Why everybody wins if Washington University divests

| Michael Mazza | Class of 2016

As the movement to divest from fossil fuels and cut ties with Peabody Energy gains popularity, the University and the board of trustees must acknowledge not only the social importance of moving away from fossil fuel, but also the tremendous potential this movement has to improve the appearance, influence and popularity of the University. A university investing in fossil fuels is, at best, hypocritical. As over-consumption of fossil fuels remains one of the most pressing issues for the Millennial Generation, a university that invests in fossil fuels is only exacerbating the problems that its students will be forced to solve. This contradiction calls into question the duality of a private university—the theory that a university can effectively function as both a business and an investment in the future.

This decision becomes fairly simple, however, once the benefits of divesting become apparent. Washington University, with its high tuition, constant building projects and obsession with U.S. News & World Report rankings, often acts more like a business than a university. The University has pushed, very effectively, in recent years to become an attractive option for students around the country. The University has already used an immense amount of resources to appear environmentally conscious. The University has funded environmental programs and initiatives like the International Center for Advanced Renewable Energy and Sustainability, an Office of Sustainability, 15 LEED Certified Buildings, an emphasis on locally grown food, a plastic water bottle ban, free public transit cards and many more. When these invaluable programs are contextualized with fossil fuel investment, the University’s motive is called into question and these initiatives appear far less genuine. Now, if the University divests from fossil fuels, Washington University will be hailed by the media, climate activists, college students and college applicants as an environmentally conscious university in a state and region that is significantly more opposed to environmental initiatives than the East or West Coasts. Washington University will be put on the international map. This move could precipitate across the region as other Midwestern schools follow “The Harvard of the Midwest.” The University will become a beacon of sustainability locally, also. The Midwest, Appalachia and the Great Plains are the regions that suffer the most from unethical fossil fuel extraction including hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and mountaintop removal coal mining. The University will gain esteem and respect in a way no new building could ever provide.

So, Chancellor Wrighton, board of trustees, Washington University faculty, staff and students, the ball is in our court. Let’s make a name for ourselves.

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