Opinion | Columns

A call to action, after the storm

Hurricane Sandy might seem like old news now—especially around here, where the hurricane hardly even hit in the first place—but Sandy’s repercussions, good and bad, have only just begun.

Many New Yorkers in the Rockaways haven’t had heat for weeks, and as fewer folks volunteer once the initial impetus fades and the city and federal government fail and ignore them, many face a cold winter and months of rebuilding their homes and lives. On the other hand, New Yorkers have proven not only that we’re not greedy, self-centered automatons, but also that we’re deeply compassionate. At least we are much more compassionate than the politicians who attempted to ignore mass suffering in order to continue business as usual, and planned to use at least 19 generators to conduct the marathon. We learned that regular people working together can move mountains. Finally, the mainstream media—and to some extent mainstream politicians—is talking about climate change thanks to Mayor Bloomberg’s comments and Businessweek’s cover, “It’s Global Warming, Stupid.” Last but not least, Barnard and Columbia students heard Sandy’s wake-up call loud and clear. Just last week our school joined the national student movement to fight against those who cause climate change and for a sustainable and more democratic society.

The movement started only one year ago at Swarthmore College and has already spread to over 50 schools across the country. The demand is simple: Divest from fossil fuels. Colleges and universities control over $400 billion in endowments and right now they are investing billions into the fossil fuel industry.

Just Columbia and Barnard divesting won’t cripple the industry, but as part of a national movement, these actions will compel governments to respond. Equally important, we can help rejuvenate a strong national movement that fights for a society where a few don’t profit off of putting the rest of us in horrific danger.

It’s a tall order, and it can sound quite intimidating, but we only need to look back at the inspiring history of the national student movement against apartheid in South Africa. Over a decade of struggles, including some right here at Columbia, helped to topple the racist regime, proving that divestment is a powerful tool that students can use in fighting for justice. This is the case whether it’s used to end apartheid or to end an insane energy system that destroys and kills many for the profits of a tiny few.

These same tiny few are one of the reasons, if not the biggest reasons, the U.S. has irresponsibly avoided investing in sustainable energy, despite the fact that models exist proving that we could power 100 percent of the planet on solar, water, and wind energy in just 20 years.

As a friend of mine says, this isn’t an environmental issue—it’s a human issue. An environment full of hurricanes and island-swallowing seas can exist happily without us—it’s us who can’t exist without it.

Therefore it’s absolutely necessary we recognize that climate change is not an equal-opportunity destroyer. The unnatural consequences of natural disasters can include racism and income inequality. There are people who profit from these forms of oppression who will attempt to stop any movement that threatens their profits, even if this means their grandchildren won’t have a rock to live on.

That’s why we can’t just kindly suggest sane solutions like divestment. The sane solutions are already out there and extremely well researched. If that was all it took, we’d have been sustainable yesterday. So it follows that it takes something more than a scientific consensus about the problems to arrive at sane solutions that fix them. We need to fight for these solutions.

If we fight, we can win. Just two weeks ago, Unity College in Maine became the first school to take a principled and practical stand and divest from fossil fuels.

So maybe we’re a little bit late to the party, but we’re not too late. Barnard and Columbia students—some already in student organizations and some not—held the first fossil fuel divestment meeting at our schools last week. If you are at all interested in joining or hearing more, come to the next meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 28 at 8 p.m. in 304 Hamilton Hall.

What you do now matters. Just as students have the power to volunteer in the aftermath of storms like Hurricane Sandy, they also have the power to prevent devastation from repeating and increasing by urging their colleges and universities to divest billions of dollars from the fossil fuel industry. We have the power to build a movement for a sustainable and democratic society. We have to act now.

Yoni Golijov is a Columbia College senior majoring in creative writing. He is a member of the Barnard-Columbia International Socialist Organization. The Local University runs alternate Tuesdays.

To respond to this column, or to submit an op-ed, contact opinion@columbiaspectator.com.

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Anonymous posted on

Thanks for posting. Exciting to see Columbia taking on this campaign!

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Anonymous posted on

I'm a member of the Bates College divestment team, glad to see more schools joining the cause! United as a movement we can accomplish great things.

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Anonymous posted on

This a really important issue. Thank you for writing this article. We, as beneficiaries of the CU endowment, have a responsibility to say where it is being invested. If it is being invested in the Fossil Fuel industry we need to be honest, transparent, and held accountable for that, so when the next extreme weather occurs we realize that we PLAYED a role in creating the conditions for such horrific extreme weather.

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Anonymous posted on

Actually - it's the owners of the capital, NOT THE BENEFICIARIES, who have a responsibility. If you think the funds are tainted, you can choose among the following two options:

1) Apply elsewhere for college/grad school
2) Refuse financial aid and other services made possible through endowment funding

Keep in mind, by choosing to apply to Columbia, and associate yourself with the institution, you have made a conscious decision to validate Columbia, and the way in which it does business. You wanted to come here, precisely because it was a wealthy institution that confers upon you a certain status. If you didn't want all that came with it, you could have studied elsewhere.

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Anonymous posted on

Congrats on a great article. This movement is the most important fight of our time--perhaps even in the history of time itself. Everyone should be informed and involved. If we continue to release the obscene level of CO2 that we are currently releasing into the atmosphere, life on earth as we know it will cease to exist. Stop helping oil and gas companies profit from destroying our future! DIVEST FROM FOSSIL FUEL and reinvest in sustainable energy.

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Anonymous posted on

There is a major difference between this campaign and the campaign for divestment from South Africa that goes unmentioned. The South Africa divestment movement grew out of a decades old movement to boycott South African products. A lot of people in America wanted to completely isolate themselves from South Africa economically to protest apartheid. With this campaign, no one is seriously trying to stop all energy use in the United States. People will continue to turn on their lightbulbs and computers (the majority of power in NY comes from natural gas). They will continue to buy food that is brought to the island on trucks. Everyone at Columbia will remain dependent on fossil fuels for survival. The only change will be that the university will no longer profit from that dependence. They will, however, continue to pay the electric bill and contribute to fossil fuel demand (the only reason these companies exist in the first place).

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