Earth Day is an important time for reflection. It’s the one day each year when all eyes turn to the state of the planet and its people. In recent years, however, Earth Day has become a ripe opportunity for corporations, local and national government, and schools to market themselves by boasting about their environmental stewardship, even as their actions tell a different story. At colleges and universities across the country today, hundreds of earth day events were planned. Students received energy efficient light bulbs and reusable water bottles. Corporations like Coca-cola and Bank of America touted recycling and paper-free banking. And the universities on whose campuses this all took place made a choice — the same choice they make every day. They chose to continue investing in the fossil fuel industry, an industry whose practices are driving the climate crisis.
The first Earth Day wasn’t about green consumerism or corporate PR — it was about people standing up for their health and the health of their children because their air was toxic and their rivers were on fire. Today, we have the Clean Water and Clean Air acts because of their action. We also have a new generation of activists calling for climate sanity. This morning, amid the greenwashing and empty celebrations, students, alumni and community members at Tufts sat in their President’s office and demanded action on divestment. At the University of Massachusetts Amherst, students rallied and continued building power for escalated action. Their ask is simple — if each day brings a choice, today, choose the right side of history and divest from the industry driving the climate crisis.
Varshini Prakash of the University of Massachusetts Amherst writes about her campus group’s perspective and action this Earth Day:
For two years, the UMass Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign has engaged in closed-door board room conversations, presented in front of our Trustees, sent dozens of letters, and collected almost four thousand signatures in favor of fossil fuel divestment.
Our administrators had evaded responsibility for long enough, so this spring we brought the crisis to them and asked whose side they were on: that of corrupt corporations profiting from climate destruction or that of the very students whose futures they are stewarding. In response to this direct, escalated action, we secured a meeting with our Chairman and a public statement on divestment this June. We also received notice of an intention to vote on the issue in September.
Our campaign understands power pluralistically. While our administrators have the ability to make high level decisions regarding our endowment’s investment policies, the real power comes from students and other university constituencies who can act together to demand change. We demand not only our administrators ask whose side they are on, but that we ask ourselves and campuses to challenge our peers, our friends, and our communities to choose climate justice rather than silence in the face of irrefutable destruction.
On Earth Day this year, we call on UMass students to remember the genesis of this day, of the populist action that spurred great policy and social change. Recycling and changing our light bulbs is incredibly important, however, technological fixes can only do so much. Showing up for those impacted most by climate and environmental injustices means making a choice to act on our own turf.
We ask students on our campus to choose whose side they are on by pledging to take Non-Violent Direct Action signaling to the UMass Board of Trustees that students, faculty, alumni, staff are ready to escalate for climate justice.