With the first-ever Global Divestment Day scheduled for this weekend, Fossil Free Yale looks to revive the campus push for divestment. But it remains unclear if, and when, their efforts will come to fruition.
In fact, the event, which was meant to be held on Saturday, has been postponed indefinitely. FFY Project Manager Mitch Barrows ’16 said the delay is due to unfavorable weather conditions and other logistical issues, including some cancellations from speakers and performance groups. The postponement was made final as of Thursday evening.
On Thursday morning, 40 students from Divest Harvard, Harvard’s own divestment group, staged a sit-in in the building holding the office of Harvard President Drew Faust, beginning at around 10 a.m., according to the Harvard Crimson.
As part of Global Divestment — a two-day coordinated outreach effort spanning campuses and communities in five continents — FFY had organized a series of events to rally support for its cause, including performances from student groups, guest speakers and a collaborative art installation. The event aimed to be the largest mobilization of students, faculty and alumni for the cause since the Yale Corporation announced its decision not to divest six months ago, in addition to signaling new goals beyond institutional divestment for the campus organization. Still, the stakes remain high for FFY as it fights to remain active and relevant in spite of the Yale administration appearing unlikely to reverse the August decision.
“[The event] here on campus will reflect the growing movement as we recognize that we are participating in a global day of action,” FFY member Maya Jenkins ’18 said. “Globally, the divestment campaign is really turning up the heat against fossil fuels by changing the traditional conversation around them.”
Still, FFY Communications Coordinator Chelsea Watson ’17 said the event, which was supposed to be held on Saturday, is more than the activities on the schedule. Rather, it signals a shift in the way in which FFY will both be articulating its goals and engaging with the administration.
FFY has pivoted from grounding its argument solely on emissions and climate change, and has made “climate justice” — viewing climate change as an ethical issue — a central part of its revised campaign, Watson said.
FFY member Elias Estabrook ’16 said FFY’s new proposals will focus not only on emissions but also on the harms done by the lobbying presence that fossil fuels companies have in the political system, as well as the public health consequences from climate change. Estabrook cited the particularly high asthma rate in New Haven as an example of the harm from the fossil fuel infrastructure surrounding the city.
In addition to signaling a new broader focus for the group, Saturday’s event would have also marked a new strategy for the organization to not only rally support on campus, but also leverage power from groups around the country.
Lev Gray ’18, who said he planned to attend the FFY event, said it would serve to highlight how divestment is a crucial issue not only at Yale, but throughout the world.
“FFY is not just acting on its own but is part of a larger movement,” FFY member Phoebe Chatfield ’18 said. “There is divestment happening on town level, state level, campus level — the movement has become global and the problems we are talking about are global as well.”
Though FFY is continuing to revise its proposal, Watson said the tone of the campaign has evolved from the previous year. Rather than crafting policies and proposals for approval by the Yale Corporation, she said FFY is looking to confront the administration directly.
Chatfield added, however, that the group has also partnered with the Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility — a committee of eight professors, students and alumni that evaluates ethical issues surrounding the University’s investments — and met with the members of the committee to receive advice on making divestment a reality.
Though she remained optimistic that Yale would divest, FFY does not have a formal timeline in which they expect this change to occur. Further, it appears unlikely that the University will change its decision in the near future.
“After much deliberation, the [Corporation Committee on Investor Responsibility] did not recommend divestment of Yale’s investments in fossil fuel companies for reasons given in its report,” University President Peter Salovey wrote in the campus-wide announcement in August. “In making these decisions, the Committee applied the standards and process that the Yale Corporation has long maintained for considering ethical principles in investing the University’s endowment.”
Salovey could not be reached for comment on Thursday.
ACIR Chair and Yale Law School professor Jonathan Macey LAW ’82 said that though he commends FFY’s actions to raise awareness on the issue of global warming, he does not think the demonstrations are likely to change the analytical approach used by the Yale administration and Yale Corporation in reaching its decision.
Rather, he said ACIR will continue to work with FFY to find common ground and will continue the dialogue with members of the University regarding shareholder resolutions related to climate change.
However, representatives from 350.org, a pro-divestment organization that is helping to lead the event, dismissed the suggestion that FFY should be discouraged after Yale voted against divestment in August.
“Every day that Yale doesn’t divest is a day that [Chief Investment Officer] David Swensen and the Board of Trustees are betting on the side of fossil fuel companies who are burning the planet,” 350.org co-founder Phil Aroneanu said. “As with any political decision, a ‘no’ can be reversed with stronger demands, more education and engagement and more strategic pressure.”
Aroneanu cited Swarthmore as an example of a university where the administration rejected discussion of fossil fuel divestment, but recently reopened the question at the trustee and administrative levels after facing student pressure.
Watson said that even if the corporation does not divest in the near future, FFY serves a critical role for other campuses and the broader movement. She said campuses such as Norfolk State University have reached out to members of FFY asking for advice and using its proposal as a model.
“Even if the CCIR said no, that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been significant impact,” Watson said. “Even when success may not be happening vertically, it is happening horizontally.”
Instead of holding its own Global Divestment Day event, on Saturday FFY will join another student group on campus, Rise Up Singing, a folk music sing-a-long group, in honor of the worldwide event.