Grassroots student group calls on SMC Board of Trustees to divest from the fossil fuel industry.
By Kiera O’Hara-Heinz
Formed in fall 2021, Climate Action SMC is a student-led group committed to fighting climate change. Taking inspiration from other college campuses, the group's current focus is pushing Saint Mary’s to divest from the fossil fuel industry.
The leaders of the group consist of seniors Grace Clinton, Amaya Griego, Payton Reil, and sophomore Thomas Weldele, as well as faculty member Daniel Larlham. Coming from all different academic disciplines but united by their passion for the environment, the group aims to address the topic of divestment from a variety of perspectives.
Weldele explains that divestment is the opposite of investment in that it describes taking money out of industries instead of putting money in.
“What divestment is, or at the very least how we're using divestment is to take your money out of like fossil fuel companies and we're saying we don't want to invest in them,” Weldele says. “Because by investing in them, they're using that money, or they're using their growth, to continue to do more fossil fuel extraction, which is hurting our planet.”
Weldele explains that research from Blackrock and other firms has shown that divestment will have little to no effect on the school’s financial portfolio and may in fact have a marginally positive impact.
Despite the relatively small size of Saint Mary’s financial portfolio and the school’s investments in the fossil fuel industry, the action, Weldele says, will be largely symbolic. If the school were to divest, he says, we would join other schools with successful divestment campaigns like Stanford, the UC system, as well as a number of other small liberal arts colleges similar to SMC in size and values.
Amaya Griego argues that divestment is a good decision for SMC not only because it benefits the environment, but also because it falls in line with the Lasallian Core Principles that SMC values as a Catholic institution, particularly “concern for the poor and social justice,” as the climate crisis will disproportionately harm those already most vulnerable.
Last semester the group kicked off their call to action with the Climate Change Theatre Action performances in Dante quad, which Thomas Weldele describes as an energizing moment meant to engage the SMC community in the fight against climate change and the campaign for divestment.
The group also hosted several smaller events around topics like eco-anxiety. Community members may also be familiar with the group's “fossil-free SMC” petition that circulated around social media several weeks back and received over 350 signatures. Both Weldele and Griego urge SMC community members to sign the petition asking for divestment and to keep their eyes out for events coming this term.
The issue of divestment at Saint Mary’s came to a vote in front of the Board of Trustees in 2018, after passing unanimously in the Academic Senate. The proposal was popular but ultimately unsuccessful.
Griego blames COVID-19 for causing the previous divestment campaign to fizzle out and believes the issues presented by previous campaigners have become increasingly direr in the past few years. She says that the current campaign for divestment differs from the 2018/19 campaign because the urgency of the climate crisis has gotten so much worse.
“We're coming from a place of, we cannot afford to wait anymore,” Griego says. “We're trying to refresh the old campaign with a sense of urgency in the sense of, okay, we waited, and we've had this conversation a million times. So now it's done, let's start acting.”
Griego cites student engagement as the most important factor in the success of the current divestment campaign and says that Saint Mary’s has a responsibility to listen to the demands of students.
Weldele agrees with the urgency of acting on the climate crisis. “This isn't something we can just keep, like, pushing down the road. Like, eventually, climate change is just going to kill us all. And I don't know about everyone else. But I certainly like being alive. And I would like to be alive for the entirety of my lifetime”
Russia continues the threat of a possible invasion of Ukraine
By Kamryn Sobel
Through the end of 2021 and into early 2022, U.S. intelligence officials have warned of a possible invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces. Both NATO and U.S. officials describe the placement and movement of Russian troops as unusual. New satellite images show Russian forces assembling on three sides of Ukraine and amongst these images, thousands of troops gather alongside firepower. Russian President Vladimir Putin has since denied suggestions of the invasion and has claimed that all the movement is for “ordinary exercises.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky disagrees and instead says that “The accumulation of forces at the border is psychological pressure from our neighbors.”
The most recent conflict between the two regions began in the spring of 2014, as Russia planned a strategic invasion of Crimea, located in the eastern parts of Ukraine. This was viewed by Ukraine and democratic nations across the world as an illegal action. In the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, further uprising by Russian separatists, backed by Russia and the Ukrainian military, occurred, continuing conflict. The two countries have since been in a state of war.
However, as of February 12th, 2022, it is not known at this time if Putin has made a decision to invade, as stated by the United States Press Secretary Jen Psaki. In a one-hour call between the United States President Joe Biden and Putin on the 12th, Biden warned the Russian leader of the “severe” costs of invading Ukraine. This came hours after the U.S. ordered its diplomats to leave Kyiv due to fears of invasion.
On February 10th, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley spoke with the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Belarus Maj. Gen. Viktor Gulevich by telephone discussing issues on “regional security related issues of concern.” Although the conversation was kept private, both leaders communicated to reduce the chances of miscalculation and gain perspectives on current European security.
A call between the United States President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky also took place in late January, discussing the possibility of an invasion in February. President Joe Biden stated that if Russia decides to invade that it is, “the most consequential thing that has happened in the world since World War II.”
With declining cases and hospitalizations, California will be lifting its mask mandate starting February 16, 2022
By Kamryn Sobel
California state health officials recently announced they will be lifting restrictions on preexisting mask mandates. As of February 16, 2022, most indoor settings will allow vaccinated persons to unmask. Those who are unvaccinated and over the age of 2 will still be required to wear masks while indoors.
Specific changes taking into effect consist of “universal masking… required in only specified settings,” while “only unvaccinated persons are required to mask in all indoor public settings. Fully vaccinated individuals are recommended to continue indoor masking when the risk may be high,” according to the California Department of Public Health.
In light of new guidelines on the mask mandates, Contra Costa County released on February 9th, that they “will lift universal mask requirements for vaccinated people in most indoor public settings beginning Wednesday, February 16. The move comes as cases and hospitalizations have begun to rapidly drop around the state and region.” Within the county, per Contra Costa Health Services, 80.2% of residents are vaccinated and 49.0% have received their booster. The county is also seeing a decrease in both average new cases per day as well as COVID-related hospitalizations.
As numbers decline across the state, the California Department of Public Health continues to recommend the Covid-19 vaccine due to, “preventing serious disease, hospitalization, and death from the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Unvaccinated individuals are much more likely to become infected when compared to vaccinated and boosted individuals.”
Contra Costa Health Officer Dr. Ori Tzvieli comments, “We are able to take this next major step of removing the universal indoor mask requirement because we have laid a strong foundation in good public health protections—especially vaccines and boosters—and know we can reduce severe illness, hospitalizations, and deaths.”
Surrounding counties in the Bay Area will also be following the new guidelines, including Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Sonoma, and the City of Berkeley.
How China changed it up at the Beijing Olympic opening ceremony.
By Madison Sciba
Visiting News Reporter
After the Opening Ceremony on February 4th, the 2022 Beijing Olympics have been going on in full force. This year, however, differs from past games with linguistic differences and diplomatic demonstrations marring the normally straightforward Opening Ceremony and Parade of Nations.
Traditionally, there is a very specific way that countries enter the ceremony: Greece always enters first, being the traditional first host and creator of the games, then every country alphabetically, with second to last being the nation next to host the games, followed lastly by the host country’s athletes. In these games, Greece entered first, followed by the other countries, with the United States being 56th, Italy (the next host) going second to last, then finally China.
Traditionally, in the parade of athletes, countries enter alphabetically according to the language of the host country. China took their own spin on this, not going alphabetically but by the number of strokes in the first character of the countries name when written in Simplified Chinese characters. They also then counted the number of strokes in the second and third etc. characters if two countries had the same amount of strokes.
In a controversy surrounding the ceremony, several countries including the US, Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, Denmark, and India, announced that they were doing diplomatic boycotts of the Olympic games, meaning they did not send government officials to represent them. Taiwan, or Chinese Taipei as it was referred to at the games, made some waves by announcing that they would boycott the opening ceremonies. However, they reversed their decision to boycott after facing pressure from the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Taiwan was also told by the IOC that they were not allowed to display any symbols or actions that would suggest Taiwan was a sovereign nation, independent from China.
These games are just proof that no matter how hard the IOC tries, politics will always be attending the Olympics.
Madison Sciba '24,