The UAZ Divest held a Sept. 23 protest on the University of Arizona Mall, which signaled the start of global climate strike day and aimed to spread awareness of their goal for the university's absolute divestment of fossil fuel investments.
As the members rallied together, they spoke out about the financial deals and support that the UA has with the fossil fuel industry. They also noted the effects that these investments have not only on the students but on the climate as well.
This student-led organization is focused on shifting the university’s endowment away from fossil fuel investments and onto investments that will help combat climate issues. Their goal is to get the $64 million that the University of Arizona Foundation is investing into fossil fuel industries away from this private sector and into environmental, social and governance investments. The current contract that the UA Foundation has with fossil fuel industries is set to end by 2029.
The Sept. 23 rally was held to garner student signatures and attention to an absolute fossil fuel divestment.
Lexis Meza, a student and UAZ Divest member, noted this is a very difficult change to implement.
“There are a lot of companies that do bad things globally, in terms of military weapons and environmental issues. The way that they are getting their money is due to fossil fuels. Institutions like universities make a big part of these investments, and asking an institution to divest is more [challenging] than asking a single individual,” Meza said.
She followed this statement by recognizing that there is hope.
“It’s not an unreachable goal; it’s something we’re capable of doing." Meza said. "It just takes a long time, and this rally was one step forward into creating that change."
After the march around Old Main, students and other speakers spoke up about information about the situation at hand and the harm that these fossil fuel investments are causing to our environment.
One of the rally organizers and founders of the fossil fuel divestment movement, Stella Heflin, focused on the importance of the rally.
“We are in a climate crisis, and Tucson is the seventh fastest warming city in the United States, and our university cannot afford to be complicit in this tragedy. We should be moral leaders and help lead the way towards a just transition and clean energy. This is a climate justice issue,” Heflin said.
UAZ Divest president Samantha Wetherell initiated the discussion with a speech focused on highlighting the negative effects that fossil fuel has on the climate and students, as well as making the list of demands that UAZ Divest has for the UA Foundation.
“For the university administration and all listening, our demands are as follows. The University of Arizona Foundation complete a phased divestment from fossil fuels by 2029. The UA Foundation publicly commit to no further investments in the fossil fuel industry from this point on. The UAF and UArizona define and implement ESG investment policies and partnerships, inclusive of the UAF becoming a signatory of the UN PRI. The UA Foundation include student representation, with voting power, on the Board of Trustees and the Investments Committee,” Wetherell said.
Following the list of demands, Wetherell said, “We will no longer take apathy in response to the injustices our world is facing, and the UA Foundation is perpetrating. We are here to show that divestment will not close doors, but open doors to a sustainable future for all."
Students weren’t the only ones actively participating in sharing their thoughts. Former Tempe city council member and sustainability scientist at Arizona State University, Lauren Kuby, shared her own worries about the negative effects caused by these investments.
“We’ve known for decades that the burning of fossil fuels causes climate change. Now we face a full-blown climate crisis in Arizona. Wildfires have increased in intensity and frequency. Temperatures are exceeding 110 degrees, and those most vulnerable, like the elderly and youth, are the ones who are facing the biggest repercussions. The air pollution in Pima County has suffered from the worst ozone pollutions in the country. Our universities, they owe it to the student population to divest their endowments,” Kuby said.
Kuby also said these investments are damaging to the students’ prospects, and it is the duty of the university to make it right by divesting.
She then announced her candidacy for the Arizona Corporation Commission to help stop the production of fossil fuels and focus on climate-focused institutions that will aim for the improvement of action against this environmental crisis.
David Sbarra, a professor in the department of psychology, was another speaker at the event.
“We need to put people and sustainability over profits and corporations," Sbarra said. "Divestment is not an end; it’s a beginning. Divestment is a doorway into a better future on this campus. Divestment is a sharing of values and creating a positive vision for everyone on this campus. Losses loom large, and there’s no loss that looms larger for institutions than the loss of money. So, we need to create a positive future; we need to stop the fear and stop this way of thinking by suggesting there’s more and there’s something positive when we band together.”
Sbarra ended his speech by sharing his hopes for next year’s rally.
"Next year, we need members of the foundation standing on this stage with us. Next year we need a commitment towards divestment, and we need to make these people proud,” Sbarra said.
Arizona State Senator Martín Quezada joined the protest and shared a speech with the crowd. He highlighted the importance of focusing on climate change and brought up the financial issues that these investments are doing to the university.
“Not only are the investments in the fossil fuel industry bad for our planet, unethical and immoral, but it’s also [a] bad investment as it doesn’t bring back much money. It would be better to instead bring [the students] more money. This would allow for tuition to go down and to have more resources if only the board was investing in a wiser way,” Quezada said.
Endowments are created to provide financial stability to universities; however, Quezada said these investments that are being made towards fossil fuel corporations are not providing the university with any major earnings.
Signatures were asked at the end of the rally to sign the petition that asks the university to divest. For future updates or interest in signing the petition, the UAZ Divest Website has more information on how a student can go about helping the cause.
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