Students rally for fossil fuel divestment

Chanmee Chung/Daily
Rackham student Kevin Li signs a banner in support of divestment on the Diag Friday. Buy this photo

By Jing Jing Ma, For the Daily
Published February 15, 2015

Dozens of students and community members in matching bright-orange shirts emblazoned with the phrase “Global Divestment Day” rallied on the Diag on Friday afternoon in support of fossil fuel divestment.

Global Divestment Day was sponsored by the Divest and Invest campaign, a coalition of students, faculty, staff and community members. The protest aimed to urge University officials to divest the school’s interests from fossil fuel companies.

LSA junior Nicholas Jansen, the event’s director, said he hoped the rally on the Diag would raise awareness of the fossil fuel divestment movement and mobilize students in support of the cause. He said he believed Divest and Invest’s goal resonated with many students.

“This is our future we’re fighting for and divestment is definitely one tactic through which students can make an impact,” Jansen said.

Volunteers and Divest and Invest members set up a table and encouraged passersby to sign an online petition as well as a large banner in support of divestment that lay on the Diag.

“Invest in your future, divest today,” one volunteer handing out flyers called to a group of students.

Supporters later wore their orange shirts and gathered around the signed banner at the center of the Diag. Jansen engaged the crowd in a series of call and response chants.

“Invest!” Jansen called to group. “Tomorrow!” the group yelled back in unison.
“Divest!” Jason screamed. “Today!” the group responded.

The protest was part of “Global Divestment Day,” an international series of events planned for this past weekend to call for governments, universities and other organizations to divest from companies that produce fossil fuels.

More than 400 events were planned in several dozen countries on six different continents, according to 350.org, which organized the protests. 350.org is an international environmental organization that aims to mobilize grassroots action and pressure leaders around the world to address climate change.

Schools with groups participating in Global Divestment Day included Harvard University, Columbia University, Syracuse University and University College London. The United Nations has also endorsed the international event.

Nineteen colleges in the United States have pledged to divest from fossil fuels, though most have only done so in modest amounts. Stanford University is the largest and wealthiest school to have pledged to divest. Last May, Stanford administrators promised in a statement that they would not make financial investments in coal mining companies.

About $1.04 billion of the University’s $9.16 billion endowment was categorized as fossil fuel investments as of 2012. The Divest and Invest campaign has asked the University’s Board of Regents several timesto divest.

In a November 2014 interview with The Michigan Daily, University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said the University purposely sets stringent standards for divestment.

“The bar is set intentionally high ... to somewhat insulate the investment office from the political winds that could change from one direction to the other,” Fitzgerald said.

The regents have only voted to divest twice — from South Africa in 1978 during apartheid and, more recently, from tobacco-related companies in 2000.

While Jansen conceded that the University has been “pretty unresponsive” to Divest and Invest’s calls to action, he cited the success of those two divestment movements as inspiration for the organization.

“We’ve been working a lot with the administration and they have specified certain criteria that we have to meet for them to take action,” Jansen said. “The main criterion they said we have to meet is to show that it’s an issue students care about.”

Jansen also emphasized the urgency and global nature of the problem of climate change as key drivers behind Global Divestment Day.

“With climate change, we’re running out of time — it’s a problem we have to address now,” Jansen said. “Because it’s such a global issue, the perfect way to portray that is to have a global day to support the cause.”