January 30, 2013

ATHANASIOU: Let’s Practice What We Preach: Divest Now

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“Did you read The Sun yet? You have to look at the editorial. I don’t even know where to begin.”

My friend Chris approached me as I entered Manndible Cafe on my quest for caffeine, where he briefed me on the day’s headlines. On my way to my next class, I played a surprisingly coordinated game of read-and-walk as I found and read the article. I was livid. On Tuesday, The Sun ran an editorial entitled “Divesting Selectively,” which I can only describe as reckless, disappointing and, in my opinion, unrepresentative of The Sun’s normally progressive stances.

99.83 percent of peer-reviewed papers say that climate change is caused by humans. The very idea that we would take the fact that is climate change and categorize it as a contentious issue is incredibly disturbing. By treating climate change as a purely “polarizing” political issue, the argument belittles the vast scientific work that makes up environmental science. The editorial in turn trivializes the consequences of climate change: a vulnerable world food supply, millions of potential climate refugees and the collapse of entire ecosystems.

The Sun asks Cornell to address the pesky dilemma of climate change by “educating future educators, policymakers and voters.” I agree. But why stop at education? Cornellians: We must align our VALUES and our ACTIONS. What the hell is an education or more knowledge worth without real, substantive action behind it? We vote every single day with our feet, with our dollars and with our choices. Cornell is already invested in studying the varied consequences of climate change, like fluctuating agricultural production, raising shorelines and altered biodiversity. We are looking for solutions. In 2009, Cornell committed to climate neutrality by 2050. In 2010, David and Patricia Atkinson donated $80 million to establish Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, the largest sum to be given to a University for sustainability at the time. In the summer of 2012, CALS launched a new sustainability major. And this fall, KyotoNOW! gathered 1,400 undergraduate signatures in just two weeks in support of divestment. Perhaps the Cornell Board of Trustees has a legal duty, “to prudently invest the funds it receives to maximize the value of the endowment.” But the Board of Trustees also has an obligation to our generation and to our children to make ethical and responsible investments that won’t leave our planet in disarray.

Furthermore, the editorial’s main argument is built upon the assumption that “Cornell must prioritize its role as an institution of higher education, keeping an eye toward the University’s fiscal stability and political neutrality.” This is a completely bizarre concept. On Monday, President Skorton was “tapped to bolster New York business growth” by Governor Cuomo; essentially, our President was selected as a symbol and representative of industry. In 2011, the University decided to partner with the Technion to win Mayor Bloomberg’s Tech Campus bid, despite recent controversy in Israel and the Technion’s involvement in weapons research. In 2010, President Skorton endorsed the Dream Act in support of undocumented students. What exactly is neutral about these very contentious issues? And when an endowment is listed handsomely at about $5 billion and invested in industries across the country, the University is taking sides. Any investment indicates a University endorsement. Every time Cornell publishes a course catalog, silences an academic, funds a project or offers tenure to a professor, the University is acting as a charged entity. Winston Churchill once said, “I never worry about action, but only inaction.” By doing nothing about divestment from fossil fuels, Cornell has already made a bold and powerful statement. Of course it’s unlikely that every student will be in support of divestment. Most of the time, social movements find contention. Not everyone believed in the desegregation of colleges; not everyone believed in educating women. Those were once radical, debated views.

The History department offers a one-credit seminar, “The First American University.” The instructor, Corey Earle, explains how Cornell has shaped the modern university. We were the first Ivy to admit women. We awarded the first veterinary degree from a U.S. university. We established the first American university press. We created the first American medical school abroad in Qatar.  We were the first U.S. university to teach Far Eastern languages. Cornell: You are a revolutionary place. Will you continue the tradition? Let’s be among the first to divest from fossil fuels.

Katerina Athanasiou is a senior in the College of Art, Architecture, and planning. She may be reacched at kathanasiou@cornellsun.com. Kat’s Cradle runs alternate Thursdays this semester.

Original Author: Katerina Athanasiou