Fossil Free RI pushes URI to divest from fossil fuel industry

images Kingston, RI—Fossil Free Rhode Island has been waging a campaign to convince the University of Rhode Island to divest from fossil fuel companies. Such campaigns have been gathering steam across New England and around the globe. Earlier this month, 19 students were arrested by Yale police at a divestment sit-in. Harvard students, faculty and alumni have been making daily headlines.

Fossil Free RI spent a year “going through channels” and presenting the moral and logical argument that “if it’s wrong to wreck the climate, then it’s wrong to profit from that wreckage.”

A little over a year ago, the request to divest was turned down by the URI Foundation, which manages the university’s endowment. Community support for divestment has continued to grow, and in response, Fossil Free RI has decided to escalate its campaign and has become a member of the Multi-School Fossil Free Divestment Fund [1].  This will allow concerned alumni to leverage their donations to push the university to divest. Instead of donating to URI directly, alumni can now donate to the fund, which will hold the money until a decision is made to divest, then release it to the university. If, by the end of 2017, the university has not made a commitment to divest, the funds will be distributed among those institutions that made such commitments.

Ron Creamer, a URI alumnus and Fossil Free RI member who practices law, read the rules and regulations of the Multi-School Fossil Free Divestment Fund.  He said: “It is well-organized and set up for the sole purpose of providing an alternative for alumni to invest their funds in a way that may force schools to review their policies on investing in fossil fuel companies.”

Philip Petrie, another URI alumnus, said: “Universities need to step up and do their part to fight climate change by divesting from fossil fuels, and this innovative fund gives donors a chance to hold the institutions’ feet to the fire.”

In the two years that Fossil Free RI has been waging its divestment campaign at URI, it has been calling on the university to live up to its motto “Think Big—We Do.”

“What’s the use of training students in climate mitigation and adaptation strategies while at the same time investing in the very industry that is wreaking havoc around the globe?” asks Marie Schopac, a member of Fossil Free RI.

A little over a year ago, the URI Foundation turned down the divestment request. Interestingly, URI Foundation’s investment board itself has quietly suggested that it is sympathetic, which raises the question, who or what is actually stopping them?

As reported in the Providence Journal [2] at the signing of the Resilient RI Act of 2014, URI President David Dooley pledged the continuing support of his researchers, professors and students to work “with people who believe what scientists have to say about [climate change].”  He added: “We are committed to doing our part.”  Fossil Free RI asks, how can the university claim to be doing its part when it invests in the very industry that is causing the problem?

It is impossible to reconcile fossil fuel investment with the fact that  “coastal development and climate change are rapidly changing the world’s coastlines and dramatically increasing risks of catastrophic damage,” as URI’s Coastal Research Center states in its report Coasts At Risk. [3]

Fossil Free RI fails to understand how URI can continue to invest in the fossil fuel industry, the leading cause of world food shortages, desertification and political instability, while at the same time promoting sustainability through many of its programs such as Sustainable Agriculture @ URI [4] and the ASSESS Project in West Africa. [5]

As to why divestment works, Fossil Free RI agrees with Divest Harvard, which summed up the arguments as follows: “Divestment will decrease the political power of the fossil fuel industry by taking away their social license. Today, politicians will refuse donations from tobacco corporations because they do not want to be associated with the industry’s toxic image. We need politicians to treat fossil fuel corporations the same way, and divestment will help us get there.“

Fossil Free RI respectfully requests a meeting with President Dooley to resolve the moral incongruities noted above.






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