SU’s Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign

By Christine Edgeworth, Class of 2016

On January 26th, 2014, a group of students and faculty members spent their Sunday afternoon in the basement of Syracuse University’s Smith Hall learning about fossil fuel divestment.

What is divestment? According to 350.org, an environmental organization founded by Bill McKibben that aims to address climate change and that has kick-started this campaign, “Divestment is the opposite of an investment–it simply means getting rid of stocks, bonds or investment funds that are unethical or morally ambiguous.”

Why is this an important cause? According to 350.org, “Fossil Fuel investments are a risk for investors and the planet–that’s why we’re calling on institutions to divest from these companies.“ So the organization has ignited a movement across the nation calling on universities, cities and other institutions alike to divest from fossil fuels. Instead of laboring over tedious legislation or protesting pipeline by pipeline, this initiative calls on citizens to take on fossil fuel companies as a whole at their core. In the words of Jay Carmona of 350.org, “Divestment is targeting the one thing that companies can’t buy–their reputation.” The movement is comparable to the widely successful 1970’s divestment campaign by universities and institutions from any company that did business with South Africa in order to protest the apartheid regime.

So where does Syracuse University fit in? For four hours on that Sunday afternoon, a representative from 350.org trained 6 students on how to successfully organize and lead a campaign. From delving into the idea of strategy and vision to creating concrete goals and tactics, SU students were armed with the skills needed to convince their university to divest from fossil fuel industries along with the 9 colleges and 22 cities that already have. Professor Robert Wilson, Undergraduate Director of SU’s Geography department, had a few words of advice for the students. “First, decide what story your are trying to tell. Second, focus on relaying to people how climate change will affect them personally. Lastly, have faith; believe in what you’re doing regardless of what others are saying.” So far Divest SU has gotten over 2,000 signatures through petitioning, passed a Student Association resolution to divest, published articles in the Daily Orange, held a protest, sponsored films screenings and panel discussions, organized a concert and potluck, and currently has a faculty resolution in the works.  Needless to say they’re not slowing down anytime soon with more screenings and events planned for the coming few weeks.

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day just last week, I’ll end with a quote by the activist himself, “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” The dream of MLK himself is alive and well in the hearts of these dedicated students ready to shake things up and be the change on this campus. So keep an eye out for upcoming events sponsored by the group and check them out at www.facebook.com/SUFFDC or e-mail them at .