Students called on Penn’s administration to make the University a global leader in combating climate change and to divest entirely from the fossil fuel industry at the University Council Open Forum on Wednesday.
At the forum, 10 students read prepared statements in front of Penn administrators, including Penn President Amy Gutmann and Provost Wendell Pritchett. Of the 10 statements, six addressed the climate crisis. Other topics included sexual assault reporting, voter turnout at Penn, and former United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement Acting Director Thomas Homan’s visits to campus, which were faced with student protests.
One of the main concerns students raised at the last open forum in December 2019 also included the University's response to climate change. The University announced in January that it would not invest in the coal and tar sands industries. Students from groups such as Fossil Free Penn, Student Sustainability Association at Penn, and Extinction Rebellion Plan said in Wednesday's open forum, however, that Penn must do more in the face of climate change.
Damien Koussis, Wharton and College senior and former co-chair of SSAP, urged administrators on Wednesday to leverage Penn’s position as a “tremendous change-making machine” in the context of the climate crisis. He called on the administrators to listen to students and learn more about climate change.
“We may sound angry, and while most of us certainly are, we want you to know that it’s an anger that’s born from a sense of debilitating fear,” Koussis said. “You picture yourself watching the world burn in 20 years and you ask yourself, ‘Did I do enough?’ We hope that we’ll be able to be proud of the fight that we fought instead of ashamed for not doing more.”
As students who spoke about climate change presented their statements to the administrators, members in the audience and on the University Council, including students, faculty, and staff, stood up to show solidarity with the climate movement.
Engineering junior and FFP member Ari Bortman said that Gutmann, despite knowing the detrimental consequences of investing in fossil fuels, refuses to condemn the industry and take real action against the climate crisis.
“You know that our students are in danger and that our communities are suffering,” Bortman said. “You know that fossil fuel companies make billions of dollars poisoning the air and water in communities of people who don’t have the money or the liberties to defend themselves against the corporations that you refuse to condemn. And you know that what we’re doing isn’t enough.”
College first-year Zuha Noor, who is from Lahore, Pakistan, said that her community in Lahore is vulnerable to the most hazardous impacts of the climate crisis even though they are not responsible for these effects. Noor said that IQ Air ranked Lahore the most polluted city in the world on Oct. 29, 2019. She added that in the same week IQ Air released the report, schools shut down for a week and her own home was filled with smog.
"I invite you to set an example to others and contribute in the protection of the only home we have ever known," Noor said.
Engineering senior Tyler Larkworthy said Penn undergraduate students lack a comprehensive education on climate change. He urged Penn to use its resources to produce global citizens who can take on the climate issue.
Larkworthy said that the University has an opportunity to become a leader in the climate crisis fight and that Penn graduates set an example for current students to challenge the status quo.
“In May, I will graduate, but there is an army of young students ready to take my place,” Larkworthy said. “I am 21, but one of the world’s leading climate activists just turned 17. This is our generation’s defining cause. If Penn does not stop turning its back on the world, soon enough, the world will turn its back on Penn.”
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