Who we are: We are a group of undergraduate and graduate students, led by College Greens and S.A.G.E., calling on the University of Washington to join a national movement of educational and religious institutions, city and state governments, and other institutions to divest the UW endowment from fossil fuel companies and commit to making no future fossil fuel investments.
Why we are organizing: The UW places great pride in its reputation for environmental sustainability. We have been repeatedly ranked highly on the Sierra Club’s Top 10 Coolest Schools list. We take pride in sustainability initiatives such as campus-wide composting, LEED-certified buildings, a cooperative with the UW Farm for local foods, the Campus Sustainability Fund, our Climate Action Plan, and Mercer Court’s recycled rainwater system.
UW is a national leader in sustainability.
It is a direct contradiction, however, to applaud ourselves for leadership in sustainability, while at the same time holding stock – direct ownership – of the fossil fuel companies that are driving climate change and threatening the future for which the UW is preparing us. We are organizing because we want the UW to be honest in its commitment to sustainability and our future. Divestment from fossil fuel companies would demonstrate this commitment. Additionally, divestment would be valuable to the UW’s green branding, attracting top students and faculty, and competing for research funding.
Why Divestment? The environmental organization 350.org and its founder, Bill McKibben, have called for educational institutions to divest from fossil fuel companies as a statement that we will no longer tolerate companies whose business models depend on perpetuating the climate crisis. Currently, the fossil fuel industry holds five times the amount of fossil fuel that scientists estimate we can safely consume in reserve. Unless concerned people act the industry will extract and burn every ounce of those reserves.
Divestment movements are a proven tactic for social change; they influenced the tobacco industry in the 1990s and played a major role in ending South Africa’s Apartheid. In both cases universities led the movements and in the Apartheid divestment movement cities, states, and the federal government followed. It is time for universities to lead once again, this time with more at stake than humanity has every faced.
Due to the fossil fuel industry’s extreme profitability, we understand that to make a significant change, divestment must impact not only the industry’s finances, but also their social acceptability. We want to apply public pressure and revoke their social license. For over twenty years scientists and economists have called for carbon taxes and cap-and-trade programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and for as many years fossil fuel companies have used their wealth to lobby against them. These companies have become so powerful that climate change legislation has become an impossible dream. The only way to combat their billions of dollars of leverage is a mass movement with universities at the forefront of social change, where they belong, and where they have always been.
More than three hundred colleges and universities in the United States are actively engaged in divestment campaigns and our campaign is gaining support among faculty and students. In December, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn made our city the first in the nation to commit to fossil fuel divestment. Divestment is a positive step for Seattle and it would be a positive step for the UW.
We hope we can count on your support.