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Meet Two NYU Sunrise Students Who Helped Push NYU to Divest from Fossil Fuels

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New York University announced it plans to divest from fossil fuels in an August letter addressed to Sunrise NYU. We speak with co-founders of the campus climate group, Alicia Colomer and Dylan Wahbe, about the university finally divesting after decades of pressure from student advocates. “I would encourage every single student to get organized and join the movement,” says Wahbe, who says a broad coalition of student groups and university unions ultimately forced the board of trustees to move on this issue. “Stop the fossil fuel money from coming and polluting our universities in the first place so that universities can become real climate leaders,” says Colomer, who is also managing director of Fossil Free Research, which works to end the fossil fuel industry’s influence on higher education and climate research.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman.

We turn now to a major victory for climate activists here in New York, when NYU, New York University, announced its plans to divest from fossil fuels after facing over a decade of pressure from student advocates. The chair of the NYU Board of Trustees announced the decision in an August letter addressed to Sunrise NYU and acknowledged them for their work over the years.

For more, we’re joined by two of the people who were key to this campaign. Alicia Colomer is a co-founder of Sunrise NYU, managing director of Fossil Free Research. And Dylan Wahbe is also a co-founder and hub director of Sunrise NYU.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Alicia, let’s begin with you. The significance of — well, what exactly did NYU agree to do? And talk about your organizing leading to this.

ALICIA COLOMER: Yes. Thank you for having me.

So, the fossil fuel industry continues to deny and delay climate action, as we just heard, and it’s very important for universities to put their money where their mouth is and actually invest in a just, green energy future that they’re preparing their students to enter, not continue investing in the industry that is destroying our future. So, what NYU has committed to do is to stop giving more money to the industry that is destroying our future. And that is why it is such a crucial decision. But this decision comes after 10 years of student activism and organizing at NYU, and it shouldn’t have taken a decade for them to be able to finally make this announcement.

AMY GOODMAN: And the announcement was what? And were you surprised? I mean, this is one of the wealthiest universities in the United States, certainly one of the most expensive for tuition. Were you surprised, Alicia, that they congratulated the chair of the board, congratulated NYU Sunrise? You’re the co-founder of that organization.

ALICIA COLOMER: Yes, I was definitely surprised, because in most university divestment announcements, student activists aren’t recognized in the decision. So it was very gratifying to read that letter from Bill Berkley himself, the chair of our board, congratulating the successes of Sunrise NYU in getting here. And I think that recognition is very well deserved, because we have spent so many years building this great organization and running this amazing campaign, and we genuinely could never have gotten this win without the work of so many student organizers, who did everything from organizing protests and rallies to collecting over 2,000 signatures on our petition to working with our Student Government Assembly and the Office of Sustainability. And it just was so many years of work leading up to this decision, and it was very gratifying that the chair of our board was able to recognize that.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Dylan Wahbe, your response, as well, as another of the co-founders of Sunrise NYU?

DYLAN WAHBE: Sunrise NYU is nothing but our people. To be honest, we don’t even have a consistent place to meet within NYU. We meet in an empty auditorium, and every now and then it’s full with some sort of presentation, and we have to improvise. But we have an incredible leadership, an incredible membership. And on top of that, we work with other progressive student organizations, and we work with the unions on campus — the contract faculty union, the graduate student union, adjunct union and others. And through this broad coalition is ultimately what forced the Board of Trustees to sit down with us and led to this decision.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Alicia Colomer, if you can talk about the efforts to block fossil fuel corporations from funding university research on the climate crisis? Earlier this year, a report by Data for Progress and Fossil Free Research, your group, looked into the influence of Big Oil and other polluters, what influence they have on higher education.

ALICIA COLOMER: Definitely. So, as you were just talking about with Rose, fossil fuel companies have continued to sow misinformation about climate change in order to deny climate action. And one of the ways they do this is by funding research at universities that leads for false climate solutions and helps them continue business as usual. And for them, business as usual is the continued destruction of our planet, right?

So, policymakers and legislators, they read these reports that come from prestigious universities, and they are much more likely to believe a, quote-unquote, “climate research document” if at the top of the document it says MIT or Harvard, rather than it had a direct Exxon branding — though it might as well have a direct Exxon branding because all of that research is directly funded by these Big Oil companies.

And so, what we’re trying to do is stop that pipeline, stop the fossil fuel money from coming and polluting our universities in the first place, so that universities can become real climate leaders and so that universities can create real innovation, real climate solutions and lead us to a just energy transition. And that’s why we’re demanding that universities stop taking fossil fuel money for climate research.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Dylan Wahbe, what else do you think needs to be said as we move into what’s happening on Sunday, this major march? And what inspired you to get involved with the whole issue of climate change?

DYLAN WAHBE: I think I would encourage every single student to get organized and join the movement. There’s over 100 Sunrise chapters across the country, and there’s other incredible groups, Extinction Rebellion, YDSA and DSA chapters. And it’s really through community organizing that we will have a voice…

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going have to leave it there. It seems that Dylan’s voice has gone into a loop. Dylan Wahbe and Alicia Colomer are co-founders of Sunrise NYU.

Coming up, we go to Washington, where Hunter Biden has been indicted on gun charges. It is the first time in history that the child of a sitting president has been indicted. Stay with us.

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