Fiji is a small island nation located in the South Pacific Ocean. It has a population of slightly under a million people. And in 20 to 30 years, it may no longer exist. For this reason, Fiji has sponsored COP23, the 23rd annual international conference addressing global climate change held in Bonn, Germany that began on Nov. 6. Though one of the 195 participating parties, the United States did not send its Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, to the international negotiations, a result of the Trump administration’s rejection of the Paris climate accord and of climate policy as a whole.
The Paris Agreement reached in December 2015 at COP21 was a landmark achievement for the international climate change regime. It committed participating countries to implement policies that would prevent the earth from warming two degrees of celcius, the temperature identified by climate scientists as the threshold at which humans can avoid catastrophic and irreversible climate change. In June 2017, President Donald Trump announced that the United States would withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement. In addition, he has filled his cabinet with representatives of the fossil fuel industry, namely Rex Tillerson, the former C.E.O. of Exxon Mobil, and Scott Pruitt, the anti-environmental head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in an attempt to prevent any momentous environmental policy from forming during his presidency.
Though American representation at the Bonn negotiations will not be completely invisible (the United States is sending Thomas Shannon, a respected under secretary to Rex Tillerson, to lead the American delegation), the fact that the second largest contributor to climate change and one of the wealthiest countries in the world will not take a lead on climate change mitigation is deplorable. The United States, unlike vulnerable countries like Fiji and Bangladesh, not only has the resources to enact momentous climate policy, but moreover has the moral responsibility to. Climate change disproportionately affects communities of color around the world, as these communities are usually found in the most climate-vulnerable countries such as Tuvalu or Somalia. The current leadership of the United States chooses not to prioritize climate change because they can afford to; those in positions of power in the federal government will likely not experience the worst effects of climate change because of their geographical, financial and racial advantages.
Even more distressing is that fact that our country’s environmental leadership at the federal level is headed by fossil fuel interests who will do anything to protect their industry, even at the expense of environmental and human health. The EPA under Scott Pruitt has initiated or achieved an appalling 52 rollbacks of fundamental environmental regulations, including overturning an anti-dumping rule for coal companies as well as an offshore drilling ban in the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans, and we can expect further destructive changes to come. What the climate needs is an end to fossil fuel infrastructure, not a green light to drill for more oil. Yet, the allure of financial gains from the exploitation of fossil fuels has proven more important to Pruitt, Tillerson and other top politicians than the future of our planet.
In this short-sighted and — frankly — corrupt political climate, it is up to institutions outside of our languishing federal government to take ambitious and swift action on climate change mitigation. Tufts University is one of these institutions. University President Anthony Monaco has already pledged that Tufts will uphold the Paris Agreement by signing onto the Grand Coalition Statement on the Paris Agreement, tweeting on the same day that Trump pulled out that “#WeAreStillIn.” In addition, in spring 2016, Monaco signed the Second Nature Climate Commitment, which pledges Tufts to achieve carbon neutrality and climate resiliency as soon as possible.
It is our duty as members of the Tufts community to ensure that Monaco upholds his word. Committing to the Paris Agreement and signing the Second Nature Climate Commitment are undoubtedly commendable actions that demonstrate Tufts’ priority of sustainability. However, divesting Tufts’ holdings in the fossil fuel industry would attack the very entity that poisons our political system and prevents environmental policies from crystallizing. Divestment works as a political statement to stigmatize the number one contributor to climate change, and to thus restructure the economy away from destructive energy and toward renewable, sustainable options. As a progressive institution, Tufts University needs to put its money where its mouth is and stand in solidarity with the environmental and climate justice movement. It needs to end its profiting from the very industry that exacerbates climate change, corrupts our government and ultimately harms human lives.