Students have come together with the help of the Office of Sustainability at USM and support from the Student Senate to bring the issue of Divestment to the floor at the Board of Trustees meeting on February 27.
In March of 2013, the Student Senate approved a resolution to express the student body’s desire to divest the University of Maine System endowment from any of the top two hundred publicly traded fossil fuel companies. The measure was passed by a10 to two margin.
Divestment is the direct opposite of investment. In this case, it’s a call, by the students of USM, for the immediate freezing of all new assets invested in top 200 fossil fuel companies and their remaining endowments with fossil fuel companies within the next five years. “We, as the students of UMaine school system, are demanding that the future which we our investing in be protected and that our universities take an active role in doing so,” said Iris SanGiovanni, a freshman political science major and one of the organizers of the small team of USM and Orono students heading this movement.
“Climate change is a political problem, that we need to address on a political level,” said junior women and gender studies and environmental science double major Meaghan LaSala. LaSala is one of the active members with the campaign to Divest USM.
The group has a simple game plan: bring the facts, support from faculty, staff and organizations on campus and throughout the UMS, and ask that the UMS divest. “We will be addressing the impacts divesting will have on our futures and the environment as well as the financial and enrollment benefits of divesting,” said SanGiovanni.
“Right now, the fossil fuel industry is planning to extract more than five times the amount of carbon that scientists predict we can safely extract,” said LaSala “It is unacceptable that USM is profiting off of a system that is about to drive us over the climate cliff.”
“If the University of Maine System is an institution investment for our future, why are they simultaneously investing in companies that will make this a hard future to live in?” asked Shaun Carland, a junior math and computer science double major and the director-founder of the Students for Environmental Awareness and Sustainability.
“From an economic viewpoint it’s smart to divest,” he said. But there is still more research to be done on how economically feasible it will be to divest in the long run, but according to Carland there’s a lot already that says a fossil fuel free energy system can have perform just as well as one with fossil fuels.
“Six universities have already divested, including two in Maine: Unity College and College of the Atlantic,” said Carland. A number of institutions, communities and even full cities across the country are on the list of those currently divesting from fossil fuel companies. The group hopes to be able to add USM and the other University of Maine schools to that list of those committed to divest.
The group is hopeful, though. The movement has been gathering support from both the USM and Orono campuses via petitions, personal statement and a photo campaign with students and faculty. Last year the group proposed divestment, so this will not be the first time the Board of Trustees has heard mention of the movement. On her own hopes for the outcome of this meeting, LaSala said, “I hope that the investment committee will make the right decision and vote to divest our endowment, and re-invest in sustainable, socially responsible alternatives.”
“Even if they say no, we demand that they create a panel and working group to put together a plan for how we’re going to divest,” said Carland.
When contacted for comment, University of Maine System Public Relations Manager Peggy Leonard was unable to discuss the subject in time for publication.
The meeting with the Board of Trustees will be held on February 27, 2014 at 1:00 p.m. in Bangor. There will be a room at USM reserved where people may observe the meeting via video conference.