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Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Students rally for divestment

DivestmenttimelineStudents rallied for divestment from fossil fuels, April 20, in Red Square to encourage policy change during the Sustainability Action Plan Input Event.

The input event put on by the Associated Students, gave participants the opportunity to shape Western’s Sustainability Action Plan by giving feedback on what sustainability means to them.

Western’s action plan is currently in development and seeks to integrate sustainability into campus operations and long-range planning, as well as reduce the university’s resource use, energy use, greenhouse gas emissions and waste generation.

“We just want a president to sign it. Whether that be Bruce Shepard and [let] that be the legacy he leaves, or the new president and that’s the legacy he starts.”

Shelby Kremenich, budget coordinator for the club.

According to RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, about 5 percent of Western’s $49 million endowment was invested in fossil fuels in 2014.

Divestment from fossil fuels would mean Western’s additional investments in fossil fuels would be frozen and current investments would be phased out.

During the event, students were given stickers and wrote their own recommendations for the action plan. The stickers were posted on a comment board in the Wilson Library Reading Room.

Some students, including those a part of Students for Renewable Energy, believed there needed to be a larger commitment from the university to divest from fossil fuels.

At the same time, over 100 students rallied around Red Square chanting about divestment before attending the input event together. This gathering, called 500 for Divestment, was put on by the Students for Renewable Energy to encourage students to recommend divestment at the AS input event.

Sophomore Amy McDowell leads students during a divestment rally in Red Square on Wednesday, April 20. Mcdowell, who is majoring in urban development and planning, chanted through the march "Divest now Western." // Photo by Alex Powell
Sophomore Amy McDowell leads students during a divestment rally in Red Square on Wednesday, April 20. Mcdowell, who is majoring in urban development and planning, chanted through the march “Divest now Western.” // Photo by Alex Powell

As of April 20, 507 Western staff members have signed the petition to divest, said Shelby Kremenich, budget coordinator for the club. The president of Western ultimately decides to include divestment when signing the Sustainability Action Plan.

“We just want a president to sign it. Whether that be Bruce Shepard and [let] that be the legacy he leaves, or the new president and that’s the legacy he starts,” Kremenich said.

The campaign urging divestment started in 2012 and 86 percent of voters requested divestment from fossil fuels on the AS ballot in 2014.

President of Students for Renewable Energy Julianna Fischer said this is not the first input event they have attended.

“The Sustainability Action Committee keeps meeting regularly and we’ve been at those meetings,” Fischer said. “We are working toward passing a motion to include divestment.”

In September 2014, the WWU Foundation Governing Board Divestment Study Committee, a group tasked with examining the feasibility of divestment from fossil fuels, gave their opinion to Western administration.

A student holds up a sign stating 86 percent of Western students voted to divest from fossil fuels. // Photo by Alex Powell
A student holds up a sign stating 86 percent of Western students voted to divest from fossil fuels. // Photo by Alex Powell

In the letter, the committee concluded that divestment is not consistent with Western’s mission of inspiring Western’s community to give and secure the resources required to advance scholarship, research and creativity.

“The financial impact of divestment, including associated investment fees, would mean the loss of potential scholarship and faculty support,” the committee wrote in the letter. “The size of our asset base largely defines our investment structure and available investment alternatives. Our current structure, using pooled investment funds, meets our investment needs with reasonable cost.”

Western decided later that month they would not be changing their investment policy regarding fossil fuels. Instead, additional resources were set aside to create a climate-friendly investment fund.

Students for Renewable Energy has continued their efforts of encouraging divestment.

The club wrote an open letter to President Bruce Shepard urging Western to reconsider divestment. The letter garnered 368 signature from students, faculty and staff. In 2015, the  group created a Recommendation for Divestment resolution, which was approved by the AS Board of Directors.

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