Voices escalated, cheers echoed between the buildings, and chants filled the ears of passing students on Red Square on Thursday morning as student group Divest UW and its supporters gathered around the Broken Obelisk.
Divest UW held the rally of approximately 50 people after President Michael Young didn’t put the group on the Board of Regents’ agenda for their meeting on Thursday. The rally transitioned from chanting in Red Square to sitting quietly during the public comments section of the board’s meeting as two Divest UW members spoke about disappointments regarding the UW’s investments in fossil fuels, specifically coal.
Bryce Bartl-Geller, a sophomore majoring in environmental science resource management (ESRM) and Divest UW core member in shareholder engagement, was one of the speakers on Red Square.
“I am scared,” Bartl-Geller said. “I am fearful of the apathy I see in some members of our student body. I am fearful of the fact that our leaders in this university and beyond are failing to address climate change, the most pressing issue of our time.”
Divest UW and the UW Treasury Office have formed six initiatives since 2013 addressing investments and possible areas of improvement for the UW. One is shareholder engagement, another is moving the UW’s investments to clean energy. The rest of the initiatives involve using environmental, social and corporate governance (ESGs) in investments, engaging with students, employing a research assistant to explore other areas of investment, and using a financial tool to reduce the carbon risks.
At the board meeting, Mary Herman, a senior majoring in geography and environmental science, said the Treasury and Divest UW have been working together successfully. However, Divest UW still wants better communication with the Board of Regents.
“We have been pretty civil; we have been sitting in meetings, negotiating on good faith and that good faith has been broken,” said Alex Lenferna, graduate student in philosophy and core Divest UW member. “It’s time for investments to match claims to broader commitments. It seems like a perverse idea of economics where values don’t match what the university espouses.”
Divest UW’s supporters include the ASUW, the Graduate and Professional Student Senate, and the UW’s Earth Club. Moreover, approximately 600 students, faculty, and staff have signed Divest UW’s petition against coal and broader fossil fuel investments. Outside of the UW, Carbon Washington, The Socialist Alternative, 350.org, The Rising Tide, and Climate Solutions have also supported Divest UW.
Former Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn spoke at the rally and urged the regents and the president to follow the actions of other institutions that have divested, such as the Rockefeller Foundation, Stanford University, and the City of Seattle.
“We are the first generation that can see the effects of climate change right in front of us,” McGinn said. “We are also the last generation that can do anything about it. … Board of Regents, do the right thing.”
Initially asking the UW to divest from fossil fuels abroad, Divest UW compromised by whittling its request down to coal investment.
“And guess how much [investment] we have in coal?” said Sarra Tekola, ESRM major and core Divest UW member. “.08 percent of our endowment. That’s how easy it is.”