By: Iris SanGiovanni
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and planning for my future.
This has become an especially pervasive thought in college as I design my classes around my major. I am currently a first year, political science major at USM. Education is a tool I intend to use to craft a better future for myself, and a better world for others. I see higher education as a place where the future leaders are fostered. When I pay tuition at USM, I am investing in my future, and the future of the communities I will serve. With this said, I cannot allow the University of Maine System to continue to invest our pooled endowment in industries that will make our collective future unlivable. Currently, the UMS invests part of our endowment in the fossil fuel industry, an industry that is creating climate change, resulting in the melting of our ice caps and intensified natural disasters. To quote Eriel Deranger, of Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, a speaker of Tar Sands Exposed, a recent event at USM, “How can we allow our endowment to be invested in an industry that endorses the unlawful seizure of First Nation territory, the toxic contamination of entire ecosystems, and unfathomable damage to communities’ health and livelihoods?” We need to divest, and reinvest in sustainable, socially responsible options.
Divesting the UMaine system endowment would be consistent with our institution’s mission statement, which declares that: “[The University] supports sustainable development, environmental stewardship, and community involvement.” We are simply demanding that this promise be followed through.
The semester before I began school, USM students began bringing attention to divestment. In March of 2013, a proposal to divest UMaine endowment from the top two-hundred fossil fuel industries was passed by a ten to two margin in the Student Senate! We are learning from the experiences of past student divestment activists, rooted in our own history. The University of Maine was one of the first ten universities in the 1980s to divest from the South African apartheid. We were leaders then, and we can be leaders now.
We, the Divest UMaine students from Orono and USM, will be allotted thirty minutes in the UMS Investment Committee meeting on Thursday. At that meeting, we will present the facts. 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. We will present the economic research which shows that divesting from fossil fuels poses negligible risk to portfolios, and in fact, protects us from overvalued fossil fuel assets. (As it becomes clear that fossil fuel companies cannot extract their proven reserves, their assets will become worthless. Our endowment is vulnerable to the inevitable economic fallout.) We will present UMS faculty and student support in the form of petitions, personal statements, endorsements and our photo campaign. Our resolution be for the immediate freezing of all new assets invested in top 200 fossil fuel companies, to divest within the next five years, and re-invest in sustainable, socially responsible alternatives. We’re asking that a working committee of students, faculty, and board members be set up to research and prepare for the reality of divestment.
Divestment is a great tactic for stripping the fossil fuel industry of their political power, power that they are using to lock us into a climate status quo. Unity College and College of the Atlantic both divested and have benefited immensely from increased enrollment and free publicity that divestment brings. Unity College’s endowment has grown since they divested last year. The UMaine’s invested endowment in the fossil fuel industry involves my future, our future. Let us join forces and be leaders in the movement for climate justice.
Iris SanGiovanni is a first year, commuter-student studying political science. Iris is also a member of Maine Students for Climate Justice, student coalition dedicated to confronting the processes fueling the climate crisis, consisting of USM, UMO, Bates, Bowdoin, Colby, Unity, University of New England and College of the Atlantic.