University groups push for divestment from the fossil fuel industry

Student groups have formed to promote the “Fossil Free” movement.

Hailey Colwell

 

With more than 300 colleges and universities pushing for their schools’ administrations to divest in the fossil fuel industry, the “Fossil Free” movement has gained momentum in the past few months.

In a push for the University of Minnesota to divest its assets from the fossil fuel industry, several student groups have formed or re-formed on campus. Though having multiple groups dedicated to divestment causes confusion, they’re looking for ways to work together to spread awareness about the issue.

Fossil Free Minnesota formed in January after environmentalist Bill McKibben pushed for divestment during a lecture at the University. The group held a panel last week on fossil fuel divestment and green investment — or investing in sustainable energy — said Patty O’Keefe, coordinator for the group. The forum reached out to students, faculty and academic departments to get the group’s name out, she said.

Eco-Conscious Campus, another student group contributing to the divestment campaign at the University, recently restructured its charge from reducing the University’s coal use to addressing broader sustainability issues on campus.

The group planned to write a letter to the Board of Regents urging it to support divesting the University’s endowment funds from fossil fuel companies but found out Fossil Free Minnesota had already sent one, said group President Trent Blomberg.

In a response letter, O’Keefe said the Regents did not give a definitive answer on whether the University will pursue divestment.

“We are looking forward to working with them more this summer and into the coming school year,” she said.

This summer, Fossil Free Minnesota will also develop a proposal for the Minnesota Student Association in hopes that the student government will pass a divestment resolution, O’Keefe said. It may also meet with administrators to discuss the campaign’s options.

The groups will remain in contact to eliminate “redundancies” in the groups’ actions and make plans for the summer and fall, Blomberg said.

While having multiple groups focused on divestment causes confusion, Blomberg said it could be useful for spreading awareness of the issue across campus.

Eco-Conscious Campus recently hosted an Earth Day event with about 15 other environmental student groups. In addition to raising student support, the event helped the groups connect — some of them for the first time.

“I didn’t know a lot of these groups existed before this Earth Day,” said art sophomore Cecile DeLong, a member of U Students Like Good Food, a group working to increase the availability of healthy, local food on campus.

“A lot of these groups have overlapping objectives,” said Minnesota Public Interest Research Group member and English sophomore Veronica Schwenn. The event allowed the groups to learn what others are doing.

“I think that every group could stand to collaborate a little more,” she said.

The environmental groups on campus could one day form a coalition on divestment, Blomberg said, a tactic other large schools have used.

“Any situation where awareness can be raised on campus is great,” he said, “and that really works [with] a lot of student groups being involved.”