OP-ED: Hurricane Season Underscores the Need for Divestment

OP-ED: Hurricane Season Underscores the Need for Divestment

Ainsley Gill, Contributor

Image Credit: Image via Pixabay 

From Hurricane Ida flooding the subways of New York to Hurricane Grace drenching Haiti in the wake of a devastating earthquake to the life-threatening floods outside of Nashville, the climate crisis is here and it’s in our backyard.

This hurricane season marked the second year in a row and just the third year ever that the World Meteorological Organization ran out of names on the storm list. As each hurricane season brings more and more dangerous and damaging storms, it would be imprudent to ignore the force behind them:climate change.

Fueled in part by human-driven climate change, rising ocean temperatures fuel hurricanes, resulting in more volatile storms with higher wind speeds, higher rainfall, and wider ranges. These storms are also likely to move more slowly, meaning that they beat down on one area for an extended period of time. Not only are hurricanes becoming more dangerous, but the proportion of storms garnering a rating of category 4 or 5,the strongest storms,has increased at a rate of roughly 25 to 30% per degree Celsius of global warming, adjusting for outside factors. 

I’ve seen the devastating harms these storms cause firsthand. In 2017, Hurricane Harvey hit my hometown of Houston, TX, dumping a year’s worth of rain over a concrete city. The third “500 year flood” in three years, Harvey flooded my home, high school, and thousands of homes and businesses across the Houston area. Those whose homes were not considered to be at a flood risk lacked insurance for the damage, resulting in not only physical, but financial devastation. This was a community used to weathering hurricanes, but the combination of storms rising in strength and unsustainable development have exacerbated the impact of a storm beyond what plywood and sandbags can keep out.

With the impacts of climate change hitting close to home for many Vanderbilt students, the reality is undeniable. In the past year alone, 40% of Americans witnessed a climate-related extreme weather event in their home county. More broadly, 85% of people worldwide have experienced extreme weather events exacerbated by climate change. Institutions like Vanderbilt must stand with their students in the fight against climate change and divest from fossil fuels if it hopes to continue to be a trailblazer for sustainability and innovation.

Vanderbilt Student Government and the Graduate Student Council have both passed resolutions in support of divestment. The university administration, however, has expressed unwillingness to divest and does not appear to be seriously considering the proposal, despite the widespread student and faculty support. Chancellor Diermier specifically has cited concern over the university’s ability to maintain its endowment and maintain programs like Opportunity Vanderbilt if the university were to divest. 

I acknowledge and applaud Vanderbilt’s commitment to sustainability and the ways in which the administration has continued to expand and affirm that commitment. However, the university must consider the ways in which its continued support of the fossil fuel industry makes the university complicit in the harms climate change has brought and will continue to bring against the homes of students and alumni worldwide, as well as the greater Vanderbilt community. The recent divestments at Harvard and Dartmouth (among others) show that investment in fossil fuels is far from necessary to secure the financial future and success of academic institutions. Vanderbilt could simultaneously preserve their moral integrity and financial interests by following in their footsteps.

In the words of Chancellor Diermier: “Climate change is one of the world’s greatest challenges, and research universities can and must play a unique role in identifying and modeling solutions […] At Vanderbilt, this means constantly asking ourselves how we can accomplish more.” For many Vanderbilt students, the answer to this question is simple: divest.