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According to Williams, this characterization of divestment is misleading.
“To somehow frame a decision to invest in clean energy initiatives and to also remove investments from the fossil fuel industry as mutually incompatible – it’s really nonsensical,” Williams said. “It shows that many universities have a deep willingness to frame the issue in nonsensical terms so as to prevent someone from clearly assessing the situation.”
Williams said he is hopeful that NU will continue improving its environmental record.
“Northeastern touts itself as a self-described sustainability leader in higher education,” he said. “I believe that Northeastern certainly has done some work to merit that distinction, but there still is a lot left to do.”
In his email, Armini wrote that the administration is aware that some students, particularly members of DivestNU, disagree with the university’s investment policies.
“While we realize some students are unhappy with anything short of full divestment, we admire their passion and commitment to this issue,” Armini said.
Dr. Matthias Ruth, an NU professor in the school of public policy and urban affairs, as well as in the department of civil and environmental engineering, said he is excited about NU’s sustainable investment pledge.
“I think [the investment plan] is a very smart approach and hopefully will lift us out of this confrontational mode in which the divest movement has been stuck for a while,” Ruth said. “Maybe with this we’ll gain new ground and get people… aligned behind some of the climate action goals.”
Ruth said he is impressed with the motivation of Northeastern’s students, faculty and administration on the topic of climate action.
“On many fronts I think we are doing the right thing,” Ruth said. “This is a sign that we’ve already identified an area where we could do more, and now we will.”
Ruth also said that, while he is sympathetic to DivestNU’s mission, he also believes that full divestment is easier in theory than in practice.
“Finding funds that have no [fossil fuels] in them is tricky,” Ruth said. “At the end of the day, almost all households and firms, to some extent, use fossil fuels, so it becomes sort of an arbitrary decision of where to draw the boundary once you’re past that first set of culprits.”
Ruth also said that he believes that universities have an opportunity and responsibility to be catalysts for social change by setting positive examples.
“This is where, in essence, the future leaders come from,” he said. “If we don’t embed people in the right kind of environment and teach them a new and creative positive way of thinking about some of these challenges… I don’t know who would.”
Photo by Cassidy DeStefano