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Students at Pitt, neighboring universities demand fossil fuel divestment at climate

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div id=””>Dozens of students from three local universities — Chatham University, Carnegie Mellon University and Pitt — gathered on a snowy Saturday afternoon to protest continued fossil fuel investment by their schools. 

Fossil Free Pitt Coalition, Divest CMU and Green Team Chatham organized a “College Climate March” on Saturday and marched from Chatham’s campus, through CMU’s campus and eventually ended at the Cathedral of Learning. About 50 attendees carried signs donning slogans such as “divest now,” “people over profit” and “keep it in the ground.”

The climate march — which is the first event organized by the three separate student groups together — highlighted the three universities’ investment in the fossil fuel industry. At various stops along the march, student representatives from the organizations gathered the crowd to verbalize their demands, such as fossil fuel divestment, climate justice and tangible sustainability work on campus.

Kanika Vaghela, a sophomore statistics and economics double major and member of FFPC, said while Pitt is working on a Climate Action Plan and promised to be carbon neutral by 2037, there needs to be a tangible plan which does not reward gradualness over immediacy.

“Honestly as soon as possible —  2037, it’s just too late,” Vaghela said. “We’ve been calling for divestment since 2014.”

FFPC has continuously called upon the University to divest from the fossil fuel industry through other marches and even a billboard erected temporarily in February. Vaghela said it can be difficult to even pursue an open conversation with administration due to the lack of transparency regarding board of trustees meetings. 

As students await Pitt’s upcoming Climate Action Plan, Vaghela said FFPC is also concerned with conflicts of interest of several board members. According to social media posts on Oct. 29, FFPC claims four board members — Thomas VanKirk, Robert Agbede, Roberta Luxbacher and Thomas Barbour — have ties to the fossil fuel industry and should “abstain” from voting on divestment because of this.

“There are members that have not only direct ties, but also indirect ties with different fossil fuel industries, like Exxon Mobil,” Vaghela said.

MacKenzie MacFarland, a senior chemistry major at Chatham and member of the Green Team, said while Chatham has expanded their sustainability program on the Eden Hall campus over the past 10 years, it masks a pressing issue.

“It’s just performance that distracts from the fact that Chatham still has 5% of its $486.5 million endowments in fossil fuels,” MacFarland said.

Although the administration at Chatham has been communicative with student activists about divestment demands, the school’s small size hinders the divestment process, according to MacFarland. 

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2021-11-15 00:17:51

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