Climate Action Week puts spotlight on divestment

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Members of the Climate Action Coalition marched through the Marketplace and met with members of the board of trustees last week as part of their Fossil Free Oxy campaign. The activities of the coalition’s “Climate Action Week” were intended to spur dialogue on divestment from fossil fuel companies and the need to mitigate climate change.

“Our school’s endowment is invested in the fossil fuel industry,” Climate Action Coalition member Carson Lambert (sophomore) said. “That’s a reflection of the school’s values and the school’s morals. If the school preaches that it’s getting students to be good citizens that care about all these social justice issues and at the same time the school fails to do that itself, I see that as a contradiction in the school’s policy.”

The week kicked off Nov. 10 with a “Screen on the Green” event featuring “Do The Math,” a documentary about renowned environmentalist Bill McKibben and his efforts to combat the fossil fuel industry.

The next day, organizers hosted a panel consisting of economics professor Victoria Umanskaya, Urban and Environmental Policy (UEP) professor Martha Matsuoka and philosophy professor Clair Morrissey to explain the economic, environmental and ethical concerns surrounding climate change.

“We had questions focused on why we need to transition away from fossil fuels and how the fossil fuel industry disproportionately affects communities of color, and especially low income communities,” Climate Action Coalition facilitator Lauren Breynaert (junior) said.

The week culminated Friday with a rally that started in the Quad and ended in front of the Arthur G. Coons (AGC) building. Organizers spoke to a crowd of Climate Action Coalition members, student senators and faculty about the need for Occidental to divest from fossil fuel companies. They originally planned to march to President Jonathan Veitch’s office to deliver their divestment petition, but decided to focus their efforts on the rally instead.

At the end of the rally, Veitch invited attendees into an AGC board room, where he expressed his support for their efforts and proposed the creation of a task force to address the coalition’s demands, according to Breynaert. He also warned coalition members to be prepared for tough questions from trustees, Lambert said.

Lambert and Breynaert held strong to their opinion that divestment is the simplest way college students can affect large change at an institutional level. Fossil fuel companies have a disproportionate amount of power in both the economic and political spheres, and divesting is one way of reducing that power, Breynaert said.

But at a meeting with coalition members Monday, Vice President of Finance and Planning Amos Himmelstein and Board of Trustee Investment Committee chairman David Berkus ’62 expressed skepticism about divestment and its ability to impact the fossil fuel industry.

“If we look at divestment and how much good it would do directly to the college, I think that it would be way toward the bottom,” Berkus said. “There really is a question about what effect in the scheme of things this would have.”

Despite these reservations, coalition member Andy Eichar (junior) felt the meeting was productive and gave organizers a better idea of the feasibility of their demands.

Although divestment is the coalition’s current focus, Breynaert said that they want to raise awareness about other climate mitigation efforts as well.

“We don’t want our efforts to end at divestment,” Breynaert said. “Divestment is a tactic for social change. But it’s part of our larger strategy to implement climate action policies, climate action plans and sustainability efforts on campus.”

Breynaert and Lambert encourage students interested in the movement to attend Climate Action Coalition meetings, held every Monday at 7:30 p.m. in Johnson 104.