Columbia Climate School Alumni Stand with the Gaza Solidarity Encampment

by Columbia Climate Alumni Coalition

To President Shafik, President Rosenbury, Dean Shaman and the Trustees of Columbia University,

We, alumni of Columbia University’s Climate School, SUMA, and The Earth Institute, stand in full solidarity with the brave students of the Gaza Solidarity Encampment, as well as with the faculty, staff, and community supporters protesting for Columbia’s total divestment and full dissociation from institutions profiting off or engaging in Israel’s acts of occupation, apartheid, and genocide in Palestine. Doing so is fundamentally essential to environmental justice and overcoming the climate emergency.

We affirm the protests’ core belief that Palestinian liberation and safety for Jewish people are the same goal: to end genocide and ethnic cleansing everywhere and in all forms. We completely condemn antisemitism, Islamophobia, xenophobia, and violence — verbal and physical — and maintain that all students must be guaranteed safety. We reject the weaponization of Jewish identity and steadfastly support anti-zionism. We observe that the encampment has nurtured student safety through interfaith solidarity and community building. In alignment with Columbia Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw’s teachings on feminist intersectionality, we recognize there can be no climate justice without peace and no peace without the liberation of Palestinian people.

We reaffirm the letters by our fellow alumni, especially those of the Palestinian, Muslim, Jewish,Indigenous, Christian, Latinx, South Asian, and Black communities, of Barnard and Columbia Colleges, and of Columbia’s Journalism, SIPA, MSPH, Teachers College, Social Work, General Studies, and Law Schools. We applaud the encampments springing up on campuses globally, demonstrating that while the University may repress individuals, this movement will not be silenced. The over 100 students arrested at Columbia’s orders remind us of the land defenders who risk their bodies daily for climate justice and intersectional liberation. They remind us: “You can kill 100 roses, but you cannot stop the coming of spring.” This dedication to freeing Palestine in our lifetime is embodied by students’ chants: “Disclose! Divest! No more suspensions, no more arrests! We will not stop! We will not rest!”

Columbia’s Crackdown Endangers Climate Justice Activists

Columbia’s crackdown mirrors and contributes to the irredeemable rising repression and surveillance against climate activists worldwide. As charges of racketeering and domestic terrorism are leveled at nonviolent environmental activists, the fundamental human right to protest is being criminalized. This is especially grave for Black, People of Color, and Indigenous people. The 2023 murder of Indigenous gender-queer land defender Manuel “Tortuguita” Teran — whose death marks the first recorded instance in US history of police killing a climate activist — as well as the National Guard’s 1970 massacre of anti-war students at Kent State, demonstrate the logical conclusion of Columbia’s actions.

We are appalled by reported threats from Columbia and Congress to unleash the National Guard on students and given the history of rampant police brutality against BIPOC people, we wholly reject President Shafik’s claim that NYPD in any way serves the safety of the community. As reports of brutal police repression on campuses proliferate, of students of color tear-gassed, tasered, shot at with rubber bullets and a professor assaulted by police at Emory University, of a police sniper possibly deployed to Indiana University, and of blood staining Emerson College’s cobblestones, we remind you that Columbia started this crackdown. We are disgusted that Columbia, which preaches free speech, is instead normalizing the violent repression of activists and the criminalization of dissent.

Columbia and President Shafik have undermined democratic governance by acting without University Senate approval to authorize violent police force against students, in violation of Statutes Section 444, and by breaching student’s Title VI civil rights. We are beyond alarmed that Columbia is fomenting the same rising fascism that obstructs multilateral climate negotiations. As Columbia moves in lockstep with authoritarian assaults on democracy by unilaterally crushing dissent, it pours fuel on the flames of a burning planet.

The Climate School’s Mandate

As home to the world’s first Climate School, the University understands the facts of this letter yet has proven too morally abject to stand behind the very science it teaches. The call to action by Climate School students and alumni in November 2023 on demanding a ceasefire over environmental injustices was inhumanely ignored by the School’s administrators. By suppressing activists and investing in war, Columbia contravenes its Climate School’s mission and cannot pretend to be a climate leader.

The University argues against apartheid divestment by citing a need for “broad consensus” and “aversion to using divestment for political purposes.” All investments are inherently political. Moreover, amidst the 99.9% peer-reviewed scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change, the UN International Panel on Climate Change found with “high confidence” that colonialism, like Israel’s, drives the climate emergency. In addition, the UN Stockholm Declaration on Human Environment observes that protecting ecosystems necessitates decolonization and the end to all apartheid. International and Israeli human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and B’Tselem, have all declared Israel an apartheid state. Broad scientific and political consensus thus support the need for apartheid divestment to overcome the climate emergency.

The Climate School community’s responsibility inarguably includes these matters of divestment and protest, especially as our School’s 2024 Graduation Student Speaker has been unjustly arrested and suspended, and as the Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing’s (ACSRI) entire voting faculty membership and its Chair are Climate School affiliates.

Columbia claims divestment, protest, and student discipline fall outside the Climate School’s mandate. Science proves otherwise, that environmental justice requires divestment from war and apartheid, and that civil disobedience is integral to overcoming the climate emergency. The Climate School’s mission thus mandates it defend students’ right to dissent and support the cause of apartheid divestment. Being home to the world’s first Climate School, Columbia’s commitments to environmental justice likewise mandate that its Board of Trustees both defend civil disobedience and also enact divestment from apartheid.

Militarism and Climate Justice are Inextricably Linked and Fundamentally Incompatible

The climate crisis and the global military-industrial complex are deeply intertwined. War’s devastation does not stop at human injury and death but also wreaks havoc on ecosystems and the climate via massive emissions, pollution of water and air, and environmental devastation felt for generations. Columbia’s own Center for Global Energy Policy Director Jason Bordoff recently acknowledged this deep link at a recent panel discussing Israel. Alumni activists with Climate Defiance disrupted the discussion to protest the University’s platforming of BlackRock, a top investor in war profiteers and fossil fuels firms, highlighting Columbia’s unethical research funding from such firms. These financial relationships corrupt its research, undermine academic freedom, and make the University complicit in unconscionable harms, as do repression of activists and ties to war profiteers. Divestment and full dissociation are therefore plainly necessary.

The environmental injustice of Israel’s decades-long siege on Palestine, compounded by climate change, includes water shortages, ecocide, agricultural damage, and infrastructural collapse, caused by embargo, bombing, and humanitarian aid obstruction. Along with disease and death among Palestinians, this drives waste-water system failures, rendering 97% of Palestine’s water undrinkable since at least 2018 and causing sewage to poison coastal ecosystems and harm marine wildlife. We uphold the Palestinian people’s inalienable rights to self-determination and governance which include environmentally just access to clean air, clean water, landback, and the right of return – all upheld by international human rights law.

War and a stable climate are irreconcilable. The US Military is the single largest institutional emitter of greenhouse gasses, outstripping 140 nations, and the first two months of Israel’s 2023 siege on Gaza alone outburned the annual emissions of “over 20 of the most climate-vulnerable” countries. The climate emergency clearly demands the abolition of the military-industrial complex. Thus, we find the University’s investments morally reprehensible and scientifically objectionable and demand full divestment from such firms, including fossil fuel companies that profit off genocide, apartheid, and war — in recognition that these investments are incompatible with the biodiversity, public health, human life, human rights, and a stable climate.

Columbia’s History Demands Divestment

Israel’s ecocide and war crimes in Palestine echo the US’ in Vietnam — which, alongside Columbia’s segregationist gentrification of Harlem, sparked the University’s 1968 protests. Columbia’s use of eminent domain to gentrify Harlem mimics the settler-colonial violence ongoing in both Israel and the US, where its campus stands, built off profits from stolen bodies and on the stolen lands of Lenni-Lenape and Wappinger peoples. With its massive endowment and as the largest private landowner in New York City, Columbia can plainly afford divestment. However, this is not ultimately an issue of affordability but rather one of clear moral obligation to reject genocide.

Divesting from genocide and defending the fundamental right of civil disobedience are moral obligations crucial to climate justice. We therefore insist the Climate School and University enact the student and alumni demands, including yet not limited to:

  • Divest financially, including the endowment and research funding, and fully dissociate from entities profiting off of or complicit in Israel’s apartheid, occupation, and genocide against Palestine
  • Enact Columbia University Apartheid Divest’s proposal to the Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing, and the Gaza Solidarity Encampment students’ demands to the University
  • Ensure complete transparency for all Columbia’s investments, research funding, and financial ties
  • Grant amnesty from legal action and discipline for all students, faculty, and staff facing repression
  • Reinstate the suspended students and the Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace groups, including with class participation, housing, healthcare, and on-campus food access
  • End Columbia’s repression against activists, including NYPD’s immediate and sustained withdrawal from campus and surrounding areas, as well as ceasing of surveillance against activists
  • Boycott academically, by canceling the opening of the Tel Aviv Global Center and the Tel Aviv University Dual Degree Program, because they are currently exclusionary and function as a military laboratory while affirming that discourse and education are ultimately a bridge to peace
  • Uphold academic freedom, free expression, shared governance, and the right to protest
  • The Climate School must secure amnesty for the current C+S Student Speaker who was arrested and suspended, and ensure they are allowed to speak at Graduation/Class Day
  • The Climate School must publicly call for an end to the genocide and declare support for student anti-war activists

Until these demands are met, we as Climate School Alumni will not accept any new staff or faculty positions, speaking engagements at, or advisory roles with the School, nor will we donate to, organizationally support, culturally contribute to, or promote the University.

We must also agree with the American Association of University Professors’ Barnard and Columbia Chapter statement on the loss of confidence in Columbia’s administration for violating shared governance and academic freedom. While we reject Congress’ attempts to scapegoat President Shafik, we simultaneously condemn the University administration for capitulating to state repression at the expense of academic independence. Similarly, we find Columbia’s authorization of militarized police with a history of brutality towards people of color and which carry the explicit threat of deadly force, against nonviolent anti-war activists led by BIPOC women, to be a morally reprehensible, implicitly racist, and dangerously irresponsible dereliction of duty. Therefore, we have lost all confidence in President Shafik and Columbia’s administration.

Finally, we affirm that this activism does not ultimately center Columbia. Its focus is realizing a free Palestine and an end to both genocide and ethnic cleansing, everywhere and in all forms. As Columbia hypocritically invokes “student safety” to repress this nonviolent interfaith anti-war movement, we find clarity in the words, “There isn’t a single safe campus left in Gaza,’‘ and in reporting that, in fact, there are no universities left in Gaza at all.

Without universities, there can be no climate science — and without a free Palestine, there can be no climate justice.

In Solidarity,

Alumni of Columbia University’s Climate School