On September 19, 2018, Seattle University publicly announced that the Board of Trustees voted to commit to divesting from companies owning fossil fuels reserves by 2023. This announcement was the culmination of a six-year campaign of advocacy and pressure from student organizers. We would be remiss if we didn’t thank all the faculty, staff, community members, and other students that supported our campaign. This victory was a collective effort that confirms the effectiveness and power of sustained student organizing.
In his email announcing the university’s divestment from fossil fuels, Fr. Sundborg framed the decision to divest as a step taken to help address climate change. We agree with this framing and also add that we (as a university, society, and nation) should have acted long ago. The impacts of climate change are accelerating and will be felt most drastically by marginalized communities. Communities of color, low-income communities, and indigenous communities—both inside and outside the arbitrary borders of the United States—will bear the brunt of the global impacts of climate change.
Unfortunately, divestment, as adopted by the Board of Trustees, fails to account for these disparate impacts on certain communities. The Board of Trustees committed the university to “fully divest the marketable portion of the endowment from any investments in companies owning fossil fuel reserves” by 2023. While we applaud this important step, and note that it does meet the full definition of divestment in general use by climate activists and organizers, we also believe that it is not enough. Although we may be on a path to fully divest from companies that own fossil fuel reserves, our university could theoretically continue to invest in companies that extract, process, and transport fossil fuels. In spite of our commitment, we could still invest in companies like Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. We know that the impacts of extracting, processing, and transporting fossil fuels fall heavily on marginalized communities. Locally, fossil fuel projects can cause increased levels of cancer and asthma, particularly impacting the young and elderly in marginalized communities. Globally, rising sea levels threaten the displacement of entire communities.
In announcing the decision, Fr. Sundborg stated that the “moral imperative for action is clear.” We agree. However, we believe that the moral imperative for divestment applies to all companies directly involved in the fossil fuel industry, not just those that happen to own fossil fuel reserves. We intend to celebrate the important victory that our collective organizing has won, but we cannot lose sight of the larger picture of global climate injustice. Divestment from fossil fuels is just one tool in a much greater struggle. While we’re still deciding what exactly we’ll do next, we do know this: we’ll be continuing to fight for environmental and climate justice in every way we can, and we hope to see you alongside us.
Sustainable Student Action