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Students walk to pressure CUNY over fossil fuel divestment

CUNY Divest, a student-led group advocating for fossil fuel divestment, held a series of walks to all 24 CUNY campuses urging the board of trustees to divest.

The CUNY Climate Walk, held from Aug. 21 to 24, originated from a walk of Navajo women earlier this year. The walk, called “Nihígaal Bee Iiná” or “Our Journey for Existence,” mostly focused on the impacts of fossil fuel extraction on the Navajo community in Dinétah, located in southwestern U.S.

Darsen Hover, a member of CUNY Divest, said the public reacted positively toward the walk, which already added to support the organization received since its inception during spring 2013.

“We had very positive feedback from the people that we encountered. I think that people’s reactions, even those of passersby who simply stopped to give us their support, is an indication that the people of CUNY and New York City are ready to start actively working to solve the ever growing problem of climate change. We also have consistent support from City Council members, professors, and student leaders,” Hover said.

The CUNY board of trustees previously considered the issue of divestment in December 2013, but declined to do so. However, Hover said the board is in constant contact with CUNY Divest. Still, she stressed the role of students in pushing for divestment by writing to the president of their college or signing petitions.

Lucas Almonte, vice chair for Legislative Affairs at the University Student Senate, emphasized educating CUNY students about divestment.

“One of the most important things in these campaigns is for students to be informed,” Almonte said. Additionally, Almonte noted how USS worked with CUNY Divest on this issue and, in the past two years, passed three resolutions advocating for fossil fuel divestment.

“We want to bring this issue of fossil fuel divestment back to the board of trustees,” Almonte said. “It is not an easy process for a student campaign, but it has been done before with divestment from apartheid South Africa and tobacco companies. We feel this is a campaign, as USS, should be at the forefront.”

CUNY holds investments of more than $4.9 million in oil and gas firms, including ExxonMobil and Chevron, based on documents acquired through a Freedom of Information Act request by CUNY Prison Divest.

Yet, after the fall of oil prices earlier this year, returns from oil and gas companies are falling. A report last month by Trilium Asset Management found two Californian pension funds lost more than $5 billion because of low oil prices.

Hover stressed the significance of divestment for CUNY, especially to the general public.

“It would send a strong message both of strength and optimism on the part of CUNY. It would symbolize the institution’s dedication to progress, its willingness to do what is right even if it is not the easiest course of action in the short term and its determination to uphold the principles on which the university was founded,” Hover said.

Still, Hover noted the usefulness of divestment in regards to climate change, which was the catalyst for the fossil fuel divestment movement in the first place.

“Divestment is one very important tool that can be used to fight climate change. It sends a monetary message to some of the key actors in the problems that we are currently facing. It is also a statement of the fact that we as students, and the academic institutions that we are a part of are no longer willing to be passive in the fight to stop climate change, and we will certainly not be actively supporting those industries that are bringing about such catastrophic damage,” Hover said.

Brandon Jordan

Brandon is a senior majoring in Political Science and Economics with a minor in Business And Liberal Arts. He covers labor and activism at CUNY. He also likes to cook, bake, run and make puns, sometimes not in that order. You can follow him on Twitter @BrandonJ_R and email him at brandon[at]theknightnews.com.

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