I’ll always remember the first time I went into Linsly-Chittenden Hall on Old Campus — it was the first Yale building I visited during Bulldog Days 2007, following my freshman host to class. Two years later, I sat in one of LC’s large lecture halls for “Environmental Politics and Law” and picked my major. Today, as a grad student, I spend most of my time in class on Science Hill or potlucking in East Rock, but last Saturday I returned to LC for a meeting on fossil fuel divestment at Yale. Upstairs, a group of gangly, idealistic undergrads talked about their effort and invited us to an after-party at the Saybrook 12-pack. Their tone was hopeful: The group had just successfully presented their 50-page report on the need for and implications of divestment to the Yale Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility. Legendary environmental activist Bill McKibben Skyped in. There was BAR pizza. The whole thing was such a weird combination of nostalgia and completely new, positive, powerful engagement that I felt the need to write.
The skinny on the fossil fuel divestment campaign is this: Yale’s ethical investment guidelines should preclude our financial support of an industry with devastating global consequences. The climate change advocacy group 350.org has been mobilizing students nationwide to encourage their university administrations to stop investing their endowment in companies that produce and sell fossil fuels. These products represent a huge contribution to our current global climate emergency — a crisis that includes the hottest year on record for the U.S. in 2012, millions of displaced climate refugees, massive biodiversity loss and even more dire projections for the future.
Whether you are troubled by how actions of rich countries are increasing flooding, drought, displacement and disease in the Global South or just pissed about losing power last fall in your East Village apartment, climate change affects as all. And beyond the impacts of their products, fossil fuel companies themselves represent a challenge because of their unchecked political power. This campaign is aimed at publicly shaming the unethical practices of the industry, reducing their influence.
Yale’s fossil fuel divestment is such a tiny, tiny part of the solution we need to build a sustainable human society and protect our home planet. Each day I work in the environmental field, I understand more of the extent of these problems. In my research in Bhutan, I see glacial melt and erratic monsoon cycles already threatening Himalayan water security and livelihoods. Here at home, I watch my peers identify ever-growing challenges, and work harder for increasingly difficult solutions.
It is easy to get discouraged. But seeing a group of undergrads take on both the fossil fuel industry and our responsibility for climate change, I was inspired and re-energized. Many of my Yale College friends have moved on and into lives that don’t center on social and environmental responsibility. Many current students will soon do the same. Here is something they, and we, can do: Consider signing the petition asking Yale to divest from fossil fuels. Support climate change mitigation, support a positive legacy for your school or alma mater and support the hard work of students like us who want to squeeze in changing the world between dining hall brunch and cheap beer in a party suite.
Hilary Faxon is student at the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and a 2011 graduate of Silliman College.