More than 70 students gathered Thursday in the Academic Instructional Center West to discuss what has been called "the largest student movement of this generation" — a movement away from university investment in fossil fuels and toward investment in renewable energy.
Western invests $1.5 million in fossil fuel companies, said Jenny Godwin, president of the Students for Renewable Energy club. Godwin and other like-minded students are hoping to steer Western toward divestment — freezing investment in fossil fuel companies and making the switch to investment in renewable energy.
Four private universities have already held successful divestment campaigns. If successful, Western would be the first public university to divest from fossil fuel companies.
So far, only four out of 256 universities with divestment campaigns in the nation have been successful. However, Godwin is optimistic. Western President Bruce Shepard has given his stamp of approval for the divestment campaign, she said.
The money being invested comes from Western’s endowment, a sum of $48.66 million. Slightly more than 5 percent, or $1.5 million, of the endowment is invested in fossil fuel companies such as Lukoil Oil Company, Exxon Mobil, Chevron and Conoco Phillips, according to data compiled by the Western Washington University Foundation.
Larry Hildes, a local attorney specializing in civil rights law, was a member of the panel discussion on divestment. Hildes was involved in a divestment campaign, while he was a student at Northwestern University.
“We will put these companies out of business by raising the issue and by doing it university-by-university,” Hildes said. “If we take our money out of these companies, they stop killing the planet.”
Western junior Michael Gosney attended the panel discussion. He asked the panel how divesting such a comparatively small amount of money could bring down some of the largest companies in the U.S.
The only student on the panel, sophomore Andrew Eckels, director of the club Transition Western, a group who supports the transition from an economy that is dependent upon fossil fuels to switch to renewable energy, replied by saying if Western becomes the first public university to divest, it will build momentum for a national movement.
“I don’t believe that this campaign alone will keep fossil fuels in the ground,” Eckels said. “But I think it is a spark to start action.”
Toward the end of the panel discussion, Hildes addressed the audience.
“There aren’t limits to what you can do and what you can organize,” he said. “It is students who bring about revolutions, it is students who bring non-violent change, it is students who re-make society. You have that power every day.