Tulane Needs a Sustainability and Divestment Committee

A Speech to the Tulane Undergraduate Assembly by Sahil Inaganti

Louisiana and Tulane are on the frontlines of climate change and environmental injustice.

Scientists agree that climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of severe weather and our lived experience validates that. Since I have been at Tulane, there have been eight hurricanes that have either canceled or affected classes. Notably, Hurricane Ida which canceled in -person classes for an entire month.

In addition to severe weather, we have to deal with sea level rise that threatens to inundate coastal communities, oil spills from the offshore rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, and the pollution from the facilities that process oil and gas just upriver from here in Cancer Alley.

There are already activists fighting against these environmental injustices across the state, including Sharon Lavigne and Rise St. James in Cancer Alley or the Louisiana Bucket Brigade opposing the construction of natural gas terminals.

Creating a sustainability and divestment committee will help Tulanians join the fight for a better environment. Creating this committee will not only position this body as an environmental leader, but also will help it serve as an incubator for future environmental leaders.

This committee will serve to coordinate environmental organizing on this campus, as we push Tulane to become a more environmentally conscious institution. Its meetings will be open to delegates and non-delegates alike and work closely with existing environmental organizations on campus including Sunrise Tulane and Green Club.

Now, the first part of this committee, the sustainability piece, should sound familiar to most of you. The previous iteration of the Tulane Undergraduate Assembly, USG, had a sustainability committee for many years which held meetings where students could come together to work on environmental awareness, energy efficiency, and waste reduction projects.

This resolution will keep that piece intact but will add a piece that I think is even more important.

All of the initiatives I just mentioned are easy for Tulane’s administration to adopt. They help the school save money and serve to greenwash its image. I think, the point of student government bodies like this one, ought to be to compel administration to make decisions that are difficult and controversial but are ultimately right.

Divesting from fossil fuels is the best example of one of these decisions. Currently, Tulane has an endowment of over two billion dollars. This endowment is managed by the Tulane Investment Office, which invests a sizable amount of it into the fossil fuel industry. It is unacceptable that a school on the frontlines of climate change financially supports the industry most responsible for climate change through our investments.

Divestment is not a new phenomenon. It was pioneered in the 1970s as college students pressured their universities to stop investing their endowments into the apartheid regime of South Africa. Fossil fuel divestment is also not a new phenomenon, with universities including Harvard, Michigan, and the University of California system already committing to divest.

Students at Tulane have long been working for fossil fuel divestment without support from their student government. Formally incorporating divestment as a part of this body, will send a strong signal to administration that we intend to take this issue seriously and provide a platform for divestment activists working to achieve this goal.

I hope you have all had the chance to review this resolution in its entirety, so I won’t dedicate time to reading it word for word, but I’d be happy to yield my time to field any questions.

— RCC Fellow Sahil Inaganti

RCC Fellow Sahil Inaganti is a senior at Tulane University leading efforts to divest fossil fuels from the Tulane endowment. He majors in Environmental Studies, Public Health, and Political Economy with minors in Urban Studies and Management. He has interned at the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic where he analyzed emissions in Louisiana’s Cancer Alley and has conducted research on the effect of COVID-19 in exacerbating health disparities. At Tulane, Sahil is president of the School of Public Health’s Student Government and co-founder of the Health Equity Fellowship, a leadership development program for first-year students interested in advancing health equity.