Students at more than 50 college campuses across the nation will participate in rallies, sit-ins and other direct action today to urge their schools to divest from fossil fuels as part of Global Divestment Day.
Students decided to not hold a divestment demonstration at Purdue, partly because the administration hasn’t even started on campus carbon neutrality, said Mason Merkel, a sophomore in the College of Engineering and a member of the Purdue Student Sustainability Council.
“The disappointing fact is that Purdue is one of the three Big Ten schools who has not even gotten the ball rolling on carbon neutrality,” Merkel said.
Traditionally, fossil-fuel divestment is when an institution sells all its investments from companies involved in the extraction and sale of fossil fuels.
Merkel takes divestment one step further by expanding the definition to also include Purdue’s capital assets.
He said for Purdue to truly divest from fossil fuels, it will have to stop investing in the Wade Utility Plant and getting electricity from Duke Energy, a major utility company in Indiana.
“Our campus is powered by fossils fuels burned at Wade power plant or from Duke Energy,” Merkel said. “We can’t just drop them and figure out something else overnight. That’s a little too radical as a first step.”
Merkel said Purdue has to take a serious look at achieving carbon neutrality as a first step to pursuing divestment, following the model used at other schools around the U.S.
PSSC and Purdue Student Government began a petition campaign Wednesday to get 10,000 student signatures in support for making Purdue carbon neutral.
The change.org petition is titled “Enact Achievable Purdue Carbon Neutrality.”
PSG signed onto a resolution in January put forward by the Association of Big Ten Schools calling on member universities to divest from fossil fuels.
All 14 Big Ten student body governments — representing 500,000 students — called on their schools to cease all new investment in the fossil-fuel industry and commit to research and action on divestment from these industries in fiscal year 2020.
While the resolution is non-binding, Purdue Student Government president Jo Boileau said it sends a message that young people are actively vouching for their universities to do more about climate change.
Boileau said the conversation around divestment started a few years ago when he was a member of PSG’s sustainability committee.
“(Divestment) was something that a lot of students were interested in trying to advocate for at the University but didn’t know how to,” he said.
Since then, Purdue students have communicated with activists at other universities across the country. After the passage of the resolution, Boileau said that PSG has started to have conversations with administrators about divestment.
A growing number of universities have pledged to divest from fossil fuels, including the entire University of California school system, Seattle University and — just last week — Georgetown.
“There are nearly 1,200 institutions across the world that have committed to divest, representing over $14 trillion in assets,” said Lindsay Meiman, a spokesperson for 350.org, a national climate action organization that has actively supported divestment efforts.
Meiman said she thinks fossil fuels are morally wrong long-term investments as well as increasingly unprofitable investments in general.
“So from a purely financial standpoint, fossil-fuel companies have been driving down market returns over the last decade,” she said, “so there’s really a much bigger risk not divesting from fossil fuels.”
Divestment has historically been a powerful agent of change, political science professor Leigh Raymond said.
“In the 1980s, there was a very effective divestment movement around apartheid in South Africa,” Raymond said, “and that had a very important effect on bringing that system of racial injustice to an end.
“The thinking is that if you can persuade enough large groups to no longer invest in those firms, that will be a powerful message that will get them to focus more of their energy on zero carbon-energy alternatives.”
Purdue has about $3.6 billion in total cash and investment assets, according to Purdue’s 2019 financial report. Divestment would affect any of Purdue’s assets currently invested in fossil fuels.