Students for Environmental Action (SEA) hosted A Day Without Oil, an environmental awareness event, on Sept. 26.
The event was designed to show the University administration that students support divestment, the movement of endowment funds away from securities of non-renewable energy companies. From 6 p.m. until 9 p.m., SEA had tables set up on the Upper Quad, featuring baked goods and raffle tickets to raise money for SEA’s ventures, as well as oil-free food prepared by Real Food Hopkins.
“Technically [this] was an energy awareness event, but it was also a kick-start event to launch our divestment campaign this semester,” SEA President Tippy Patrinos said.
The divestment movement, which exists in schools across the nation, involves petitioning for universities to redistribute funds invested in fossil fuel companies to companies that are conscious of sustainability. This practice was popularized in the 1980s, when many universities divested the stocks they held in South Africa-based companies as a protest against apartheid.
Today, proponents of fossil fuel divestment believe universities should have shares in more sustainable companies to protect students’ futures. However, according to Bloomberg News reports, endowments from universities make up only $1 trillion out of $150 trillion that are invested, globally, in fossil fuel companies.
According to sophomore Olivia Seideman, the regional coordinator for Powershift, an environmental conference for youth that will be held in Pittsburgh, Pa. from Oct. 18 to Oct. 21, the University’s current endowment has less than one percent of its funds invested in fossil fuel companies. Seideman made clear, however, that by transferring funds away from these investments and toward more sustainable companies, Hopkins would be making an important public statement.
“I think a school of Hopkins’ caliber making that social statement can be pretty serious,” Seideman said.
A Day Without Oil was not organized to directly appeal to the administration, but was rather a follow-up to a debate over divestment that the SEA organized last May. In that debate, Dr. Cindy Parker and Oliver Simon argued against Dr. Bruce Hamilton and David Israel regarding the merits of divestment.
“[A Day Without Oil] was basically an event to show the campus and the school administration that the students still want Johns Hopkins to divest its investments, because last year a lot of the students who were pushing for divestment on campus graduated,” sophomore Nikita Singh, a board member of SEA, said.
The SEA is an umbrella organization whose board also oversees two smaller groups, Take Back the Tap and Refuel our Future. The latter, founded last spring, is aiming at getting the administration to divest. In addition to hosting the A Day Without Oil event and the debate last spring, Refuel our Future has collected over 1,500 signatures in a petition drive calling for divestment.
“We plan on working closely with [administration] in the future,” Patrinos said. “Hopefully these events of escalating pressure will convince the board of financial advisors that it is a wise move to divest, not just for the school, but for the students’ futures. . .[climate change is] going to affect everybody. . .[Hopkins] should be guaranteeing a future that’s safe and secure and sustainable. By divesting from fossil fuels they are showing us that they genuinely care about us and our futures.”
At A Day Without Oil, in addition to spreading awareness about divestment, members of SEA raised money for transportation and housing during Powershift.
Along with SEA and Real Food Hopkins, the Entertainers Club and the Yong Han Lion Dance Troupe showcased performances at the event.
“Chinese lion dance requires no electricity and really no power,” junior Tiffany Tu, vice president of the Yong Han Lion Dance Troupe, said. “We were invited to [A Day Without Oil] by Tippy and she was planning to explain to us the importance of not using oil.”
In lion dancing, performers don lion costumes and perform a dance that is meant to bless the crowd with wealth and prosperity.
“Lion dance is a very loud and very flashy performance,” Tu said. “We ended up drawing a lot of passersby, so I’d say it was a pretty successful performance.”
Jennifer Ludlow, a resident of Baltimore, demonstrated how to make art out of bottle caps. Student musicians performed various pieces, including an environmental rap. Later, members of the Entertainers Club, of which Patrinos is a member, performed a fire show, which included fire hoops, fire spinning and juggling fire.
Sophomore Jonah Scott performed at A Day Without Oil, playing the guitar while sophomore Brian Gilbert sang.
“We thought that the cause was great,” Scott said. “Once we got there we actually ended up learning a lot from the people who were involved in organizing it.”
The preparation for A Day without Oil began this summer, when members of SEA visited local businesses to ask if they would donate prizes to the raffle. The club obtained coupons from Potbelly’s and Cold Stone Creamery, among others. The organizers also advertised the event around campus and put a press release in the local paper. Over 100 people attended A Day Without Oil, which Patrinos views as a significant accomplishment.
“[It was] more successful than I thought it would be,” Patrinos said. “I think it was extremely successful because it provoked discussion. . .that was ultimately beneficial to our cause.”