Are we divesting for polar bears?


Guest Columnist

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No. While pulling money from the fossil fuel industry will theoretically result in decreased CO2 emissions, which will consequentially curb glacial melting, divestment moves beyond this tired “environmentalist” understanding of the climate change issue. A new framework through which to understand climate change is as a deeply ethical issue to which human adaptation across the globe will be disproportionate. This is an inequity rooted in other social issues: access to transportation, mobility, race, relative affluence, and gender. To clarify, I would like to introduce, perhaps remind you of, the two concepts that are central to the argument for fossil fuel divestment at Allegheny College.

The first is climate justice. This is what I’ve already described. Those who have contributed the least to climate change are those who will face the greatest impacts from its effects. While it would be erroneous to assert that any particular natural disaster is the result of climate change, as correlation does not imply causation, climate change has influenced our weather systems in unpredictable ways. Hurricane Katrina and Typhoon Haiyan are two cases in point. While both disasters caught us off guard in unfortunate ways, the corresponding call-to-arms about aid, remediation, and adaptation to future disasters never reached actualization. The resources for adaptation are in the hands of those least affected by climate change; consequentially, marginalized communities rarely receive adequate resources for remediation and adaptation efforts. Climate justice is about shifting this relationship by re-centering the question of climate change on those frontline communities already facing its effects on a day to day basis.

The second concept is environmental justice. The human health effects associated with environmental issues disproportionately affect women and minorities, as well as low-income and rural communities. This relates to the extraction practices of the fossil fuel industry; in Pennsylvania, natural gas extraction provides many examples of environmental justice concerns. From the contamination of water resources in rural communities such as Dimock Township, to increased rates of crime, burglary, and sexual violence near natural gas development— those people most affected by the fossil fuel industry are not those who stand to benefit from net annual incomes that soar well beyond the multibillions. At the other end of extraction, Ohio and Pennsylvania are rated the worst in the country in health effects as consequence of coal-fired power plants. Environmental justice concerns are relevant to our day to day lives, because they occur in our communities, and many of the communities from which Allegheny College draws its student body.

My intention with describing these concepts is not to induce fear or guilt; however these are concerns that beg the question of responsibility. Certainly we all contribute to climate change with our own CO2 emissions, but such is the narrow consumptive pathway that has been carved out to us by the fossil fuel industry. Climate justice and environmental justice illustrate very clearly that responsibility should be placed on the fossil fuel industry.

With this in mind, there is plenty of reason to feel empowered. As students, we are very fortunate in our access to resources. Divestment is a rehearsal of student power to influence the institutional resources at our finger tips in a meaningful way. While Allegheny College may be small in comparison to our affluent institutional peers, through divestment we can join a growing global movement for fossil fuel divestment. Collectively, this amounts to nearly $400 billion in endowments at institutions across the country. In this way, divestment is a strategic political assertion. Through fossil fuel divestment, we challenge the political power of the fossil fuel industry by diverting the monetary support it receives from our endowments. This is a first step, among many, that we as students can take to disrupt the political, economic, and cultural hegemony of the fossil fuel industry.

Divest Allegheny is currently coordinating divestment initiatives at Allegheny College. While our final meeting for the semester has already passed, we intend to hold weekly meetings next semester. In addition to this, we will be meeting with ASG to discuss divestment on Tuesday December 10th at 7 pm in CC 301/302, and petitioning outside of the campus center throughout the last few days of classes. Please come show your support, and if you are interested in getting involved, send an email to [email protected]