Following the example of those who protested the South African apartheid divestment campaign of the 1980s, students in the U.S. are advocating a nationwide divestment of university endowments in the fossil fuel industry. The divestment campaign, set forth by Bill McKibben’s 350.org, is one of many campaigns aimed at combating climate change. However, with an estimated total university endowment of $400 billion and more than 210 universities participating, the campaign has the potential to be one of the most impactful yet.
In 1970, University of California Santa Barbara students, in protest to the Vietnam War and the 1969 Union Oil Spill in the Santa Barbara Channel, burned down the Bank of America located where Embarcadero Hall now stands. In recent years our student body has protested tuition hikes, the Iraq War and taken part in the Occupy movement, along with other campaigns for sustainable “green” energy.
As a student at UCSB, I feel empowered that the student body I am a part of is so committed to exercising its voice. However, while other universities like Unity College in Maine and Hampshire College in Massachusetts have already agreed to students’ demands to divest in fossil fuel companies, UCSB seems to be lagging on the issue. I find this surprising for a school that is so active on political issues. While our Environmental Awareness Board is working on a divestment campaign, it seems that many students are unaware of the issue entirely. Perhaps the novelty of the issue is the cause of this, or perhaps people outside of my own Environmental Studies major are just less concerned. Whatever the reason, this needs to change.
At a recent stop to Middlebury College, as part of Bill McKibben’s “Do the Math” tour, McKibben made the case for divestment in fossil fuels and a student-driven change explaining that, “It makes no moral or practical sense to pay for the education of Middlebury students by investing in companies whose business plans guarantee they will not have a planet to enact that education on.” As students we have a vested interest in the future of the Earth and the climate that surrounds us. To echo Bill McKibben, what good is the work we do today if we will not have an Earth to call home in our near future? When you are lucky enough to see the ocean everyday on your way to class, it is sometimes difficult to envision the devastation that is being exacted on the environment each day. However, in order to secure our future, we must address these issues now, and the divestment campaign is the perfect opportunity to make a difference.
The Nation wrote that the divestment campaign was “engaging more students than any similar campaign in the last 20 years.” As the progressive university that we are, we must take up this fight to rid oil companies’ stocks of our support. This is our battle. It is our generation that will inevitably inherit a world affected by the consequences of climate change. It is thus a logical result that we should take the leading role in shaping the political agenda toward a more secure future. We have seen the ineffectiveness of politicians in the fight against climate change, and why should they care? They have no stake in the issue. The issue of climate change is not dissimilar to those of gay marriage, abortion, black rights or any other issue that has been voted on by those who have no stake in the matter.
Does it make sense to continuously allow the majority to make decisions about minorities? Because that is what has been the case in the past, and it is almost always slow to create positive change. Despite years of the top scientists and economists pressuring politicians about the environment, little has been done. It is clear that money has the largest voice in Washington, and a $400 billion nationwide university endowment makes quite a ruckus. Finally students have found an angle into the debate. With combined UC assets totaling upwards of $74 billion, UC divestment will not only make a statement to the oil companies that will lose our schools’ investments, but also to the politicians who have done so little to enhance our future livelihood thus far.
As the educated individuals that we are, one could only hope that UCSB can come together and make a difference as we have countless times in the past. The power has finally made its way into the right hands; it is up to us to decide how to wield it.
Eli Arata-Reshes is a third-year environmental studies and economics double major.
Views expressed on the Opinion page do not necessarily reflect those of the Daily Nexus or UCSB. Opinions are submitted primarily by students.