ASG passes resolution calling on University to divest from the fossil fuel industry


Daily file photo by Jeanne Kuang

Students protest Northwestern’s investments in the coal industry in 2014. Members of Fossil Free Northwestern, the group pushing for divestment from coal, oil and gas companies, have been fighting against the University’s investment in the fossil fuel industry for years.

Atul Jalan, Reporter

Associated Student Government passed a resolution calling on Northwestern to divest from the top 100 coal and top 100 oil and gas companies — and limit future investments in the fossil fuel industry — during its Wednesday Senate meeting.

The resolution will now be reviewed by Northwestern’s Advisory Committee on Investment Responsibility, a coalition of students, alumni, faculty and administrators. The committee will decide whether to recommend the proposal to the Investment Committee of the University’s Board of Trustees, who will then vote on the resolution.

The resolution comes in the wake of a new January 2019 proposal from Fossil Free Northwestern, which also requested NU divest from fossil fuel companies. The student group almost succeeded in convincing the University to divest from coal companies in 2015, but its proposal was rejected by the Board of Trustees.

Sophomore Juan Zuniga, the ASG vice president of sustainability, said the purpose of the resolution was to demonstrate ASG support for Fossil Free Northwestern’s current push to have the University divest from coal, oil and gas.

Several other universities have already taken steps to reduce, or in some cases end, their investments in the fossil fuel industry. The list includes Columbia, Yale, Georgetown, Stanford and Johns Hopkins, among others.

“It’s actually a real shame,” Zuniga said. “Five years ago we had a lot more momentum with this and nothing was done. Now we’re five years down the line and our peer institutions have surpassed us. Northwestern is this top-10 school and we’re still falling behind in this regard.”

NU announced plans to increase its “focus on renewable energy and a sustainable environment” in 2017 as part of its Strategic Sustainability Plan, though the initiative has stalled in the case of its investments in fossil fuel companies.

Currently, NU has over $49 million invested in companies included in the Carbon Underground Fossil Free Index, according to the Fossil Free Northwestern proposal. The ASG resolution and Fossil Free Northwestern cite the index as the list that contains the 200 companies it would like NU to divest from. That figure excludes NU’s indirect investments in the fossil fuel industry through its commingled funds, which make up approximately 90 percent of the University’s endowment, the Fossil Free proposal says.

“If the University is investing in something that the student body doesn’t necessarily support or agree with, then it looks bad for us in a national light,” Weinberg senator Noah Scantlebury said. “I think this (resolution) was really important because we have so many green initiatives and green movements going on on campus and it kind of felt like the University was undermining them.”

Fossil Free Northwestern’s proposal cites a need for humanity to “dramatically” reduce its fossil fuel extraction and consumption soon if it is to avoid “catastrophic environmental damages.”

To ensure NU does its part, Weinberg senator Carl Morison said the long-term goal of the resolution is to have the University fully divest from its fossil fuel holdings.

“Divestment is a long process, and this is a great place to start,” Morison said. “It’s a place that a lot of other universities have chosen to build their divestment programs off of.”

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Twitter: @jalan_atul

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