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Are We Really Innovating for a Healthier Planet?

Kate Hruby

Kate Hruby

Kate Hruby, Contributor

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Last week, Fossil Free UNE received unsettling news from President Ripich: The Board of Trustees refused to divest UNE’s funds from the fossil fuel industry.

Fossil Free UNE, began in 2012 with a trip to Portland and an evening listening to inspirational climate activist Bill McKibben in his “Do the Math” tour sponsored by 350.org. He called for students to bring their passions to the table in order to push fossil fuels out of schools and major institutions, so that is exactly what I and a group of dedicated students began trying to do. We sought to follow the hundreds of other universities in the divestment movement and pull UNE’s investments out of the fossil fuel industry. The first few months of the campaign were rocky, but by 2014 we had student signatures, approval of the Environmental Council, press articles in local papers, several marches and the attention of the administration.

Then, for the next year, Fossil Free UNE sat in limbo. We were unable to get access to the Board of Trustees, the ultimate decision makers surrounding our money and investments. It wasn’t until last fall that the campaign really got traction again when President Ripich acknowledged our cause and helped us bring it to the attention of the Board.

However, on March 23rd, 2016, members of Fossil Free UNE received an email from President Ripich stating the Board “did not feel we should move out of any funds.” In other words, after four years of campaigning, we got a very clear “no” to divestment from fossil fuels.

Ultimately, there is both good and bad to be gained in this reply. On the bright side, transparency has increased about what our money supports. According to Ripich, “We have 12 different funds made up of multiple different investments. Five of the funds have 0% fossil fuel investments. The remaining have less than 1% of their investments in fossil fuels. The total across all funds is less than 2.5% of our total portfolio.”

But on the bad side, UNE is still supporting the fossil fuel industry with our investments. 2.5% might seem small, but no matter the percentage, it means we are still endorsing fossil fuel companies’ mission and funding companies that are detrimental to our own welfare. And that should make a difference to our conscious. If we did divest, then our school would actually be achieving the mission in our new statement: “innovation for a healthier planet.”

Although we received a “no” to full divestment, Fossil Free UNE isn’t going to give up that easily. Environmental activists are made of pretty tough stuff and our work is not done. So what will we ask for next? Let’s make sure that 2.5% doesn’t grow and switch our investments to clean, innovative energy solutions.

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