Investing in sustainability
Student campaign takes a stand against fossil fuels
Students constantly hear about climate change from the news, from political campaigns and from professors in their classrooms. Brandeisians have decided to counter the results of global warming and help communities of the world affected by it. Shouldering the responsibility of helping to create a better future for this generation and those to come, a group of Brandeis students has started a campaign to end the use of non-renewable energy and raise national awareness about the consequences of the use of fossil fuels.
The Divest for Our Future Campaign at Brandeis University is headed by members of Students for a Just and Stable Future, and works actively to help stop the production and distribution of fossil fuels and move toward renewable energy and sustainability. A subgroup within Students for Environmental Action, SJSF has been around for several years, while the Divest for Our Future Campaign began this summer.
Modeled after the University's stand against companies active in the South African apartheid in the 1980s and 1990s, the campaign is pushing for Brandeis to "divest, or take its money out of investments that are placed within fossil fuel companies," according to member Andrew Nguyen '15. Their hope is that this will shift the use of and public opinion about non-renewable energy and will lead to methods that will help sustain the environment for future generations.
Nguyen says SJSF plans to move the campaign quickly because climate change has already affected many people and will to continue to do so. This past year has seen record heat waves and many extreme weather events attributed to climate change, and Divest for Our Future hopes to draw attention to "the externalities of producing or burning fossil fuels that people suffer from, [such as] pollution, toxic waste, and contamination of drinking water," says Nguyen.
The campaign is asking Brandeis for "transparency in the endowment so everyone knows that we are investing in morally responsible companies," Nguyen said. Because of the current lack of transparency, there is no way to ensure that the endowment does not have funds in fossil fuel companies, according to Nguyen. In order to make the move toward investing only in businesses that do not rely on fossil fuels, the University could perform what is called a "negative screening," which would allow it to screen out a certain type of industry from its investments, Nguyen explained.
However, Nguyen asserts that, even though there are about 200 companies that the club specifically wants Brandeis to divest from, there are many profitable, environmentally responsible companies that could produce a return on investment that equals what Brandeis is currently earning.
The club realizes that the University must remain financially stable but believes this can be done while taking a moral stance against environmentally harmful fossil-fuel companies. "We understand that the endowment has to make money, but we want to show them that you can be profitable while not putting our future in jeopardy," Nguyen said.
In order to achieve transparency and ultimately remove all investments from fossil fuel companies, the Divest for Our Future campaign's first task is getting students to sign a petition.
Nguyen said that the goal of this first step is to "help raise student awareness about the University's endowment and the fact that climate change is going to impact us and it's going to impact us soon."
While the group realizes that it would be improbable to immediately eliminate the use of fossil fuels in their entirety, the members of SJSF hope that the University will begin the shift toward renewable energy as soon as possible.
They recognize that this must be a cooperative effort between the campaign and the University and have sent a letter to University President Frederick Lawrence to make him aware of their interests to have Brandeis divest its endowment from the targeted companies.
The battle against climate change has proven to be long and arduous, and the Divest for Our Future Campaign knows they cannot do it alone. Working with organizations such as the international group 350.org, the Better Future Project based out of Cambridge and several other universities, the members of SJSF working on the campaign hope to help raise national awareness of the imminent problems associated with climate change and fossil fuels.
Other local colleges such as Tufts University, Harvard University, Hampshire College and Boston University have also been working with the Brandeis group on the campaign. In addition, nearly 40 students at other universities nationwide have started campaigning on their campuses. Although only Hampshire College has confirmed its explicit intention to divest its endowment from fossil fuel companies, Nguyen emphasizes that a major benefit of the campaign is national awareness. "Not only can Brandeis take a moral stand by divesting, but they can help to shift the marketplace if enough universities divest from fossil fuels," he said.
As Nguyen pointed out, in the presidential debate between President Barack Obama and the Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, "they didn't mention climate change once. They only mentioned clean coal, which is a myth. We have the means of producing energy without harming people or the environment."