Student groups call for SU's divestment from fossil fuel companies

Syracuse and ESF students and faculty are planning a campaign to urge the university to cut ties with companies that contribute to climate change.

After environmentalist Bill McKibben spoke at Syracuse University on Oct. 10, a signup sheet circulated among students and faculty members who were interested in accomplishing McKibben's tasks to take action against climate change. Three student groups hosted a meeting today that marked the first step toward achieving these goals.

Members of Syracuse’s Eco-Reps and the Syracuse chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), as well as members of ESF’s Green Campus Initiative (GCI) and interested students and faculty members, met today to discuss Syracuse’s investment in fossil fuel companies. Most of the 25 people at the meeting, which was held in Huntington Crouse Beard Hall’s Gifford Auditorium at 1:30 p.m., had attended McKibben’s lecture last week. One concrete piece of advice McKibben had given those looking to get involved was to push the university to divest, or cease investing, in fossil fuel companies.

At the meeting, Zach Goldberg, president of Eco-Reps, announced that the three groups had sent an email to Chancellor Nancy Cantor and Lous Marcoccia, SU’s executive vice president and chief financial officer, to ask them to publicly release the list of companies in which the university’s endowment fund has been invested.

“As students and future contributing alumni, we feel that we should be able to know where our university is investing its funds,” said the letter, which Goldberg, USGBC president Samantha Hinz and GCI president Emily Bielejec signed. “More specifically, as students concerned with conservation, sustainability and environmental stability, we feel it important to know if our university makes a significant contribution to the fossil fuel industry, and if so, which companies, corporations, etc., are being invested in.”

“We figured it might be best to start small, and work our way up,” Goldberg said at the meeting, after reading the email aloud.

While the student groups have not yet received an official reply, they found a list of proxy votes (votes made on the university's behalf regarding companies it has invested in) in 2010. The companies on the list included:

  • Exxon Mobil Corporation
  • Statoil ASA
  • ConocoPhillips
  • Chevron Corporation

This revelation at the meeting evoked several audible gasps, and spirited murmuring continued even as Goldberg added that the university also invests in companies like EarthLink and EcoLab. 

“We’re not necessarily going to change anything by being angry or upset,” Goldberg said. “Let’s find them some good companies to replace their fossil fuel investments, and we’ve got to be clear that we know they’re trying in certain regards to sustainability—let’s keep it going.”

After Goldberg’s announcement, he opened the floor to discussion.

Chiara Klein, a Syracuse sophomore, expressed her surprise at seeing the list of SU’s proxy votes. “It’s funny, we didn’t know that that list existed. It’s very eye-opening,” she said.

Bob Wilson, a geography professor in Maxwell's Center for Environmental Policy and Administration, agreed. “In one sense, it’s like, ‘Whoop-dee-doo,’ they’re bringing [McKibben] to campus, but then they’re investing in those companies. It’s just a whopping hypocrisy,” he said. “It makes the sustainability that we’re doing here look totally like window dressing.”

After the meeting, Syracuse political science professor Sarah Pralle said she greatly admired McKibben’s campaign strategy. “I think the real beauty of this is there’s something people can get mad about and target,” she said.

Pralle and Wilson both said they were excited that the student groups were taking action. “We’ve been waiting for this for 10 years,” Pralle said.

The group will meet to discuss more logistics on Friday, Oct. 26 at 3 p.m., and will hold another planning meeting in anticipation of homecoming on Friday, Nov. 2 at 3 p.m. Goldberg said he would announce the locations for both meetings once he made reservations for the rooms.

To learn more about Bill McKibben and his organization,, click here to watch Jennifer Pitz's interview with Bill McKibben for The NewsHouse.

Image: Sterling College / Flickr

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