"To believe in something, and not to live it, is dishonest," Mahatma Gandhi wrote. That is one of the reasons members of Columbia Divest for Climate Justice and Divest Barnard are currently engaged in a peaceful sit-in in front of President Bollinger's office. Members of the Barnard Columbia Solidarity Network rallied in tandem on Low Plaza this past Thursday. As a result, the subject of divestment from fossil fuel companies has catapulted to the forefront of Columbia's campus consciousness.
After four years of campaigning and engaging with administrative channels, we are demanding that President Bollinger immediately recommend divestment from the Carbon Underground 200 list of fossil fuel companies to the board of trustees.
We do not know what the outcome of our protest will be, if and how students will be arrested, and whether or not our demands will be met before we are removed. We were well aware of these risks when we planned and initiated this action. In the end, President Bollinger will either commit to recommending divestment and stand with us, or refuse and show his de facto support of the fossil fuel industry's policy of profit over people. In the coming days, we will see which side President Bollinger is on.
Civil disobedience is the act of deliberately refusing to comply with certain rules as a form of peaceful protest against the authorities that created them. While our actions may be characterized as "disruptive," the disruption caused by our sit-in is nothing compared to the disruption already being caused by climate change. As young people, we have an obligation to denounce an industry with a business plan reliant upon destroying our planet and communities.
When Columbia divests, it will join hundreds of institutions with over $3 trillion in assets under management that have divested since 2012. Although Yale announced partial divestment on Tuesday, we would be the first Ivy League University to fully divest from the Carbon Underground 200 and lead the way for other educational institutions. Divesting from coal alone is not sufficient: We must end our use of this outdated technology to stop climate change.
The decision to sit in was not taken lightly. It is the culmination of more than three years of campaigning, including raising awareness on campus and engaging in talks with the University administration. We have gathered thousands of student and alumni petition signatures and hundreds of faculty signatures; garnered a vote in favor of divestment in the first ever Columbia College referendum; had exasperating meetings with the Advisory Commission on Socially Responsible Investing; and even met with President Bollinger and members of the board of trustees themselves—a relatively unprecedented phenomenon for a student group—all to no avail.
Opposition to our demand has centered on the incorrect claim that divesting could threaten to drain the University's financial and human resources. President Bollinger has told members of CDCJ that divestment will not hurt the endowment and that he believes climate change is an important issue, but now it is time to act. When decision-makers lack courage, we must summon our own, take action, and fight for what we believe is right.
By occupying Low Library, we are stating that this space also belongs to us, the students, and that our concerns and our future should always be at the center of the University's decision-making processes, and not a marginal inconvenience. We are dissolving the distance between us and President Bollinger, created by so many levels of bureaucracy and ritual. Only a simple truth remains: President Bollinger must use his power to stand against an existential threat long confirmed by the scientific community.
Climate change is not a problem of technology or of economics; it is a problem of society and culture. The belief in unlimited resources and unrestricted growth is imbued deep in our financial systems. The far-reaching nature of this catastrophe, both in time and space, make causal links and ethical responsibilities hard to discern. However, fossil fuel companies commit clear injustices, and it is unjustifiable for us, as members of such a privileged and influential institution, to benefit from investment in them.
When those who are meant to lead us have failed and ignored our demands, the responsibility falls on each of us to confront the issue at hand. When the University is compliant with an industry that kills activists, disseminates misinformation, and damages the global climate for private profit, students cannot remain inactive and accept things as they are. In this sit-in, we confront President Bollinger's neglect.
The mood in Low right now is one of real courage. We do not know what consequences we will face for choosing to remain in Low Library until President Bollinger recommends full divestment to the board of trustees. To be sure, we are concerned for our own academic, disciplinary, and police records. But those fears pale in comparison to the resolve we have to fight for what we know is right, and to remain focused on getting Columbia's money completely out of the fossil fuel industry.
Ricardo de Luca e Tuma is a Columbia College junior majoring in biology and anthropology. Lucas Zeppetello is a School of Engineering and Applied Science senior majoring in applied physics with a minor in religion.
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