Students Nationwide are Calling for Moral Leadership for Climate Justice

Rex W. Tillerson, chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil, listens to a question during a news conference after the shareholders meeting in Dallas, Wednesday, May 30, 2007. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

On Friday, Donald Trump took the oath of office and become our President.

We’ve already seen the appointment of Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson, alongside Wall Street bankers, white supremacists, and billionaires, to his cabinet. All mentions of climate change, civil rights, and LGBTQ rights disappeared from the White House website at noon Friday.

Over the coming months and years, we are going to need unprecedented resistance on a multitude of issues to have a chance of stymying Trump’s agenda. We will need more mobilizations like Saturday’s Women’s Marches that millions joined around the world, but we also will need to organize at the local level to fight corporate power, demand racial justice, and hold politicians accountable.

Institutions like Swarthmore have a special role to play. With Trump at the head of the federal government, everyday people and institutions need to be the moral leaders that our federal government will not be. Swarthmore has historically provided that kind of leadership. As honorary degree recipients Noam Chomsky, John Braxton, and Arlie Hochschild wrote in their letter urging the Board of Managers to divest from fossil fuels, “Whether it was divesting from Apartheid, refusing to bow to McCarthyism, developing leaders in the civil rights and peace movements, or admitting women from its founding, Swarthmore has been a powerful voice for justice at critical moments in history.”

As a prestigious institution, we have an opportunity to be the type of moral beacon of hope that our country needs. Divestment is the clearest way to show this leadership for climate justice. By divesting, we would send a powerful message to the public, to businesses, and to people around the world facing the impacts of climate change: as an institution, we reject the disastrous climate denialism of the Trump administration and his cabinet.

Students around the country are pressing their institutions on this same message. Today, on the first full day of classes under Trump, students around the country will join together to say: our generation rejects Trump’s hate and denial. Students at 50+ campuses (and some high schools) around the country are taking part in what will likely be the largest student-led action of the inauguration weekend. We will reject the hate and climate denial of Trump and his administration and call for moral leadership from institutions during this trying time. As part of this national action, there will be a walkout and teach-in today (Monday 1/23) from 12 pm to 12:50 in Eldridge Commons outside Sci 101.

  • Professor Jensen (Physics) will talk about the science of climate change.
  • Professor Murphy (History) will talk about the role of social movements in American History and what institutions like Swarthmore can do during times like this.
  • Students will share about what’s at stake for us as young people and for communities around the world.
  • We’ll also discuss what the election means for the divestment movement and get into why divestment makes sense as a tactic.

Trump has made it clear — he will protect and support the fossil fuel companies that are poisoning communities, spreading misinformation about science, and wrecking the climate. He’s nominated former Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, a man who, during the course of 40 years oversaw a company that committed what amounts to crimes against humanity. From the Niger Delta to the Gulf Coast, Exxon has used its power to bend the rules and take advantage of marginalized communities, manipulating government regulations and crushing dissent. Exxon is currently under investigation by several state Attorneys General for its decades-long misinformation campaign about the veracity of climate science, even though its company scientists have known about climate change since the 1970s.

Companies like Exxon have no place in a just and sustainable future, let alone in the federal government or our endowment. People facing the fossil fuel industry around the world and we as young people cannot afford people like Tillerson getting their way. Millions of lives are on the line.

There is no room for neutrality when the President of the United States is actively threatening communities around the world and the very future of this planet. This is our moment to step up as individuals and it is our responsibility to step up as an institution — we can show moral leadership on climate justice by divesting from an industry that supports Trump and profits off his policies, and by investing in positive solutions to the climate crisis.

Featured image courtesy of The Associated Press.

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