Students seek to end fossil fuel investments at UB

Fossil Free UB starts divestment campaign

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Of UB’s entire budget, 5 percent – or $50 million – is invested in fossil fuels, according to Fossil Free UB.

UB has committed itself to becoming climate neutral by 2030, but Fossil Free UB, an organization on campus, said action must be taken sooner.

Fossil Free UB is part of Fossil Free, an international network of campaigns that advocates for the end of fossils fuel use and investment within a five-year span with the ultimate goal of reinvesting in clean energy. It aims to take the money from the fossil fuel industry and place it into the green industry with solar power and energy alternatives.

UB’s group meets tri-weekly with pertinent discussions on how to bring fossil fuel divestment to UB.

The group is planning more events in order to bring awareness to their campaign.

“They have never had to change, and now we are going to pressure them to change,” said Vanessa Dwyer, the leader of Fossil Free UB and president of the Environmental Network.

Ryan McPherson, UB’s chief sustainability officer, said while other schools might be moving quicker toward sustainability, UB is looking on ways to improve their own sustainability measures.

“We’re trying to figure out how we can do this in a way we can maximize the revenue for the university but doing it in a way that aligns with our principles,” he said. “Many smaller schools have moved a little bit quicker. We’re encouraging to continue the dialogue with that, to stay engaged in the process for a better tomorrow and to navigate for the best way possible to maintain sustainability.”

McPherson said UB formed the Socially Responsible Investment Committee three years ago in which faculty, students and staff “assess what types of equities from a sustainability standpoint the foundation has.”

Since September, when Fossil Free UB was brought to campus, support has been gathered from Student Association clubs like UB for Israel, the Outdoor Adventure Club and the Environmental Network, as well as Students for Sustainability Council.

Their plan is to continue gathering support from clubs, students, administration and faculty and to then present it to President Satish Tripathi during Earth Week.

“I believe in the divestment movement because it’s at the point where we have to make up our minds whether to divest,” said Dillon Smith, a junior economics major, SA Senate Chair and a SUNY SA delegate. “The science is there to prove that it’s constructive and I feel it is completely in the power of the students to have a say in our future.”

Since October, Dwyer has been communicating with organizations such as the National People’s Action and People United for Sustainable Housing Buffalo about how to make this campaign successful on campus.

When Dwyer met with representatives from SUNY Cortland, she learned their campaign was rejected on the spot because of a lack of student support and petition, so she said student awareness and involvement are crucial.

“I believe divestment is going to be the most effective strategy,” Dwyer said. “If you take the power away from the multibillion dollar industries, they don’t have much they can do left.”

In March 2007, UB signed the University Presidents’ Climate Commitment. There was additionally a Climate Action Plan in 2009. Dwyer however said she’s not seeing any follow-up action that proves they are trying to be sustainable.

“A university that is celebrated for sustainability initiatives should be in the forefront of the movement to slow climate change through fossil fuel divestment,” according to a statement made by Fossil Free UB.

A Fossil Free UB petition will be going around campus in the upcoming months to get students and faculty involved, Dwyer said.

Ultimately, Fossil Free UB said it hopse to get all of UB involved in the campaign and to eventually get every SUNY school involved.

“You have more power as a student than you realize and if you utilize that, you can make huge amounts of change,” Dwyer said. “This an important issue to the students in the Buffalo community and that by divesting from fossil fuels, we’ll be able to have a positive effect on fighting climate change and that is the biggest issue of our time.”

Hannah Stein is a news staff writer and can be reached at news@ubspectrum.com.