Student group seeks to end university investment in fossil fuel companies
Published: Monday, May 6, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, May 7, 2013 08:05
With small, orange squares representing its cause, Fossil Free UD, a campus campaign that aims to encourage university administration to divest from fossil fuel companies, has submitted a proposal to Student Government Association that will be voted on next week.
The proposal, which will be brought in front of SGA Senate next Tuesday, has the mission of freezing investments in fossil fuel companies from the university’s endowment by 2018. Senior Jock Gilchrist*, founder of Fossil Free UD, said a university administrator confirmed over email that though the university does not disclose individual company investments, it does invest in “fossil fuel related companies.”
The university’s endowment topped $1.13 billion in 2012, making it the 67th highest endowment among universities, according to the National Association of College and University Business Officials.
By divesting, the university can make a statement about fossil fuel companies that “exploit the Earth of its natural resources,” Gilchrist said.
“Divestment as a financial tool isn’t necessarily trying to make Exxon less profitable,” Gilchrist said. “By divesting and having a national movement [fossil fuel companies] could start to lose their social license and look less favorable in the eyes of the people.”
The proposal is sponsored by students, professors and organizations including Delaware Sierra Club, chemistry professor Wallace McCurdy and SGA senator Rebecca Bronstein.
After attending a climate change rally in Philadelphia, Gilchrist said he was inspired to start a divestment campaign of his own on campus. Last semester, Gilchrist along with other students started Fossil Free UD, an organization that is part of a nationwide campaign active in 305 colleges, 103 cities and three religious institutions, according to gofossilfree.org.
The campaign aims to “immediately freeze any new investment in fossil fuel companies and divest from direct ownership and any commingled funds that include fossil fuel public equities and corporate bonds within five years,” according to the organization’s website.
“By divesting, we can both take a crucial step toward avoiding catastrophic climate
change and protect the integrity of UD’s endowment,” stated the proposal.
Across the country, 11 cities and towns have divested from fossil fuels, including Seattle, San Francisco and Boulder, Co., as reported by The Guardian.
Much of the response from the university is “business as usual,” Gilchrist said, with one official urging Gilchrist to rally for student support.
“‘Business as usual’ doesn’t work anymore,” Gilchrist said. “We are now at the tipping point of climate change.”
Sophomore SGA Senator Rebecca Bronstein is active within the Fossil Free UD campaign, she said. Getting the proposal passed through SGA would add legitimacy to the group’s movement, especially because not many other universities have passed similar proposals, she said.
“It would be a big deal if SGA passes it,” Bronstein said. “It will help students see [climate change] is a problem”
Sophomore Javier Hortsmann, SGA chief justice, said the fossil fuel divestment aligns with other proposals SGA supports.
“Right now, we are working on promoting different green initiatives,” Hortsmann said.
Within the university, there needs to be a shift away from fossil fuel companies toward clean energy companies, Hortsmann said.
In an informal, nonscientific poll conducted by Fossil Free UD last Thursday in the Trabant University Center, 95 percent of the 110 students surveyed said they believe the university should invest in socially responsible companies.
Prior to the survey, 26 percent of the students surveyed had heard about the nationwide fossil fuel divestment movement, according to the poll.
“The mission of the initiative is to send a message to the fossil fuel industry as an entity,” Bronstein said. “We really want to promote a sense of urgency.”
The goal of the campaign is not necessarily to hurt fossil fuel companies financially, but rather to make a statement, Gilchrist said. In the past, campaigns in the same vein such as the South African apartheid protests in the 1980s, which encouraged divestment from certain South African companies, proved to be successful, he said.