Tulane affiliates respond to climate change plan

Mackenzie Bookamer, News Editor

Tulane University is located in one of the most environmentally sensitive yet significant regions: New Orleans. With the impending threat of climate change — evidenced by the destruction of Hurricane Ida — Tulane recognizes its responsibility to combat this.

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With its influence in the southern gulf region, what responsibility does Tulane have to combat climate change? (Shivani Bondada)

In an email sent out Nov. 5, President Mike Fitts stated that the university plans to invest in innovative energy solutions; however, Fitts also said that “we believe such an investment strategy is more effective than divestment [from fossil fuels].”

Tulane has passed two previous resolutions to decrease their burden on the environment, but neither have resulted in concrete actions to divest from fossil fuels. Divesting from fossil fuels is a process in which a large institution ceases to financially support fossil fuel corporations, thus ending their economic gain from the fossil fuel industry. 

According to a student survey, students rate their satisfaction with Tulane’s response to climate change an average score of 2.6 out of 10. This shows that out of the student body, only about a quarter of students are pleased with Tulane’s response. 

“It is unfair for the university to benefit from climate change and oil companies while other communities in Louisiana are left to bear the burden of climate change and major hurricanes becoming more prevalent,” student Clara Tomé said. 

The Undergraduate Student Government held a senate meeting on Nov. 9 to “call upon Tulane to immediately cease investment in fossil fuels and propose a reasonable timeline for this goal,” as the previous two resolutions have amounted to no significant changes. 

Christopher Oliver, professor of practice in the departments of sociology and environmental studies, echoes this same sense of urgency Tulane must adopt. 

“We are at a crucial moment in which things must change — and they must change immediately — to try to stop what we already know about the current and potential consequences of inaction,” Oliver said. 

Student David Bailit believes urgency is necessary as well, as “the school is in New Orleans which is projected to be underwater in 30 years. For the leaders of this university to not be worried is very concerning.”

Oliver states that there are multiple approaches the university can take to reduce their burden on the environment, but “one of the very first steps is to put in place a plan that includes divesting entirely from fossil fuels.”

Oliver also notes that although Tulane will largely remain unaffected during the early stages of climate change, the surrounding New Orleans community will feel the effects to a much greater degree. 

“The impact that climate change is having will be felt disproportionately by some communities within Louisiana, especially those already in positions of disadvantage, vulnerability, and those suffering from long term economic disparities and challenges — as well historical forms of discrimination and neglect,” Oliver said. 

Looking to the students, it was seen that on a scale of one to five, the students believed the urgency for Tulane to take concrete actions towards mitigating climate change was 4.7. That is a 94% call to urgency. 

USG, Oliver and students all acknowledged the unique role Tulane has as a major research institution to enact widespread change — both locally and globally. 

At the USG senate the students at large stated that “Louisiana is on the front lines of climate justice and Tulane is a leader in Louisiana; Tulane can have a ripple effect on other institutions.”

“I do think that universities have a special responsibility given that we are the ones who often understand clearly what the potential consequences are, physically/ecologically, economically, politically, and sociologically,” Oliver said. 

Many students expressed hopes that Tulane would increase funding for climate change research, stay committed to helping the surrounding New Orleans community and to invest money in cleaner energy sources because Tulane possessed the funds necessary for this. 

Tomé also shared that she hoped Tulane would establish a food security program to decrease food waste. 

“I would also like to incentivize reusable cups and other methods to reduce waste generated from single-use containers, especially PJ’s coffee cups,” Tomé said. 

“With its $1.4 billion dollar endowment, Tulane can afford to reinvest the $6 million it has in fossil fuel money in green [energy]. Institutionally, Tulane has massive sway in the New Orleans community and has the capacity to make an amazing impact on Southeast Louisiana’s climate policy, action, and economy,” student Christina Braun said. 

Braun goes on to say that “Tulane’s response to climate and a host of other issues has been outrageously performative, and I’d like to see our administration give back to our community in a real, tangible way.” 

“Tulane’s reputation and role in the city of New Orleans … should obligate Tulane to take action to protect their community and the communities they have failed to protect in the past, specifically since climate change has disparate impacts on BIPOC people,” student Allison Moskowitz said. “Tulane cannot just have committees dedicated to DEI but must really act to protect their community.” 

“Despite Tulane’s refusal to divest from fossil fuels, I am hopeful that they will take concrete action one day. Tulane students are so passionate to combat climate change and make Tulane a better place,” Tomé said.