The Problem

“If it’s wrong to wreck the climate then it’s wrong to profit from that wreckage.” – Bill Mckibben

We are worried about our civilization – our temperature extremes, rising sea levels, droughts that affect food production and farmers’ livelihoods, decreasing air quality with resultant respiratory diseases like asthma, and loss of animals species, estimated to be 1,000- 10,000 times higher than the natural extinction rate.  These tragic events are principally a consequence of climate change, and our burning of fossil fuels is the largest contributor to climate change.

As students of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (JHSPH), we believe that one of the most effective ways we can improve the state of the environment is through policy change within our university.

Climate change, explained as deviations in weather events, does not only involve rising global temperatures, but it also involves climate fluctuations.  For example, from India to Iowa, droughts ravaged farmers’ abilities to grow crops this season.  These droughts, compiled with a significant decrease in monsoon rains, caused a 6% rise in food prices globally.  However, according to The National Climatic Data Center, Iowa also is having more extreme rainstorms – rainstorms are 35 % more frequent in Iowa since 1948.  Misunderstood by many, climate change is projected to bring more overall rains, but in heavier, more intense downpours with longer dry periods between them, posing major farming threats.  And, as most of us are all too well aware, heat waves are forecast to occur more regularly with more severity.  Every month through August brought record high temperatures in America, with frequent triple-digit heat days.

Scientists around the world have stopped questioning climate change.  They no longer wonder if human activity is contributing. We have come to grips with the fact that global warming and climate change are indeed real and that humans are the biggest contributor.  Unfortunately, many scientists also believe that we are encroaching on “tipping points” – points beyond which our damage will be irreversible.  The United Nations Secretary General said that climate change “is the major, overriding environmental issue of our time, and the single greatest challenge facing environmental regulators”.

Is it too late?  Is saving our civilization and future generations a lost cause?

Many believe there is hope if we act now, but that our time is running short.

One approach involves a term called “mitigation”. Mitigation is a strategy that calls on humans to minimize our emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases which contribute the most to climate change.

In light of the fact that the main cause of global warming is CO2 emissions (which reached an all-time high of 34 billion tonnes in 2011), a fitting attempt at mitigation includes minimizing the combustion of fossil fuel, which contributes most to global CO2 emissions (around 90% if forest fires and use of wood fuel is excluded).

We decided the most powerful policy to invoke this change would be to call on Johns Hopkins University to divest its endowment from the fossil fuel industry, in an attempt to avert further environmental and human rights crises due to climate change. 

If this divestment policy is adopted by universities across the country, it has tremendous potential to decrease the United States’ CO2 emissions (which are the second highest in the world) not only because of a decreased investment in the fossil fuel industries, but also because it would begin a paradigm shift in how we view these dirty companies.  While most university endowments are shrouded in secrecy with specifics of investments rarely divulged, it can be assumed that most universities invest in fossil fuel, often tens of thousands, and in some cases, millions of dollars.

“It’s simple math: we can burn 565 more gigatons of carbon and stay below 2°C   of warming — anything more than that risks catastrophe for life on earth. The only problem? Fossil fuel corporations now have 2,795 gigatons in their reserves, five times the safe amount. And they’re planning to burn it all — unless we rise up to stop them.”    -  math.350.org

We are collecting signatures for a petition that asks the president of Johns Hopkins, as well as its Board of Trustees who oversee the University’s endowments, to divest its stocks and mutual funds from fossil fuels and reinvest in socially and environmentally responsible funds.

This movement parallels successful past campaigns, like the movement that swept across college campuses in the 1970s calling on universities to divest from South African companies.  Most historians viewed this divestment strategy as fundamental in ending apartheid.  Realizing that divestment campaigns have effectively shifted major global perceptions in the past, with our current social connectedness, there is no reason to think that we cannot do this again, bigger and bolder.

The JHSPH motto is “Protecting health. Saving Lives. Millions at a time”, therefore, it is contradictory and self-defeating that our University invests its endowment in companies that threaten the future of its students, community and life on Earth as we know it.

University students across the nation – at Harvard, Cornell, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, Brown and Swarthmore, to name a few – are uniting in the fossil fuel divestment campaign.  We are calling on Johns Hopkins to be a leader and pioneer in this national movement, in tradition with our history, and show by action that we believe in what we proclaim.

The repercussions of not acting are monumental.  Food insecurity, health threats and safety concerns due to food and water scarcity are real, looming threats that are already impacting countries across the world.  Developed nations create climate change while third world nations are the ones to suffer because they cannot respond or adapt as well.  Our apathy poses global risks, to which nobody will be able to escape, rich or poor, black or white, young or old.  Furthermore, the longer we wait to implement change, the worse the ramifications, as the cost and detrimental environment effects will be that much more significant.

As university students, we have the power to create a movement that will shape the path of our future.  Let’s stand together and reject passivity.  This is OUR chance to help. This is OUR opportunity to seize. This is OUR time to REFUEL OUR FUTURE.

sign Johns Hopkins University petition

Above article with references