. . .until he establishes justice on the earth; the coastlands will wait for his teaching. Is. 42: 1-4
It was a good way to begin the New Year: testifying before the Budget and Finance Committee of the University of Hawai‘i (UH) Board of Regents about the need to divest from fossil fuels. I spoke as an alumna of an institution I love and respect. I want to love and respect it more.
I earned my Ph.D. in English at UH-Mānoa in 2008. It was a learning experience in every way for a then relative newcomer. I earned my Master’s at UCLA and my B.A. at the University of Malaya. But it is to UH that I owe my greatest debt. Perhaps I rate UH so highly because I was, what is euphemistically called, a “mature student.” As I juggled a full-time job downtown running a small company while going to class, I was acutely conscious of how much I benefited from the generosity of my professors. I tell everyone who will listen how deeply vested the professors at UH are, in the success of their students.
Perhaps I rate UH so highly because it is here that I began to fill out my view of the world, come to terms with my mortality and discover, as I learned about the Hawaiian values that make this place so special, how I might better discharge my obligation for the space I occupy on our fragile planet.
UH, and Hawai‘i in general, have made me more mindful of my kuleana. My son earned his MBA, and my daughter her first degree in English right here. My daughter-in-law is a 2010 graduate of the Richardson School of Law. So we are truly indebted as a family to UH. I am reminded daily, by the Hawai‘i culture of caring for the land and those around us, of what my mother taught me. Perhaps she was listening in faraway Kuala Lumpur as I told the Regents what she said to us as children. It may sound pious and simplistic, but she still says that what you receive with one hand, you should give away with the other. Fossil fuel companies would scoff at that advice. Fossil fuel companies simply take. And take. And take.
And we, even we who abhor fossil fuels, feed their insatiable appetites as we drive our cars and take long flights and contribute in all kinds of ways to rising oceans and capricious weather that is particularly hard on coastal and island communities.
Many of us have already made simple changes in our daily lives to reduce our carbon footprint. We need to scale up those individual behaviors through a more concerted, collaborative strategy that involves everyone: students, faculty, regents, the general public, legislators.
What we are asking of the Regents is an act of visionary leadership. As Regents of the state’s most important engine for economic growth, the steps they take on behalf of the university to divest from fossil fuels will inspire. To divest is not to tilt at windmills.
Divestment is one amongst several actions that we must take, individually and together, to combat climate change and mitigate the destructive power of fossil fuel companies. Leadership from the Regents will help pave the way for leadership from our legislators.
As oil prices fall, our hopes rise that the Regents of this land, sea and space grant university will seize the moment and say NO MORE to fossil fuels.
The Budget and Finance Committee of the Board of Regents received 477 pieces of written testimony urging divestment. They heard direct testimony from 18 speakers at their meeting on January 8. Their unanimously welcoming reception of the data and views that were offered suggest that they are listening. And so we move forward.
YOU CAN HELP ADVANCE DIVESTMENT FROM FOSSIL FUELS:
1. Come to the full Board of Regents’ meeting on Thursday January 22, 10am, in the Mānoa Campus Center Ballroom. They’ll be voting on whether to approve a task group to look further into divesting. They are NOT voting on divesting yet, but this vote must pass as a step toward that.