Seattle University Divests from Fossil Fuel

As our earth’s atmosphere, soil, and water are becoming polluted at an alarming rate, the discussion around fossil fuels and their impact on our lives has never been more crucial than it is now. Fossil fuels are coal, natural gas, and oil that is extracted from the earth and combusted to generate power. This energy is used for everything from cars to the electricity and heating in our homes. Unfortunately, this power comes at a great cost as they release toxins and create waste at every step in the fossil fuel supply chain. The carbon dioxide produced during combustion adds up to millions of metric tonnes each year. The extraction of these fossil fuels such as coal mining and fracking (a popular method of drilling for oil underneath the earth’s surface) is equally as harmful. These practices destroy ecosystems which have led to thousands of animal species becoming endangered and eventually extinct.

With the Trump Administration actively encouraging the use of fossil fuels, it is critical for citizens to advocate for using clean, renewable energy such as wind and solar power and seriously discourage use of fossil fuels for energy. Seattle University has decided to take action by committing to divest from fossil fuels in the next five years and prevent future investment for years to come. This makes Seattle University the first Washington state college and first of 28 Jesuit universities in the U.S. to divest from all fossil fuels. According to Seattle University, the money invested in companies who have ownership of fossil fuel reserves adds up to 13.6 million dollars or 6.7% of the whole endowment of 230 million dollars. According to the Seattle University News, the divestment “serves as a form of symbolic speech that could set the stage for the political change that will eventually be required to solve the climate crisis.”

 

However, this decision does not come without criticism. Investing does make up a portion of the university’s income, and if a replacement investment does not create the same amount of profit as the fossil fuel companies, it is likely that the income will have to be supplemented through tuition, which means our yearly tuition costs could rise because of this situation. It is worth noting that Seattle University gets a large majority of their income from tuition already, and the purpose of slowly divesting from these companies (Seattle University promises to divest 50% from fossil fuel companies by December 31, 2020) is so they can find replacement investments along the way that coincides with the university’s values. Another critique is that this divestment doesn’t reach all companies that profit off of fossil fuels. The Seattle Times spoke with a student named Molly Mattingly and reported that a company working on the Dakota Access Pipeline, a controversial, federally funded oil pipeline crossing four states, will not be affected as they do not directly own fossil fuel reserves.

 

While the divestment certainly isn’t perfect, it is important to remember that as long as fossil fuels remain prominent in the economy, the government will not push to fund clean, renewable energy. One university’s budget will not affect the overall profit from fossil fuels, but it’s the start of a society that will no longer stand for destroying our planet. Student activism, as well as making informed voting decisions, can help citizens take control of our country’s economy and eventually lead the way into a future where clean energy is prioritized.