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Friday, May 7, 2021

Students for Renewable Energy urge Western to divest

Students for Renewable Energy club member Adam Schaefer speaks to Jasmine MacLean about the importance of divestment in Red Square at Back2Bellingham on Saturday, May 14. // Photo by Amelia Thompson

Over 100 alumni signed a petition to remove Western’s investments in fossil fuels, in the three hours the Students for Renewable Energy’s table was set up at Back2Bellingham, Students for Renewable Energy club member Adam Schaefer said.

Western has around a $65 billion endowment invested in the stock market to raise money for the school. 5 percent of the endowment is in fossil fuels. “We’re asking them to divest their money from fossil fuels,” Schaefer said.

The investment in fossil fuels is part of a larger investment in energy as a whole, director of communications, Paul Cocke said.

“Within the energy sector, there are generally investments in fossil fuel companies; however, the percentage of fossil fuel companies that make up the fund can vary at any time,” Cocke said.

This year, the Students for Renewable Energy are hoping that informing alumni on where their donations go will help gather support for their cause. “Targeting these other audiences, we thought would be important to get what we want accomplished,” President of the Students for Renewable Energy Club, Julianna Fischer said.

The Students for Renewable Energy have been gathering signatures from alumni because when the alumni donate to Western their money goes to the endowment and then that is the money being invested in fossil fuels, Schaefer said.

Two years ago the WWU Foundation, who is the overseer of the endowment and its investments, chose not to specifically divest from fossil fuels, Cocke said.

“As part of the Foundation’s decision the Foundation committed to invest any new gifts to an endowment into a climate-friendly investment option, which would be at the request of the donor.  To date, two donors have selected this option for their endowed gifts,” Cocke said.

Some of the older alumni are against talking about the issue of investing money in fossil fuels. They’re a lot more vocal about it, and it’s harder to convince them to sign the petition, club member Shelby Kremenich said.

One of the alumni to sign the petition today was Nick Bond, the grandchild of the founders of Bond Hall, Kremenich said.

Last year the Associated Students passed a resolution for students to vote to divest from fossil fuels; 86 percent of the student body were in favor of the divestment, Schaefer said. However, the administration still refused to divest the endowment money.

The main reason for the administration declining to remove their money from fossil fuels was for financial reasons, but the club members still have their doubts, Fischer said.

“The administration has said they don’t want to do it and they’ve give various reasons that are not necessarily true,” Schaefer said.

There are no direct investments in fossil fuel, all money currently invested in fossil fuels  are indirect investments, which the foundation does not control the composition of, Cocke said.

“Basically every person we talk to supports [the divestment], every single faculty member we’ve talked to supports it, 600 faculty members signed the petition,” Schaefer said, “Every professor we talk to, we ask if we should invest in fossil fuels and they say, ‘no we shouldn’t do that.’”


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