Ever wonder what those small orange felt squares people have pinned to their backpacks are for? Divestment. They symbolize an individual’s agreement with a movement dedicated to divesting away from the use of fossil fuels on our campus.
By general definition, divestment is a motion to dispossess or sell an asset, investment, piece of property, business holding — you get it.
“Western has their name branded on environmental awareness, so I feel it’s Western’s responsibility to get away from unsustainable resources.”
Junior Leanne Forner
Here at Western, students have been rallying persistently since 2012 for divestment from funding toward the use of fossil fuels. The Students for Renewable Energy began their Divestment Campaign then and have remained active since.
“Painting Red Square Orange” took place in 2013 and marked the beginning of the orange felt square phenomenon. In 2014, the Divestment Study Committee wrote a 35-page Divest Document and presented it to the Associated Students Board of Directors, who voted 7-0 in favor of the work. The aim of this work asked that Western freeze all investments in fossil fuels while transitioning toward eco-friendly investments over the span of five years.
When presented with the document, the Western Board of Directors decided against the request and did not change policy regarding investment in fossil fuel companies. Instead, they created a climate-friendly investment fund. Vague, sure, but a step in the right direction.
To date, the SRE remains dedicated to the cause and have led or participated in events such as a 24-hour sit-in, a Global Climate March last year, Arctic Challenger protests as well as offered a divestment resolution to the AS Board of Directors.
The past few months have included an SRE protest and rallies for divestment in Red Square as motions to encourage policy change.
Students have the opportunity to promote change and join discussions regarding where our tuition money is spent. When asked if fossil fuel divestment is important to them, the majority of students said yes.
“Western has their name branded on environmental awareness, so I feel it’s Western’s responsibility to get away from unsustainable resources,” junior Leanne Forner, who is studying environmental science said.
Yet, even with such steadfast determination, Western remains without any real divestment plan or agreement.
A shame — as many universities around the nation and world are adopting divestment plans and we, who pride ourselves in being an environmentally conscious campus, have not.
Last year, 10 universities in the United Kingdom chose to move funds out of the fossil fuel industry leading up to the Paris Climate Change Conference. This meant millions of dollars of funding being removed from expenditures toward fossil fueled energy to be redirected toward cleaner energy sources. In the United States, schools such as the University of the Atlantic (Maine), Sterling College (Vermont), Northland College (Wisconsin), and many more have chosen to divest.
"There has been little talk about the importance of students setting an example for younger generations to remain involved with environmental issues that are expected to impact their lives tremendously."
The reasons for divestment? They’re simple. They are seen in the super storms, the droughts, the massive earthquakes, hurricanes and everything in between. They are counted in the civilian death tolls reaching into the tens, hundreds, thousands, and with every dead animal or plant that ever belonged to an endangered species.
This is an issue we can do something about. Moreover, it is one that we need to do something about. How could there be a better time to take a good old college try (pun intended) at changing what many hypothesize as a complete global climate crisis?
Surely the estimated costs of divesting are intimidating. Clean energy is not cheap energy. Not in the way that coal is. But it is clean and it is accessible.
Many arguments against divestment focus only on the financial aspect, while missing the importance of the environmental cause. Similarly, there has been little talk about the importance of students setting an example for younger generations to remain involved with environmental issues that are expected to impact their lives tremendously.
Western has adopted a Climate Action Plan committed to carbon neutrality by 2050 and, like the climate-friendly investment fund, shows a sense of responsibility for our energy consumption. But 2050 is a long way away and it’s hard to imagine that action will not need to be taken before then.
We have a say in where our energy comes from and it is our responsibility to remain involved in actions aimed at causing less harm to our natural environment. Those who care to get involved in SRE or other Western divestment efforts can find more information on their Associated Students website.