This blog was written by Nunu Wu on behalf of the Divest Duke team at Duke University in Durham, NC
Divest Duke sat down with Duke University’s President Brodhead last Wednesday to deliver over 1500 student, faculty and alumni-signed petitions collected this fall. As we delivered overwhelming support in petitions from 10% of the student body, we asked President Brodhead his stance on divestment from fossil fuels, and asked for his personal support of Divest Duke’s proposal to divest Duke’s endowment from the top 200 fossil fuel companies.
Unsurprisingly, that was not the outcome of the meeting. Upon sitting at his desk, President Brodhead launched into an argument against divestment. The President explained that research into technological advances would be the answer to our climate woes, so we need not take additional action. The power of the University, in Brodhead’s words, lies in our “pooled intellect,” in research and education— and that is where he believes we should concentrate our efforts to slow climate change.
This response is not unlike what we as a movement have heard from Presidents Faust and Paxson of Harvard and Brown. And not unlike our peers at Brown and Harvard, Divest Duke would like to publically address President Brodhead’s arguments.
Global climate change is slated to be the defining issue of our generation. We have experienced and witnessed extreme weather inflicting grave social injury from super storms to drought to wildfire to flood, and are inundated with updates about our melting polar ice caps, acidifying oceans, and disappearing shorelines. We need to act now with the tools we have to curb impacts of our planet’s warming – it is time our leaders and leading institutions help implement them. Removing investments in the top 200 fossil fuel companies is the place for Duke to start.
There is no one solution for a problem of this magnitude. Solutions will and must come from multiple fronts. These solutions include, among many others: technological advances, lifestyle changes, new climate policy and regulation, major shifts in political will and market structure, and by necessity, strong statements from influential constituencies that make the latter possible. Fossil fuel divestment is one such strategy, and universities are such influential institutions.
Contrary to what Presidents Brodhead, Faust, and Paxson tout, universities have never been vacuums of learning. Instead, they are grounds where learning leads and has led to questioning the status quo and building power for real and difficult change. A private institution of learning and research cannot, by simple act of will, excuse itself from political and social issues— climate change and the fossil fuel companies most responsible for it being one such issue.
In an era defined by climate change, we are all accountable for taking whatever actions we can to mitigate its effects— particularly accountable are those with knowledge, power, and resources. Research is part of the solution. Using less is part of the solution. But it’s not enough. Not when the problem is here, today.
And so it’s now that we ask the hard questions, and demand real solutions. Is it morally conscionable to make profits, even if for the worthy cause of education, if those profits fuel a future defined by climate change? Divest Duke says no. An institution that prepares its students for the future should not, at the same time, endanger it with its investments.
And so we at Divest Duke stand in solidarity with our peers at universities around the country hearing “No”, gathering petitions to no end, holding rallies and panels and writing columns and letters to the editor, and we ask you to keep fighting. We certainly will. We have just begun.
Nunu Wu and the Divest Duke team