Letter to the Editor: Future Focus — USC must go beyond decarbonization and divestment

A design of the Earth with the text "#FIGHTON TO SAVE OUR PLANET" outlining its curvature.
(Alyssa Shao | Daily Trojan)

Humans are innately adaptable. Our species has evolved to inhabit nearly every region of the planet, from glacial poles to scorching deserts and everything in between. But our expanded presence has also massively disrupted many species and ecosystems, and this impact now includes our own human existence as well. 

Our unregulated modern appetite for fossil fuel consumption in everything, from energy, to food packaging, to transportation, to cosmetics and more, now threatens the quality of our lives, with the horizon looking worse by the minute. Climate disruption is already here, and the signals for us to adapt again are all around in plain sight. 

 So, where does USC stand on developing a sincere and effective climate response?

Fortunately, after years of indifference and delay, the University has begun to take a more enlightened and active role in this process. In February, the USC Board of Trustees voted to divest the University’s $5.5 billion endowment from all fossil fuel holdings, as these investments not only damage our global existence but also prove to be a financial risk.

Instead, environment, social and governance, or ESG, funds not only better align with our University’s mission and values but also provide more secure and profitable returns than oil, coal and natural gas. And, while this roughly $277 million change commitment from our trustees represents an inspiring milestone, USC must do much more to reverse its destructive dependence on fossil fuel consumption and replace it with a sustainable and regenerative commitment to our future. 

First, the University must make good on its existing divestment commitment and expeditiously. Students, faculty, staff and alumni are counting on this process to be transparent and effective. 

Closed door discussions and decisions on other significant University issues have not turned out so well for our community in the past. Divestment is an opportunity to reset this unproductive pattern and restore trust and engagement through collaborative participation from informed University organizations and committees, such as DivestSC and ESA.

Second, for USC to successfully reach net zero emissions, the entire University must accelerate our decarbonization efforts. Not by 2024, or 2028 — this needs to happen now through changes to our energy use, water use, transportation and, of course, financial investment choices. 

And, as we rapidly transition away from fossil fuel dependance and damage, we must replace them with innovation, equity and resilience, which includes generating curricula, research and community and business partnerships with these same values and goals in mind. 

Third, every student, faculty, staff and alumni community member can play a role in this transformation as well: We must change our own personal dependence on fossil fuels. 

Do you use one of the major American banks? All continue to heavily fund fossil fuel investment, so consider switching to a credit union or local bank which don’t. Ask friends and family members to do the same. Adjust your transportation, travel, food and entertainment consumption as well. Actively seek out sustainable, local alternatives. Be wise — think about your future and your kids’ futures each step of the way to sustainable and equitable regeneration. Adapt. 

Finally, get engaged on campus by joining or starting an organization focused on creating equitable solutions to our climate crisis. Every program, department, alumni group and community partner can be a source for action and positive change. The opportunity for solutions exists in future green energy and tech expos, research initiatives, regenerative startups, social justice advocacy and other actions we have yet to conceive. 

Steve Gratwick, MSW, LCSW 

Faculty Advisor, DivestSC

SDP School of Social Work Faculty, USC Alumni Class of 2005 

[email protected]