If a frog sits in water that gradually turns to a boil, it will not know to jump out; it doesn’t notice its imminent death until it is too late. We are the frog. It’s getting hotter and hotter, and we sit and avert our gaze from a horror just one or two degrees away. Instead, distracted by smart phones, Facebook and “Dancing with the Stars,” we are entertaining ourselves to death.
OSU Divest is a campaign to have Oregon State University Foundation sell off its investments in fossil fuels industries and replace these with investments in funds that support alternative energy. Skeptics of divestment argue that divesting fossil fuel industries out of the portfolios of universities, churches, cities, states and pension funds will reduce income for public institutions that are already pressured by diminished state funding. However, the question of divestment must be shaped by moral concerns and not the bottom line.
Our position is grounded in morality: If it is wrong to wreck the climate, then it is wrong to profit from that wreckage. Fossil fuel corporations are doing just this — profiting from the destruction of the planet in spite of a consensus of climate researchers that the current social structure is unsustainable. In order to mitigate the most dire climate scenarios, we have to change fast: to renewable energy, local and regional farms an end to profligate hyper-consumption, waste and income inequality.
It also is wrong for universities to profit from the destruction of the planet. Oregon State University, while its central mission is the affirmation of life, has inadvertently invested part of its portfolio in an industry whose bylaws legally require profits even if it means global catastrophe.
Students still look to their teachers and schools as models for how to engage as citizens in a democracy. However, when educators are silent about the most important issue to face humankind ever, students may interpret the silence to mean “There is nothing I can do; it is hopeless,” which I believe may contribute to the epidemic of anxiety and despair on American campuses today.
Responding optimistically, there are currently over 300 universities that have begun fossil fuel divestment campaigns. Divestment is just one strategy among others to address the climate crisis. The goal of divestment is to stimulate a synergy of activism, to affect a seismic shift in public opinion-that drastic changes in public policy are needed now. Not in 10 years, not in five years. Now!
Our recommendation to the OSU Foundation is the following: first, stop new investment in fossil fuels; second, over a five-year period, divest from all existing fossil fuel holdings; and, third, reinvest this portion of the portfolio in alternative energy and non-industrial food production.
The Corvallis Sustainability Coalition has helped make our community more livable. Our research faculty has done great work to study climate change and its human causes. We are proud that OSU has a national reputation for its exemplary sustainability practices. In fact, OSU is beginning to recruit students nationally because of its culture of sustainability!
However, without direct action that forces the hand of big oil, to quickly shift its resources to the development of renewable energy, the future is bleak. Divestment out of fossil fuels by our foundation is a significant symbolic action that, together with thousands of other communities looking to do the same, can make a difference. It is an action that is in our backyard, in our control. Right now, our only option is to stand up with hope and resolve!