Northeastern Disorientation

CATASTROPHIC CLIMATE CHANGE: Brought to You by Northeastern University

 · 5 mins read

Contributed by DivestNU

“Green, green green. #Northeastern is black, red and green,” tweets President Aoun in reaction to Northeastern’s title of Greenest University in the United States. The Greenest University in the United States [1]! That phrase is stamped across Northeastern’s marketing materials, touting our LEED-certified buildings, climate research, and a brand spanking new sustainable investment fund. Of course, all of these things are important, but behind that shiny exterior lies a very dirty, very oil-slicked, and very profitable/profiteering truth.  

greenwash (noun): disinformation disseminated by an organization so as to present an environmentally responsible public image.

"the recycling bins in the cafeteria are just feeble examples of their corporate greenwash"

Northeastern University invests around $50-$60 million in the fossil fuel industry [2].

We know the fossil fuel industry has five times the carbon reserves than what conservative estimates say is safe to burn before irreversible climate change sets in. The industry’s profits (and by virtue of our investments, our own) depend on burning those reserves and pushing the planet past the point of no return. It will mean the disappearance of island nations below rising sea levels, increased food and water resource scarcity, an upsurge in asthma and cancer rates, devastated economies, destabilized nations, and so much more. While this ominous future is  scientifically proven and internationally accepted, companies like ExxonMobil continue to spend tens of millions per year to ensure  that our policies reflect their business interests and not our reality. We know that those who contribute the least to climate change are impacted the most. Low income communities, communities of color, and the Global South are hit first and worst. Fighting climate change is a prerequisite to creating a more just world, and Northeastern’s investments are in contradiction to that goal.

Our investments are more than just tacit support, they are an endorsement of a nefarious business model. We are telling fossil fuel companies to carry on, because when they profit, we profit too. And as Bill McKibben often says, “if it’s wrong to wreck the climate, it’s wrong to profit from that wreckage.”

Divestment is a way to chip at the political power of these companies and to align our investments with our stated values – like when Northeastern divested from South African companies in 1985 as part of the international campaign that helped end Apartheid. That’s why we ask Northeastern to take our investments out of the fossil fuel industry.

And when I say we, I mean all facets of the Northeastern’s community. In 2014, in a referendum placed in front of the student body, 75% voted in favor of divestment. This was followed by a Student Government Resolution, which called on the administration to institute a moratorium on direct investments in fossil fuels and explore options for divestment. In April 2017, the faculty senate voted for a resolution requesting the administration to perform a thorough analysis of the endowment's exposure to fossil fuels and to instruct the endowment managers to explore options for divesting. Today, over 30 student organizations comprise Divest NU’s coalition along with five academic departments and 80 individual faculty members who have expressed support. Hell, even a committee that President Aoun himself put together recommended divestment. Yet, Northeastern’s administrators still refuse, saying that divestment is a “retreat from global challenges, and, as one of them told us in a meeting, sometimes the administration “makes decisions that students just don’t like.”

Despite being presented with factual evidence and immense amounts of pressure from the community, why has Northeastern continuously chosen the side of fossil fuel companies?

Perhaps it is because former ExxonMobil Senior Vice President Ed Galante serves as Vice Chair of Northeastern’s Board of Trustees, entrusted to make key financial and institutional decisions for the university. Unsurprisingly, this appointment happened soon after the establishment of the Galante Engineering Business Program in 2007 and a generous $5 million pledge to the university. Ed Galante worked for ExxonMobil for 34 years, from the time of his Northeastern undergraduate co-op through his retirement. During his time in senior management at the company, Exxon was engaging in a consorted campaign to deceive the public on climate science. Despite being retired, he continues to have deep ties to the industry. Based on ExxonMobil SEC filings, it can be estimated that Galante holds at least $40 million in company shares. He also serves or has recently served on the board of various petroleum-linked companies including Tesoro and Foster Wheeler AG. To learn more about Northeastern’s deep ties to ExxonMobil, please read this article in the Northeastern University Political Review.

DivestNU has been pushing for years to see Northeastern live up to its title of Greenest University in the United States. There have been petitions, marches, sit-ins, and even a two week occupation of Centennial Common, and yet those responsible for making decisions refuse to stand on the right side of history. After all, whose side are they on, ours or Exxon’s?

You can check out DivestNU's Facebook here:

You can also visit our website and pledge to not donate to the university until they withdraw our investments from the fossil fuel industry.

If one or several of your professors support the campaign, they can sign the faculty open letter.