After seven years of student activism to encourage the Board of Trustees to divest from fossil fuels, Climate Justice Cornell is escalating the fight by filing a complaint to New York Attorney General Letitia James to initiate an investigation into Cornell University’s continued investment in fossil fuels.
In Michael Johns ’20’s May 1 column, he suggests that Cornell’s “globalist activist community,” specifically the fossil fuel divestment and BDS-inspired movement, has taken a myopic viewpoint that leads them — or, us, members of Climate Justice Cornell, in this case — to lose sight of true global justice by focusing solely on the issues at hand on campus. There is a common notion that some organizers uphold: “Do the work where you’re at.” While we’re at Cornell, this means that we, the students, can address the issues we see in the way that this institution is run. Here at Cornell, we have the power to petition the University — through literal petitioning, letter writing, rallies and the like — and we may even receive some sort of response. While the chairman of the Board of Trustees or the president of the University may reply to our emails, it’s fair to say that a Cornell student group’s request for Chinese coal plants to be shut down would be swept aside. Furthermore, as people who are not direct stakeholders to China’s energy production, it’s not our place to make suggestions — not to mention the lack of expertise of a Cornell student group in the inner workings of the Chinese energy economy and grid.
Joanne DeStefano, the University’s executive vice president and chief financial officer, canceled her planned meeting with Climate Justice Cornell to draft steps toward a more sustainable campus after learning that the group intended to present a series of demands to her. Although DeStefano herself encouraged CJC members to set up the meeting, she canceled the gathering after reading a copy of the meeting agenda attached to an email to meeting attendees by Elizabeth Chi ’18, ex-campaign coordinator of CJC. “I agreed to this meeting as a courtesy to share our policies and to help you to understand the Board of Trustees’ position regarding divestment,” DeStefano wrote to Chi in an email, adding, “I must say that I am extremely disappointed to learn that your purpose for the meeting is to make a series of demands.”
The group used the word “demand” in its agenda as indication of some of its priorities and goals, according to Jenny Xie ’20, a member of the financial task force for CJC. “My stomach dropped as soon as I read the email,” said Julie Kapuvari ’19, CJC member. “We had been preparing for weeks.
Christopher Hanna ’18, a co-facilitator for the organization, said Trump’s “vicious campaign-season rhetoric” and “horrific platform” pose a serious threat to human rights and the lives of many Cornell students.