Viewpoint: It's time to divest

Sunday, December 6, 2015 - 3:51pm

It’s been quite the semester for Divest and Invest, the student group campaigning for the divestment of the $1 billion the University endowment has invested in the fossil fuel industry.

The fight for divestment extends far beyond campus, and the movement as a whole is building steam. Around the world, over 500 institutions have divested $3.4 trillion, and in the past 10 weeks alone, 100 more pledged to divest, according to Fossil Free. Leonardo DiCaprio, the University of Massachusetts and Allianz, the world’s largest insurance company, are among recent divesters. Just this week, Bill Gates and other philanthropists announced plans to create a groundbreaking renewable energy fund, highlighting the other, equally important side of the Divest and Invest equation.

People the world over consider divestment worthwhile, but the campaign at the University has met much resistance from the administration. At a meeting with Divest students last August, University President Mark Schlissel said that our $10 billion endowment isn’t a political tool. Not a political tool? We at Divest were a little confused by that logic, and Naomi Klein, an environmental journalist, activist and best-selling author of “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate,” agrees.

Klein spoke at Rackham last month, and when we asked her how she would respond to our administration, she said, “Get on the right side of history … Being apolitical in the face of this crisis is not one of the options available to us.” Frankly, the University’s argument is nothing more than an excuse to pursue a path that may seem easier but is morally unacceptable. An investment is an unquestionable show of support; a politically neutral investment is an impossibility.

Just two weeks later, the Senate Assembly gave our campaign its stamp of approval, voting to endorse a resolution that calls for the formation of a committee under the University's Board of Regents committee to investigate divestment. This decision echoes that of CSG from last year, which voted 32-2 to endorse the committee. Taken together, these developments have important implications.

Here’s why: For an issue to merit the formation of a committee to consider divestment at the University, a three-pronged precedent must be met. We’ve already covered two prongs, showing that the activities of the fossil fuel industry are antithetical to the University’s core values and that the fossil fuel industry is uniquely responsible for the underlying issue of climate change. All that remained was proving a consensus on campus surrounding the underlying issue — in this case anthropogenic climate change — and the CSG and Senate Assembly resolutions accomplish precisely that. Therefore, we have now used every democratic tool at our disposal to push for the formation of this ad hoc regents committee. How has the administration responded, you may ask? With deafening silence.

Silence isn’t particularly conducive to progress, so we showed up to the last regents meeting to remind the administration that ignoring our requests won’t make us, or this issue, disappear. Supporters of Divest packed the meeting room, applauding loudly as campaigners reminded the regents of their duty to form a committee and asked them to honor a simple request to meet with campaign members, so that Wolverines may share the pride of those who have already chosen to stand on the right side of history.

Paralleling our work, 195 countries are currently meeting at the COP21 conference in Paris to discuss the creation of binding climate change legislation. This meeting has the potential to create a global climate change agreement. The beginning of COP21 was met by movements in Paris and other parts of the world. These activists aim to pressure our world leaders to become more sustainable and create legislation to curtail the negative effects of climate change, and some have personal stakes in the issue, such as a poet and climate activist from the Marshall Islands who is calling for fossil fuel divestment in fear of seeing her beautiful country disappear under rising sea levels. Others are simply trying to urge public institutions to create policies that will mitigate climate change. When it comes to climate change activism, the University has not been left out.

To show solidarity with those fighting for climate justice in Paris, Divest and Invest is hosting a Pledge to the Planet Climate Action Week. The week coincides with COP21, allowing students an opportunity to engage with our campaign to create a fossil fuel-free future and mitigate climate change. This Action Week kicks off this Monday, so stop by the Diag to learn more about the events this week, and create your own personal pledge to sustainability. Tuesday, we’re hosting a panel discussion at 5:30 p.m. in Room 1040 of the Dana Building, in which climate professionals will discuss the implications of COP21. Wednesday, there will be a free screening of the documentary “Merchants of Doubt” at 5 p.m. in the same location. Thursday and Friday, we ask students to spread knowledge on climate change activism by talking to friends and preparing for Saturday’s Michigan Climate March.

The Michigan Climate March creates an opportunity for members of the community to send a message to the state of Michigan. Fossil fuel use must be curtailed in order to create a sustainable society. The dangers of climate change are quite real and affect people, even in our own state. Taking part in climate activism at home allows students to stand in solidarity with activists across the world. Together, we can create a community that pressures world leaders to develop policy that mitigates climate change and protects vulnerable populations. Furthermore, as leaders meet in Paris to discuss a just transition to this clean future, we must push for the state of Michigan to do the same.

It is time our community takes a stance in solidarity to pressure our world leaders and our public institutions to stop their negative practices. Students and members of the community have an amazing opportunity to fight for a more sustainable future, and as members of this society and residents of this planet, it is our responsibility to do so.  

LSA sophomores Anna Silver and Max Lubell wrote this piece on behalf of the Divest and Invest campaign.