The normal buzz of Greenwich Village seemed to slow Monday night at 1 Washington Place as Gallatin’s Labowitz Theatre was transformed into a hub for climate change awareness and a vigil for those lost to recent climate chaos.
Projected in large letters onto a building across the street were the words “NYU Divest Now” followed by a scrolling list of 84 people who lost their lives to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. A group of NYU Divest club members were gathered underneath the projection with fake paper $100 bills taped to their mouths and a sign that read “our investments kill.”
NYU Divest is a student organization that has been working since 2012 to end NYU’s investment in the fossil fuel industry. As of now, around $139 million of the university’s endowment is tied up in fossil fuel investments — of that, $700,000 are direct shares in oil companies, such as Anadarko Petroleum and Noble Energy.
“Our investments are not neutral right now,” Gallatin junior and club leader Sarah Singh said. “Our trustees and our administration are ignoring the fact that they are invested in a violent industry and that people are dying because of it. [The fossil fuel industry] unequally affects marginalized communities and people of color.”
The idea for the vigil came about in conjunction with a climate change themed art gallery hosted by artist and Gallatin professor Mark Read. He approached NYU Divest with the idea of recognizing the victims of climate change by projecting their names onto a building.
“The gallery show is called ‘Outrage to Action,’” Read said. “That left me wondering, ‘What is the action component? What is the action that NYU community members can take?’ The one action that is the most evident is divestment from fossil fuels. The Board of Trustees has so far refused to divest itself of investments in fossil fuel and those investments have lethal consequences.”
In addition to the vigil, the art gallery used bold symbolism in tackling the topic of climate change and its relevance. A piece titled “Ceremony of Innocence,” co-created by Read, featured a 150 pound block of ice that slowly revealed the symbol for extinction as it melted.
According to Read the symbolism of the piece is important in describing what we face in regards to climate change.
“Symbols kind of present themselves when needed,” artist Grayson Earle said. “The extinction symbol is meant to symbolize the coming mass extinction of potentially 90 percent of the species on earth like the last mass extinction.”
Some vigil attendees, like Gallatin freshman Esther Bildirici, were learning about the issues of climate change and the fossil fuel industry for the first time.
“It’s very personal now that Hurricane Irma and Harvey just hit,” Bildirici said. “Now we understand how damaging this can be. I mean, you see the names on the building and you just want to cry.”
While the larger goal of NYU Divest will always be to stop NYU’s investment in the fossil fuel industry completely, the club’s short term aim is to have the $700,000 direct investment removed, an easier process involving no contractual obligation.
In a June 2016 statement, the Board of Trustees announced that they would not divest from fossil fuels despite a University Senate resolution that directed NYU to not make any new investments into fossil fuels.
“Environmental racism impacts people that the NYU community is not made to see everyday,” Singh said. “The names that are scrolling across this building are those who perished in Irma and Harvey. Our larger aim is to educate the community on environmental justice.”