The event, titled “Speak Out for Climate Justice: Trustees, This is Not Over,” focused on the injustices of such phenomena as climate change, neoliberalism, and the patriarchy impose, especially upon women and ethnic minorities.
“Climate change is a very, very scary thing, and scarier for some people than others,” said one demonstrator, referring to the harm global warming inflicts upon “marginalized communities.” She explained that in agricultural communities, “Because of climate change, women are more likely to be left home alone, and aggression is more likely to happen towards women.”
The protesters chanted and sang songs to vocalize their displeasure with the Board of Trustees, exclaiming that, “They told us it was over” but “we believe that we will win.” The protesters also held a brief session of “Climate Calisthenics,” which included aerobic activities such as “stretching out like a solar panel,” “reaching down to the grassroots,” “shaking out the system,” and “stomping out the patriarchy.”
A self-described “environmental studies person” acknowledged that countering the trustees’ influence would prove arduous: “Those trustees are big people.” However, she encouraged, change would come given enough pressure from students: “It’s not if they’re going to do it; it’s when they’re going to do it.”
Another demonstrator insisted that Penn withdraw its funding from fossil fuels and reinvest in renewable energy, specifically solar and wind power. He cited the falling costs of renewable energy in recent years, and the fact that “Penn is sitting on this pile of cash,” as evidence that “we can pay for clean energy that doesn’t destroy the environment, that doesn’t kill and cause climate refugees.”
“We have the opportunity to actually be part of the solution. . . . to be making the right decision for ourselves and for the people who right now we’re profiting off of,” he continued. “As long as climate change is an issue, as long as the pile of money that we’re standing on ultimately extracts from the blood and tears of cultures that we’re destroying because of climate change . . . and until we divest, [Fossil Free Penn] will be here.”
The protesters were then asked how, if Penn were to invest large amounts in renewable energy, the university could avoid unfavorable situations such as what transpired when the U.S. Federal Government invested hundreds of millions in Solyndra, a solar panel manufacturer that went bankrupt. One member of Fossil Free Penn admitted that, financially, “renewable energy has not worked so far,” but only because of interference from the fossil fuel industry and a lack of funding. He insisted that the industry is “blocking solutions to the climate crisis,” adding that “they have advocated repeatedly against renewable energy mandates; they’ve advocated in favor of climate denial.” Additionally, he stated “For these renewable energy economies to work, there needs to be a massive amount of investment of money.”
When asked, he admitted he was not aware that the climate change industry has recently been valued at one and a half trillion dollars. But regardless, this would not nearly be enough money for clean energy to be a success. According to Fossil Free Penn’s estimates, clean energy needs an additional 5 trillion dollars annually in private investments alone for the next 25 years.
When asked how much of this 5 trillion dollars Penn specifically should give, a Fossil Free Penn representative responded that they believe Penn currently has at least $300 million invested in some form of “fossil fuel equities,” and that all of this money should ideally be reinvested. But until then, reinvesting “at least some portion” of the $300 million would be a step in the right direction.
At this point, I was politely requested to refrain from asking any more questions, as “this isn’t the forum for that.”
But later the protesters stated, “This is a democracy, so if anyone would like to add anything… please contribute.”
The protesters continued calling out the Board of Trustees’ thick-headedness and lack of compassion in refusing to accept what Fossil Free Penn believed to be a mutually beneficial investment.
A speaker added, “The math ultimately ends up — and the science is on the side — of justice.”