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Post-climate strike, Brandeis prof. says we have more to do on divestment

Student and faculty climate advocates are looking for progress in the university’s Board of Trustees to see their next move in divestment from fossil fuel companies, according to Professor Sabine von Mering (ENVS/GRALL/WMGS).  

The university has made attempts to divest from these companies to reduce its carbon footprint and to become a more green environment but currently still has stocks and bonds invested in fossil fuel companies, according to an earlier Hoot article.

Though climate change was not addressed in President Ron Liebowitz’s latest Board of Trustees report, there is a task force coming soon which will be focused on campus sustainability including how we reduce emissions in our community, said von Mering.  

While attempts to divest further have been stagnant, pressure from climate activists on campus have not relinquished, said von Mering. Von Mering stated that it’s not a matter of if the university is financially ready to divest from these companies, but “whether Brandeis is even trying to fully divest and whether our investment office is making it a top priority to divest.”

Some other universities have fully divested from fossil fuel companies, such as the University of California, which announced full divestment this past September, according to an article in The Nation. The University of California will be divesting $13.4 billion endowment and $80 billion pension, according to the article, and these numbers are the largest amounts divested by a public university. The University of California’s decision was not on the principle of morals, von Mering said, it was based on financial wisdom.

“We need more attention paid to this all across the university,” said von Mering. “I know there are many people in our administration who understand the danger the climate crisis poses . . . What we must make sure is that it’s a top priority in decision-making everywhere—from how we plan to develop our campus to how and what we teach and who we hire.”

As for student environmental activists on campus, recently, Brandeis Climate Justice (BCJ) went around campus giving out pretzels and asking students whether or not they knew about divestment, according to Filippo Mavrothalassitis ’21. 

“Generally, students had some vague knowledge as to the fact that divestment means taking away Brandeis’ money from fossil fuel companies,” said Mavrothalassitis. “Nobody knows much about this agreement or why it is important to divest, though.”

The University’s history of attempts to divest from companies that use fossil fuels can be traced back to 2013, when the majority of the student body was in support of divestment. This sentiment was continued in 2015 when faculty and student activists came together to create a fossil fuel divestment petition urging the Board of Trustees to consider, which was given no response. 

The university made strides toward divestment from fossil fuel companies in fall 2017, when faculty voted on a resolution supporting Brandeis’ Commitment to the Paris Climate Accords, according to an earlier Hoot article. The United Nations created the Paris Climate Accords, which was a policy agreement that the United States signed in 2015 during the Obama administration. The United State’s involvement, however, was revoked in 2017 under the Trump administration. 

This policy was implemented to monitor participating countries’ greenhouse gas emissions. Committee members of the Faculty Against Climate Threat at Brandeis decided to support the policy two years ago, but the decision to divest had to go through the Board of Trustees. In November 2018, the Board of Trustees passed policy which called for partial divestment from fossil fuel companies.

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