Stop investing in fossil fuels: New student campaign calls for responsible investment at UK


Members of the Divest UK campaign, who are also in United Students Against Sweatshops, pose after a successful tabling event for UK’s Facing Change Week. (Pictured Left to Right: Seth Gadbois, Cindy Garcia, Cameron Baller, Alex Wood, Lidya Yatin, and Noland Aull)

Unless we act soon, climate change will jeopardize the future of human society and our planet. Not only will it impact global ecosystems, it will also affect agriculture around the world, and right here in Kentucky. 

Fortunately, in 2016, Greenthumb, UK’s student-run environmental activist organization, convinced the university to adopt the Emissions Reductions Commitment, committing UK to a long-term goal of carbon neutrality with a short-term goal of reducing emissions 25 percent by 2025. Unfortunately, while the university did take these steps, it continues to invest its $1.4 billion endowment in fossil fuels, the primary cause of climate change. With most colleges investing roughly 3.5-5.5 percent of their endowments into extraction-related industries, a conservative estimate would place UK’s fossil fuel investments in excess of $50 million dollars.

In response, Greenthumb is teaming up with other campus groups to hold the university accountable for its investments. Our campaign, Divest UK, is a coalition of four (and counting) student organizations (Greenthumb, United Students Against Sweatshops, Sigma Tau Delta, and the Speech and Debate Team). We want the university to divest (stop investing) in fossil fuels and re-invest in environmentally-friendly investments, like clean energy.

We also want the university to incorporate social and environmental standards into its investment policy (the university currently only considers financial returns). Finally, we would like the university to publish all investments onto its website and present them in accessible terms that all UK students can understand.

The goal of fossil fuel divestment is to stigmatize the fossil fuel industry. In the 1970s and 1980s, U.S. university students successfully used this tactic against companies doing business with the South African government during apartheid. Now, universities across the country are taking leadership roles by divesting from fossil fuels.

For example, The University of Oregon and the University of Massachusetts have divested their $828 million and $770 million endowments, respectively. The University of Kentucky has an opportunity to stand among these leaders and serve as an exemplar in the fight against climate change.

We are pursuing these goals because, as students, we believe that our university has an obligation to act on climate change in every area of its operations, including the endowment. We also believe that we, as students, have an obligation to pressure our university to do so. In order to limit global temperature rise to less than 2ºC, no more than one third of global fossil fuel reserves can be burned prior to 2050.

We are nearing a tipping point and have limited time to act. We, as a species, cannot wait to act, nor can we afford to take half measures. These somber realities are frightening, but they are also motivating. There is still a chance we can halt climate change before it leads to catastrophe. It is imperative that our university does everything in its power to make that happen.

Divest UK began early this semester, and we’ve hit the ground running. We’ve already met with the administration once and have another meeting planned. In our first meeting, the administration resisted the idea of divestment but committed to further dialogue about our goals. Since our first meeting, we have collected hundreds of petition signatures and established a strong social media presence. We are hopeful that our efforts will help Divest UK gain traction.

Involving other organizations is a crucial part of building a strong campaign. We’ve made progress, but we cannot accomplish these goals on our own. We invite all interested student organizations to join our coalition. You can contact us at [email protected] to learn how to become a part of our campaign. You can also get involved through our social media accounts. You can like us on Facebook through our “Divest UK” page or follow us on Twitter under the handle @Divest_UK. Let’s work together to hold the university accountable.