Student activists rally for fossil fuel divestment at University
Brandeis students joined activists at institutions across the country for Fossil Fuel Divestment Day.
Brandeis Climate Justice participated in a Fossil Fuel Divestment Day rally in tandem with over 50 universities across the U.S. on Feb. 13. Both students and faculty spoke at the event, demanding that the University immediately divest from direct holdings in the fossil fuel industry and withdraw all indirect investments by 2022, according to a BCJ press release.
BCJ member Zoë Pringle ’22 said in a Feb. 27 interview with the Justice that the rally was a way to make the group’s efforts visible to students, faculty and staff. “The Board of Trustees is very much aware of our presence, but if they know that the larger community cares about this, then they will maybe make the switch,” she said.
Julia Plaisted ’23 of BCJ explained in a Feb. 27 interview with the Justice that Brandeis has invested an estimated $70 million in the fossil fuel industry. While the University announced last year that it would withdraw from all direct investments in the fossil fuel industry, Plaisted said its decision to keep indirect holdings is unacceptable.
Indirect investments, she said, are extremely complicated and significantly harder to pull out from than direct holdings. Other than the Board of Trustees, no one knows how much money is funneled into the fossil fuel industry. Plaisted explained that this lack of transparency “feels like the University is trying to hide something from its students. It’s our money, we should know what’s being done with it.”
Seeing as the issue of climate change is bigger than just BCJ, Plaisted said that involving faculty and other student organizations was crucial. “Climate change affects every single walk of life, every single person,” she said. “Every single field of study is impacted and is going to be impacted by climate change.”
Josh Benson ’23, a member of the Brandeis Leftist Union, formerly Brandeis for Bernie, was one of the student speakers at the rally. In a Feb. 28 interview with the Justice, Benson explained that when looking at issues like the U.S. military’s extensive contribution to pollution or the Brazilian government’s burning of the Amazon, the environment is very much a political issue.
For his speech, Benson noted that discussing non-represented or historically marginalized voices is a means of addressing issues of climate justice that are often ignored. Acknowledging that we are on stolen land and that our country was built off slavery, he said, demonstrates that “climate injustices often intersect with issues of imperialism and capitalism.”
Pringle added that including varied student perspectives was crucial to spreading the rally’s message to a wider audience. “Sometimes I overestimate that everyone has climate anxiety or that everyone feels this overwhelming urge to stop climate change,” Pringle said.
Student speakers represented a movement of young people deeply invested in their future, Plaisted said, adding that the “people who spoke were so passionate … I don’t believe in the concept of a lazy teenager.”
In addition to passionate students, according to Pringle, there has also been an increase in professors from unrelated subjects becoming involved in the climate movement. Plaisted explained that faculty involvement shows the University that the movement “isn’t just some students complaining. It is also their hired employees saying, ‘we are sick of this.’”
Prof. Gordon Fellman (SOC) was one of the professors who spoke at the rally, claiming that “people need to understand that we are facing a crisis greater than the Second World War. The Second World War destroyed a lot of people, but not the planet,” according to an audio clip posted by WBUR.
Aside from engaging with the Brandeis community, this rally joined a national network of students demanding divestment from their institutions. Accompanying schools like Stanford, Harvard and MIT, Plaisted explained that seeing “Brandeis students as being as devoted as students who are seen as the top of their field really brought Brandeis up in my eyes.”
Pringle added that the community of schools in the movement truly lets universities “learn from each others’ strategies, successes and failures.”