Following success in pushing Cornell University to divest from fossil fuels in May, Prof. Robert Howarth, ecology and evolutionary biology, and Climate Justice Cornell activist Katie Sims ’20 joined other climate experts from across the state on a virtual panel hosted by 350.org to push for New York’s Common Retirement Fund to divest from fossil fuels.
Student climate activists protested for four hours on Feb. 13 — staging a “wedding” and blocking traffic — urging Cornell to divest from fossil fuels. The protests continued on Feb. 19, when protestors blocked traffic again.
To the Editor:
In the last week, Cornell has made two public statements to congratulate themselves on their sustainability efforts and deny the need for fossil fuel divestment — without addressing the student protests which incited these statements. The University can and must divest from fossil fuels, and campus sustainability efforts are not an acceptable substitution. The University’s recently-released Fossil Fuel Divestment FAQ states that the Board “will consider a proposal for divestment from the Cornell community when either the President forwards a resolution from one of the shared governance assemblies, or all five of the assemblies support such a resolution.” However, the Board of Trustees can take up the issue of divestment on their own (as outlined in the process for divestment they developed when deciding to continue investing in fossil fuels in 2015), and they will if they have a conscience about climate change or consideration for the campus community. A report prepared by the Campus Infrastructure Committee of the University Assembly, which the University’s FAQ links to, already highlights many powerful arguments for divestment, and it is a shame the FAQ didn’t discuss them further. However, the FAQ did provide two flimsy arguments against fossil fuel divestment.
Hundreds of Cornellians and millions of young people worldwide walked out of school or work on Friday, Sept. 20 to protest government inaction toward climate change and demand divestment from fossil fuels. The case for divestment has never been stronger: The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded last year that a radical transition away from fossil fuels in just over a decade is necessary in order to avoid irreversible disaster. Yet inaction is precisely the strategy of Cornell’s Board of Trustees and President Martha Pollack, defying the wishes of the Student Assembly, the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly and the Faculty Senate. The Board of Trustees states that it will divest only in the case of “morally reprehensible” activity in which “the company in question contributes to harm so grave that it would be inconsistent with the goals and principles of the University,” as if an existential threat to human civilization in the near future is not morally reprehensible.
Just how global is the focus of Cornell’s globalist activist community? At first glance, it is globalist without reservation: From climate crusaders demanding the University divest from fossil fuels to the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel, campus progressive activists this semester repeatedly have called for Cornell to make dramatic changes to further their political vision. Cornellians certainly have the right to petition the University, and it is understandable why they would begin their activism here. President Martha Pollack, for her part, properly noted in her response to the BDS movement that “the principal purpose of our endowment is to provide income for advancing our mission-related objectives.” The endowment, she said, “must not be viewed as a means of exercising political or social power.” That is sensible logic. Of course, this will not deter activists from their quest to politicize the University endowment.