We, the members of Mizzou Energy Action Coalition (MEAC), have been leading a campaign for fossil fuel divestment at the University of Missouri for more than three years. In that time, we have gathered support from thousands of students and faculty, passed a divestment resolution through every Mizzou student government, and made our Case for Fossil Fuel Divestment in numerous meetings with the UM System Treasurer, Chief Financial Officer, and President Mun Choi. Our request is simple: UM System administration should rid our 1.4 billion dollar UM System Endowment of its $10 million in fossil fuel assets.
Let’s be clear. We are not requesting our budget-crunched University remove 10 million dollars from its Endowment to spend on green projects or infrastructure. We are asking administration to move the 10 million invested in some of the most polluting, carbon intensive companies to ever exist, to virtually any of the other profitable investment options on the market. We, like most major banks on Wall Street, think this is reasonable.
Unfortunately, University administration doesn’t agree. This past July we received a rejection letter from UM System President Choi stating that the UM System will not divest, despite the overwhelming scientific, economic, and moral evidence that contradicts this decision. In short, the administration’s refusal to divest from fossil fuel companies rests on four points, each of which we must reject as compatible with a truly sustainable future, and likewise as contradictory to our University’s alleged values.
Fossil fuels have contributed to rising living standards worldwide
Well, sure. Combustion engines were built and roads paved before any of us were born. But we would put our University education to shame if we weren’t able to think critically about the impacts of these luxuries. We know, from peer-reviewed research, that once combusted, the same fossil fuels that increased global standards of living yesterday will drown out millions of people, cities, and island states tomorrow. We know there are places, like Houston, Miami, and San Juan, that are feeling the devastating effects of fossil fuel use right now. To dismiss these harsh realities for convenience sake is not rising up to the standards of excellence we hold ourselves to here at Mizzou.
Only a few universities have divested so far
Let us not forget who we are, Mizzou. We were the first college West of the Mississippi, the home of the first School of Journalism, and host of the first ever homecoming. More recently, our University became nationally recognized for its installation of biomass boilers at our world-class combined heat and power plant. Why should our University decide now to relinquish its leadership position in the face of the global climate crisis?
Divestment is symbolic, has no real impact
It’s true, $10 million is a drop in the bucket to the fossil fuel industry. Thankfully, our University is not alone in the global fossil fuel divestment movement. More than 799 institutions across 76 countries, representing well over $5.2 trillion in assets have cleansed their portfolios of fossil fuel investments. Just in the last few months, Ireland’s parliament passed legislation to become the first country to divest its sovereign wealth from fossil fuels. Will UM add its small but important voice to the rising chorus? We have before. When the UM System divested its 75 million in assets from institutions supporting South African Apartheid in 1989, former UM President C. Peter Magrath said, “we should not do so because we arrogantly believe that what we do here can affect the course of events in the continuing tragedy in South Africa… We should do so because we believe… It is the right step and the correct signal for the University of Missouri to give in fulfilling our highest values and ideals.”
Fiduciary responsibility to invest in fossil fuels
The amount currently invested in fossil fuel industries represents less than one percent of our total UM System Endowment. So in true Missouri fashion, we say to President Choi, show us the numbers. Show us the fiscal sense in betting on the carbon bubble. Show us that those administering the endowment are doing right by holding on to these toxic assets. Show us how the University couldn’t possibly move this money to any of thousands of other companies available on the market. Show us that literally no other investment options exist that are as allegedly profitable as dirty carbon stocks. Or show us that, you too, feel bound by our collective principles of respect, responsibility, discovery, and excellence and that no funds of ours should be used to prop-up companies whose mission is so contradictory to our own.
What we are asking for is simple. UM System administration should commit to move investments from fossil fuel companies, whose business model is set on permanently altering the chemical composition of the Earth’s atmosphere, to companies that can make a profit without climate catastrophe. After all, if the administration fails to divest, can it truly say that our University “advances the health, cultural, and social interests of the people of Missouri, the nation, and the world”?
You can our read our heavily researched Case for Divestment, the administration’s full response letter and our full critique of that response on our website at muenergyaction.com.
Michael Borucke, Frankie Hawkins, Sean Donovan and Madeline Niemann are members of the Mizzou Energy Action Coalition.
***The Mizzou Energy Action Coalition is not a part of Sustain Mizzou and does not necessarily reflect our non-bipartisan views–however, we support other environmental groups and their fight for change.