Op-Ed: Rally for climate justice at UConn

People protesting for the future of the planet. Without change, the planet will continue to heat up and many consequences will follow. Photo by Marcus Spiske/Pexels

This Friday, Nov. 5 from 1-3 p.m., on the lawn of the Student Union, the University of Connecticut’s student body is striking for climate action. Here’s why: 

In August of 2021, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released their sixth report, concluding that unless there are “deep” reductions in global carbon emissions, the world will definitely experience 1.5 degrees to 2 degrees Celsius in warming from pre-industrial temperature averages. 

According to this report, such increases in temperature will bring about extreme heat waves, heavy precipitation, tropical cyclones, reductions in arctic sea ice, snow cover and permafrost, agricultural and ecological droughts and other changes in the global climate, irreversible for centuries or millennia. In other words, without decarbonization, the minimum amount of climate change will make Earth very unstable and inhospitable. The livelihoods of most of the planet, and perhaps the survival of the human species, are being put at stake. 

The community at UConn has made it clear time and time again that we won’t tolerate fossil fuels and the complicity of UConn in this crisis. In 2019, the world experienced a historic wave of environmental justice activism, visible within the global Fridays for Future movement. Millions of people, particularly students, left class and took to the streets to demand climate action. At UConn, at least one thousand students participated in the climate strike on Sept. 27. 

In response to this initial demonstration and continued weekly sit-ins of Gully Hall — the President’s office — organized by UConn Fridays for Future, the UConn administration created the President’s Working Group on Sustainability and the Environment, tasked with investigating feasible pathways to decarbonization and sustainability within the boundaries of UConn’s operation and fiscal resources, and recommending energy policy to the administration. 

The Working Group’s report of May of 2021 notes that, as a result of global environmental injustices and harm being done to the student body, “the Working Group recommendations do not represent optional improvements, but rather an emergency response that must be addressed as quickly and comprehensively as possible.” But UConn is not addressing these recommendations, instead maintaining commitments to fossil fuel infrastructure, fossil fuel investments and other unsustainable practices which fail to acknowledge the scale of emergency we’re facing. 

The above May 2021 report outlines “pathways to achieve 60% reduction (in carbon emissions) by 2030 and zero carbon by 2040.” In spite of these findings, the UConn administration is implementing no specific plan to pursue decarbonization by any year, and thus is completely out of line with their stated commitment to sustainability. We must also acknowledge the administration’s failure to publicize the findings of the President’s Working Group, and to re-appoint students alongside the graduation of undergraduate committee members. There’s no current information about the Working Group on the Office of Sustainability’s website or another UConn website, making unknown the very existence of the only body at UConn which recommends climate action. Its recommendations are crucial public knowledge. 

Because of the maintenance of the Cogeneration Plant at the expense of renewable energy developments, a large portion of UConn’s electricity is sourced from fossil fuels. Additionally, the UConn foundation, which “solicits, administers and invests” more than $730 million in private funds, continues investing in fossil fuels and related industries. The foundation claims that only 2% of this sum is invested in fossil fuels. Therefore, either this figure is misleading or divestment from fossil fuels is an extremely feasible goal for the UConn foundation to enact right now. 

Nothing is infeasible about divestment at other universities with much larger endowments. The community at Harvard—a school with a $53 billion endowment as of 2021 and an estimated $560 million invested in fossil fuels—won their hard-fought campaign for their school to divest completely from fossil fuels. Their strategy involved mass mobilization of students, staff and faculty followed by an intense legal battle with the school intent on holding the Ivy League to its legal obligation to the well-being of the student community. Fridays for Future will utilize every tactic at our disposal including demonstration, teach-ins, walkouts and legal action in order to replicate this achievement at UConn, beginning with our rally this Friday.  

We don’t demand divestment because we believe this would instantly make UConn a green or sustainable school; divesting at a time when many other schools and institutions are abandoning fossil fuels investments is a crucial first step to hold UConn accountable to their commitments, address the climate crisis and pursue the values we claim to hold.   

Join us this Friday, Nov. 5, at the Student Union Lawn to demand the UConn foundation divest entirely from fossil fuels and associated industries, and invest these funds in renewable energy. There will be speakers, signs, chants and marches. Please spread the word, and attend to demand sustainability and environmental justice at UConn!  

This Op-Ed was written with extensive consultation of the PWGSE report of May 2021. Complete credit is due to the students, faculty and community members in this working group who researched the history, science, policy and finance of the environmental justice goals Fridays for Future forwards today.   

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