Members of Fossil Free UB discuss past year’s accomplishments, plans for next year
Students say they are proud of rally and shared governance award
Anthony DeFeo said he believes Fossil Free UB’s “grassroots” approach and lack of association with SA have been key to getting the UB Foundation to listen to the organization’s concerns.
Fossil Free UB, formed in 2015, is a student organization calling for UB to divest from the fossil fuel industry. The Faculty Senate, the Graduate Student Association and SA passed a resolution in May 2017 that called for the UB Foundation, a tax-exempt non-profit that manages donations and the university’s $1 billion endowment, to divest from fossil fuels.
In November, leaked documents revealed that UBF invests in offshore hydraulic fracturing, and on March 5, a local watchdog group reported that UBF has invested in at least five other fracking-connected private funds.
UBF Executive Director Ed Schneider previously told The Spectrum divestment is “not that simple and even [Fossil Free students] know it’s not that simple.”
DeFeo, a junior film studies major, said he thinks Fossil Free UB’s biggest accomplishment has been getting Schneider to talk to members of the organization. Schneider has since brought divestment to the attention of the foundation members, who had not considered or necessarily heard of divestment before, according to DeFeo.
“We’ve gotten rather far in getting the UB Foundation to listen to us and seriously consider divestment,” DeFeo said. “We’ve had several productive talks with Ed Schneider and he appears very open to it, as tough as the process may be.”
On March 5, students in Fossil Free UB were granted a shared governance award for their commitment to working with faculty and administrators across the university throughout their divestment campaign.
“Our Shared Governance Award from the Faculty Senate and Professional Staff Senate is an accomplishment I’m very proud of,” said Aidan Powell, a junior environmental studies and political science major.
On March 29, Fossil Free UB organized a rally calling for divestment. Students marched from the Student Union to Capen Hall. David Goldberg, a junior political science and environmental studies major, said he believes the rally was one of Fossil Free UB’s biggest accomplishments this year.
“We had a lot of allies come out and support us [at the rally] and we showed the university that we’re only getting more and more organized,” Goldberg said. “We also got public support for our campaign from James Balog, the director of ‘Chasing Ice,’ and that was a really cool moment for us.”
Powell said the organization’s media presence has been a key factor in the past year’s success and helped the group grow from five members last semester to around 10 to 15 members. Currently, the group is using social media to promote its campaign asking alumni as well as students’ friends and family to pledge against donating to UB until the university agrees to divest. A link to the pledge can be found on the Fossil Free UB Facebook page.
On Wednesday, Fossil Free UB is coordinating with UB’s Amnesty International chapter and the Public Accountability Initiative on a workshop about researching corporate power networks, according to Goldberg. The workshop will take place at 6:30 p.m. in NSC 228.
The group will also be tabling on Wednesday for the Solar Celebration as a part of UB’s annual Earth Week. There will be a financial expert at the table to explain the logistics of divestment for those who are still unclear about the process, according to Powell.
For the upcoming academic year, Goldberg said the group wants to expand its “mission of accountability” to include all unethical investments.
“There's a chance the foundation has co-mingled funds in weapons manufacturing or prisons. Transparency in the foundation isn’t just an environmentalist concern, it should concern all of us,” Goldberg said. “We want to bring other groups into the fold and start translating the power we’ve built around environmental concerns into organized student power to confront racism and other institutionalized oppression as well.”
One of the other groups UB Fossil Free is looking to collaborate with is People United for Sustainable Housing. PUSH is a “membership-based community organization dedicated to affordable housing, equitable jobs and ecological sustainability for the West Side of Buffalo,” according to the organization’s website.
“I’d really like to see us increase our presence on campus and throw our political power behind some other social issues, both on campus and in the greater community,” Powell said. “We already support the graduate student living stipend movement, and I’d love to see us take a more active role in issues relating to environmental justice.”
Powell said he is optimistic about the future of UB Fossil Free.