University of Michigan: Call for Full Divestment from Fossil Fuels

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The Climate Action Movement at the University of Michigan started this petition to The University of Michigan Board of Regents and

The University of Michigan currently has over $1 billion invested in fossil fuels. The funding for these investments comes from its endowment fund, which draws money from previous investments as well as fundraising campaigns (such as Victors for Michigan, which raised $5.28B). 


As of December 2019, the University has $1.208 billion invested in “Natural resources.” Here, “natural resources” is vocabulary used to mask the fact that these investments are predominantly made in oil and gas companies like White Rock Oil and Gas, Petrocap Partners, and income funds such as Kayne Private Energy Income Fund (these names are typically buried in 20-page meeting minutes).


Fossil fuels include coal, crude oil, and natural gas and are derived from fossilized plants and animals with high carbon content. Using fossil fuels for energy generation has negative impacts such as land degradation, water pollution, air pollution, and global warming. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2019 special report, human-induced global warming is increasing at 0.2℃ per decade. Unless we limit this warming to only 1.5℃ between now and 2030, irreversible and catastrophic changes to the planet are inevitable.


Other universities (notably the entire University of California, or UC, system) have made the commitment to divest from fossil fuels, showing that it is entirely possible for U-M to do the same. The University of Michigan’s emissions reduction goals currently ranks tenth out of the Big Ten schools.


For years, students and their allies have used formal channels to get the University to take action on the climate crisis, instead of contributing to it. They wrote op-eds asking the University to divest the approximately $1 billion of its endowment invested in fossil fuels (like the UC system), commit to carbon neutrality by at least 2030 (like the UC system), and stop the expansion of its natural gas power plant. They passed student government resolutions, wrote letters, demonstrated in the thousands, and spoke at Regents’ Meetings. Despite all this student action, there has been minimal progress. The university responded to peaceful protests with arrests and has refused to withdraw the charges. The President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality (“PCCN”) — the body charged with coming up with recommendations for when and how the University will reach carbon neutrality — has been explicitly directed not to consider divestment. 


By maintaining its stance on divestment, the U-M administration demonstrates that it does not comprehend the harm it is doing. President Schlissel has claimed to support the goal of carbon neutrality, but said in a March 28 statement, “The university has long taken the position to shield its endowment from political pressures and to base its investment decisions solely on financial factors. The university will not divest from fossil-fuel investments.” This means that the university will not even consider true carbon neutrality (including divestment) unless it happens to align with its financial interests. Furthermore, it suggests that an investment strategy based on scientific facts would somehow be “political.” If divesting from fossil fuels is political, then investing in fossil fuels is equally political. Supporting the status quo, to the detriment of the students, faculty, and staff of U-M and humanity as a whole, is not an apolitical action.


Rather than recognizing that its position on fossil fuels is incompatible with the IPCC’s recommendations and halting new investments, the administration has actually accelerated its wrongdoing. In fact, in just the last two years the university has increased its stake in fossil fuels by more than $300 million. This shows that the administration is uninterested in real, institutional solutions to climate change and that their commitment to carbon neutrality is nothing more than a fraud.


It’s time to call for full divestment from fossil fuels. No more empty words.


Sign this petition to show President Schlissel and the University of Michigan Board of Regents that it’s time to divest. Then, email President Schlissel at presoff@umich.edu using this template.

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