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Is AU Really as Sustainable as It Claims to Be?

You may have noticed the flyers posted on the backs of bathroom stalls around campus that claim AU directly and indirectly invests 18.8 million dollars into fossil fuel corporations. But, you wonder, how can the university still claim to be carbon neutral? This question remains unanswered for me and many members of Fossil Free AU (FFAU), an organization whose main and only goal is to get the university to divest from fossil fuels. 

I sat down with Marley Wiest, a sophomore in the School of International Service and a key leader in FFAU’s campaign towards divestment. While attending an event last year at George Washington University in which several key figures of the environmental movement, including Bernie Sanders and Bill McKibben, spoke, Marley ran into several FFAU members and decided the join their efforts.

Since then FFAU has made great strides to push towards divestment, building power in numbers as their first priority. The organization is trying to get the greater student body to understand what they are doing and why it’s important.

While the media favors the importance of individual efforts towards environmentally conscious practices, effective environmentalism must be accomplished as a society. FFAU claims that conscious consumerism is just a diversion from what will actually make an impact. 

“If AU truly wants to be a leading institution in fighting climate chaos, it must stop making a profit from it,” Wiest said. “We’re not just trying to tear down the administration. We like AU and we want AU to do better.”

Unfortunately, President Burwell and the Board of Trustees remain very strongly against divestment. 

“It all comes down to money,” Weist said. When I asked her about her opinions on AU claiming to be carbon neutral she replied with frustration, “My biggest pet peeve is that the university claims to be carbon neutral and sustainable when their still invested in fossil fuels. We tout carbon neutrality. However, we just purchase carbon offsets. We’re just paying for the title, we’re paying for the carbon that other people don’t use to offset what we already emit.” 

Our universities are preparing us for the future, but these same institutions are also investing in companies that will ensure there will be no planet in which we can have a future.

On a more positive note, FFAU is seeing progress among the student bodies recognition of this issue. Students are becoming more knowledgeable about divestment and have begun to recognize the inaccuracies behind AU’s claim to be a sustainable university. Even student government candidates are holding stances on divestment.

This campaign does not stop with AU. It’s a nationwide effort. In the DMV area alone, Georgetown, Johns Hopkins and George Washington University all have divestment campaigns. Harvard, Yale and Loyola Chicago have demonstrated some of the most impressive campaigns and Middlebury just recently announced that the university will be divesting.

If you want to get involved, you can start by showing up. “There’s so much power in numbers and that’s the one thing we really need to harness,” Weist said. Whether it’s attending the Monday night meetings from 8:00-9:00 PM in Don Myers, showing up to a protest outside the Board of Trustees meetings or simply following @FossilFreeAU on social media, you will be doing your part to help FFAU reach their goals of divestment. 

Elli Ruggiero

American '22

Elli Ruggiero, a Junior at American University originally from Massachusetts, is an environmental science major with a minor is the Spanish language. Elli is very passionate about the environment and loves any outdoor activity. In her free time Elli loves to play soccer, sail, and read poetry.
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