Fossil Fuels: At the COP
I want to take a moment and address the concerns about fossil fuel companies attending the UNFCCC. There has been a petition created by Corporate Accountability International and signed by many attendees--especially youth activists--to ban fossil fuel businesses from the COP. Dr. Jonathan Pershing, Special Envoy for Climate Change and head of the U.S. negotiation team, addressed this concern in his press conference for youth delegates yesterday afternoon.
When asked if he would support closing the door fossil fuel attendance at the COP, his response was a firm no. He candidly spoke to the importance of having these ‘dirty’ businesses in the room so he could keep tabs on their interest and learn how to change their mind. Edging them out of conversations in which they could become great allies in clean energy, an imminent transition by the looks of recent market trends, creates bad blood and might block future partnering for innovation. “If I paint them into a corner, I think I’m gonna lose,” Pershing said.
To clear things up--these energy companies? They’re here as observers. Much of the COP is closed-door meetings between party delegates. Anyone here from an energy company has just as much access to closed meetings as I do: and trust me, they’ve been pretty strict about “Party Only” rules. Yes, representatives can network and talk to party members, but delegates are extremely busy and barely have time for lunch: as evidenced by the lovely UK woman who sat next to me at the restaurant yesterday--poor thing practically inhaled her stirfry, exchanged a few nice words (I had to pester her, of course) and promptly left 8 minutes later.
As observers, the fossil fuel representatives actually stand to learn an immense array of things about climate change--its impact on indigenous people, the public health effects, the damage to the markets, and the great potential for improvements, innovation and economic growth. I challenge anyone to listen to the words of an indigenous woman from Chilé speak to the decimation of her homeland and not be at least a little moved.
Fossil Fuels: At Home
Moving toward green investments is a market-driven reality. Though I support the inclusion of energy companies at the conference, I do not stand behind the inclusion of fossil fuel companies in invest portfolios. Especially those owned by universities full of academic, socially and environmentally aware people who should know better.
That leaves me wondering why, in the face of blatant evidence that fossil fuels are archaic and destined to decline, some institutions continue fiscally supporting them. Many universities and businesses, like Microsoft and Harvard, have opted to reallocate parts of their endowments or investment portfolios from fossil fuels, often reinvesting in renewables.
I’m disappointed to say that my home institution, Johns Hopkins University, has failed to follow these examples of environmental responsibility. I love my school: it has its flaws, as any university does, but overall I can say that Hopkins is a huge part of who I am today. Hopkins informs and challenges my worldview through its diverse student body, nurtures and grows my mind through fantastic courses led by passionate professors, and feeds my soul through the extracurriculars I have been able to pursue. Without Hopkins, the road to Marrakech would have been much more of a struggle for me. I am able to attend the COP because of a grant Dean Martinez gave me (shoutout to the Parents’ Fund, and also to my own mother--the other big reason I was able to go!).
For all the forward thinking and progressive ideals the administration loves to embrace, I hope divestment would be one of them. Come on, Hopkins. Our endowment is meant to spur the education of future world leaders, not to bolster the bottom line of carbon-emitting fuel companies. I view the school's money as something that should be used to holistically address student and world well-being: fossil fuels do not align with this. We are leaders in public health, engineering, innovation: we should be leaders in fiscal responsiblity. It’s time to put our money where our mouth is.
Finally, a big shoutout to Refuel Our Future, the JHU student group working towards divestment at Hopkins. The photos featured in this post are from the recent sit-in they staged in our administrative building on campus. Student activism remains a strong force of change: the university represents us and is meant to act in our interest. Proud of my fellow Blue Jays for taking a stand to protect the planet.
Thanks to Christian Cayon for the photos!