Viewpoint: Divestment isn’t radical, it’s radical we haven’t divested yet

Monday, October 5, 2015 - 7:41pm

Some of you may have heard of the Divest/Invest Campaign on campus. However, we aren’t talking about the Israel-Palestine divestment campaign; we are talking about the fossil fuel divestment campaign. What even is fossil fuel divestment? That’s a good question. On the Fossil Free campaign’s website, divestment is defined as, “the opposite of an investment — it simply means getting rid of stocks, bonds or investment funds that are unethical or morally ambiguous.” For our university, that means getting rid of investments in our endowment that don’t meet our University’s moral standards for investment. These fossil fuel investments are not only risky for investors, as they are liable to become stranded assets, but they are also contributing to the global warming of our planet. That’s why we are calling on the University to join the hundreds of other institutions that are divesting from fossil fuel companies.

Our campaign (which you can find out more about at divestum.org) has been doing a lot to try to get University President Mark Schlissel and our Board of Regents to do just that. Last year our campaign — like our climate — really heated up, as we increased pressure on the administration to begin the process of divesting from fossil fuels.

Our first major action of 2015 was Global Divestment Day on Feb. 13, as part of more than 450 events in 60 countries worldwide! We don’t mean to brag, but we also had one of the largest events, as more than 100 students came out in single-digit temperatures for a rally in the Diag. On March 16, our Central Student Government passed a resolution in support of our campaign with a 32-2 vote. On March 27 and 28, we participated in the Climate Teach-in +50, which was the largest climate event ever on campus. We heard from notables like Amy Goodman and Bill McKibben telling us why we need to take action on climate change and why divestment is a great way universities can take action. Fast-forward a couple weeks to April at one of the Board of Regents meetings, which we attend every month: We delivered a letter written by some faculty and staff that support divestment. The cool part? We had more than 100 other faculty and staff members sign on in support of the letter. These are only the highlights; we had numerous meetings with fellow students and numerous faculty and staff members to build up all the momentum we had last year.

Finally, some of Schlissel’s advisors, and later Schlissel himself, met with us to discuss divestment. Long story short: They don’t believe we’ve met the three-pronged standard that warrants a committee to simply look at the issue of divestment. Despite opposition from up top, we are not going away because this campaign is so much bigger than this campus. The divestment movement began on college campuses and now has spread all around the world to religious institutions, nonprofit organizations, charitable foundations and even national governments. So far, there have been commitments to divest funds from fossil fuels from more than 2,000 individuals and more than 430 institutions that span 43 different countries. Clearly, we are not alone, as there are still hundreds of divestment campaigns around the world with universities leading the way.

Other universities, such as Stanford University, the University of Maine and the University of California system, have pledged to divest their endowments from fossil fuels. Prominent institutions like the Guardian Media Group, Norway’s Sovereign Wealth Fund and even the Rockefeller Brothers Fund — history’s original oil barons — have pledged to divest. And even cities like Seattle and Ann Arbor have made commitments. That’s right: Our own city is completely divesting from fossil fuels, but our University won’t even form a committee to look at divestment from coal and oil.

OK, so we know that the University has billions of dollars in its endowment — just under $12 billion, to be exact — and because of the secrecy of the endowment, our best guess is that more than a billion of that is invested in fossil fuel companies. But why does divestment matter? The core purpose of divestment is to morally, politically and socially bankrupt the fossil fuel companies. Because of the amount of money they pump into our political system and because our society is so reliant on fossil fuels, these multinational companies have control over our everyday lives and global geopolitics. These companies have enormous assets and divesting from them may partially disrupt their finances, but more importantly, will send a strong signal that the world is standing in solidarity against these companies. We are saying that these companies are uniquely responsible for climate change, and that we agree with people all over the world that action must be taken against climate change.

We continue to trumpet this call as every nation in the world meets in Paris in early December for the COP 21. We will stand up to the University and won’t back down until they commit to divest and join the hundreds of other institutions and universities that are on the path to divestment. We are not alone and can join the movement in making fossil fuels history, just like the more than 200 coal plants that have closed since 2008, the Keystone XL pipeline that still hasn’t been built and the Shell drilling operation abandoned in the Arctic. We are the Leaders and the Best, and we won’t rest until we divest.

Written by LSA senior Nicholas Jansen and LSA sophomore Daniel Wu on behalf of the Divest and Invest Campaign.