Staff Editorial: Enough excuses, it’s time for action: Divest from fossil fuels

“There really is no time to waste. The problems driven by climate change are getting worse—and that’s something you’ve seen right here during your lifetime.” That is what former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg told Washington University’s Class of 2019 during May Commencement. Now, Bloomberg’s words could not ring more true, as just months later, the world watches the Amazon rainforest burn and Texas flood at historic levels. Still, Wash. U. refuses to divest from fossil fuels.

With its $7.7 billion endowment, Wash. U. is wealthier than the city of St. Louis itself. As a result, the University’s decisions matter. Our school’s choices of how it invests its money matters not just to the students, staff, faculty and communities with which the university interacts on a daily basis, but to the world as well.

The facts surrounding climate change cannot be disputed. Burning fossil fuels spews carbon dioxide into the air, trapping heat inside the Earth’s atmosphere. Our continued reliance on these fuels makes the planet warmer, and does so rapidly. Global temperatures have increased nearly two full degrees since the late 19th century, and the top five hottest years on record have all come since 2010. These increased temperatures do not mean more beach days and fewer intense winter freezes. No, these temperatures melt the ice caps and raise sea levels. These temperatures spawn extreme weather and disproportionately harm under-resourced communities across the world.

Divestment from fossil fuels came to the forefront of our consciousness again this week as people around the world paused on Friday to strike and raise awareness of climate change. Numerous Wash. U. students participated in the St. Louis strike, which consisted of a march from City Hall through downtown.

Those in power have rarely made changes voluntarily. Protest and advocacy are the keys to making the world a better place. These students should continue to engage in their civil disobedience, and we gladly recognize the Wash. U. professors who participated and encouraged students to fight for what they believe in and what they know to be right.

The University must take note of protests like these and realize that the work it has done to make itself a “greener” institution—while it is work that has made a difference and should be recognized—is not enough.

The University’s refusal to stop investing in fossil fuel companies actively facilitates climate change and global warming. By using its money to fund these companies, Wash. U. is allowing injustices—both against the environment and the people who inhabit it—to continue and to propagate. The Student Life Editorial Board calls on the University, once again, to divest from fossil fuels and to re-invest its money in companies that are working to provide a better, brighter future for its students and the generations to come.

Year after year, we have heard the same refrain from University leadership and the Board of Trustees. We have heard how the University invests the endowment with an eye toward expanding its wealth. We have heard how the University has our best interests at heart. We have heard, again and again, that the money cannot be moved around.

We are tired of these excuses. It is time for change.

We know that divesting from fossil fuels can happen at Wash. U. because, across the country, it already has. For example, just last week, the University of California announced that it would no longer invest from its $80 billion portfolio in fossil fuels (it should be noted that the divestment came only because UC saw fossil fuel companies as a risky long-term investment, but we still commend the university’s decision).

The Student Life Editorial Board is by no means the only voice calling for the University to divest. Student groups like Fossil Free WashU and the Student Environmental Council have been staunch advocates for divestment for years, and dozens of faculty members have signed on to a petition urging divestment.

“Divestment presents opportunity to reiterate scientific values, reject misinformation and embody our core motto, Per Veritatem Vis, ‘strength through truth,’” the petition states.

We acknowledge that divesting from fossil fuels will be hard. It will require time and it will require effort. But more than that, it will require the courage and moral fortitude to do what is right. There is no time to delay.

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