Talbot: Faltering divestment movement needs school attention, support

The first-ever Global Divestment Day will take place from Friday Feb. 13 through Saturday Feb. 14, with marches and other divestment events taking place across six continents. In this context, divestment means divestment from fossil fuels, which involves removing financial investments from fossil fuel companies and directing those funds toward environmentally sustainable energy sources.

As college students, we typically don’t have any investments to speak of, but we have more power than we might think in determining what gets invested where. An abundance of colleges, religious institutions, corporations and even whole cities have fully committed to divestment, but Geneseo is not among them—yet.

Geneseo has a strong sustainability presence already and this presence is undoubtedly growing stronger all the time. With the addition of the Office of Sustainability in fall 2014 and a pledge to go carbon neutral by 2050, the administration is far from oblivious to the direness of climate change and related environmental issues.

There are numerous projects underway that have been commissioned by the Office of Sustainability as well as the Geneseo Environmental Organization and other green groups on campus, all of which will help the school realize its lofty environmental goals. These projects aren’t enough, however.

As long as Geneseo––as an institution––benefits financially from the ham-fisted acts of the bloated oil, coal and so-called “natural” gas companies that have paved the way for planet-wide destruction and danger, its sustainability efforts will be marred by hypocrisy.

A group of Geneseo students came to recognize this problem of conflicting interests, launching the Divest Geneseo campaign in 2013 to combat it—building some impressive momentum in the process. During a screening of the documentary Do the Math in April 2014, the school received a personalized message from leading environmentalist Bill McKibben. McKibben’s organization 350.org is spearheading the divestment movement.

Now, in addition to director of sustainability Dan DeZarn, several members of GEO will attend the Intentionally Designed Endowment Student Forum at Mount Holyoke College on Feb. 21. The initial excitement over the divestment campaign has died down considerably, however, and public engagement in the movement has apparently stagnated.

A major hindrance to divestment progress at Geneseo may be the intermingling of misinformation with the true message behind going fossil free. “Divest” doesn’t mean “stop using fossil fuels immediately and return Geneseo to the wilderness.” Divestment for a relatively small institution like Geneseo doesn’t even involve a great deal of money.

More than anything, to divest is to make a statement. Institutions that choose divestment are actively speaking out against harmful, climate change-inducing fossil fuels and are in favor of clean, renewable energy and ethical financial practices.

Another acknowledged roadblock is that once students are educated––and even impassioned––they still may not be able to do much on their own. Geneseo is part of the larger State University of New York system and is therefore not fully in control of where its funds go. This is a cop-out. The need to affect a larger system means that there is also a need to make a bigger noise.

If anything, state-funded universities should be more inclined to serve the needs of their students than private universities. As SUNY students and, for the most part, voting residents of New York State, we have the ability to demand what we want our education to look like; to mold it according to what we support and what we reject.