April 24, 2014

Beyond Earth Day: Students Use Holiday to Launch a New Wave of Fossil Fuel Divestment Actions

Contact: Greta Neubauer, Middlebury University, [email protected], 262-994-6997

BOSTON, MA — Students are using this Earth Day week to launch a new phase in their fossil fuel divestment campaigns across the country–and challenging traditional understandings of environmentalism in the process.

The divestment campaign has seen a surge of momentum in the last month: actor Robert Redford helped Pitzer College announce it was divesting from fossil fuels, over 100 Harvard faculty endorsed divestment. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, UN Climate Chief Christiana Figueres, and other notable figures endorsed the movement, and students at Washington University at St. Louis are engaged in an ongoing sit-in to kick Peabody Coal off their board.

Now, students are looking to leverage that new energy into more divestment victories. Starting this week, they are organizing a series of actions that promise to “disrupt business-as-usual” on campuses across the country, and build stronger connections between campus campaigns. The effort is known as #BeyondEarthDay, a nod to students’ widespread desire to move beyond the boring, feel-good, traditional Earth Day celebrations and do something more exciting, confrontational, and effective.

“Beyond Earth Day symbolizes a step past planting a tree or simply celebrating last Tuesday,” said Jenny Godwin of Western Washington University. “Divestment calls for immediate action to halt the destructive practices of fossil fuel companies spurring climate change. We’re calling for real change, not hollow celebration.”

Actions kicked off on Tuesday, April 22nd with rallies at the University of Tennesee and Fort Lewis College in Colorado. Erica Davis, a student at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, explained her campus group’s choice to pressure their President to divest. “The most recent IPCC report suggests that we have 15 years to take serious action on climate change. Our administrators are from a generation that won’t be around for the worst consequences of climate change, so as the youth who will inherit the planet, it’s up to us to encourage them to do the right thing.”

There are currently divestment campaigns running on over 400 University and college campuses and in over 100 cities and religious institutions in the US. To date, there are 23 cities, 10 universities, and a host of churches (some national) that have already divested or are in process with it. Last October, a study out of Oxford University noted that the fossil fuel divestment efforts are the fastest-growing divestment campaign in history, and have a good chance at stigmatizing the industry in a powerful way.

“Throughout history, fossil fuel corporations have poisoned our air and water, mistreated workers, disrupted communities and contributed to catastrophic climate change,” said Noah Burchard, a student at Dickinson College, which is taking part in the #BeyondEarthDay actions next week. “By divesting from Fossil Fuels, colleges make a powerful statement about the kind of world they want their graduates to enter into — a world where this industry cannot continue business as usual.“

“There are so many forces working to stall, derail or silence our campus divestment campaigns,” said Greta Neubauer, Middlebury College student and organizer with the Divestment Student Network, a student-led network of divestment campaigners across the country that is helping to coordinate the effort. “The Beyond Earth Day actions are the product of students coming together with other campuses to learn from each other’s victories and mistakes, try out new tactics, and leverage our power as a nationwide community. We know when we work together, we win.”