Yona: Standing at a Crossroads

by Leehi Yona | 1/7/16 9:59pm

“Nobody has the right to gamble with your future.”

Ahmad Alhendawi, the United Nations Secretary General’s Special Envoy for Youth, said these words to a group of young people attending the UN climate talks in Paris this December.

The talks — the biggest UN climate summit this decade — were anticipated to be a shining moment in history, a time where the world came together to negotiate a binding, ambitious, universal agreement on climate change. This was my ninth such UN conference and I came to Paris with a sense of tempered optimism, realistic about what the conference would deliver, but hopeful for a positive outcome.

To many young people who were there — including myself — the conference meant so much more: a chance to act on climate change so that we could have a future worth looking forward to. In the face of injustices caused by the burning of fossil fuels including the loss of indigenous lands and disproportionate negative health effects inflicted on already vulnerable communities — we couldn’t afford to leave Paris empty-handed.

The conference was a blockbuster event. More world leaders were under one roof than any other time in history. Everyone from President Barack Obama , to Arnold Schwarzenegger, to Russian president Vladimir Putin and Jane Goodall, urged countries to reach an agreement in order to act swiftly on climate change.

Despite this, I saw my future being gambled away as the conference progressed . I saw the way that our governments paid lip service to climate action while ensuring that the Paris Agreement lacked any real commitment to a more sustainable future. As a young person, I saw the future I wanted for the world — one with clean energy, healthier communities, racial and socioeconomic justice — being replaced by a future with more suffering and frequent food and energy crises. I saw the beginnings of a downward spiral toward ecological and social devastation.

For us young people, the future is not some abstract concept, but a better world we can choose to create and inhabit.

We have long looked to our elected representatives and world leaders to solve this crisis, but it is becoming increasingly clear that they do not represent our best interests. Instead, the fossil fuel industry’s deliberate misinformation, corporate lobbying and corruption stand in the way of the political willpower we need from our decision-makers. For example, ExxonMobil ---— in addition to other companies — internally discussed global warming amongst its own scientists as early as 1977, yet still continues to fund misinformation campaigns that cast doubts on the certainty of human-caused climate change. The tobacco industry used the same tactics to mask the harm caused by their products . It is time we see fossil fuel corporations as equally morally reprehensible.

At Dartmouth, we have so much more potential than we realize. With influential alumni and world-renowned faculty, our actions and words resonate far beyond the confines of Hanover. Therefore, it is our responsibility to act. Climate change is one of the defining issues of our generation. These years will be remembered by history as either the time we chose to act on overwhelming scientific evidence or the time we chose to ignore it.

It is for all these reasons — my experiences at these UN conferences and my awareness as a Dartmouth student, in addition to the climate science and policy research I have been conducting since my first year at the College -— that I know Dartmouth must divest from the top 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies by proven reserves. COP21 was a signal: the fossil fuel era is coming to a rapid close . In Paris, countries agreed to phase out fossil fuels by 2050, which would render a large portion of fossil fuel stocks valueless.

Divestment matters, because it represents a moment in which young people can regain their power . Divestment matters, because it gives us agency as students in the face of a society that tells us our age renders us insignificant. Divestment matters, because it reflects the urgency of a problem that cannot wait for us to graduate college to be solved.

There is a growing contingent of young people, faculty and alumni who are pushing the Dartmouth administration to have a conversation with us on divestment. Yet, despite this growing demand for dialogue and compelling financial and moral evidence for divestment, the administration has continued to stall throughout our nearly four year campaign. We are still waiting to meet with the Board of Trustees.

Here at Dartmouth, we stand at a crossroads. We can continue to maintain the status quo — say that we are doing enough to fight climate change while being physically and financially invested in fossil fuel companies -— or we can divest the College’s endowment from fossil fuel holdings and transition our heating sources to renewable energy (and no, fracked gas is not a option). We can indeed make this future a reality, if we so desire it, but we need to get to work.

This is a call to action.

Leehi Yona ’16 studies climate change as a Senior Fellow and is a lead organizer of the Divest Dartmouth campaign. She went to the COP21 UN summit as a member of the SustainUS youth organization delegation. .