Posted: Feb 27, 2013 at 9:56 AM [Feb 27, 2013]
On February 17, over 35,000 people, including many University of Michigan students, gathered in Washington, D.C. for the biggest climate change rally in American history. Yet this event was just one of many to address the impacts of fossil fuels on our planet, an accelerating movement that is perhaps fueled by frustration with government inaction and the growing visibility of climate change. We have seen an increase in fuel efficiency standards and the shuttering of 300 coal power plants in the past decade, but this is not enough. We need a massive mobilization to address a massive issue.
According to the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, climate change is the “defining issue of our era.” From Hurricane Sandy to midwestern droughts, people across the US have been waking up to the realities of climate change. Yet, fossil fuel companies keep drilling and exploring for more fossil fuels that release greenhouse gases into our atmosphere. On a global level, over 300,000 deaths were attributed to climate change in 2009, and 99% of them were in developing countries that contributed only 1% to global emissions. If we do not take significant action, this number will grow exponentially.
Scientists agree that to avoid the worst-case climate change scenarios, the global average temperature cannot rise more than 2° Celsius, relative to pre-industrial temperatures. We have already allowed a rise of 0.8°, and without drastic action, we will hit 2° in 20 to 30 years. Now is the time to ask, “How can I help?” The truth is, individual action is great, but it’s not enough to rely solely on small changes when facing this threat to our existence. To effectively combat climate change, we need to put the brakes on fossil fuel companies. If we want to stop ourselves from drastically altering our climate, we must stop fossil fuel companies from burning eighty percent of the energy reserves they already have.
This past fall over 200 universities began divestment campaigns with the end goal of removing all endowment money in fossil fuel industry stocks, bonds, and other financial assets. The idea is not to impoverish fossil fuel companies, because even if every university in North America divested, the industry would still be one of the wealthiest commercial concerns. The goal of divestment campaigns is to generate a national shift in attitude toward fossil fuels, and we hope to do so by making fossil fuel companies the target. If divestment succeeds, politicians may stop accepting money from fossil fuel companies and start casting votes in favor of our home, the Earth.
The University of Michigan is a significant contributor to the field of climate science, yet we have at least $900 million invested in the fossil fuel industry. This amount represents 5% of all U.S. higher education investments in the fossil fuel industry. These UM investments represent over 284 billion tons of fossil fuel reserves, out of the only 495 tons left to burn before reaching the two degree warming limit. We believe these investments are antithetical to the core missions of the University of Michigan.
Along with the other 255 divestment campaigns nationwide, the Divest and Invest Coalition, aims to align the investment activity of the University of Michigan with its sustainability mission and ethical responsibility as a public institution. Our goals are tri- fold: we want the university to Disclose all current and immediately freeze new investments in the fossil fuel industry; Divest from direct ownership in, and commingled funds that include, fossil fuel industry public and private financial securities within 5 years; and Invest a substantial portion of such funds in socially, environmentally, and economically responsible companies.
As prominent environmental activist Bill McKibben states, “If your college’s endowment portfolio has fossil-fuel stock, then your educations are being subsidized by investments that guarantee you won’t have much of a planet on which to make use of your degree.” Make sure to visit divestUM.org, sign the petition, and come to DIVE IN! on March 14th. This is your chance to be a part of the biggest student movement in decades, because we are greater than fossil fuels.