UD student groups come together to stand in solidarity with the Philippines, victims of climate change
On the eve of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP-19) in Warsaw, Poland, this November, a mammoth typhoon halfway around the globe was bearing down on the Philippines. The record-breaking winds of Typhoon Haiyan killed nearly 6,000 and left millions homeless or displaced. Recognizing the role that climate change had played in the size and destructive force of the typhoon, the Philippines delegate to COP-19 pledged to go on a hunger strike for the duration of the conference or until a meaningful agreement on climate issues could be reached. The message was clear: the threat posed by global warming requires us all to do whatever we can to reverse the trend that, if not stopped, will make our planet unlivable.
Last week, residents of Newark, UD faculty and students at UD from the Filipino Student Association, Fossil Free UD and several other student groups came together to stand in solidarity with the people of Philippines. There were excellent talks given by UD professors McKay Jenkins and Thomas Schumacher on the urgency of climate change and what we can do to have a positive effect on the planet. We also heard from the Jun Rana, President of the Filipino American Association of Delaware, and Justin de Leon, political scientist at UD, about the resilience and strength of the Filipino people. Finally, we heard from Kim Zitzner of the Catholic Campus Ministry at UD about how we could contribute directly to the relief efforts in the Philippines. If you would like to contribute you can make out your check to St. Thomas More Oratory and drop it off at the St. Thomas More Oratory at 45 Lovett Avenue, Newark, DE.
But catastrophes such as the one that devastated the Philippines are not confined to East Asia. Here in the U.S, along the coasts of New Jersey, Long Island and New York people are still struggling to rebuild from the effects of Hurricane Sandy, which left $65 billion worth of property damage and took the lives of 148 people. As climatologists have predicted, the continuing rise in sea levels has made these super-storms more severe and deadly. Climate change is the crisis of our time – and that time may be running out faster than anyone has imagined.
The countries participating in the Copenhagen Accord of 2009 agreed that, in order to avoid total climate catastrophe, we must not let the Earth’s average temperature rise above 2 degrees Celsius. When the scientists did the math, they determined that we could not allow more than an additional 565 gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere if we were to stay within this limit. The problem, however, is that there are currently 2,795 gigatons of carbon contained in the fossil fuel industry’s oil and gas reserves. That’s nearly five times the amount that the scientists have said the Earth can bear. Something’s got to give. Either the fossil-fuel industry limits distribution to 1/5th the assets they already claim to hold (and plan to burn), or we will all face a disastrous collapse of the eco-system that has sustained human life.
In response to this imminent catastrophe—and frustrated with the passivity of elected officials—people in over 300 schools, 100 cities, and a number of religious institutions across the country have joined in a nation-wide campaign calling upon organizations and institutions to divest from fossil fuel corporations. Taking inspiration from the anti-apartheid divestment movement of the 1980s, this campaign has mobilized ordinary citizens to take a stand against the powerful fossil-fuel industry and their well-funded lobbyists. The goal is to combat the rhetoric of the oil companies and to correct prevailing misconceptions about our energy future.
In a very important way, this is a battle for the conscience of the public. “It is wrong to wreck the planet. Therefore, it is unethical to profit from that wreckage,” says Bill McKibben, a leading environmentalist and founder of 350.org, the group that inaugurated the divestment campaign. As McKibben sees it, “If institutions like colleges and churches turn them [the fossil fuel industry] into pariahs, their two-decade old chokehold on politics in DC and other capitals will start to slip.”
Last spring, a few students from the University of Delaware started a divestment campaign of their own, Fossil Free UD, and, since then, they have steadily made themselves a presence on our campus. Their efforts led to the passage last summer of a student government proposal to divest from fossil fuels. Polling by the divestment campaign found that over 80% of those students surveyed endorsed the idea of having the University pull their investments in fossil fuel companies. The students are currently in talks with the UD administration to persuade UD to divest from fossil fuels.