University holds dialogue on divestment
Published: Tuesday, March 5, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, March 5, 2013 02:03
The Huddleston Ballroom was filled with students, faculty and community members on Monday night to engage in a dialogue about the freedom and responsibility of the university to divest from fossil fuels.
The community forum was compiled by NH Listens for the University Discovery Program and backed with the support of student organizations including the Student Environmental Action Coalition and Net Impact, which both work to improve sustainable practices on campus.
President Huddleston addressed the hall before small group discussions broke out, reminding attendees that UNH has already taken great strides toward sustainability.
“Despite being the nation’s least-funded state university, we produce most of our own power from landfill gas and we have signed onto the president’s climate commitment. In every way imaginable, UNH is a leader in sustainability. The only thing we have not signed onto is divesting from fossil fuels,” Huddleston said.
He noted that the issue of divestment provides no easy answers and will be a balancing act between ethical and financial responsibilities. He commented that while sustainability is crucial to the university’s identity the endowment, which partly provides UNH students with financial aid, cannot be compromised no matter how noble the cause.
In order to surface community solutions to the costs and benefits of divesting from fossil fuels, small groups broke out and began discussing the financial feasibility of the university’s divestment.
After nearly two hours of discussion and brainstorming, the circular tables reconvened to bullet their main points. Each group unanimously agreed that human-influenced climate change is a dire issue that the government is not striving swiftly enough toward. Groups agreed that community education and dialogue will further the grassroots movement.
Members also agreed that transparency from the university will help lead community discussions and provide discussion material for the reformation of the institution’s dependence on fossil fuels.
Through the discussions, groups recommended that a sustainability sleeve with a divestment option for donors could provide a potential solution for balancing divestment with financial responsibilities of the university.
Although the movement seems miniscule when compared to the enormity of the energy crisis, Fiona Gettinger, a member of SEAC, commented that UNH’s action has a ripple effect that transcends borders.
“We are focusing on the local issue. But when you look at the 263 schools and counting who are interested and pushing their universities to divest, the impact is significantly increased. It would send an incredible message. Obviously, the United States influences the policies of other countries. Even raising and actively discussing this issue is sending a global message,” Gettinger said. “Sustainability isn’t about UNH, or New England, but it is about making a statement and leading by example. We are providing a template for others around the world to use.”
Gettinger commented that individuals cannot let huge companies like Exxon Mobil decide the future. She noted that where they have power and financial resources, citizens have numbers.
“These companies are damaging the planet. They are treating their workers unfairly. And it is our job as citizens to make them pay for those crimes,” Gettinger said.
Although Gettinger and Katy Thomson, both members of SEAC, were thrilled with the turnout during the campus divestment conversation, Thomson commented that she was a little disappointed with the lack of discussion about the dire conditions of the environment.
“I think the groups really discussed the financial feasibility of divesting from fossil fuel companies, but there was a disconnect from climate change and why this issue is so dire,” Thomson said.
She commented that SEAC had arranged pages on the climate crisis for the agenda that were not included in the final packet. Although community members engaged in the discussion recognized the importance of saving the Earth, Thompson said there might have been a lack of urgency about the importance of the issue and how that is directly linked with divestment.
However, members of SEAC were encouraged by the momentum that discussion of divestment has made in only a few months
“This discussion really started in October. Members of SEAC went to Washington and stood in front of the White House with 40,000 other people to encourage others to divest from fossil fuel companies. It is a hard and complicated process that needs to be able to be generalized so that many people can understand the language and we can educate people about the issue. People are standing behind this movement, and I only see the movement growing stronger,” Thompson said.
Nick Aubut, a senior at UNH, said that it was his first time at a divestment event.
“I really just wanted to educate myself on the issue and participate in a really important discussion that is taking place on campus,” Aubut said. “I don’t know nearly enough about the issue.”