This post was written by Aru Shiney-Ajay, an 18-year-old first year at Swarthmore College. Aru has been organizing with the campus divestment campaign Swarthmore Mountain Justice for her first semester at school.
Just over year has passed since the Paris Accords, the year that has been the hottest on record. But it has also been a year of victories. On December 12, the third annual Arabella Report revealed over 688 institutions across 76 countries, representing more than $5.2 trillion in assets under management, have committed to divest. This number has doubled in just over a year, continuing the divestment movement’s exponential growth. This comes on the heels of another great victory for the climate justice movement: the rerouting of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which has shown that when people organize and take bold action, we can overcome violence and huge odds, and win. Recently, Nobel Laureates wrote to the Nobel Foundation imploring it to divest, and the American Museum of Natural History has slashed its fossil fuel holdings following the calls of scientists and allies. As these victories pile up, they send a clear message: divestment is gaining momentum and cannot be ignored. The fossil fuel industry is outliving its welcome, and the end of its era is here.
That’s why we are taking part in the largest coordinated student action in the divestment movement’s history during Trump’s first 100 hours. Join the planning call this Monday December 19 at 8:30pm EST / 5:30pm PST.
Though the victories of divestment are undeniable, with the incoming anti-climate Trump administration, we need to make sure they are only the beginning. From Trump’s appointment of Polluting Scott Pruitt as head of the EPA and Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson to Secretary of State to his threats to reauthorize the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, Trump threatens to undermine essential climate action in a time when we need it to accelerate. His actions will threaten literally millions of people around the world, particularly those living in low-income communities, communities of color, and throughout the Global South that hold little responsibility for the gravity of the climate crisis.
With Trump in the White House, our imperative is all the more clear: more now than ever, we must push our colleges and universities to stand with us for climate justice and build a powerful, grassroots movement. Our institutions have a responsibility to fill the void of leadership as our president-elect fills his cabinet with climate deniers, fossil fuel executives, and white supremacists. In the era of Trump, inaction is no longer an option. As the fossil fuel industry actively partners with the Trump administration and threatens millions of people, silence by our institutions is a tacit endorsement of his policies — and it is unacceptable.
As young people, we must make this imperative clear to our institutions. Climate change will affect those most vulnerable in our societies, and those least to blame for what is happening. It is inherently an issue of justice; we struggle not for a livable future for some, but for a safe planet for all. In this context, it is more important than ever that we take action as part of a broad, powerful movement to stand up against Trump’s agenda of climate denialism and hate.
With climate action as the goal, we already have a tactic that we know is actionable and effective: divestment. A $5.2 trillion victory is evidence of a powerful, effective, and growing movement, and now isn’t the time to stop. The fossil fuel industry is reckless and uncaring: investigative reports revealed that ExxonMobil and its industry peers knew the effects of climate change as far back as the 1970s, but instead chose to bury the truth and fund decades of denialism and deceit The only way to shift such a rogue industry is through widespread condemnation and stigmatization. This is exactly what divestment is achieving.
The clearest evidence of the movement’s success comes from the fossil fuel industry itself. The Minerals Council of Australia, a coal industry group, is attempting to render divestment illegal, claiming that it unfairly burdens them because “stigmatization [from divestment] makes it difficult for an industry to engage with its customers, attract employees and more importantly access capital for investment purposes.” The Alberta Oil Magazine was more blunt, warning that “energy executives ignore [divestment] at their own peril.” Industry groups like the Independent Petroleum Association of America are directly pouring resources into attempts to delegitimize our movement.
As Trump commits himself to the fossil fuel industry, the work of divestment is more critical than ever. It’s clear that the Trump administration is set on prioritizing profit over people. Our universities widely claim that acting on climate is critical — it’s even more critical coming out of this election. That’s why we will hold our administrators accountable to demand they stop backing and failing and flailing rogue industry that is throwing it’s hat in the ring with Trump.
That’s why our campaign at Swarthmore is joining with students across the country as part of the biggest coordinated student action in the divestment movement’s history on Tuesday, January 24. During Trump’s first 100 hours, young people across the country will walk out of class to demand their universities divest from fossil fuels and condemn the deadly climate denialism of Trump and Tillerson and the Climate Denial Cabinet. Campuses across the country must stand up and show that we, as youth, demand climate action. We have one message to send loud and clear – time is up for our colleges and universities to divest from the fossil fuel industry and reinvest in a Just Transition. The president of the United States is threatening the very future of this planet, and there is no room for neutrality. Our institutions must take moral leadership on climate justice.
Join us for a planning call this Monday Dec 19 at 8:30pm EST / 5:30pm PST to learn how to engage in this historic day of action. Even if you can’t make the call, sign up here to get the notes and further updates.