The decision of which university to transfer into involved many more factors than the decision of which one to dive into directly from high school. I geared my focus toward an institution that proved it could foresee America’s future developments to lift my career as well as set the standard for sustainable behavior in higher education. Programs such as Drexel Green; the Sierra Student Coalition; Drexel Smart House; the University’s partnership with the Academy of Natural Sciences; and the formation of the new Department of Biodiversity, Earth & Environmental Science brought me here to pursue my bachelor’s degree in environmental science. Even more so, Drexel’s commitment to 100 percent wind power in 2010 convinced me to believe in its ability to help lead the shift of organizations everywhere toward reducing the effects of climate change. During my time at Drexel, since September 2012, I discovered the finer details of the University’s involvement with the fossil fuel industry.
After the most recent presidential election, Bill McKibben and 350.org toured the U.S. over eight days. He moved across the U.S. with his “Do the Math” campaign to educate students on fossil fuel resources. Here are some numbers I learned about:
390 — the parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide currently in our atmosphere
275 — the ppm near the dawn of human civilization
350 — the ppm that was chosen by lead climate scientists such as NASA’s James Hansen over 20 years ago as being a safe zone for life on Earth
NASA and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change also reinforced this number. McKibben emphasized how a moral and political strategy such as divestment would display the youth’s concern while hitting the dirty energy companies in their sweet spot (their wallets).
Knowing Drexel’s reputation as a science, technology, engineering and mathematics school, I feel that an appropriate explanation of divestment is needed. Every year Drexel takes a portion of your tuition payment and includes it in its endowment. An endowment is invested into buying bonds and public equities of other companies for profit, and the said company benefits as well. As of 2012, Drexel’s standing endowment is $555,381,000. The most profitable companies will give Drexel the largest return. Many of those businesses are also within the 200 publicly traded enterprises that hold the majority of the world’s proven coal, oil and natural gas reserves. My hopes were that Drexel knew well enough to avoid investing in these companies if they were apparently promoting themselves as a sustainable campus. Yet when members of the board of trustees were approached by Drexel Green earlier in the year, they refused to release any information regarding the endowment and simply said they were doing enough in environmental activism as it is. So the question that arises is: Why wouldn’t Drexel endorse a lack of involvement with the fossil fuel industry if it is prominently displaying a banner across the Drexel shuttle saying “100 percent wind-powered campus”? The obvious explanation is that Drexel falsely advertises its commitment to sustainability to encourage enrollment.
Now the Sierra Student Coalition is going to push the boundaries of “doing enough” and demand that Drexel divest its money from the industries that are the world’s largest source of air pollution. Our initial request: The board of trustees should immediately freeze any new investments into the top 200 offending corporations. This will prevent a fiscal shock and allow them to explore new clean energy companies and companies using eco-friendly practices to supplement the change. Then, having such an ultimatum planned by 2018, Drexel can fully divest any direct ownership and any commingled funds that include fossil fuel public equities and corporate bonds within five years. We consider our request rational enough to allow Drexel to make conscious decisions about where its endowment is being placed and whether or not it is morally right to invest in these companies.
Could this work? The idea is so foreign to younger students that they may have forgotten about college divestment from South Africa. Universities divested in protest of the apartheid system being used in South Africa’s government practices. It succeeded! Negotiations and policy changes in the mid-1990s changed South Africa’s racial segregation drastically. In regard to 350.org’s divestment campaign, success stories have already formed in the early years of its existence. These include Sterling and Hampshire colleges, the First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee and the entire city of Seattle. We could be next, but it is a matter of our students’ determination to make the changes we want to see in the world. The carbon addiction needs to end, and we’re starving ourselves from innovation and success by ignoring the problem of climate change.