Statement In Response to the ACSRI's Coal Divestment Recommendation

On February 22nd, Columbia’s Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing (ACSRI) released a statement recommending that the University divest its endowment from companies that primarily produce thermal coal, a subset of coal that is mined for energy production. For the past five years, students organized under the group Columbia Divest for Climate Justice (formerly, Barnard Columbia Divest) have fought for full divestment of our endowment from the top 200 coal, oil, and gas corporations. We recognize the importance of this proposal as the administration’s first public commitment to divest the endowment from any part of the fossil fuel industry. We also recognize the importance of this proposal as a partial win for what has been an emotionally charged, arduous, and powerful campaign. And yet, we cannot support this proposal because coal divestment is not an adequate institutional response to the threat of climate change.

Divesting from coal alone communicates the false, harmful message that coal is the only fossil fuel causing violence and climate destruction. Unfortunately, the oil and gas industries are also responsible for endangering the health and livelihoods of communities living at the sites of fossil fuel extraction and in the path of their transport. We cannot support this coal divestment proposal because it guarantees Columbia’s continued investment in various oil and gas corporations. For example, Columbia remains directly invested in Phillips 66, an oil and gas company that has a 25% share in the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). Phillips 66 does not qualify for divestment under the ACSRI’s proposal. Even if we ignore how our University’s continued investment in fossil fuel infrastructure is a denial of the reality of climate change, this proposal directly implicates Columbia in the violence inflicted upon the indigenous people fighting at Standing Rock. Over the past year, police have employed brutal tactics against peaceful water protectors, including tear gas, water cannons, rubber bullets, mass arrests, and forcible removal, all to defend the interests of the fossil fuel industry.  

In its proposal, the ACSRI writes that the University cannot divest from oil and gas because there are “currently no commercial substitutes” for their use in transportation, whereas thermal coal faces competition from solar, wind, and natural gas. The committee’s reasoning betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of divestment's role in facilitating social change. Divestment has always been about expanding the realm of possibility and imagining new futures, as is evident in its use against apartheid, genocide, and incarceration. Divestment is about undermining ideologies suggesting that human suffering is something we must accept, or worse yet, something that is impossible to change.

Divesting from coal, an already-dying industry, does little to shift people’s understanding of what is possible. If Columbia were to divest from oil and gas, even if there were no “commercial substitutes,” it would fundamentally change the general acceptance of fossil fuels as either necessary or moral. It would also communicate the sense of urgency which is required to match the urgent nature of climate change. By marginalizing the fossil fuel industry and its beneficiaries, who now hold power at the highest levels of our federal government, we make space for sustainable, community-led alternatives.

Thus, Columbia Divest for Climate Justice calls upon our university to make a genuine commitment to climate justice by divesting from all fossil fuel corporations, especially Phillips 66.  We also call on Columbia to begin reinvesting divested capital into communities already suffering from the effects of climate change, including the residents of West Harlem that it displaces, criminalizes, and impoverishes. After all, the ACSRI’s failure to recommend a radical response to climate injustice is just one symptom of Columbia’s willingness to accept human suffering as a condition of financial growth.

It would be shameful for Columbia, as a highly influential institution, to shy away from taking bold action. As the White House actively works to undermine all efforts to curb climate change and environmental degradation, we must look to universities to lead by example. We will continue to fight until Columbia puts people’s lives ahead of its profits.

BREAKING: CDCJ Ceases Occupation, Will Move Forward with Negotiations

April 22, 2016
Contact: Iliana Salazar-Dodge, 951-553-6581, is2425@columbia.edu

www.columbiaclimatejustice.com

New York, NY -- Today is Earth Day and day eight of Columbia Divest for Climate Justice’s occupation in Low Library, Columbia’s iconic building and home to the office of President Lee Bollinger. Given that Bollinger, the target of our action, will be in California for a week, the six of us inside Low have decided it no longer makes sense for us to continue the occupation. We are leaving in the midst of closed door negotiations, so we know that the we have put the administration on the path towards full fossil fuel divestment. Although President Bollinger has not yet released a public statement recommending divestment from coal, oil, and gas, CDCJ has undeniably shifted public opinion and stands on the highest moral ground.

As we mentioned in an earlier piece, the Earth Institute supports our objective of divestment from the top 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies. In fact, the criteria set forth by the Earth Institute’s Statement on University Investment and Sustainability Policy is even broader in scope than our ask for the top 200 companies. Administrative bodies, specifically the Advisory Committee for Socially Responsible Investing (ACSRI), have taken it upon themselves to come up with alternative proposals that “stand up for science.” Yet, what better way to stand up for science than to agree to the proposal set forth by the Earth Institute itself, which is comprised of world-renowned scientists including Wallace Broecker, the man who coined global warming, James Hansen, and Ruth DeFries?

Leaders of the Earth Institute, including Professor Jeffrey Sachs who today spearheaded the signing of the international Sustainable Development Goals, have denounced the ACSRI’s proposal as insufficient. Professor Michael Gerrard, a climate law professor who helped draft the Earth Institute statement, has submitted it as an official proposal to the committee. It is likely that the ACSRI will vote on it soon.

We are exiting today after having seen a groundswell of support. Over the past eight days, 30 student groups, 160 faculty members, and 400 alumni have come out in support of our occupation for fossil fuel divestment. In a climax last night, over 100 students camped out on Low steps in solidarity with our efforts, many of whom had never been to a political rally on campus before.

Although our specific demand of receiving a public endorsement of divestment from President Bollinger has not yet materialized, we leave this building victoriously. CDCJ, along with the support of students in the Barnard Columbia Solidarity Network, have created an unstoppable movement on campus. We look forward to seeing President Bollinger and the Trustees step up and lead in the face of climate injustice.

Columbia Threatens to Suspend 7 Students on Day 5 of Building Occupation

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

April 18, 2016
Contact: Daniela Lapidous, 408-505-8010, dkl2113@columbia.edu
www.columbiaclimatejustice.com

Email on 4/17 from Rules Administrator and Executive Vice President of Student Life, Suzanne Goldberg, to the 7 protestors remaining in Low:

NEW YORK, NY -- Columbia University administrators have, for the first time, explicitly threatened to suspend the seven student protestors entering the fifth day of a sit-in in the iconic Low Library building. The students, who began occupying the hallway outside of President Bollinger’s office on Thursday evening with the support of over 50 students, received an increasingly threatening disciplinary email on Sunday night.

“Suspension threats are the administration's way of bullying us out of Low Library.  They seek to drain our morale and demoralize the group.  This strategy has failed largely due to the support we have received from on campus groups dedicated to peaceful protest,” said Lucas Zeppetello, SEAS senior and Columbia Divest for Climate Justice (CDCJ) organizer currently continuing to occupy Low. Although the group's intention was only to disrupt President Bollinger's office, the entire building has been on lockdown since Thursday. 

The seven CDCJ student organizers maintain that they will not leave until their demand for President Bollinger to recommend divestment from the top 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies to the Board of Trustees is met. They have published statements from 18 student groups in support of their protest. 

“Students’ strong passion demonstrated for this issue has received praise from many, including President Bollinger, and for this reason, we believe suspension or expulsion would be an overly severe sanction,” wrote Columbia College Student Council in a statement to be published on Monday.

CDCJ has been calling on President Bollinger and the Board to stand on the right side of history and divest the $9.2 billion endowment’s direct and indirect holdings from coal, oil, and natural gas since the fall of 2012. The administration and its subcommittee on socially responsible investing have failed to listen to the demands already endorsed by over 1,600 student petition signatures and 340 faculty members. 30 members of the Earth Institute, including Director Jeffrey Sachs, recently supported divestment.

Rules Administrator Suzanne Goldberg, who sent the email threatening suspension, actually has no right within the scope of her role in the University judicial process to make such a threat; her claim exposes the administration’s tactic of hoping to scare protestors into leaving Low instead of addressing their demands.

This action comes in the midst of a wave of escalatory action by fossil fuel divestment campaigns across the nation, including at Harvard and the University of Massachusetts. Yale announced that it has partially divested from fossil fuels on Tuesday, April 12.

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A message from the 2 students who left Low while 7 remain

This email was sent to Rules Administrator Suzanne Goldberg by Michael Glendinning, CC ' 17, and Nikita Perumal, GS '16, upon leaving the sit-in in Low tonight. Their statement speaks for itself, in courage and dedication.

---

Dear Suzanne Goldberg,

We are two of the students participating in the sit-in in Low Library. We, as you requested of us last night, would like to inform you that we have had to leave Low Library this evening.

However, we also wanted to let you know why we have chosen to leave. It is not because we have been intimidated by fear of violation of the rules, but rather that we made personal commitments that require us to leave Low. If we could return, we would. We write mainly to express that we do not want our early departure from Low Library to be taken into account in your investigative report. It is our request that you consider the duration of our stay in Low Library to be the same as that of our fellow seven activists.

Regards,
Michael Glendinning and Nikita Perumal 

9 Columbia Students Continue To Occupy Administrative Building Until Columbia Divests

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 16, 2016
Contact: Nikita Perumal, (502)759-0400nsp2122@columbia.edu
www.columbiaclimatejustice.com

NEW YORK -- Nine students representing Columbia Divest for Climate Justice (CDCJ) have begun the third day of an occupation of Columbia University’s Low Library. Our demand is clear: we will not leave until President Bollinger makes a public statement recommending divestment from the top 200 fossil fuel companies to Columbia’s Board of Trustees.

The occupation began on April 14, when over 60 students began a sit-in outside of President Bollinger’s office in Low Library–a symbol of administrative power on Columbia’s campus. Sixteen students spend the night, but the University has since blocked off entrance to the building. On Friday during the day, Low was put on lockdown, and the administration moved a number of events schedule in the building elsewhere. The nine students who remain today have been threatened with suspension or expulsion, but refuse to move until President Bollinger–who remains nowhere to be found–supports divestment.

“CDCJ has been working on this campaign for over three years, and the administration refuses to act. This occupation, following the tradition of nonviolent civil disobedience, is our way of emphasizing student power and the need to divest–now,” said Mike Glendinning, a Columbia College junior and CDCJ organizer.

In solidarity with the students occupying Low, other organizers from CDCJ and the Barnard Columbia Solidarity Network (BCSN) have organized a host of solidarity rallies and events outside building, including a march to President Bollinger's house on Friday. Additionally, various student groups on campus have sent donations of food, money, and statements of support to the nine. Statements of support so far including Student-Worker Solidarity, No Red Tape, Columbia Queer Alliance, Divest Barnard, the Student Governing Board, and CU Democrats. 

“The showing of solidarity has been incredible,” said Lucas Zeppetello, a CDCJ organizer and senior at the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. It keeps us going, because at the end of the day we aren’t leaving until our demands are met.”

###

You can see live-blogging updates of the sit-in via Columbia Spectator; CDCJ is grateful to the two reporters in the building with them. Follow direct updates, including a letter from inside, on CDCJ's Facebook.

 

Columbia Students Begin Sit-In for Fossil Fuel Divestment

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 14, 2016
Contact: Daniela Lapidous, 408-505-8010, dkl2113@columbia.edu

www.columbiaclimatejustice.com

 

Columbia Students Begin Sit-In for Fossil Fuel Divestment

NEW YORK, NY --  

Update: 6:12pm. After the building has closed and students were asked to leave, a team of students remains with the intention of staying until President Bollinger meets our demand of a recommendation for full divestment. They are risking potential school sanctions or arrest. 

----

After three years of engaging with administrative channels, over 35 students at Columbia University have begun a peaceful sit-in outside of President Bollinger’s office to demand divestment from the top 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies.

“If the university claims to invest in the future of its students, then the endowment must not be complicit in the destruction that fossil fuel companies perpetuate by fueling climate change,” said Elana Sulakshana, Columbia College junior and CDCJ organizer.

Columbia Divest for Climate Justice (CDCJ) has been calling on President Bollinger and the Board to stand on the right side of history and divest the $9.2 billion endowment’s direct and indirect holdings from coal, oil, and natural gas since the fall of 2012. The administration and its subcommittee on socially responsible investing have failed to listen to the demands already endorsed by over 1,600 student petition signatures and 340 faculty members. 30 members of the Earth Institute, including Director Jeffrey Sachs, recently supported divestment.

“When our decision-makers lack courage, we must ourselves summon the courage to demonstrate what leadership looks like. We have no choice but to fight for the world we want to inherit,” said Daniela Lapidous, Columbia College senior and CDCJ organizer.  The sit-in was organized with the support of the Barnard Columbia Solidarity Network of campus activist groups, formed in December.

“We recognize that, in order to preserve Black communities already suffering immensely from the effects of climate change – domestically and abroad – incremental change is no longer sufficient and full divestment is necessary. Columbia's investment in the top 200 fossil fuel companies is representative of their selective support of communities of color and hypocrisy as a seemingly progressive institution that profits from an industry which kills Black and Brown people,” said Liam Riley, Columbia College freshman and organizer with Mobilized African Diaspora (MAD) in the BCSN.

The sit-in also has support from across the street. “I am sitting in because the Columbia administration has left us no other choice by failing to use the administrative channels in place for student advocacy. I sincerely hope Barnard does not do the same in our divestment campaign across Broadway,” said Evelyn Mayo, Barnard junior and Divest Barnard organizer.

This action comes in the midst of a wave of escalatory action by fossil fuel divestment campaigns across the nation. In the past week, four Divest Harvard students were arrested at the headquarters of their investment management company, and over 250 students at University of Massachusetts have been sitting in, with 34 arrested so far. Yale announced that it has partially divested from fossil fuels on Tuesday.

As stated in the formal CDCJ proposal, fossil fuel divestment requires consideration of the same racial, social, and economic inequities that inspired the Board to take leadership by divesting from private prisons. The fossil fuel industry has no foreseeable plans to stop burning carbon in the name of profit alone. By remaining complacent on this issue, Columbia is assisting highly immoral and unethical activities and ignoring a powerful mandate from the Columbia community.

###

 

 

 

Statement from the BP Protesters

On Tuesday, February 16, seven CDCJ members interrupted a presentation by BP’s group chief economist, Spencer Dale, at the Center for Global Energy Policy of SIPA. By Friday of that week, we learned that Rules Administrator Suzanne Goldberg had opened a disciplinary investigation against us in response to a complaint by the Center for Global Energy Policy. In our initial meetings, she emphasized that our seven-minute action had threatened the sanctity of the new Rules of Conduct by compromising the Chief Economist of BP’s “freedom of speech.” According to Suzanne Goldberg, freedom of speech simply means not being interrupted, and everybody’s right to not be interrupted is guaranteed-–so long as they book space through University Event Management.

We chose the tactic of disruption because BP is a corporation with a devastating legacy of human rights violations that nonetheless retains immense economic and social capital. Agreeing to engage in discourse only when corporations like BP ask us to, on their terms, would be agreeing to leave the voices of those fighting for liberation on the margins of conversation--while BP continues to destroy the planet and inflict violence with impunity. BP’s definition of acceptable discourse ranges from buying platforms for propaganda, to financing the kidnapping and torture of labor and environmental activists in Latin America. Respecting the boundaries of discourse that BP and the CGEP put forth would entail complicity in the violence BP inflicts upon marginalized communities. By disrupting this event, we aimed to disrupt Columbia’s silent endorsement of BP’s oppressive actions and its role in driving global climate change. It is truly absurd that our administration leaps into action faster and more decisively to punish activists for interrupting a talk than they do to address the injustices that we fund and profit from.  

Fundamentally, Suzanne Goldberg’s misguided notion of “freedom of speech” fails to confront the vast power imbalance between those who call for an end to structural oppression, and those who are responsible for upholding oppressive structures. On campus, this power imbalance looks like Public Safety calling dozens of police officers on peaceful student protests, student activists facing the threat of suspension or expulsion for non-violent disruptions, and Columbia’s bastions of academic and scientific discourse taking enormous donations from violent and destructive industries. Beyond Columbia, this power dynamic looks like oil companies funding paramilitaries to kidnap environmental and labor activists, police and military forces beating and imprisoning protesters, and a mass media that caters to profit and power more than truth.

The fact is that we live in a world where some people have the money and power to buy speech and enforce silence. We reject any idea of “free speech” that lacks a critical lens towards different people’s unequal access to speak and be heard. If the spirit of the Rules means that it’s more important for oil company executives not to be interrupted than it is to take action on climate change and persistent human rights abuses, then the problem is not with the people who break them. We stand by this nonviolent action and all other students who choose to fight violently oppressive individuals and organizations. From banner drops and disruptions to building occupations and hunger strikes, activism has a rich history of bringing about change at Columbia and beyond. It will continue to do so in spite of all those who want to stop it, until we live in a world that is truly just and free for all people.

We do not know yet whether the disciplinary proceedings will continue. Suzanne Goldberg has informed us that we will hear back by the end of this week. If we move on to the hearing stage, it is possible that we will be denied an open hearing under the new Rules of Conduct. No matter where this process goes, we will continue to fight for climate justice and accountability for the destruction that our University and fossil fuel companies have brought to local and global communities.

We continue to call upon CGEP and Columbia to cut their ties with corporations like BP, Exxon, and other top fossil fuel companies. We also call upon students and faculty to critically examine who and what the Rules of Conduct were written to protect.

    

 

Statement of Support for CU Apartheid Divest

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 29, 2016

 

We, Columbia Divest for Climate Justice, support the group Columbia University Apartheid Divest in calling for Columbia to divest our endowment from the following corporations that profit from Israel’s violation of Palestinian human rights, as stated in CUAD’s petitionCaterpillar, Hyundai Heavy Industries, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Elbit Systems, Mekorot, Bank Hapoalim, Boeing, and Lockheed Martin.

The history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is long and complex, and a debate over the details often obscures the larger truth: Israel is taking the land of and abusing the human rights of Palestinians and Arabs; certain corporations profit from those endeavors; and institutions like our university profit from these unethical corporations.

We support divestment as a tactic for achieving equal, human rights for Palestinians and Arabs in Israel and in the region specifically because it has been called for by a coalition of hundreds of Palestinian civil society organizations since 2005. In the face of a great power differential of legal rights, financial resources, and military power with Israel, these organizations have found turning to the international community for support through the Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions (BDS) movement to be extremely powerful.

Divestment is a tactic that addresses the contemporary reality in the region. The companies represented include those that have supplied equipment to extralegally demolish Palestinian homes, erect Israeli settlements, build a wall that expropriates land and divides Palestinian communities, support asymmetric warfare, and more. Mekorot, an Israeli utility that controls water access in the area and already restricts access based on nationality, is only a suggestion of how climate change will exacerbate problems of equity in access to land and life-sustaining resources.

Let us repeat – this campaign is an affirmation of the equal rights of Palestinians and Arabs. This is not a campaign targeting Israelis or Jews as a people; divestment targets institutions that perpetuate the state’s ability to commit documented human rights violations. Furthermore, we know that neither the broader Jewish community nor the citizenry of Israel, itself, is a monolith in consensus on Israel’s practices. Israel does not speak for all Jews, or even all Israelis.

Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and anti-Arab sentiment exist on this campus, in activism of all political tendencies, in our country, and our world. We acknowledge the traumas that have affected all sides of this debate, and we are dedicated to fighting racism in every form.

We make this statement after lengthy discussion, but also knowing that our understanding of the conflict is incomplete. We, CDCJ, ask people to support fossil fuel divestment with a good but incomplete knowledge of the complex phenomenon of climate change; instead of knowing every detail of the science, we ask them to understand our values. Through conversations with Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace, the coalition that forms Columbia University Apartheid Divest, we have come to see supporting divestment from the corporations named in the CUAD petition as being in line with our values. We stand for an end to racism and for a commitment to sharing resources equitably, both now and as we face the pressure cooker of climate change in the decades to come.

Please direct any questions to columbiadivest@gmail.com.

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Students Disrupt BP Event at Columbia’s Center on Global Energy Policy with Climate Justice Message

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 16, 2016
 

Contact:
Nikita Perumal,  nsp2122@columbia.edu
Daniela Lapidous, dkl2113@columbia.edu
columbiadivest@gmail.com

NEW YORK, NY --

Today, seven student organizers from Columbia Divest for Climate Justice (CDCJ) disrupted the BP Energy Outlook presentation by chief economist Spencer Dale at the Columbia Center on Global Energy Policy. We made a statement calling attention to the company’s complicity in human rights violations, its record of violently silencing trade unions, and its shameful history of environmental disasters, including the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. BP is determined to continue to extract oil, coal, and gas—despite current scientific realities that tell us we must keep 80% of fossil fuels in the ground.

Our “energy outlook” needs to center around justice—not around the pretense of a fair discourse with corporate giants. BP will never be capable of having a conversation that admits their wrongdoing or their deliberate green-washing of an extractive industry. We refuse to remain silent when BP has silenced thousands of labor activists who speak out against its practices. We refuse to remain silent when its business model will never envision the radical change in our energy mix that we need to ensure climate justice. We refuse to remain silent when our institution continues to profit from violence and climate chaos through both donations and investments.

In 2014 alone, Exxon gave $219,229 to Columbia [1]; in the past, the Center for Global Energy Policy has received at least $900,000 from Exxon [2]. Of course, Columbia has refused to divest its $9B endowment from the fossil fuel industry in the past several years of the campaign by CDCJ. We challenge Columbia, including its Center on Global Energy Policy, to cut all financial ties with fossil fuel companies like Exxon and BP.

You can find the statement our organizers read at the event below. In addition to the human rights violations outlined here, we recognize that there are countless other incidents of rights abuses by the company in Turkey, Indonesia, and the U.S., among other locations.

BP, you are not welcome here.

BP Energy Outlook Statement
read as disruption during BP event at SIPA on 2/16/16


WHAT IS OUR OUTLOOK?
BP is here to tell us about our outlook on energy, but they refuse to tell us about our outlook on survival. BP profits from climate change and human rights violations. BP has blood on its hands. Do you trust them with your future?

Science confirms that 80% of fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground for a global warming limit of 2 degree Celsius. BP’s current plan guarantees us 3 to 4 degrees Celsius of warming by 2100. Even the World Bank is concerned that we cannot adapt to a 4 degree world. WHO DO YOU TRUST?

Colombian trade unionist Gilberto Torres is suing BP for their complicity in his 42-day kidnapping and torture. The paramilitaries who abducted Torres testified that fossil fuel companies Ocensa and BP spent $40,000 to finance his capture and planned murder. Thousands of labor activists have disappeared or been murdered in the region, which serves as a major extraction site with 500 miles of oil pipelines. WHO DO YOU TRUST?

BP has one of the worst worker safety records among large industrial companies in the US. In March 2005, 15 workers were killed and 180 were injured in a massive explosion at a Texas City refinery due to nearly 300 “egregious” safety violations. In March 2006, more than 250,000 gallons of crude oil spilled at Prudhoe Bay in Alaska. BP was warned of the problem two years earlier, but chose to cut costs rather than implement proper safety measures. WHO DO YOU TRUST?

BP is responsible for the LARGEST marine oil spill in the history of fossil fuels: Deepwater Horizon. 11 workers went missing, and 210 million gallons of oil leaked into the Gulf of Mexico. A federal judge has since found BP guilty of gross negligence. WHO DO YOU TRUST?

BP can pay its way out of environmental disasters and human rights violations, but their money will never bring back the lives of those who died in the Gulf, in Texas City, or at the hands of paramilitaries in Colombia. BP has devastated people’s lives, and it shows no signs of stopping. WHO DO YOU TRUST?

The Center on Global Energy Policy takes dirty money from companies like BP and Exxon, which has targeted Columbia journalists simply for exposing the truth. Exxon KNEW about climate change before anyone else but DENIED the catastrophic consequences of burning fossil fuels. WHO DO YOU TRUST to protect the most vulnerable of us against climate change?

BP, YOU ARE NOT WELCOME AT COLUMBIA.

BP, YOU ARE NOT WELCOME IN OUR ENDOWMENT.

BP, WE WILL NOT PROFIT FROM YOUR VIOLENCE.

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In Face of “Grave Threat” of Climate Change, Committee Recommends Formation of New Committee: CDCJ’s Response to the ACSRI

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 20, 2015

Contact:
Nikita Perumal,  nsp2122@columbia.edu
columbiadivest@gmail.com

NEW YORK, NY --

Yesterday, when the Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing (ACSRI) published its rejection to the proposal by Columbia Divest for Climate Justice (CDCJ) for divestment of Columbia’s endowment from the top 200 publicly-traded fossil fuel companies, we weren’t exactly surprised. We, the organizers of CDCJ, have been engaging with ACSRI for roughly three years now. We have been met with frequently postponed meetings, open condescension, and a refusal to accept the well-researched support for divestment from the top 200 companies.

The bottomline is that the members of the ACSRI have not been doing their jobs. Their charter states, “The Committee's purpose is to advise the University Trustees on ethical and social issues that arise in the management of the investments in the University's endowment.” However, instead of evaluating whether it is moral to be invested in an industry that is perpetuating climate change for profit with no intention to stop, they have been asking themselves what kind of proposal they can put forth that would be accepted by the Board of Trustees. In doing so, Chair Jeffrey Gordon and the rest of the ACSRI have demonstrated a devastating lack of courage. To stand up to the most profitable industry in the history of the world, we all need our institutions and our committees to be headed by those willing to take bold action for what is moral, rather than what is easy.

Upon examination of their report, it is clear that ACSRI’s own recommendations in place of full fossil fuel divestment are grossly insufficient. Here are some of the critical reasons:

For one, ACSRI objects to the “narrow” lens of divestment, as it “would be undertaken solely as a matter of symbolic speech.” The fact is, symbolic politics can have, and have had, an enormous impact in enacting political change. Divestment was instrumental in ending South African apartheid and discrediting the Big Tobacco industry, and ACSRI itself recommended Columbia’s divestment from the private prison industry earlier this year. Why ACSRI has chosen to question the very tactic that it endorsed as effective just eight months ago is markedly unclear.

And while symbolism is powerful, we have to get the symbolism right. The science makes it clear that an end to coal would not keep us within 2°C of warming – we must leave the majority of all fossil fuel reserves in the ground if we are to ensure a stable climate system. Partial divestment, such as divesting from coal, sends the wrong message about the scale of the change that we need.

Furthermore, this is the fastest growing divestment movement in history, and the contribution Columbia might have made to this movement would have been enormous–particularly in anticipation of COP-21 in Paris. ACSRI, however, completely disregards the massive mobilization of civil society members and international leaders who have coalesced around the divestment movement. Rather, they examine how other Ivy League schools have acted–not realizing that Columbia could be a leader amongst the Ivies.

Instead, ACSRI–literally a committee that has been thinking about climate change for two years–has proposed to create a new committee to further think about climate change. While research on climate adaptation and renewable technology is certainly necessary, all of these efforts are actively obstructed by the fossil fuel industry in the political sphere and by the concrete reality of increasing emissions being pumped into the atmosphere. It is precisely this political reality that divestment would help dismantle.  

ACSRI notes in its response that it chose to divest from private prisons because the business model of the private prison industry is “inconsistent with the University’s mission and values.” The committee goes on to question, however, if the business model of fossil fuel companies can be characterized in the same manner–contemplating instead a “stand up for science approach” that would only divest Columbia’s endowment from firms that actively engage in climate change denialism. If ACSRI wishes to “stand up for science,” however, they should stand up for the scientific consensus that 80% of the proven reserves these companies plan to exploit must be left underground.

What’s more, “stand up for science” is a fundamental insult to the concept of climate justice, which recognizes that the most marginalized communities across the world are disproportionately affected by the climate change from which these companies directly profit. This applies to all fossil fuel companies, not just the companies that are particularly blatant climate deniers. Columbia’s mission and values cannot be aligned with companies that place profit over societal good to such an extreme.

We, the organizers and supporters of CDCJ, are tired of the ACSRI’s inability to take meaningful action. Long before they recognized it themselves in this report, we recognized that they, as a body, lack the willpower to take leadership on climate justice.

Luckily, their rejection cannot undo the fact that divestment has broad-based student support on campus: a petition of over 2000 signatures, over 350 faculty endorsements, a referendum that reflects support from 74% of Columbia College students, branches at Mailman, Teacher’s College, the Law School, SIPA, Barnard, JTS, and more. Over 200 students have pledged to participate in civil disobedience should Columbia not divest from the fossil fuel industry.

We will not be deterred by a committee that disregards the voice of students. We will simply continue to build student power until we win.

We welcome all to contact us at columbiadivest@gmail.com with any further questions and to join our meetings every Monday at 8:30PM in Hamilton 317.

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Columbia Students Pledge Escalatory Action Unless University Divests from Fossil Fuels

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 14, 2015

Contact:
Elana Sulakshana, 703-589-0040,
ess2211@columbia.edu
Nikita Perumal, 502-759-0400, nsp2122@columbia.edu

NEW YORK, NY --  Over one hundred fifty students at Columbia University have pledged to engage in civil disobedience unless the university fully divests its $9.2 billion endowment from the top 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies.

The pledge, initiated by Columbia Divest for Climate Justice (CDCJ), assures students’ commitment to participate in nonviolent direct action – anything from hunger striking to sitting-in. As stated in the pledge, these commitments express intention “to protest Columbia University profiting off of, and therefore condoning, a business model that endangers public health, exacerbates climatic and political instability, and disproportionately harms people of color and low-income communities around the world.”

For nearly four years, CDCJ has been calling on Columbia’s Board of Trustees and president, Lee Bollinger, to stand on the right side of history and divest – but the board and its subcommittee on socially responsible investing have failed to listen to the demands of the student body. CDCJ’s pledge is an effort to break through this administrative deadlock and to demonstrate students’ commitment to escalation if the University does not divest soon. It is inspired by a similar pledge launched last week by Fossil Free Stanford.

CDCJ’s ask – for Columbia to freeze new fossil fuel investments and to fully divest its direct and indirect holdings from the top 200 oil, gas, and coal companies, which hold the majority of the world’s proven fossil fuel reserves – has already been endorsed by over 1,600 student petition signatures and 340 faculty members.

Within the first 48 hours of the pledge’s release, more than 100 students signed on.

“The fact that so many students are willing to participate in civil disobedience is a telling sign that students both care about climate justice and are ready for Columbia to take bold action on climate issues,” said Iliana Salazar-Dodge, a Columbia senior and organizer with CDCJ. “Students realize that Columbia is profiting off of the devastation of vulnerable communities. Responses to this pledge indicate that students are tired of being ignored and silenced. Columbia has the choice to wait and follow in other institutions or be a leader in the climate movement.”

The socially responsible investment committee is scheduled to meet in November, and the Trustees have their next meeting in early December, during the COP-21 climate talk in Paris. CDCJ organizers will continue to put pressure on administrators with the intent of accelerating the decision-making process.

“The risk of civil disobedience is nothing compared to the risk that climate change poses to front-line communities around the globe,” said Charles Harper, a Columbia engineering sophomore and new member of CDCJ. “Unless we take a stand now, we will lock-in irreversible warming and climate chaos for generations to come.”

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