Group protests SU’s use of fossil fuels, calls for elimination of all fossil fuel investments within five years

Luke Rafferty | Asst. Photo Editor

Students who are a part of the Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign chant as they march from the steps of Hendricks Chapel to Crouse Hinds Hall. The group was advocating for the university to stop investing in fossil fuels. Students also discussed the issue with administrators.

Even howling wind and falling snow didn’t hinder the protesters’ support for divesting in fossil fuels. As 20 students stood together on the steps of Hendricks Chapel, they chanted in unison, “We are unstoppable, another world is possible.”

Like thousands of others across the country, students from Syracuse University and the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry participated in the March Fo[u]rth on Climate campaign Monday morning. The campaign advocates for climate justice across the country on March 4. Protestors at Hendricks rallied in an effort to get the two institutions to divest, or cease investing, in fossil fuel companies.

The SU and ESF Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign sponsored the event.

“We’re here on this national day to act in solidarity,” said Stephanie Lee, one of the rally’s organizers and member of the divestment campaign. “We want sustainability within the Syracuse community. We’re here to show the administration that people support this cause.”

The rally started on the steps of Hendricks at 10:30 a.m. when students gathered holding large, hand-made signs with slogans such as “Divest = Freedom,” “Dive$tment” and “Let’s truly improve our world.”

The students’ chants continued as they marched to Crouse-Hinds Hall, where selected representatives from the Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign met with members of SU’s Sustainability Action Council, Vice Chancellor and Provost Eric Spina, Chief Financial Officer Lou Marcoccia and Laura Steinberg, dean of the L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science.

During the meeting, the group of students outlined the campaign’s goals, specifically that the university stop further fossil fuel investment and eliminate all fossil fuel investments within the next five years, said Ben Keubrich, one of the student representatives.

Keubrich, a doctoral candidatein the College of Arts and Sciences, said the administrators were open to continuing discussion about divestment and finding ways to reduce the amount of investments in fossil fuel companies within the university’s endowment.

The administrators also informed the students of potential challenges in the total elimination of the investments, he said.

The challenges are attributed to the complexity of SU’s endowment, he said. Keubrich added that the energy sector of the endowment makes up 5 percent of the $960 million endowment. The Board of Trustees will make the executive decision on the degree of fossil fuel investment.

The endowment has many different elements, Spina said in an email. While some components are “locked in” for long periods of time, some elements are not easily transparent to the university because they are managed by outside groups.

He added that it is too early in the university’s investigation to see what the effect would be if SU completely divested in fossil fuels.

“We are committed to exploring the facts and making both a socially and financially responsible policy recommendation, understanding that the administration will work with the Board of Trustees on this matter,” Spina said.

The group will continue to correspond with the administration, Keubrich said. A meeting is scheduled for April, during which the students will provide more information and documents about fossil fuels.

Keubrich added that the group plans to create and pass a Student Association resolution in the coming months, supporting divestment of fossil fuels.

Protestor Yannek Smith said the main goal of the rally was to “bring to light issues that are usually invisible to students.” He said many students don’t realize SU invests a large amount of money into fossil fuel production.

The demonstration, Smith said, was an opportunity to bridge the gap between SU and ESF, and unite the student bodies for a pressing cause.

Kevin Watson, who also attended the rally, said SU and ESF student body support is essential in combating fossil fuel divestments.

“If we get enough students aboard, then they (the administration) are going to have to go with it,” said Watson, a sophomore sustainable energy management major. “They wouldn’t go against that many students.”

Watson said it is essential the schools realize their investments should match their respective mission statements and “rid the hypocrisy that exists” within the bureaucracies.

Nicole Dimond, a sophomore conservation biology major, encouraged students from both ESF and SU to join the campaign because fossil fuel resources will not last forever. She added that Monday’s rally sent an important message to the community.

Said Dimond: “Us being out here shows people that we’re students who care about an issue, but also that we can get a lot done.”

  • Commenter897876780

    Do whatever makes the most money for this school. Driving down tuition costs and providing more utilities and better academics to student should take priority over some distant environmental crusade.

  • A “distant environmental crusade?” I find this comment to be a thoroughly unattractive celebration of unearned privilege. Low-income and rural communities in this country (and especially in the global South) bear the disproportionate externalities of climate injustice. As a result, those who can least afford it suffer the consequences of serious water, air, and soil pollution. On an increasingly vast scale, we see people dispossessed of their lands, livelihoods, and health, while they are excluded from decision making structures.

    In Central New York we don’t deal with flammable water, for instance, as you see in fracking zones. Salt Lake City (of all places) has had the worst air quality in the nation this winter. Due to pollution from oil refineries there are “red air” days, and the population is advised to remain indoors due to poor air quality. You see the same thing in Houston, Texas, where people of color suffer disproportionate rates of asthma and cancers.

    So yes, maybe it feels like a “distant environmental crusade,” but only from a very insular and callous point of view.

    The first major student divestment crusade was implemented on a significant scale in the 1980s. It helped to pass federal legislation that helped to pressure the South African government to end apartheid. This is an important, and powerful example of what universities can do: align their funding priorities with their institutional values.

  • That sounds like a pretty reckless attitude to me. Just to be clear, divestment does not amount to a 5% cut in the quality of SU life. And any minor cost borne by the university is worth it for the cause of separation this educational institution from big oil. This distant crusade is supported by student groups all around the country, 72% of Harvard undergrads who recently voted on the issue, Al Gore (as of a few days ago), and many faculty members and student groups from SU and ESF. But besides the fact that divestment is gaining a lot of support right now, you should read up on why this issue is not so distant: Hopefully, you will reconsider. We’d be happy to have one more on board.

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