“The Foundation’s action today makes a powerful statement about UMass’s commitment to combating climate change and protecting our environment. It also speaks volumes about our students’ passionate commitment to social justice and the environment.”
~ Kumble Subbaswamy, Chancellor of University of Massachusetts Amherst, in University News & Media Relations (May 2015)
Subbaswamy’s quote is in reference to the UMass Foundation’s unanimous vote to divest its endowment funds from direct holdings of fossil fuel companies.
Climate change constitutes one of the most pressing environmental threats and challenges of our time and is on a scale of global proportions. There is a consensus among the scientific community on our collective causation and exacerbation of climate change. This consensus, coupled with research and literature, reflects a scientific objectivity that is independent of political affiliations, self-interest, bias, and subjectivity.
Deny, fight, or cope?
As a global society, our key goal should be combat over business-as-usual and mitigation. In other words, we must work collectively and collaboratively to prevent the threat and problem of climate change rather than let them persist and worsen and then learn to live with their ramifications. The foundation’s commitment marks the beginning of the combat phase and the end of the business-as-usual phase. It also serves a role model for other colleges and universities.
It is important to remember that our economy is nested within the environment. Our economy must function in accordance with scientific laws and natural systems and processes rather than science and our environment conforming to our economy. In their decision to divest from fossil fuels, the Board of Directors of the UMass Foundation recognizes that they and the university are no exception. That is to say, they recognize that they and the university do not operate in a void isolated from Earth’s natural systems and processes. The atmosphere, as a common and shared natural resource, must be regulated to prevent what British economist William Forster Lloyd termed the “Tragedy of the Commons.” All people, regardless of their culture, lifestyle, geographic location, and socioeconomic status, are completely dependent on the atmosphere for their overall well-being.
Role of Students
As an individual, a specific degree, financial status, and social status are not prerequisites to be an effective leader. The stage can range from as small as a person’s nuclear family and inner social circle to as large as the international arena. As a society, we need not wait for direction from our elected and unelected leaders to initiative change that will enhance social and environmental health and well-being. We can all advocate for and practice change in the world around us.
Change oftentimes bubbles up from the bottom as opposed from top down. Our elected and unelected leaders can then follow our lead and enact legislative, regulatory, and public policy reforms.
Such reforms can and should occur in businesses, healthcare facilities, corporations, primary and secondary schools, institutions of higher learning, and at all levels of government. UMass Amherst students, through their group UMass Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign, demonstrated how their leaders (Board of Directors of the UMass Foundation) followed their collective voice for fossil fuel divestment and investment towards a sustainable future. Like them, we must be unafraid to speak up for both environmental and social well-being that impacts us all.
~by Angelo Teachout
photo credit of Kumble Subbaswamy: https://www.flickr.com/photos/universityofkentucky/5832642975/in/photolist-9TpPxV-9TsDz5-9TsDk7-9TsDuJ-e8HtTu-e8Bckp-9TsDGf-9TsDsh (License)
photo credit of Tuft University: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jamesennis/8531903543/ (License)
photo credit of Divest for our future: https://www.flickr.com/photos/treslola/26242207050 (License)