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Crime log: Subject barred after shoplifting at bookstore
By Max Porter, Contributing News Editor • February 26, 2024

Rebranded climate group demands officials cut ties with fossil fuel industry

ORCA organizers are demanding a plethora of climate-related reforms at the University.
ORCA paraphernalia scatters a table.

A rebranded group of student climate activists sent a letter to officials with renewed demands last week, including putting a stop to GW’s acceptance of fossil fuel money to fund research.

Organizers for Revolutionary Climate Action — which was previously a chapter of the Sunrise Movement, a national youth climate activism group — asked officials and the Board of Trustees to cut funding from prominent fossil fuel companies, disclose donations, share progress on GW’s climate goals and investigate the Regulatory Studies Center for alleged violations of academic freedom. Organizers said the letter, which demands officials take “concrete steps” to phase out fossil fuel funding on campus by Dec. 19, is one of the revamped student group’s first actions this fall after members refocused the organization’s goals to GW-specific climate activism and mutual aid.

The letter, which organizers sent to officials last Monday, demands that officials enact a ban on funding from the “Slippery Six” — ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, BP America, the American Petroleum Institute and the United States Chamber of Commerce — and adopt a plan to end reliance on funding from fossil fuel companies. The letter also asks officials to launch an investigation into funding practices within the RSC, a research center that receives funding from the fossil fuel industry, increase funding transparency within University departments and update the community about the progress of divestment and other sustainability goals.

Senior Aza Evans-Townsend, an organizer in ORCA who has been involved with the group since she was a sophomore, said she hopes University President Ellen Granberg, who began her term this summer, is receptive to the demands ORCA made in the letter.

“For me, this letter signifies a new deadline with consideration that we have a new president and optimism that our new president will be interested in engaging with us in productive conversations about how we can actually take steps to implement the things we’re demanding,” Evans-Townsend said.

University spokesperson Julia Metjian said officials received the letter from ORCA and are in the process of reviewing it.

Officials announced in June 2020 they plan to eliminate fossil fuel investment by 2025 following years of pressure from student activists like Sunrise GW. They announced in April 2023 that they were “on track” to achieve that goal.

Bella Kumar, a junior and an organizer in ORCA, said three new demands expand upon previous demands from a similar letter Sunrise GW delivered to former President Thomas LeBlanc in February 2021, requesting that the University sever ties with the RSC. The previous letter stated that the RSC received more than $1 million in funding from fossil fuel companies, including ExxonMobil and the Koch Foundation.

GW accepted more than $4.4 million for research from fossil fuel companies including Exxon, the Koch Foundation and Shell between 2010 and 2020, according to a Data for Progress report.

ORCA’s newest letter requests updates on the Environmental, Social and Governance Responsibility Task Force’s recommendations to the Board in 2020, including GW’s phase out of single-use plastic use, commitment to carbon neutrality and full fossil fuel divestment by 2025. The letter also asks for increased funding transparency from University centers and departments in compliance with the Coalition for Ethics and Transparency letter issued in January and an investigation into whether the RSC’s sources of funding violate academic freedom.

She said the group last spring presented their findings from their own investigation into the RSC, which found it takes money from fossil fuel companies and promotes climate disinformation, to the dean of the Columbian College of Arts & Sciences, Paul Wahlbeck. According to Kumar, Wahlbeck said the group lacked “sufficient evidence” during the meeting.

“We’re sort of at this point where we’re like, ‘Do the investigation yourself,’” Kumar said. “If what we’ve provided you with is not sufficient information on why the Regulatory Studies Center is bad, do your own investigation.”

Kumar said organizers received confirmation from officials last Monday that Granberg received their letter and would be in contact shortly.

Organizers said since officials have already committed to divestment, they want officials to cut all the University’s ties with fossil fuel money by refusing money from fossil fuel companies.

Kumar said ORCA plans to pressure officials into issuing a University-wide ban on accepting fossil fuel money by getting individual schools and professors to sign on to the commitment. So far, the American Studies, Women’s Gender and Sexuality studies departments, The Redstone Center and the Corcoran School of Arts and Design have committed to stop accepting fossil fuel money.

ORCA’s new demands follow their decision to leave the Sunrise Movement last spring. Kumar said the change was in part because the group wanted to focus more on the impact they could make at GW instead of nationally with the Green New Deal — a bill to invest in green energy and reduce climate change, and one of the Sunrise Movement’s main initiatives.

She said as a chapter of Sunrise, the group was “expected” to understand and agree with the national organization’s actions.

“We still very much respect the work that Sunrise National does and we had a lot of success as Sunrise GW and respect the work that they do a lot,” she said. “We just are not as focused on the Green New Deal and that’s what Sunrise is doing.”

Kumar said there were other reasons for the rebrand, but declined to specify what they are.

She said ORCA also aims to foster a more welcoming community by removing leadership positions and instead title all members “organizers” to eliminate hierarchy. She said ORCA is also tackling more mutual aid work like raising money for victims of the Maui wildfires, which organizers tabled for last week.

“Mutual aid work is supporting people who need it directly; so it’s funding, ‘This person in our community says that they’re having a really hard time paying their rent and they need some help so fundraising for that,’” Kumar said.

She said orca whales that sank yachts — a phenomenon that gained international attention in the spring — inspired the organization’s name. She said leftists thought the orca whales’ actions were “defending” the climate because yachts use gasoline and are generally bad for the environment. She said the “revolutionary” part of the acronym was a play on the University’s new moniker, which officials announced in June.

“It’s a little bit of a jest toward the fact that we don’t really believe that GW is particularly a revolutionary institution, trying to reclaim that for our efforts,” she said.

Addy Dunbar, a sophomore and a new organizer with ORCA, said although she wasn’t involved in the letter-writing process, she felt included in discussions before sending the letter to officials. She said ORCA is currently planning to table in the upcoming weeks to gather student support for the letter.

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About the Contributor
Fiona Bork, Assistant News Editor
Fiona Bork is a sophomore majoring in journalism and mass communication from San Diego, California. She is The Hatchet's 2023-2024 assistant news editor for the Student Life beat.
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