We know beyond a scientific doubt that in order to protect human lives as well as the lives of every living species on earth, we need to put an end to fossil fuels. Not only are we witnessing the decline of ecosystems around the globe, but we are also witnessing an enormous cost to human life. Exposure to particulate matter and other fossil fuel pollutants resulted in an estimated 18% of global deaths in 2018, nearly 1 in 5 people. In the Wasatch Front, the level of air pollution from fossil fuels is causing 1,400 to 2,000 premature deaths each year. Environmental hazards are especially dangerous for frontline communities who are most often Black, Indigenous, people of color or of lower socioeconomic status.
Frontline communities should be heavily involved and equitably represented in the discussion of fossil fuel extraction, or lack thereof, as they have historically been the least consulted and most impacted by the current system. Divestment, coupled with a just transition policy, has the potential to reduce fossil fuel usage and promote reinvestment into an equitable economy. Many of these frontline communities also depend on the fossil fuel industry for jobs. A top priority for just transitioning is to protect these communities and others by tailoring policies to focus on micro scales such as specific sites and procedural issues. This attention to detail helps to “equity-proof” energy transitions and will protect communities that have historically been abused by this industry.
Divestment in fossil fuels is a direct response to these injustices and sustainability issues, serving as a way to address the root causes of these inequities rather than the symptoms. Financial benefits from fossil fuel extraction can be replaced with the environmental and health benefits of non-extractivism. A recent conservative estimate puts the air pollution costs in Utah at $1.8 billion annually. These expenses result from direct costs such as healthcare and indirect costs including tourism, decreased growth and costs to businesses. In moving our focus to the initial extraction of fossil fuels, divestment encompasses a lifecycle approach to reducing fossil fuel pollution and the industry’s overall externalities.
Universities are in a position of great influence in terms of promoting public discourse around fossil fuels and advocating for climate justice. Engaging in socially responsible divestment and reinvestment practices can shift our sustainability mindset away from remediation and towards a proactive stance. The U and other universities are uniquely positioned to create social change through education and direct action. The U lists sustainability as one of our seven core values. Yet, unfortunately, the U invests a portion of our $1.1 billion endowment in fossil fuel corporations. As students and members of the U community, we have a say in how that money should be invested.
Currently, the Senate Ad Hoc Committee for Divestment and Reinvestment…
Read More: Divestment from Fossil Fuels is in Sight – The Daily Utah Chronicle