On March 13th, former Irish President Mary Robinson spoke in front of a crowd of Boston College students, faculty, and community members about the necessity of ethical leadership and of civic action. Retelling her own story, President Robinson demonstrated how a life of principled activism and responsible leadership can improve our world in very real ways. She never aspired to the presidency, nor towards any real power. Instead, it was a series of morally upright actions and passionate pleas for justice that paved her path to eminence.
This story was not told simply to inspire abstract civic duty, but rather to demand that the BC community further the cause of justice. Specifically, President Robinson asked that Father Leahy’s administration take steps to divest from fossil fuels. President Robinson asked that all those who would protect the climate to start actively working to defend it. From her speech, it became clear that passive support for divestment and environmental protection should no longer be tolerated. Instead, we must demand the active and aggressive defense of our planet.
While President, Mary Robinson worked towards Ireland’s divestment from fossil fuels—something which has now become a reality—and later served as the United Nations Special Envoy on Climate Change. In both offices, President Robinson recognized that human rights issues are deeply connected with climate change, and that communities across the world suffer when we continue to use fossil fuels. Therefore, investing in fossil fuel companies is not only foolishly shortsighted, but morally egregious. With BC’s sister school, Trinity College, selling its holdings in fossil fuels just last year on those same grounds, it is hard to imagine that Leahy’s administration has a defensible ethical or economic argument for maintaining its support of fossil fuels. From President Robinson’s speech, it was clear that she viewed Leahy’s refusal to divest as an affront to environmental justice, human rights, and indeed, to BC’s own stated mission of social responsibility.
If we are to learn anything from the wisdom shared by President Robinson, it should be that the era of apathetic consent must now come to an end. In her both her stated opposition to our administration’s current policy, as well as in her life’s work, it is plainly obvious that we have an obligation to demand divestment from fossil fuels. Organizations like Climate Justice at BC have worked towards this goal for nearly five years only to be met with silence, and this impassioned plea of such a respected and successful political figure ought to spark a resurgence in the fight for divestment. Put simply: We are faced with a crisis, and on March 13th, a former president told us exactly what to do about it.
Matthew Barad, MCAS ’20