OPINION | Tulane is responsible for Hurricane Ida

Sahil Inaganti, Contributing Columnist

(Maggie Pasterz)

Hurricane Ida caused catastrophic destruction as it ripped through Louisiana in August. Communities across Louisiana, particularly low-income communities and communities of color, were devastated by powerful winds and flooding. Millions of people lost power, thousands of homes were seriously damaged and at least 28 people died. The storm caused Tulane University to cancel in-person classes for four weeks and forced students to evacuate on short notice. 

Unfortunately, students’ lives being disrupted by hurricanes is becoming all too familiar to Tulanians. Last year, Tulane faced an unprecedented seven storm threats, part of the record-breaking 2020 hurricane season. Like Hurricane Ida, these storms interrupted students’ education and caused immense stress to faculty and staff who were expected to come into work despite power outages and damage to their homes.

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s most recent report confirms the Tulane community’s experience with worsening weather patterns. The use of fossil fuels and the emission of greenhouse gases is increasing the intensity and severity of extreme weather. Despite this fact, the fossil fuel industry continues to actively resist a transition to a fossil fuel free future.

No university has as much to gain from phasing out fossil fuels as Tulane. Its location in the Gulf South, a region characterized by extreme weather, puts the community in unparalleled danger from the effects of climate change. Yet, rather than support a transition to a more sustainable future, Tulane invests millions of dollars into the fossil fuel companies that are responsible for climate change.

Investing in the fossil fuel industry forsakes Tulane’s responsibility to both the residents of Louisiana and its students. By investing in the fossil fuel industry, which is responsible for increasingly severe weather events, Tulane profits from an industry that is responsible for death and destruction across the state of Louisiana. Additionally, by investing in an industry that has exacerbated the hurricanes that have frequently interrupted student life, Tulane fails to uphold its responsibility to educate its students.

Tulane’s involvement in the fossil fuel industry supports companies that have worsened the effects of climate change, making the university responsible — albeit indirectly — for the destruction caused by Hurricane Ida. Through divestment, Tulane would take a bold step to prevent this type of destruction in the future.

Divestment implies that Tulane would sell off investments in fossil fuel companies and pledge not to make any new investments in the fossil fuel industry. By divesting, Tulane would no longer financially support companies responsible for immense harm to Louisiana and instead free up money that could be used for environmentally and socially just investments.

Divestment is not a new phenomenon. In the 1980s, student movements advocating for divestment from the apartheid regime of South Africa were successful in placing significant pressure upon the South African government to abandon apartheid. Recently, institutions such as Harvard University, Cornell University and the University of Michigan have divested from fossil fuels, actions that are likely to produce ripple effects across other institutions.

In an email sent to students and faculty earlier this month, Tulane administrators claimed that continuing to invest in fossil fuel companies is a more effective strategy than divestment to achieve long-term sustainability. They argue that Tulane can use its position as a shareholder to encourage companies to reduce their carbon footprint. Despite these claims, there is no evidence that Tulane has ever used its position as a shareholder to compel fossil fuel companies to adopt sustainable practices. 

In this same email, administrators also claim that investing in fossil fuels is necessary to generate income to support the university. The energy sector was the worst performing economic sector of the last decade, a trend that is likely to persist as our economy transitions to a carbon-free future. This evidence demonstrates that divesting from fossil fuels is not only moral, but also makes economic sense.

Tulane has a complicated relationship with Louisiana. Although it employs thousands of people, partners with local nonprofits and fosters innovation and research across the state, it also has a long history of exploitation and injustice. Tulane’s founding endowment was derived through the labor of enslaved people; students of color were historically excluded from attending and by investing in the fossil fuel industry, Tulane profits from companies that are responsible for climate change.

Tulane is at its best when we serve as a force for good within Louisiana. If Tulane is to do what is best for Louisiana and its people, Tulane must live up to its motto “not for oneself, but for one’s own” and divest from fossil fuels to protect the school and the community from further harm.

You can voice your support for divestment at Tulane by signing the divestment petition and stay informed of developments by following tu_sustain on Instagram.