Students protest Western investment of fossil fuels
From breakfast to dinner, the Students for Renewable Energy protested the Western Stands for Washington campaign and its investment in fossil fuels on Wednesday, Feb. 24.
A group of about 10 SRE members protested outside of the Viking Union Multi-purpose room at 8 a.m. as a breakfast was held in celebration of the Western Stands for Washington campaign reaching $60 million in funding since its beginning five years ago.
Outside of the breakfast celebration, students held a banner with the names of more than 400 faculty and staff at Western who support divestment from fossil fuels. Divestment from fossil fuels means “getting rid of stocks, bonds, or investment funds that are unethical or morally ambiguous,” according to the gofossilfree.org.
Donors of the Western Washington University Foundation were invited to the waffle-bar breakfast featuring a speech from President Bruce Shepard.
Shepard thanked donors and shared some of the campaign’s accomplishments, such as an increase in Western scholarship funding to $22 million – a 120-percent increase in five years.
Western graduates are expected to be the next environmental, technological, and engineering leaders, according to the Western Stands for Washington campaign website. The campaign’s website promotes the Institute of Energy Studies as a specific area supported by campaign funds.
Ninety-five percent of Western’s endowment is invested by the mutual-fund manager Commonfund. SRE Vice President Galen Herz said 4 to 5 percent of those investments are put into fossil fuel companies like ExxonMobil. Herz sources this information from an investment portfolio spreadsheet of Western’s endowments given to SRE back in 2012.
Western was initially transparent in sharing the portfolio, Herz said in an email.
“We are supportive that they’ve raised all this money. We just want them to invest in companies that align with our values,” Herz said.
Victor Viking greeted donors as they came into the breakfast. At one point, as the viking was about to take a picture with an SRE member in front of an orange sign supporting divestment, a woman from inside grabbed his arm, pulling Victor Viking away from the photo. Chefs also came outside to offer the SRE protesters waffles.
An administrator at Woodring College, John Riopelle, was among those in attendance at the breakfast. Riopelle supports the divestment from fossil fuels.
“I support education unequivocally. If you care about education, you care about the future. You also care about the planet,” Riopelle said. “These are not mutually exclusive; they are very much intertwined.”
Eleven hours later, another celebration was held in the Wilson Library Reading Room. The celebration featured a three-piece jazz band, drinks, blue ambient lighting, and horderves.
When SRE members walked into the room around 7:30 p.m, the band stopped playing and people turned to look at SRE members clapping for attention. Griffin Crisp, a member of SRE, began reading their message aloud as they unraveled a banner in support of divestment. The band began playing again and the group’s unanimous voice were lost in the music and chatter.
“How can you say that Western Stands for Washington, while allowing ExxonMobil to remain in Western’s investment portfolio,” Crisp said as the other members of SRE echoed the same words from behind.
Martha Morales had been awarded a Wells Fargo scholarship for youth of migrant families and had spoken earlier to donors at a word opportunity in the Performing Arts Center.
Morales said she was unable to hear what Crisp was saying once the music picked up again.
Others at the event, such as Bellingham City Council member Michael Lilliquist, were able to comment on the SRE point of view.
“My research tells me there are profitable ways to invest that aren’t socially, politically, or environmentally controversial,” said Bellingham City Council member Michael Lilliquist.
“Thank you for finding our education valuable to invest in and we look forward to the day when we can celebrate together without protest,” Crisp and the SRE concluded.
The SRE group left the room shortly after their message was read and the celebration resumed.