The words “climate change” have never been on the lips of our elected officials more than they have been today. Energy conservation was discussed during the presidential debates, but not because of climate change. During these debates, Betsy Taylor, climate communications consultant for the Clinton administration, said, “By the spring of 2009, with the fiscal crisis, there was a decision made, and adopted, not to talk about climate change.” Despite this, in his second inauguration speech, President Obama stated that Americans have an “obligation” to curb climate change to preserve our world for future generations.
Having witnessed the repeated damages of natural disasters like hurricanes Katrina, Irene and Sandy, Americans are slower to dismiss the idea of climate change as a likely factor of these disasters. Newly appointed Secretary of State John Kerry has not only pledged to make globally slowing the effects of climate change a top priority in his foreign relations, but he has also vowed to remove his investments in fossil fuel companies.
University students around the nation are also beginning to see the linkages between fossil fuel profits and their schools’ investments and have decided to take action. Drexel University is now one of many schools working toward a divestment campaign to rid our nation’s universities of all dirty energy investments and ties.
While many universities and investors see dirty energy as quick cash, students see through the short-term gains to the very harmful, long-term effects of these investments, especially in Pennsylvania, where the rise in hydraulic fracturing is now a hot topic of debate. Though not visible from Philadelphia’s urban sprawl, Pennsylvania is rich in coal and natural gas. With greed grasping at the throats of university administrators in Philadelphia, it’s hard for students to understand how it’s so easy for them to invest in activities that put their future at risk. The University of Colorado released a study this month showing that 4 percent of the methane extracted from natural gas sites is being leaked into the atmosphere (methane is 72 times more potent than carbon dioxide at trapping infrared radiation in our atmosphere over a 20-year period, causing it to be the second-most prevalent greenhouse gas, according to the Environmental Protection Agency). A similar study in Utah found this percentage to be 9 percent.
The University of Pennsylvania recently announced plans to conduct a similar study and admitted that Penn’s natural gas holdings were what stalled this long-planned project. In order for university research to properly investigate the environmental effects of fossil fuels, they must not be hampered by their investments. Just like Democrats in Congress who recently wrote a “wish list” of climate change actions they would like to see President Obama take into his executive hands, it is up to students and faculty to urge ours and other university administrations to divest from the dirty energy that most call easy money — fossil fuels.
Many divestment efforts are already underway. Hampshire College and Unity College in Maine have already cleansed their portfolios of corporate polluters. Harvard University recently held a student referendum on divestment where 72 percent of students were on board. Hitting closer to home, the Community College of Philadelphia had to face the natural gas industry head-on when the college announced a new “Energy Learning Center” made possible with a donation from the Marcellus Shale Coalition, the primary fracking lobbyist in Pennsylvania. The center would be a way to funnel students into Pennsylvania’s natural gas industry with promises of high-paying jobs. CCP faculty overwhelmingly voted to “sever all ties to the Marcellus Shale Coalition and the natural gas fracking industry.” Since voicing their dissatisfaction, plans for the center have stalled.
Drexel students, including myself, and college students from all over the country will be attending Swarthmore College’s Divestment Convergence in February, where we will learn more about how to work with our administrations to eradicate investments from fossil fuels. Pennsylvania is ground-zero for coal and natural gas, and we have an obligation not to participate, tacitly or directly, in the destruction of the Appalachians and the contamination of our air quality and water supply. It is our responsibility as university students to ensure a future for ourselves and the generations that follow.
Nicole Koedyker is the president of the Drexel chapter of the Sierra Club. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.