SEAC submits petition asking UNH to divest from fossil fuel companies

By Rachel Follender
On November 30, 2012

  • Snoop Dogg brings semester to Climax. (top) Snoop Dogg came on stage last Friday night at 10

Members of the UNH Student Environmental Action Coalition (SEAC) stood in front of Thompson Hall Thursday afternoon, advocating for UNH to divest from oil and other fossil fuel companies. As they collected final petition signatures from passing students, members of the coalition asked via a large banner, "UNH what are you hiding?"

Coalition members began their efforts in September, when they started collecting signatures for a petition they delivered to UNH President Mark Huddleston on Thursday. Their original goal was 1,000 signatures, a number that they slightly exceeded.

"It's fabulous to see this much support from the student body," SEAC President Fiona Gettinger said. Members of SEAC feel less pleased, however, with the response from the UNH Foundation.

The coalition met with members of the UNH administration at the end of September, asking them to consider the beneficial impacts divesting from fossil fuel and oil companies would bring to the environment.

"We were very well prepared for the meeting," Gettinger said, "but they essentially evaded our questions and didn't really give us any straight answers."

Gettinger also said that the foundation didn't provide them with any information as to exactly how much money has been invested into these companies.

"We've been asking them the entire semester to give us some semblance of the percentage," she said. "Because they haven't, we have to assume that it's quite high and that's why they don't want to tell us."

Members of the coalition have learned that the investment policies and strategies of UNH mirror that of the S&P (Standard & Poor's) 500, the 500 most profitable companies internationally, which include Shell, Exxon and British Petroleum, to name a few.

"A lot of those companies are fossil fuel companies, because right now it's extremely profitable," Gettinger said. "But 10,15 years down the road, they're not going to be."

SEAC's divestment campaign is modeled after 47 other college-campus campaigns across the country, run through climate-change organization 350.org. The organization has put out a list of the 200 worst coal, oil and natural gas companies. SEAC is asking UNH to divest from the uppermost 50 percent of those companies by 2015, and the rest by 2017, but Gettinger said that it is something they are more than willing to compromise and work with the administration on.

The UNH Foundation released an official statement as a response to the divestment efforts, stating that its primary responsibility is to generate the maximum amount of return for UNH to support students, faculty and programs.

The foundation also said that it relies on its investment fund managers to make the best investment selections, and has little ability to isolate specific companies.

"The foundation recognizes student interest in seeking better alignment between the university's focus on sustainability programs and the foundation's investment policy," the closing statement reads.
"However, divestment in fossil fuels is not a practical or feasible option for the UNH Foundation."

Members of the UNH Foundation could not be reached for further comment as of Thursday.

In response to the foundation's position, Gettinger said, "We fully understand that there may be risk involved in terms of loss, but we can't know that for sure until there is an investigation, so we're asking for that at the very least. The fact they won't even look into it is ridiculous considering there are over 1,000 students on this campus that really care about this issue."

And on Thursday, SEAC demonstrated its unwillingness to back down. The entire coalition presented the petition to Mark Huddleston's office, lead by Gettinger, who delivered a prepared statement.

"We are asking President Huddleston and the UNH Foundation to divest from fossil fuel companies that are destroying our planet," she said. "In the response that we got from the UNH Foundation, it didn't seem like any of our research or reports were considered before they were rejected."

Although Huddleston was not in his office during the presentation Thursday, SEAC presented a report to be delivered to him, with information on socially and environmentally responsible companies UNH could invest in as an alternative to those that are negatively impacting the environment. The coalition is asking for a meeting with Huddleston before Jan. 13.

"We're basically asking UNH to safeguard the futures of its students instead of the profits of right now," Gettinger said. "This is an institution of higher learning, and for UNH to be making such irresponsible investment choices really sets a bad example for students."

Gettinger reiterated SEAC's efforts to maintain a good relationship with the UNH administration and foundation, but says the coalition will not back down. The number of colleges across the country joining 350.org is growing rapidly, and schools such as University of New England and Hampshire College have already divested this semester.

SEAC is UNH's oldest and largest environmental organization on campus.

So far it is entirely organized by students, but is putting together a group of faculty advisors who are interested in pursuing their divestment campaign.

"We want the administration to know that we're not going away any time soon," Gettinger said. "This is an issue that transcends graduation dates. It's not something that is going to fall apart as soon as current members graduate."


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