Environmentalist organization calls on MU to divest from fossil fuels

MEAC president Frankie Hawkins: “It draws attention to the threat of climate change. We want to send a signal to fossil fuel companies that we are not in favor of cooking the earth five times over.”

The Mizzou Energy Action Coalition will be presenting its campaign for the UM System to divest from fossil fuels to President Mun Choi on May 3.

The divestment resolution that passed unanimously in joint session calls for the UM System to “pursue total divestment of fossil fuel stock by 2020.” The University of Missouri currently has $10 million invested in fossil fuel stock and 45 companies. The MU System Endowment is $1.4 billion, and the resolution calls for 0.8 percent of the total endowment to be divested.

MU Chief Communication Officer John Fougere said in an email he is proud MU is a national leader in matters of environmental sustainability, but “it would be nearly impossible to function as an institution or as a society without the energy provided by fossil fuels.”

MEAC, previously called Coal Free Mizzou, successfully petitioned to the UM System Board of Curators in 2013 to switch MU’s primary energy source from the coal-burning power plant to renewable energy, a petition that was supported by 3,000 signatures. However, Fougere believes fossil fuels are too crucial to campus for the UM System to divest from.

“The dependency on energy provided by fossil fuels will continue to exist for some time, and it is our belief that disengaging from a large segment of the world economy is not in the best interests of the UM System,” Fougere said.

The divestment targets the Endowment Pool, which is not used to buy energy nor run the power plant or for any university operations. The Endowment Pool is invested in both publicly and privately traded stocks and bonds, including investments in fossil fuel companies. If the money gets divested, the MEAC has no suggestions as to which other companies the Endowment Pool would invest in.

“Directly, [the divestment] has nothing to do with our power plant,” MEAC president Frankie Hawkins said. “So by 'divesting from fossil fuels,' the university is agreeing to sell its stock in fossil fuel companies and invest in other companies.”

At least $3.5 million of the MU System investment is in companies regarded by The Carbon Underground, an environmental organization, as some of top carbon emitters and most environmentally hazardous companies in history, including Gazprom Neft, one of Russia’s largest oil producers and distributors, and CNOOC. This resolution, if accepted by Board of Curators, would make MU one of 16 schools to commit to divestment.

“This movement shows student solidarity with other larger movements of social justice,” Hawkins said. “It draws attention to the threat of climate change. We want to send a signal to fossil fuel companies that we are not in favor of cooking the earth five times over.”

The Missouri Energy Action Coalition, founded in 2008, presented its divestment movement initiative to Missouri Students Association April 12, and the resolution was passed in that night’s full Senate with an 18-6 vote. MEAC representatives met with UM System Curator Steelman and said he showed positive reception to this divestment. MEAC originally began its divestment campaign in 2013.

Hawkins said, with the support of joint session, their organization is taking the divestment proposal to a meeting with President Choi and UM System officials next week. On April 18, MEAC began a petition through change.org to get donations and a goal of 500 student signatures; the organization currently has 291.

“A unanimous vote from joint session took my breath away,” Hawkins said. “Going forward, it’s great to know we have the student body behind us. We have proof to bring to President Choi and UM System officials that people care.”

Joint session is composed of 11 student governments on campus. Each government receives one vote on joint session legislation.

The MEAC hosted a rally for “fossil fuels and climate injustice” on April 29 in Middlebush Auditorium. Many members of the community gathered for the rally which featured music, poetry from OneMic, various activists and speakers.

“Our planet is being threatened by corporations and governments,” MU senior and environmental activist Mallory Brown said. “We need to work for justice. It’s important to ask if we are we doing our best to commit to environmental justices in our community.”

Activists and residents spoke on the increasing issue of climate change, specifically in this political climate, as well as environmental action. Hawkins spoke at the rally and encouraged residents of Columbia to sign the petition and get involved in the movement on campus.

“I’ve signed MEAC’s petition because it’s an important thing,” MU sophomore Rachel Peterson said. “It’s a really good way for our university to demonstrate that we are not about climate change or fossil fuels.”

Edited by Sarah Hallam | shallam@themaneater.com

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