Earth on Fire: Honor thy word

Most of us here at Tufts University would agree that climate change represents a massive threat to humanity. Its impacts constitute enormous perils: crop failures, stronger storms, a precipitous decline in biodiversity, etc. Understanding this, Tufts professes to care about mitigating global warming, committing itself to both a reduction of its emissions of heat-trapping gases and the development of new policy proposals to aid society in tackling this grave issue.

Indeed, in 1990, then-President of Tufts Jean Mayer convened a conference of presidents and administrators from over 20 universities to develop the Talloires Declaration, which affirmed their institutions’ commitment to sustainability. The document proclaimed the role of universities in the transition away from ecologically destructive practices toward sustainable development. The university administrators wrote, “…university leaders must initiate and support the mobilization of internal and external resources so that their institutions respond to this urgent challenge” of environmental degradation.

The Talloires Declaration represented the best of our school: using the institution’s influence and resources to engage in critical issues facing the global community. Moreover, the Declaration complemented Tufts’ vision statement: “As an institution, we are committed to improving the human condition through education and discovery. Beyond this commitment, we will strive to be a model for society at large. We want to foster an attitude of ‘giving back,’ an understanding that active citizen participation is essential to freedom and democracy and a desire to make the world a better place.”

Tufts’ investments in the fossil fuel industry, totaling up to tens of millions of dollars, are incompatible with both the Talloires Declaration and its vision statement, especially when global warming represents perhaps the greatest environmental injustice in the history of humanity.

Climate change disproportionately affects racial minorities, First Nations people, women, the poor and countless other already marginalized groups. These social cohorts contribute least to global warming and yet bear the brunt of its impacts. It is deplorable that Tufts is perpetuating a phenomenon that inflicts devastating consequences on those who are the least responsible. As a university, we cannot say with integrity that we are committed to “mak[ing] the world a better place” if we are complicit in the death, marginalization and cultural eradication of millions of individuals around the globe.

The biggest actor stymieing the development of ambitious federal and state laws that would address climate change is the fossil fuel industry because it has a personal interest in seeing that we, as a society, continue to use fossil fuels as our main energy source. If we are to avoid ecological catastrophe, we must remove the fossil fuel industry’s social license, which the divestment movement aims to do.

We are facing an ecological crisis unseen in human history and confronting the richest corporations in the history of the planet. It’s time Tufts lives up to its professed values and aligns itself with the civic actors working to ensure a livable future for us all. Anything else would represent both a complicity in severe environmental injustice and a grave abdication of responsibility.