The fight for our future

Evan Sahagian/Daily Collegian

Evan Sahagian/Daily Collegian

By Pratiksha Yalakkishettar

The facts are extremely clear – the burning of fossil fuels is dangerous to the environment and to our health. Recently, the United Nations listed air pollution as a carcinogen and a large factor for this pollution is the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, gasoline and natural gas. Even more alarming are the effects of climate change, which are now beginning to impact us in the form of significant drops in yields of crops, record wildfires and the prevalence of extreme weather events. At our current pace of fossil fuel use, scientists predict that global average temperatures could rise up to 11.5 degrees Fahrenheit within the next 100 years. Within this time, sea level could rise 1.5 to 3 feet, making many coastal areas uninhabitable and making storms more frequent and destructive. The changing climate has already had an effect on many other animal species such as migratory species that depend on particular weather cycles. Mosquitoes and other insect vectors of infectious diseases like malaria may become more widespread over longer seasons due to the changes in temperature, rainfall and habitat.

The UMass community must take part in preventing global climate change and call for measures to prevent further destruction. One approach is fossil fuel divestment, a movement sweeping across the nation, especially within college campuses, which seeks to hold liable the corporations responsible for profiting from climate change. To divest from something is to remove all investments in a particular industry with the goal of stigmatizing their unethical and immoral practices. Fossil fuel divestment aims to replace the dangerous and unsustainable approaches the fossil fuel industry uses for energy production with novel, sustainable practices. It is important to note that choosing to only invest in green technologies does not provide the same power and message as first divesting from the old, unsustainable technologies.

In addition, divestment makes economic sense and some of the largest investment firms, like HSBC global and economic institutions, like the World Bank, are taking notice. This is because the costs of continued fossil fuel use and extraction are beginning to outweigh the benefit. More and more dangerous methods of extraction and transportation are utilized and because of this, deadly oil spills and fossil fuel disasters have become nearly omnipresent. Once we begin to account for the monumental cost of life in the form of health impacts due to asthma and cancer attributed in those who live near centers of pollution, or start to quantify the destruction caused by “super” storms – hurricanes like Katrina, floods, droughts, record wildfires in the Southwest and now the devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan – we see that we clearly cannot afford this system anymore.

Governments are beginning to take notice of this as well. Every piece of legislation that keeps fossil fuels from being burned lowers the bottom line of the fossil fuel industry. According to 350.org – the organization that launched the divestment campaign – and prominent NASA scientist James Hansen, in order to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change, two-thirds of the remaining yet-to-be-extracted fossil fuels have to remain underground. This means that up to two-thirds of the fossil fuel industries’ assets could become “stranded” if governments take the lead in combating climate change. And they are doing just that, evidenced by the new EPA restrictions of carbon dioxide pollution from power plants and the Renewable Fuel Standard Program, which increases the sale of renewable fuel and decreases greenhouse gas emissions by 138 million metric tons within the next decade.

On a grassroots level, we can continue to spread awareness about this topic and push for legislative and investment changes in our towns, states and within organizations in which we are involved. The UMass Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign is a student-run coalition and a vehicle for getting involved in the fight for our future. We must uphold the UMass mission to “improve the lives of the people of the Commonwealth, the nation, and the world.”

So lend us a hand – visit us in the Campus Center to sign our petition to show the UMass administration how we, the community of UMass Amherst, feels about this issue, or join the Divestment Campaign to help spread more awareness and build power for this movement. Join us in upholding the integrity of this university, and the assurance that we will still have an inhabitable world in which to grow old in the future. Check us out at our newly launched website, www.divestumass.org.

Pratiksha Yalakkishettar and Samuel King are members of the UMass Divestment Campaign. They can be reached at [email protected] and [email protected]