San Francisco recently divested from fossil fuels, as did Oslo, Norway. These two international cities stand with hundreds of communities, churches, associations, foundations, universities and individuals as testaments to making a bold choice to stop funding the known primary cause of climate change.
The Western Washington University Foundation has also been presented with the opportunity to divest from fossil fuels, thanks to the leadership of Western’s conscientious Associated Students board and student body. While the foundation decided to not take this positive action last fall, the issue remains as crucial as ever and students continue to advocate for divestment.
Our university president has said that divestment is a diversion from the real issue at hand. Yes, divestment is a statement and primarily a symbolic act, but symbolism has profound effects. It is not a diversion to take a stand by joining with others to collectively define this symbolic act, because together these acts not only alter the conversation, they can serve as catalysts for essential and practical change. So yes, like Rosa Parks sitting down on a bus, let us with a singular statement put Western on the right side of history and contribute to the fight against fossil fuel driven climate change.
However, we do respectfully disagree that divestment from fossil fuels is at odds with the foundation’s mission of raising money. Western must be clear that our efforts, words and financial considerations align with our values. We would not invest in companies discriminating against part of our populace or trading in violence. Can we deny that investing in the fossil fuel industry is anything less than tacit concurrence with destroying the very environment that sustains life? Can we fulfill our commitment to the highest standards of integrity, honesty and truth-seeking while profiting from an industry whose allies have been persuasively shown to have worked to undermine climate science and public literacy?
We have faith in our colleagues at Western Washington University, including the foundation to stop funding and aligning with the primary cause of climate change. We are confident in their ability to utilize this opportunity to link Western to directions and values that are intrinsic to a forward-thinking institution, an innovative state and a healthy society.
Opting to not take a stand is effectively a choice for the status quo. Evidence of the relationship between human activity and global climate chaos is incontrovertible. Taking no action is neither a feasible nor an ethical option.
People everywhere, in groups and personally, are coming to realize the moral magnitude of the moment. So where does Western stand at this point in history?
The etiology of the term “university” conveys appreciation for the power inherent in multiple perspectives and interconnections, drawn together holistically and collaboratively. Wise principles and practices emerge best through shared commitment to the common good. Having planet and posterity as our priorities is essential. That, ultimately, is what divestment from fossil fuels and re-investment in sustainable and sensible alternatives is all about.
As a university, we claim to prepare individuals for a life of purpose and positive change. Western’s reputation is grounded in our commitment to providing students with the most empirically sound and ethically responsible education possible. By supporting divestment we support students, and best ensure their right to a healthy future. Divesting from fossil fuels is ultimately an investment in hope.