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Climate change is scary. 2014 was the hottest year on record. Scientific predictions of climate change impacts are being realized as we encounter more extreme storms, rising sea levels and devastating droughts. These facts can be disempowering, and I think many of us — especially the youth who must inherit an increasingly unlivable climate — have felt the discomfort of wondering whether such destructive changes can ever be stopped. Yet very soon there will be a concrete opportunity for Penn students to take action against the climate crisis. Next week, all undergraduates will have the opportunity to vote in the Nominations & Elections Committee referendum on fossil fuel divestment and clean energy reinvestment.

Penn’s $9.6 billion endowment is partially invested in the fossil fuel industry, defined as coal, oil and gas companies. The rationale for asking Penn to remove, or divest, that money is that these corporations are responsible for pollution that is inflicting severe harm on our people and our climate. We know why we want to divest from them. We do not want people’s drinking water to be contaminated due to fracking as is happening throughout Pennsylvania. We do not want children to be at increased risk of getting leukemia and other cancers as a result of living near oil refineries as has happened in Houston. We do not want wildlife and the natural environment to be harmed as a result of industrial accidents, such as the 50,000-gallon oil spill near the Yellowstone River in Montana last month. We do not want low-lying countries to have to lose the land that they’ve lived on for thousands of years. And we do not want to thrust our climate and all that it sustains into chaos.

In addition to what we do not want, however, so much about this referendum and divestment is about what we do want. We want our sources of electricity to be independent of health sacrifices that must be made of communities living near coal mines or natural gas rigs. We want a less corrupt political system free of the huge influence exerted by oil executives such as the Koch brothers, which can make them vastly more powerful than ordinary voters. We want an economy that meets people’s needs while caring for our ecosystems and natural resources. All of these things are intimately connected to the transition away from fossil fuels and our need to divest from them. As we close the door on using fossil fuels we open doors to a plethora of improvements to our society.

It is true that we continue to use fossil fuels for our energy and are dependent on them for our everyday life. Yet that is the case precisely because of the industry’s immense power over our political processes and institutions, which are often unwilling to push for the changes needed to the status quo due to their conflicts of interest. We need world leaders to step up and take action against climate change, and by pushing our universities to divest from these corporations we build pressure that deprives these companies of their influence. This will allow us to finally change the current state of affairs of using these destructive forms of energy through political action.

Divestment is about making our universities and institutions take a stand on major issues. It is vitally important that Penn be on the right side of solving the climate crisis and to end its support of the extreme practices of the fossil fuel industry. Vote yes next week if you agree that it is time we move decisively to avert catastrophe and invest in the just and sustainable future we all need and know is possible.

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