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After Week Long Student Sit-In, Pitt Commits To Carbon Neutrality By 2037

Kathleen J. Davis
90.5 WESA
Members of the Fossil Free Pitt Coalition disrupt the school's Board of Trustees meeting on Friday, February 28, 2020.

University of Pittsburgh's Board of Trustees Friday voted to become a carbon neutral campus by 2037, the school's 250th anniversary. The meeting was disrupted by more than 50 students demanding the university pull fossil fuel stocks from the school's endowment fund.

Since last Friday, students from the Fossil Free Pitt Coalition have participated in a sit-in at the Cathedral of Learning. 

At the February 28th meeting, Pitt Chancellor Patrick Gallagher positioned the move to carbon neutrality as a natural progression of the school's existing plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by half by 2030.

"In the face of the urgent need to address global climate change, we're proposing to raise the bar for the Pitt campus," Gallagher said when the measure was introduced.

Credit Jacob Paul / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
Pitt students have participated in a sit-in at the Cathedral of Learning since Friday, February 21.

According to the university,the goal will be accomplished through increased building efficiency, committing to renewable energy to power the school and by planting trees in and outside campus for carbon sequestration. 

The Board of Trustees also voted to consider a new endowment investment screening process, with no commitment to divest from fossil fuels. Students then began singing "We Shall Not Be Moved" and were escorted out of the meeting by security.

Members of the Fossil Free Pitt movement weren't satisfied with the changes the board approved. Teaching assistant Abhishek Viswanathan said carbon neutrality is not as good as zero carbon emissions.

"Carbon neutrality is creative accounting ... basically buying your way out of the problem." Viswanathan said. "Our university is making excuses for not being able to deal with the urgency [the climate crisis] deserves."

After the meeting, Chancellor Gallagher said he respects the students for turning attention to Pitt's role in the climate crisis, but said divestment isn't a straightforward decision for the Board of Trustees to make.

"Whatever benefit might come from participating in that kind of divestment activity across the country or across the world has to be balanced against the potential to harm the endowment," Gallagher said. "It really is about future students."

Viswanathan said Fossil Free Pitt plans to continue protesting in the Cathedral for an undisclosed amount of time.