New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

Students urge NYU to ‘implement stronger initiatives’ against fossil fuel industry

A day before Earth Day, members of Sunrise NYU gathered at Washington Square Park to push for stronger environmental initiatives on campus.
(Courtesy photo by Sidney Snider)

Around 20 members from the student environmental group Sunrise NYU gathered in Washington Square Park on Sunday, calling on the university to implement stronger environmental initiatives on campus. The protest comes months after NYU said it “commits to avoid” future fossil fuel investments, reiterating past assurances from the university.

The group — alongside Sunrise NYC and Fridays for Future NYC — called on NYU and other universities to “dissociate from big oil” and “divest from fossil fuels,” and claimed that many fossil fuel companies have influenced educational institutions by “taking over research agendas and wielding influence in the interests of their own profits” in an Instagram post.

“Youth in New York City will continue to demand action from the institutions and leaders that determine our future,” said sophomore Annie Conrady, a member of Sunrise NYU who organized the demonstration. “This Earth Day, we now stand united in our demand for climate action and justice.” 

Conrady said the group has three main demands: that universities across the country divest from fossil fuels and disclose what they choose to invest in, that NYU break off partnerships with fossil fuel companies — like research or student job fair contributions — and that the university only use renewable energy sources on campus. She added that Sunrise NYU has not yet presented these specific requests to the university beyond public demonstrations, and has had no correspondence with the administration. 

The group hopes to finalize its initiative over the summer and present its official demands in the fall 2024 semester, according to Sunrise NYU coordinator and sophomore Syna Mehra.

In a statement to WSN, university spokesperson John Beckman said the university “takes the issue of climate change very seriously,” and that NYU has made many efforts to remain sustainable, including the installation of solar panels on top of Bobst Library and the renovation of Rubin Hall — which is slated to open this fall — to include new energy-efficient windows and hot water infrastructure that doesn’t require fossil fuels. He also cited that NYU has cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 30% since 2007.

Last year, The Princeton Review ranked NYU as the third greenest college in the country, after accessing its sustainability practices, educational efforts in sustainability and students’ quality of life on campus. In a press release, the university said that recent renovations will help advance its plan to achieve climate neutrality by 2040 — the main goal of its 2040 Now sustainability initiative.

Demonstrators also held signs advocating for Palestinian human rights, calling for a cease-fire in Gaza while chanting “free Palestine” and “end the killing, end the fear. Gaza’s children we hold dear.” 

“Any kind of human rights issue is also an environmental rights issue,” Conrady told WSN. “To do any kind of activism right now and not center the genocide that is going on would be remiss and inappropriate. All of our suffering is interconnected, none of us are free until we are all free.”

Mehra added that the group hopes to develop plans for a research campaign that would investigate NYU’s ties to the fossil fuel industry, including donors or research partners affiliated with any one of the “top 200 coal, oil and gas companies.” 

In a 2022 email, former university president Andrew Hamilton said that NYU “has no, and does not plan to have in the future, direct ownership of public securities of any company whose primary business is the exploration or extraction of fossil fuels.” He added that the university was also “reducing its indirect exposure to fossil fuel investments.” 

The university later reiterated its commitment to divesting from fossil fuels in a 2023 letter to Sunrise NYU leadership, wherein Chair Emeritus of the NYU board of trustees William Berkley said the university “commits to avoid” direct investments in fossil fuels in the future. Sunrise NYU released a statement in response to the letter, calling it a “huge win for climate justice.”

“We are really hoping that NYU, even though it has divested and has plenty of green initiatives through the Office of Sustainability, sees that it really is an emergency and that our campus and NYU should be a leader in the just green transition to renewables and a sustainable future,” Conrady said in an interview with WSN. “We are hoping they see that there is a strong desire from students for this.”

Mehra said Sunrise NYU has been communicating with other climate activist groups, including Sunrise Columbia, which recently sent a letter to administration asking for “more transparency” and a “phase-out from climate research funded by oil and gas companies.” In the letter, the group named partners to Columbia’s Center for Global Energy Policy — including Shell PLC and ConocoPhillips — and their affiliations with the fossil fuel industry.

Sunrise NYU also urged President Joe Biden to remedy the investments he has made in non-renewable energy. The group is also pushing the Biden administration to discontinue all fossil fuel projects on public lands, implement more uses of renewable energy and declare a climate emergency.

Other climate activist groups on campus have also criticized NYU’s ties to fossil fuel investments, specifically citing BlackRock CEO Laurence Fink’s involvement in the board of trustees. The group Climate Care Collective NYC began calling for Fink’s removal last April due to the company’s connection to hundreds of millions of tons of greenhouse gas emissions, but the university has not responded to the groups’ demands.

Contact Maisie Zipfel at [email protected].

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About the Contributor
Maisie Zipfel
Maisie Zipfel, Deputy News Editor
Maisie Zipfel is a first-year double majoring in Journalism and Politics, and double minoring in Gender and Sexuality Studies and Spanish. She is a Yerba Mate enthusiast, a Taylor Swift fanatic and an anti-Greek Life turned sorority girl (Deeph or Die). When she’s not writing in the WSN basement you can find her isolated in Palladium for NYU’s Competitive Dance Team practice, obsessing over her Four-Year Plan or trying to weave in time to take a nap. You can reach her on instagram @maisiezipfel, on LinkedIn (her favorite social media platform) @MaeZipfel or preferably on Venmo @mkzipfel.

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