NYU must divest to ensure global effort to combat climate change

Courtesy of NYU Divest

Courtesy of NYU Divest

By Daniel Floyd, Contributing Writer

This article comes from the Global Desk, a collaboration between The Gazelle, WSN and On Century Avenue. Read more by searching ‘global.’ This is an opinion piece. 

Climate change is very, very real, and the administration of NYU knows this. Its Climate Action Plan is one of the most ambitious in the world, with an end goal of carbon neutrality by 2040. Their Sustainability Office has sparked dozens of projects to “green” the university and its students, and has convinced thousands of community members to help save the planet by recycling, using CFL bulbs and taking the stairs instead of the elevator every now and then.

The problem is that these efforts are not nearly enough. NYU and its students collectively produced on the order of a few millionths of a percent of the 36.1 carbon-equivalent gigatons of greenhouse gases generated globally in 2013, and as global emissions rates continue to rise year to year, NYU’s individual carbon footprint will become increasingly insignificant.

Simply put, individual action will not solve the climate crisis. What we need is large-scale, top-down energy reform that puts the responsibility for the damaging and dangerous effects of fossil fuel consumption exactly where it belongs — on the fossil fuel industry. A carbon tax and an end to subsidies for coal, oil and natural gas companies are long overdue, and the price of refusing to implement them is getting higher by the day. Good-faith agreements such as the one recently reached between the United States and China are a step in the right direction. But meaningful and, more importantly, binding political action is crucial if we are going to have any chance of keeping the temperatures around the world from rising past the two degrees Celsius threshold, beyond which the world would face serious danger.

If NYU really is a university in the public service, then it has a duty to do everything it can to prevent that threshold from being breached and to ensure that preventative legislation is passed. Reducing fossil fuel consumption does nothing to incite communities or governmental bodies outside of NYU to further action.

By divesting its endowment from the top 200 publicly-traded coal, oil and natural gas companies, NYU can leverage its social and political capital to send a powerful message that reliance on fossil fuels is both immoral and unsustainable. The tactic of divestment, most prominently in anti-tobacco and anti-Apartheid campaigns, has been shown to lead to greater public disapproval and eventually political action against the industry being divested from. Where direct action is insufficient, indirect action via the largely symbolic act of removing university endowment funds from destructive and morally bankrupt industries can lend a powerful hand to already existing efforts to combat them.

NYU has divested twice before, once from companies profiting from exploitative laws under South African Apartheid and once, just a few years ago, from companies taking advantage of the chaos in Sudan, and the need to divest again has never been clearer.

Although the meetings will be taking place in NYU New York, climate change is still a global issue, and NYU is a Global Network University. Students at every global site have something to lose if this crisis is not addressed. Just as NYU divesting would help create a serious national and international discourse on climate change, we can all help create a universitywide discourse on divestment. Do your research, and if you see the inherent contradiction between publicly opposing climate change and profiting off of the industry responsible for causing it, sign NYU Divest’s petition, and spread the word on your campus, wherever it is.

Email Daniel Floyd at [email protected]