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Students rally to push Rutgers away from fossil fuel use

<p>Students gather on the front steps of Brower Commons Feb. 13 on the College Avenue campus to push the University to cut its investments in the fossil fuel industry.</p>

Students gather on the front steps of Brower Commons Feb. 13 on the College Avenue campus to push the University to cut its investments in the fossil fuel industry.

Cold and biting wind cut through the steps of Brower Commons on College Avenue last Friday as protesters gathered for the Rutgers Global Divestment Rally.

But attendees still managed to chant, listen to speeches and clutch signs between gloved hands to protest Rutgers’ investments in the fossil fuel industry.

The Rutgers Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign paired with other environmental groups on campus such as Take Back the Tap and Students for Shared Governance, organized the event in commemoration of Global Divestment Day, said Shane Patel, president of RFFD.

The day was an opportunity for separate organizations and communities to come together and share their views on climate change and fossil fuels, he said.

“The actions we take in the community are more important than what’s on the TV screen,” said Patel, a School of Engineering senior.

Following an introductory speech, he introduced two slam poets, School of Arts and Sciences junior Justice Hehir and Rutgers alumna Kate Thomas.

With their backs to the crowd and poem sheets whipping in the wind, they shouted their poetry in unison, which addressed an imaginary granddaughter suffering the effects of climate change at the hands of the current generation.

“We’re hooked on a false optimism, and we carry it home in plastic bags,” they recited. “You have my word that we wanted something better than this.”

After their performance, David Hughes, a professor in the Department of Anthropology, gave a faculty perspective on the University’s fossil fuel holdings.

He said the knowledge Rutgers has accumulated on the topic has made it impossible for him to “sit idly by” concerning the fossil fuel debate. Fossil fuels are dangerously altering the course of the Earth’s environment.

“Not to [divest] is to actually make the industry stronger,” he said. “There is no neutral position for the University anymore. Its knowledge and its ethics compel it to act.”

He ended his speech with another round of chants. Joshua Salley, a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences senior, followed up with words of encouragement for the crowd, insisting that the opinions and actions of students matter in the battle over fossil fuel.

He related the issue to the civil rights campaign, where, he said, blacks fought –– and won –– against segregation. It brought the voices of previously ignored groups to the forefront of the debate.

Similarly, he believed the campaign could have a voice in advocating for disenfranchised people living in “pockets of pollution.” He said the protest raised the voices of the students to prominence.

“People talk about going to Mars, of finding a life outside Earth,” he said. “Why? This is one of the most beautiful planets in our galaxy … yet so many people want to rip it apart, tear away the beauty that is here on this planet.”

Rahul Ghosal a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences senior, asked the crowd to use their privilege to stand up for others citizens who lack the resources and education to act against climate change policies.

He pointed to floods in India, droughts in Africa and the effects of Hurricane Sandy as evidence of how climate change has already harmed the planet.

“If knowledge truly be power, then let us use that power, our privileges for good,” he said. “Let us say ‘no more’ to the fossil fuel industry, let us say ‘no more’ to inequity, let us say ‘no more’ to the deaths and sufferings for which our privileges have to blame for.”

Fossil fuel divestment is part of a project from 350.org to change the industry’s impact on politics and society, according to gofossilfree.org. The organization has a list of the top 200 fossil fuel companies as targets for student campaigns.

So far, 25 universities, along with some cities, foundations and institutions have pledged to divest from fossil fuels, according to their website.

Some have criticized the campaign for fossil fuel divestment, including a recent study that estimated divestment would cost universities $3 billion per year, according to an article in The New York Times.

But others have disregarded the report, which was funded by the Independent Petroleum Producers, and point to other studies that claim divestment would have a minimal impact, according to the article.

Erin Petenko is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in journalism and media studies and public health. She is a former Associate News Editor for The Daily Targum. Follow her on Twitter @epetenko for more stories.

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