December 15, 2017
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Divest UMaine to make case for fossil fuel divestment

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BANGOR, Maine — Students will be making the case for fossil fuel divestment at the University of Maine System Investment Committee meeting scheduled for 1 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 27.

For nearly two years, under the name Divest UMaine, students have been urging the system to cease investing its endowment in the coal, oil and natural gas industries. The students, from the University of Maine Orono and the University of Southern Maine, will present the committee with moral and financial reasons to divest.

    “Many new reports have been released from the investment community, showing that fossil fuel divestment is a low risk move,” said Meaghan LaSala, junior at the University of Southern Maine, and one of the presenters to the committee, in a Divest UMaine press release. “In fact, we are going to show the committee that fossil fuel stocks are only going to become more risky in the coming years. Divestment is about stopping climate change, and its also about protecting our endowment from an industry that is living in the past. We want to move towards a vote on divestment.”

    This week, University of Southern Maine President Theo Kalikow made a statement to the USM Free Press supporting the student-led campaign. “I encourage the Investment Committee to consider this issue seriously,” said Kalikow, in the USM paper. “Climate change is a risk that we must respond to, and when students get this organised, it is our job to listen to them.” Kalikow also called on other U-Maine System Presidents to support the initiative.

    The students are asking the Investment Committee to make a recommendation to the Board of Trustees to immediately freeze any new investment in the top 200 fossil fuel companies, and divest from direct ownership and any commingled funds that include fossil fuel public equities and corporate bonds within the next five years. Additionally, they will request that the Board re-invest in sustainable, socially responsible alternatives.

    Students point to reports which show that underground fossil fuel reserves currently represent five times more carbon than scientists predict should be extracted. “If we allow the fossil fuel industry to go through with their business plan, the planet is finished,” LaSala said. Karen Marysdaughter is a graduate of the University of Maine. “For the university to invest in fossil fuels is to bet that the fossil fuel industry will do well. And if the fossil fuel industry does well, the planet will not,” she said, in the press release.

    In addition to making the case for divestment, the students will demonstrate support for the initiative from the University community. Their campaign has garnered over 1,000 signatures from students, faculty, alum and staff. They have endorsements from student groups, campus Sustainability Coordinators and faculty. The University of Southern Maine Student Senate passed a resolution in support of fossil fuel divestment last March.

    Divest UMaine is part of a broader movement to divest from fossil fuels. Unity College and College of the Atlantic were two of the first schools in the nation to divest. The Maine Council of Churches voted to divest on Feb. 21. The movement is learning from the successes of past divestment efforts, such as the movement to end Apartheid in South Africa. In 1982, the University of Maine became the 8th University in the country to divest. This action alone divested $1.9 million from companies that supported apartheid in South Africa.

    “When we divested our endowment from Apartheid South Africa, we set a precedent,” said Sabrina Vivian, senior at UMO and one of the student presenters to the Investment Committee, in the press release. “We agreed then that moral considerations must be taken into account when we think about how to invest our money. Stopping the fossil fuel industry from sending us over the edge of climate change is one of those cases,” she said.

    The students see divestment as a social justice issue. “Our endowment should not 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,” said Iris SanGiovanna, freshman at the University of Southern Maine. “The University of Maine’s investment in the fossil fuel industry threatens this generation and all generations to come. We must do what is right, and we must do it now,” said SanGiovanni.

    Thursday’s meeting will be held in the Rudman Board Room at the University of Maine System office, 16 Central St. in Bangor. Attendees in Portland will participate by polycom in room 419 at the Wishcamper Center at the University of Southern Maine. and by following Divest UMaine on Facebook.

Divest UMaine is a coalition of students, staff, faculty, and alumni at the University of Maine System dedicated to aligning the University’s investments with its mission by divesting the endowment from fossil fuel.