing minimal risk, the administration hopefully will feel empowered to base their decisions in ethical reasons as opposed to purely fiscal ones.