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Tufts Climate Action calls for divestment from fossil fuels

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Tufts Climate Action held a rally last Friday at the Mayer Campus Center Lower Patio to demand that the university divest itself entirely of its fossil fuel holdings. The rally drew 50 to 75 attendees, making it one of the largest climate protests on the Tufts campus in the past three years, organizers said.

Julia Silberman, senior, one of the leaders of Tufts Climate Action, believes Tufts has not done enough to divest from fossil fuels, calling the university’s lack of action “disappointing”.

“We thought this would be the time Tufts would divest, but … there really wasn’t anything they actually did,” Silberman said.

The university formed a Responsible Investment Advisory Group in 2019 to assess its investment decisions, following calls from campus activists at the time. In 2021, in response to RIAG recommendations, Tufts banned direct investment in coal and oil sands companies.

Patrick Collins, executive director of media relations at Tufts, shared a statement with the Daily against the university taking steps to limit its fossil fuel investments and reduce its carbon footprint.

“Our investment approach has been to prevent the endowment from investing directly in coal and oil sands companies, to take steps to reduce indirect investments in them, and to make significant investments in funds that will have a positive impact on the trajectory and impact of climate change,” Collins wrote in an email to The Daily.

Silberman said many activists believe the university tried to co-opt their movement after the school announced it would divest itself of coal and oil sands companies, ignoring the work the students had done for them. to push.

“[Tufts was] market it like they did something groundbreaking when they really weren’t,” Silberman said. “There was absolutely no mention of 10 years of activism.”

Despite the frustration of student climate activists such as Silberman, the university maintains that it is slowly working toward its decarbonization goals.

“The university is committed to reducing its carbon footprint to meet the Monegasque President’s 2016 commitment to make Tufts carbon neutral as soon as possible, but no later than 2050,” Collins wrote. “Tufts campuses in Medford/Somerville and Grafton already have plans to decarbonize their buildings and the Sustainability Council has drafted a new vision, key principles and goals to guide sustainability at the university. »

Organizers also urged Tufts to reject research funding from the fossil fuel industry. Daniel Barszczak, a sophomore who attended the protest, spoke about the corrosive influence fossil fuel companies can have on critical research emerging from some of the world’s top universities.

“The most glaring example in my opinion is the MIT Energy Initiative. If you go to their site [and] if you go to their members page, half of the companies … are oil companies,” Barszczak said.

Protesters demanded that Tufts develop a plan to achieve decarbonization, and organizers called on Tufts leaders to commit to climate justice.

Organizers hope the university’s next president will play an important role in the fight against climate change.

“The next president should be someone who is committed to using his role to ensure that Tufts is a leader in climate action and climate justice,” Silberman said in a speech to protesters. “That means using Tufts resources to support vulnerable frontline communities and to expand climate education, research and opportunity.”

Parke Wilde, a professor at Tufts’ Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, spoke to the crowd about the importance of cooperation between older and younger generations.

“Sometimes our elders feel like … hope comes from sweet stories that everything will be okay,” Wilde said. “Hope doesn’t require us to tell untruths about our future – hope comes from action.”

Wilde told the Daily that his research and his students’ passion for climate action inspired his decision to attend the protest.

“Climate is involved in my life as an academic researcher because I teach American food policy,” Wilde said. “But what really brought me here today is the recognition that teaching and research are not enough, that we need a vision for social change – and I hear that from students.”

In addition to Tufts students and faculty, protesters included representatives from Fridays for Future Boston, an offshoot of the climate strike movement started by Greta Thunberg, Extinction Rebellion Boston and Mass 350. Members of Fossil Free Research, a group that pushes universities to exclude fossil fuel money when funding their research, also participated. Attendees also included representatives of climate groups from Wellesley College, Olin College, Harvard University and Boston College.

After several speeches and chants, Emily Witherell, one of the leaders of Tufts Climate Action, and Silberman led a march to Ballou Hall, where the Monaco president’s office is located. Six TUPD officers stood in front of Ballou during the protest, telling the Daily they were only present as a precaution.

Although Silberman is graduating this year, she told The Daily she is hopeful about the future of the divestment movement.

“We’ve heard a lot of growing support from members of the administration, quietly,” she said. ” I talked to [first-years], they all know what fossil fuel divestment is and they are immediately supportive. …Basic views on climate justice have changed, and I think we are going to win.