When it comes to fighting climate change, we often deny ourselves the ability to make the changes that are in our power to make. This week at COP21, the international conference on climate change being held in Paris, world leaders will undoubtedly produce a plan that is insufficient to prevent the catastrophic events that we know will result if we continue to burn fossil fuels at anything close to our current rate. After years of pressure from students, alumni and faculty, the Amherst College board of trustees maintains their stance that divesting from fossil fuels will not create a significant moral or economic impact on the industry, despite the precedent for using the endowment in this way during the movements to divest from South Africa and Sudan. And we, as students, will continue to waste mountains of food in Val (despite the best efforts of the Office of Sustainability), drive cars when we could utilize the PVTA or even just leave the lights on after leaving the bathroom (myself included — I’m no hero).
But the purpose of this piece is to say: Do better. And while this message applies to all of the groups mentioned in the first paragraph, I am directing it most prominently to the board of trustees.
Divest Amherst has been as busy as ever this semester. We received the endorsement of renowned journalist and climate change activist Naomi Klein upon her visit to campus. We gathered signatures, made a giant check and held a teach-in. We have joined the Multi-School Divest Fund, an escrow fund full of money that will only be donated to Amherst College once the school commits to divestment. We were building up to an escalation that would have occurred on Friday, Nov. 13, but decided against it in order to support the Amherst Uprising.
However, this does not mean that the struggles against climate change and racism are mutually exclusive. Flooding will inundate low-lying countries like Bangladesh and island nations like the Maldives, and they lack the wealth to cope with such disasters. More frequent and more powerful hurricanes and typhoons threaten to make the Caribbean and other tropical islands uninhabitable. In America, Hurricane Katrina flooded the predominantly black sections of New Orleans and the federal government famously failed to offer anything close to an adequate response, all while the media provided racially charged coverage. But rather than redefine our own commitments, wealthy Western nations, who are most responsible for our current climate crisis, try to shift the onus of averting disaster onto developing nations, claiming that their industrialization must be a green one. Indeed, inaction on climate change is one of the most insidious forms of racism: Both at home and abroad, we systematically disregard the people most affected along lines of color. Our failure to act seals the fate of the world’s most susceptible and least culpable who are invariably people of color.
“To change everything, we need everyone,” reads the popular climate activist slogan. That means politicians and civilians alike. But while we can’t count on our representatives in Paris to make the right choice, our college is in a unique position to make a public commitment to ousting the fossil fuel industry as the morally reprehensible investment that it is. Amherst College could join the ranks of other institutions collectively worth trillions that have removed their money from the fossil fuel industry and are showing that strong endowments not only can, but must divest. Amherst’s continued support of this industry broadcasts that the college does not care about its own community members whose homes are threatened by a changing climate. The board of trustees has the power to make the commitment to reject the inherently racist pillars on which our addiction to fossil fuels stands. We at Divest Amherst and beyond have not forgotten that the board of trustees will be meeting in January, and we will be watching.