Expert Voices

Climate of Opportunity: New School Divests From Fossil Fuels (Op-Ed)

monetary policy, savings, debt
Monetary policy determines the amount of money that flows through the economy. (Image credit: Gts | Shutterstock)

Benjamin Silverman is a recent graduate from The New School, where he was heavily involved as a student leader in the fossil fuel divestment campaign. Silverman contributed this article to Live Science's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

The crisis of climate change presents us with daily reminders of how the world's runaway temperatures are getting worse. From the drought in California to ice shelves collapsing in Antarctica, it's not hard to acquire a feeling of existential dread when thinking of the present, let alone the future. How are we going to address this problem? How are we going to cope? Are we going to make it?

But in these trying times a new and positive trend is emerging: Human beings are rising to meet the challenges of climate change. If the hottest flames make the hardest steel, then the adversity of climate change has the potential to bring out the best in us at all levels. In our daily lives, our institutors, our economies and our very societies, Forest Loss and Climate: Empowering Communities Can Help (Op-Ed ).

Investors abandoning fossil fuels

Educational institutions are beginning to meet the challenges head on. In a move close to me — I was one of principal architects of the campaign — The New School in New York City has announced it will be divesting its endowment from fossil fuel companies. In an email to the university President David Van Zandt and Provost Tim Marshall announced, "The New School's Board of Trustees approved a motion to divest from fossil fuels. The Board's Investment Committee has also approved a significant investment of the university's endowment in renewable energy." By doing so, The New School will be permanently severing its $220 million endowment from any involvement with the companies most responsible for exacerbating the problem of climate change.

On behalf of those students, staff and faculty who believed in and worked hard on this campaign, I want to say congratulations. We did it. We made history. We have given the climate justice movement a huge victory. For nearly two years, The New School University Student Senate, the Sustainable Cities Club and many others organized, educated and agitated the university on the issue of fossil fuel divestment. We organized events, rallies, panel discussions to raise community awareness about meeting the challenges of climate change. What we accomplished at The New School should be seen as proof positive that while change takes hard work, perseverance and time, if you and those you work with believe in the cause you're fighting for, than then you can win. [Is Climate Change Response 'Fight or Flight' or 'Rest and Digest'? (Op-Ed )]

The victory is not just for The New School and its commitment to sustainability, but for all institutions aiming to make the changes necessary to address climate change. This announcement, coming just a few days before the Global Divestment Day of action on February 13th, should be a rallying call for all those fighting against business as usual for the fossil fuel industry. We hope that our victory at The New School will only be the first of many in NYC and around the country, as movements at NYU, Columbia and elsewhere take inspiration from the work we have done. What is more, we hope that the important decision by The New School's Board of Trustees will be seen as a challenge to leaders at other institutions that now is the time for them to follow our lead and take a stand on climate change.

The public is ready to support this challenge. A recent poll found that attitudes are changing as a majority of Americans, as well as a majority of Republicans, support proactive government action on climate change. This popular sentiment is further echoed in the business community, as top industry leaders have just issued a call for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

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And finally, reflecting the growing will of the people in their institutions and businesses, governments from around the world are beginning to take decisive action on climate change. A recent study found almost 500 new laws on the national and sub-national levels aimed at addressing climate change. The countries covered by the study accounted for 88 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Though it is obvious there is still much more to be done to meet the challenges of climate change, it is equally clear which way the momentum is going. Every day the news is filled not only with reports on the climate crisis, but also the heroic efforts addressing it. There is reason to be hopeful today: Developments on the educational, government, financial and personal levels show that climate change is changing us all for the better. 

It may be easy for many in the generation now emerging from college to feel like they were dealt a raw deal, from economic hardships to climate chaos. But in truth, fate has awarded us a chance like no other to prove ourselves and make history. We have the opportunities and the capabilities to rise to the occasion and conquer the crises that surround us — setting the world right and charting a livable future in the process. The momentum for change is now in our favor. It is now up to us to push it over the finish line.

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