This election is completely unprecedented in our university’s history.
For the first time, students in Columbia College will be voting on an issue brought up by members of the student body. A ballot measure is born when a group collects the signatures of 10 percent of the Columbia College student body on a petition and then presents it to Columbia College Student Council. Columbia’s first-ever ballot measure will ask students whether or not they support fossil fuel divestment.
You can read Barnard Columbia Divest’s petition on the election ballot itself, but here’s the low-down: An increase of two degrees Celsius is the safest level of warming our planet can handle, in accordance with international agreements. Fossil fuel companies plan to burn five times the amount of carbon that would bring us there, according to the Carbon Tracker Initiative based out of the London School of Economics. Companies that extract oil, coal, and natural gas profit from the destruction of our environments and communities, they fund campaigns to discredit climate scientists, and their record profits tie up our political system and our potential for a clean energy economy.
Based on these three facts alone, Columbia and Barnard have a moral obligation to take action. We demand that they freeze new investments in the fossil fuel industry and withdraw all existing investments within the next five years.
The problem of climate change is a massive one, and one that has gone unresolved. Our government has failed us. Businesses have failed us. Universities are next in line as institutional agents of social change, and students have the power to rise up and take back our futures.
While it has been fun making light of “history in the making,” it is much more important for BCD to be part of a growing student power movement on campus. You can see this growing movement in all of the University Senate candidates’ references to creating “an activist senate,” in the increasing coverage and actions about labor disputes on campus, in the success of the Indigenous Peoples’ Day protests, and more.
Last spring, we called the office of the Board of Trustees to try to schedule a meeting between the board and “a student group.” The person on the phone practically laughed and suggested that was an infrequent, if not impossible, event. That kind of response is simply unacceptable, and it should be considered a call to action by any student group that is working to improve quality of life on this campus. If the Board members intend to be the executive decision-makers and stewards of Columbia, there needs to be a formal pathway that students can use to access the boardroom.
For now, Barnard Columbia Divest commends CCSC for creating the ballot initiative process, a move they explained was inspired by fossil fuel divestment referenda at campuses across the country. This is an important first step in building power and transparency for students.
Of course, putting this issue we are so passionate about to a vote by the Columbia College student body is nerve-wracking, but we have faith in the case for fossil fuel divestment.
Go vote. No matter what the result is, the election itself is already a victory.
The author is a Columbia College sophomore. She is a founding member of Barnard Columbia Divest. This op-ed was written on behalf of Barnard Columbia Divest.
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