A grey sky enveloped Swarthmore’s campus, and students sat in the Science Center’s Eldridge Commons as they sipped cups of coffee, reached for food, and conversed on a multitude of subjects. As the clocks neared 12 o’clock, a sign went up displaying the words, “Swarthmore Divest from Fossil Fuels.” Soon, a crowd amassed, voices engaged with each other, and buttons were passed around. Students walked out of classes and gathered to send a message protesting the dangers of climate change denial.
Around the nation, similar movements have been occurring in a myriad of academic institutions. This was the Walk out and Teach-in that occurred on Monday, January 23rd, organized by Mountain Justice, a group advocating divestment from fossil fuel industries to aid in the fight against climate change. Spurred by the recent political situation in our nation’s highest offices, the group endeavored to inform the attendants about the effects of climate change and emphasized the urgency they feel due to the recently appointed administration surrounding the new president, Trump.
“I was at the walkout because I know that climate change is a very real issue that affects all of us, but most of all, it affects people with less means, and I think it’s important to support awareness,” said Isabel Llosa ‘20. A speaker gathered everyone’s attention. “Fire it up!” said Aru Shiney-Ajay ‘20, an organizer of the event.
Referencing the recent success with the Keystone Access Pipeline, Shiney-Ajay spoke to the attendees of the crowd about the need to gather, organize, and demand change to resist climate denial. “If we want to move forward with Trump as our president, we need to urge the board to divest,” she stated. If not full divestment, they are, “willing to work on partial divestment,” she said.
The effects of climate change were further elucidated by Stephen O’Hanlon ‘17. He conveyed the severity of the changing climate by relaying to the crowd a personal story regarding his sister and her struggles with cancer. He spoke of the health hazards posed by practices such as coal mining and their effects on individuals, especially of the vulnerable working class and indigenous populations. To counteract climate change denial, we must “do what we can with what we have,” he said
Focusing on a more global mindset, Christopher Malafronti ‘18 spoke to explain the effects of climate change outside of the West. “I hope to highlight how climate change affects the global south disproportionately,” he said. He also made known the projections for rising sea levels by the end of the 21st Century.
To receive some teaching in this walk in and teach-in, Swarthmore Physics Professor Eric Jensen and Sociology Professor Lee Smithey spoke and imparted some knowledge to the gathering of concerned individuals. Professor Jensen stressed his opinion that while one may not be certain of which choice to take when faced with the need for action, this “should not keep us from acting.” “I go back and forth in my own brain about if divestment is exactly the right step to do,” he stated, while also emphasizing the need for action. Professor Smithey taught a small lesson about mobilizations occurring in micro contexts. In Smithey’s opinion, divestment is a “perfectly reasonable request, especially under the circumstances.”
Regarding divestment, Shana Herman ‘19 stated, “It is a simple and extremely powerful thing that we can do right now to resist Trump’s deadly climate denial.” To divert investments from the fossil fuel industries, “all we have to do is call the managers and ask them to divert our money,” she said, referring to the Board of Managers. “Swarthmore can no longer afford to be neutral,” she said.