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Nikita Perumal: #TimesUpCU

Photo Courtesy Columbia Divest for Climate Change

For nearly 96 hours, students representing Columbia Divest for Climate Justice (CDCJ) have been occupying Low Library. Our message is simple: we will not leave until President Bollinger publicly recommends divestment from the top 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies to the Board of Trustees. While CDCJ has been careful to broadcast our ask and our campaign as far as we can, we think it’s important to explain why exactly we’re doing this.

First, why divestment? It is immoral for Columbia to be actively invested in, and profiting off of, the destructive practices of the fossil fuel industry. Science shows that 80% of known fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground in order to prevent the climate chaos that would wreak havoc on vulnerable communities around the world, but this can’t happen when the top 200 fossil fuel companies spent over $600 billion on exploring new reserves in 2012 alone. Fossil fuel companies are morally bankrupt–some, like Exxon, have been directly tied to climate change denialism and the discrediting of climate scientists, while others contribute millions to lawmakers to obstruct meaningful policy on climate action. Divestment is our way of taking a stand to revoke the social and political license of these companies, so that they can no longer interfere with our transition to a low-carbon, non-extractive economy. Divestment is our way of taking a stand for a safer and more just world.

Okay–but why now? CDCJ has been engaging the campus community and administration for three and a half years now. We’ve had countless meetings with President Bollinger, the Board of Trustees, and the Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing (ACSRI). Bollinger has indicated to us privately that divestment wouldn’t hurt the endowment, and that divestment make sense when companies are engaged in highly immoral activities. What’s more, campus consensus is clear on divestment: we have over 2,000 petition signatures, 350 faculty endorsements, and a referendum reflecting support from 74% of Columbia College and SEAS students to prove it. So why haven’t we acted? Publicly, Bollinger has remained silent about divestment, and all that the Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing has achieved has been a formal rejection of our divestment proposal and a recommendation that Columbia create yet another committee to deliberate on university responses to climate change. As President and a Trustee, Bollinger has the power to prioritize divestment, and we demand that he does so by standing against the destructive practices of the fossil fuel industry.

Through this civil disobedience, we are telling him that time has run out for the University to make this decision. We are not willing to wait any longer when climate justice, the well-being of future generations, and the well-being of communities around the world are at stake.

Nikita Perumal is a senior in the School of General Studies studying Human Rights and was a participant in the occupation of Low Library. Due to personal commitments, she had to voluntarily choose to leave the occupation. More information on this can be found here.

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