Climate Activists Applaud Cornell, Push For More Action

A group of professors, students and activists implored university officials to put their money where the science is...

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By Matthew Hayes, via the Ithaca Journal, 10/17/14

ITHACA – With climate science a daily topic in Cornell University research and classrooms, a group of professors, students and activists implored university officials to put their money where the science is.

The Climate Action Rally, held Friday afternoon in front of Day Hall, called on the board of trustees to move toward divesting from fossil fuels as part of the university’s endowment, as well as to quicken the pace for carbon neutral plans.

“There is enormous student and faculty interest in this,” said Jeffrey Bergfalk, a third-year mathematics Ph.D. student, of the divestment strategy. “And it’s time for (the trustees) to take it seriously.’

The rally was at once a celebration as well as a call to action. Over the past year, Cornell's four representative assemblies — student, graduate professional students, employees and university assemblies, which includes faculty — all passed climate neutrality and divestment resolutions.

Currently, the university has an action plan to be carbon neutral by 2050. Resolutions passed by Cornell’s four representational assemblies called for that plan to be moved forward by 15 years.

“2050, frankly given the science and what other schools are doing, isn’t good enough,” said Bergfalk, who noted the University of California system has even earlier plans, slated for 2025.

Bergfalk said Cornell has shown sincere consideration of the plan for carbon neutrality by 2035.

The problem, he said, is that even being carbon neutral in operations blurs the definition if the university continues to invest in fossil fuels.

At the rally students and faculty crowded the entrance way to Day Hall, which contains many of the offices of top administrators, to push for full divestiture.

The enthusiasm reminded Bruce Monger, a professor in biological oceanographer, of a similar movement in 2001, where students camped out for three days around the building to push for adoption of the Kyoto protocols for greenhouse-gas emissions.

Cornell officials relented, and Monger said that emission reduction promises are now a source of pride for leadership. Divesting from fossil fuels now, he said, would show Cornell is getting ahead of the issue.

“If they committed to divestment, 10 years from now they are going to be very proud of being one of the first major universities to divest. I just think history can repeat itself,” he said.

Monger noted that Cornell has a fiduciary responsibility for its endowment, but added his feeling that “a financial document is a moral document as well. Where you invest your money is a political statement,” he said.

Taylor Hughes, a freshman from San Diego who attended the rally, said she is proud to be a Cornell student but thinks the school can do more to limit the damage.

“As students, I feel that it’s our responsibility to take action now. We can take further initiatives to promote a more rapid change,” she said.

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