The May 7 article about the University of Wisconsin Faculty Senate’s vote on fossil fuel divestment contained a crucial factual error-in its headline. The Faculty Senate did not vote down a resolution calling on the UW Foundation to divest interests in fossil fuel companies. The body voted to form an ad hoc committee to further consider the issue, with the purpose of addressing it this autumn. The Faculty Senate’s conversation on fossil fuel divestment has not ended: It has only begun.
UW family science professor Bruce Barrett’s resolution has begun a long-overdue discussion of how our investments contradict this university’s claims to promote sustainability. Through our endowment investments, we are profiting from activities that, if left unchecked, will cause crop failures, storm damage and extreme heat waves threatening our current students’ economic prospects. If our university is truly committed to its stated mission to “preserve and transmit the knowledge, wisdom and values that will help ensure the survival of this and future generations and improve the quality of life for all,” we are seriously off track, and divestment is an important corrective.
Some faculty senators suggested that divestment is not an effective way to approach the issue. It is true that divestment alone cannot end the grip of fossil fuel interests on U.S. energy policy. But when we divest, we will free up funds to reinvest in better energy use and in Wisconsin businesses. Financial analysts have found that this can be done at negligible loss of investment returns. We move forward the national conversation on our fossil fuel addiction. Moreover, we will bring ourselves more in line with the spirit of the Wisconsin Idea.
Support for fossil fuel divestment is growing at UW, as on more than 300 other campuses nationwide. More than 1,300 UW students, faculty, staff and community members have signed a petition demanding divestment. One-hundred-and-twenty faculty members have signed an open letter calling for the same.
This autumn we will hear further deliberations in the Faculty Senate. We will see bigger actions by the student organization Climate Action 350-UW. We will be part of a national movement for climate sanity. As I take my degree and move on, I look forward to returning to a UW that is once again at the national forefront, just as when it was among the first major universities to divest in protest of South African apartheid.
John Zinda (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a doctoral candidate in the department of community and environmental sociology.