The members of the Geneseo Environmental Organization and EcoHouse are working toward introducing the idea of divestment to Geneseo’s administration. The ultimate goal of the campaign is to persuade the college to reduce or eliminate investments in fossil fuel industries.
Members of GEO along with many other students are hoping that the school’s decision to divest would send a message to fossil fuel industries and other related companies.
“[Divestment] is showing that people are more interested in seeing these companies switch from using fossil fuels and diverting more investments to green technology, to sustainable technologies, to things that aren’t going to further the momentum of climate change,” GEO member senior Allison Hoppe said.
According to Hoppe, GEO decided to pursue the project after learning of similar endeavors on 350.org, a website that is dedicated to environmental protection. The website hosts a number of eco-friendly programs, including Fossil Free, a nationwide divestment campaign that urges college campuses to “immediately freeze any new investment in fossil fuel companies, and divest from direct ownership and any commingled funds that include fossil fuel public equities and corporate bonds within five years.”
According to Fossil Free’s website, 256 universities across the country have started their own divestment campaigns, and many are achieving success.
“[Divestment is] becoming a growing movement not only within the state, but within the whole country,” Hoppe said. “We thought that it was time to get Geneseo involved, too.”
As of now, the divestment campaign is still in its infancy.
“Right now, we’re just in the beginning stages,” President of EcoHouse and Vice President of GEO junior Jen Benson said. “We’re still trying to figure out how to structure our campaign, who we should be targeting … and making sure that we’re educated [about the topic].”
Although Geneseo’s Sustainability Task Force is being “extremely open minded” about the idea, according to Benson, it is possible that the campaign will be met with some resistance because of Geneseo’s status as a state college.
“As a [State University of New York] school, we don’t necessarily have a lot of control … over the funds, because a lot of our funds come from the state,” Benson said.
While private institutions are in control of their own money, public colleges rely on state budgets for funding; hence any change in one school’s use of funding may affect the entire SUNY system.
“That does make the process a little more difficult, because we’d need to be influencing the budget of the whole state, and not just our individual school,” Hoppe said.
Those involved acknowledge that divestment will likely be an uphill battle with the state, and could take a long time to achieve.
“It’s probably not a realistic short-term goal,” GEO member sophomore Joanna Ostroot said.
Supporters of the campaign said they believe that divestment is a cause worth fighting for.“If we can take money out of the fossil fuel industry [through divesting], we will be able to take their power away, hopefully,” Ostroot said. “We really need to switch to clean energy, which needs to happen sooner rather than later because according to most predictions, [environmental damage] could be pretty bad by 2050.”
A petition in support of the divestment campaign is currently circulating both on campus and online, and GEO will hold regular meetings to raise awareness. According to Ostroot, student involvement is key to getting the divestment project off the ground.
“Every student has a role to play,” she said.
“I’m really excited to be moving forward on this and working with the college … I’m really excited to see where it goes,” Benson said.