Pictures and videos of natural disasters all over the world land on our news feeds, TV’s and headlines weekly, and the issue of fossil fuels and their effects on climate change are often put to blame.
Ten environmentalist Tech students have asked how they can push social change in the fight against the wealthiest industry on the planet.
The answer they've found is Divestment.
“Divestment in general is the deliberate removal of investments from a corporation in which a person is morally opposed to,” said Nevin Ounnpu-Adams, vice president of the Environmental Coalition at Tech. “In our case, we are trying to push the university to divest from fossil fuel companies.”
Divestment is a growing phenomenon across the globe. With 308 college level campaigns across 11 countries, the fight against fossil fuels is increasing. For a university of Tech's size, with an endowment marked at over $600 million as of June 30, the question remains— how much money do we really invest in fossil fuels?
The Environmental Coalition met last year with John Dooley, CEO of the Virginia Tech Foundation which controls the endowment outside of the university.
“We found out that 10 percent of our fund is invested in fossil fuel companies,” said Michele Newby, Environmental Coalition reporter.
“[The Virginia Tech Foundation] said that they were not interested in divesting at this time, so basically what we want to do now is build support within the student body,” Ounnpu-Adams said.
Dooley confirmed this statement.
“The foundation engages a series of fund managers to prove the greatest return possible for our funds,” Dooley said. “We do not provide the managers any specific guidance on the types of investments that they should or should not make. We have not changed that philosophy at this point.”
The group of students in the Environmental Coalition involved in this campaign have started a petition, which currently has over 200 student signatures.
The petition states, “We call on Virginia Tech to immediately freeze any new investment in fossil-fuel companies, and to divest within five years from direct ownership and from any commingled funds that include fossil-fuel public equities and corporate bonds.”
“We are trying right now to make people understand that it’s not a money issue, it’s a moral issue,” Newby said.
Along with the petition, the group is in the process of creating a long-term goal list, which includes developing a plan for what profitable investments could be made in exchange for fossil fuels.
“Fossil fuels are such a huge market and a huge source of money obviously, so it’s going to be tough to convince the school that this is a good thing to do,” Newby said.
Dooley explained that the committee is constantly monitoring the environment and situation, and would be open to reconsideration if a compelling argument were to arise. “Particularly as a land grant university we have a responsibility to make sure that we represent the broad economic interest of all people across the commonwealth,” he said.
Onupuu-Adams and Newby agree that the focus of their actions is environmental relief. A Rolling Stone article on divestment from February 2013 noted that “the fossil fuel industry… has five times as much carbon in its reserves as even the most conservative governments on earth say is safe to burn – but on the current course, it will be burned, tanking the planet.”
“Divestment is more than just an environmentalist movement. It has been called the social justice movement of our time,” said Onupuu-Adams. “I think that if we are going to a school with the motto 'Invent the Future,' then we clearly should not be doing something that is putting the quality of our future in jeopardy.”