Climate Justice

Climate justice, not climate change.

Our campaign is committed to climate justice as the broader vision for which divestment is only one tactic.

A page from an incredible divestment and climate justice zine made by our members. Click-through to read the whole thing! A page from an incredible divestment and climate justice zine made by our members. Click-through to read the whole thing!

While climate change is and will be affecting us all, it disproportionately affects low-income communities and people of color – both on a global and local scale, even though these communities have historically contributed the least to the problem. Climate justice is the framework for considering and a call to action for addressing this paradox.

For example, in the last 25 years, 95% of deaths that resulted from natural disasters occurred in developing nations. While a major drought in the US can lead to higher food prices, a major drought in a country like Sierra Leone that relies heavily on subsistence agriculture can trigger mass starvation. As sea levels rise, low-lying countries like Bangladesh will experience extreme flooding and simply not have the infrastructure or resources to support their populations. In both of these examples, what is clear is that climate change will continue to be something that people of privilege consider a threat to “their grandchildren,” while it has already been a reality for frontline communities across the world (predominantly in the Global South).

Here in New York City, the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2012 demonstrated how class and racial divides influence the distribution of the worst effects of climate change. For example, the New York Environmental Justice Alliance has documented how major industrial areas that are populated mostly by people of color are in storm surge areas, making the residents vulnerable to toxic pollution from increasing numbers of natural disasters.

The climate justice framework sheds light on climate change as a grave public health issue. Warming and increased flooding also lead to increased spread of disease, particularly in countries with poor sanitation. Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress.xxi More recent estimates have put the number at 300,000 deaths and suggest that an additional 325 million people are seriously (though non-fatally) affected by climate change. As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon has said, “Climate change is the single greatest threat to sustainable development.”

Fossil fuel divestment requires consideration of the same racial, social, and economic inequities that inspired the Board to take leadership by divesting from private prisons – pushed by an incredible campaign run by Columbia Prison Divest. Columbia must now divest from fossil fuels and take a moral stand for the people who will most significantly and immediately be affected by unchecked climate change – from Red Hook to Bangladesh.

For Columbia to divest from the fossil fuel extraction industry is to announce to the world that we are committed to fighting for human rights, on behalf of all of our current and future students. The fossil fuel industry is actively contributing to the release of carbon into the atmosphere and has no foreseeable plans to halt its activity. By remaining complacent on this issue, Columbia is, in fact, assisting highly immoral and unethical activities.

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