Many students know Divest UW from its performances and protests in Red Square, but it’s not all fun and games when it comes to change.
Founded in 2013, Divest UW has worked to convince the UW’s Board of Regents to rescind the university’s investments in fossil fuels. Recently, however, the environmental group has narrowed its focus down to coal, one of the UW’s smaller investments, hopefully making the issue easier to tackle.
For the first time, Divest was permitted to present their argument to the regents at last month’s board meeting. According to Alex Lenferna, one of Divest UW’s core members, the board is likely to cast their vote in their May meeting, formally deciding whether or not to divest from coal.
Ana Mari Cauce, the UW’s interim president, also asked Divest to create another presentation for that same May meeting about wide-scale divestment from all fossil fuels. However, Divest is concerned about the timing of the regents vote, as it will be held just a month before most of the students leave for summer.
“Depending on what the outcome is, it is kind of optimal timing for a potential negative vote,” speculated a Divest UW core member Mary Herman. “If the outcome is a no, it will be difficult for us to organize around that because we’ll be approaching summer session. So that’s where our apprehensions lie most.”
Even if the timing was perfect, Divest faces many obstacles ideologically. For example, in the March meetings, Kristianne Gates-Blake, a regent and Bill Gates’ sister, asked why the UW shouldn’t otherwise stay engaged with these coal companies in an attempt to make them cleaner.
While Lenferna argues “clean coal” is a misnomer, many agree with Gates-Blake’s line of thinking.
For reasons like this, Divest UW has developed a more economic argument against coal. Simply, coal has performed poorly in the market lately.
Lenferna argues the university’s view on coal comes from the UW’s impact analysis, which he said is out of date. The impact analysis is a way of looking at how something has performed in the past to make informed decisions on what to invest in now and takes a long-term perspective, using data that spans 20 years.
“But 20 years is really a standard, and what any group that does investments would do, because cyclical things happen,” said Ann Sarna, the UW’s associate treasurer in operations and investor relations.
The treasury was formerly working with Divest UW to write a letter to Exxon Mobile. The letter has been put aside, according to Sarna, and will be picked up once the upcoming presentations are done.
“It’s a slow process compared to the fast-moving conversation,” Lenferna said. “It’s hard to keep up … and a bureaucratically difficult process.”
Despite a seemingly tedious process, Divest UW members say it is worthwhile.
“You hear about climate change and it seems like this big issue that’s going to ruin your future but you don’t have much agency,” Divest member Sarra Tekola said. “But Divest gives you agency.”
Students interested in learning more about Divest can attend the group’s weekly meeting, which begins at 5:30 p.m. Mondays in Savery Hall Room 164.
The regents will vote on Divest’s proposal at their May 14 meeting to be held in the Allen Library’s Petersen Room.
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