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Credit: Sukhmani Kaur

In just over a week from now, we will reach the one-year anniversary of the publication of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's landmark special report on "Global Warming of 1.5 ℃." Comprising the findings of 6,000 scientific studies, the report’s central exhortation is that humanity must do everything in its power to limit atmospheric warming to 1.5℃ — requiring, the report reads, global mobilization at a scale that has “no historic precedent.”  

Achieving this limit would mean following the most ambitious course of action set forth in the 2015 Paris Climate Accord, necessitating a 45% reduction in global carbon emissions by 2030, and complete (that is, 100%) reduction in carbon emissions by 2050. 

Think about that last point for a moment. Net zero carbon emissions in 30 years. Net zero. Think about what you’ve done so far today and try to imagine how you could have done it without emitting carbon (for a start, no clothes). 

What happens if warming reaches 2℃? Sea-level rise would affect 10 million people, the global population exposed to water stress would be 50% higher than at warming of 1.5℃, the world would witness the greatest refugee crisis in human history, and there would be $69 trillion in damage (over an unspecified period of time) — essentially, the end of civilization. 

For reference on how we’re doing in reducing global emissions, The New York Times published an article two months after the report was released entitled: “Greenhouse Gas Emissions Accelerate ‘Like a Speeding Freight Train’ in 2018.”

Where does Penn, a global leader and innovator, stand amidst this crisis? 

Penn has never made a single public statement in response to the IPCC’s special report on "Global Warming of 1.5 ℃," (nor in response to the United Nation’s morbid report on "The State of the World’s Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture" from February 2019, or to last week’s report on "The State of the World’s Oceans and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate"). 

Credit: Julio Sosa

The closest Penn came to making a public statement was refusing to review Fossil Free Penn’s latest divestment proposal — a decision the administration made 10 days after the IPCC report made headline news across the globe.  

Our University will never proactively address the climate crisis of its accord. And so it is time that we — Penn students — show the University that it must change its habits and its investments whether it wants to or not. 

Last Friday, in the wake of the Global Climate Strike, I helped Fossil Free Penn lead a group of 30 Penn students and faculty to the foyer of College Hall for a four-hour sit-in, demanding a climate town hall meeting with Penn President Amy Gutmann, Chairman of the Board of Trustees David Cohen, and Chief Investment Officer Peter Ammon. Our demand stipulated that these three leaders not only attend the meeting, but also:

(i) engage in an open conversation with the Penn community concerning the University’s practice of investing its endowment in the fossil fuel industry; and 

(ii) explain how Penn plans to reduce its carbon emissions to the extent prescribed by the IPCC’s special report on "Global Warming of 1.5 ℃."

We know it will take more than a four-hour demonstration to achieve our goal, so we plan on returning to College Hall every Friday from 12:00 to 4:00 p.m. until the administration agrees to our terms. We invite all interested students and faculty to join us. 

Institutions like Penn need to step up and set the standard for climate action, and many have already. Globally, $11 trillion in endowments, pension funds, and private trusts have committed to divest their portfolios from the fossil fuel industry. Just last week, the University of California system pledged to divest its $13.4 billion endowment and $70 billion pension fund from coal, oil, and natural gas companies by the end of September. 

Time is running out, and those of us who know what’s at stake know that there is nothing to lose in giving this fight all we’ve got. So, if the Penn administration decides to fail us once more, it should expect to find students and faculty lining the walls of College Hall every Friday until the end of time.

JACOB HERSHMAN is a College senior studying English and Philosophy. He is the President Pro Tempore of Fossil Free Penn.