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Opinion

Students call for chancellor’s assistance regarding sustainability

Daniel Saunders

April 15, 2015

As earth week approaches, I’d like to look back on the first Earth Week I was able to be apart of at UW-River Falls.

Over the entire Earth Week of 2013, the UWRF Sustainability Coordinator, Kelly Cain, from the St. Croix Institute of Sustainable Community Development (SCISCD) helped put together 14 events around the community and on our campus. Since 2013, we no longer have the highly esteemed SCISCD or an office of sustainability on campus to organize events featuring the importance of the Earth’s natural cycles and it’s importance in regards to reliable agriculture, clean water and a healthy planet.

UWRF now relies on student organizations like the Environmental Corps of Sustainability (ECOS), Resource Management Club (RMC) and Student Alliance for Local and Sustainable Agriculture (SALSA) to organize Earth Week events. The state of sustainability on campus is at one of its lowest points in decades. The letter below asks Chancellor Dean Van Galen to support a sustainability coordinator and  sustainable curriculum coordinator to take on projects on campus and to publicly support divesting from fossil fuels.

The mandatory budget cuts of the past few years have given UWRF little choice but to try putting back together the pieces of an institute that once was one of the most innovative in the nation, thanks to it’s ambitious Carbon Action Plan (CAP). The CAP lays out plans to have a carbon negative campus, meaning we wish to emit less greenhouse gases than our campus produces through renewable energy–ambitious, indeed. Possible with adequate funding, yes; but, becoming carbon negative is impossible with our current fiscal situation.

In the Spring of 2013, a divestment campaign started on campus at UWRF. Divestment, a tactic often used to combat humanitarian injustice, asks institutions to remove any investments that are aiding the immoral cause at hand. This tactic worked to free Nelson Mandela during the days of Apartheid in South Africa. There is no debating weather climate change is real; the “theory” of climate change is known as fact in the scientific realm, just as Einstein’s “theory” of relativity is known as a fact to the public. If one denies that 2+2=4, it’s not radical to say they are incorrect. If one denies climate change, 97 percent of scientists have no problem letting them know that 2+2 does not equal five.

UWRF currently has $524,615 invested in the fossil fuel industry; the industry that is profiting off of climate change denial and is fueling the drastic warming of the Earth’s temperature. The immense monetary power of the fossil fuel industry quickly drowns out the valid concerns coming from the scientific community and the citizens who care deeply about the health of our planet.

Much in part because of the political and fiscal power of the fossil fuel industry, it is divestment that the signed names have turned to combat the overwhelming inaction the world has shown in regards to climate change. We are calling on Van Galen to stand by the sustainability commitments UWRF has made by continuing to fund a sustainability coordinator, a sustainable curriculum coordinator, and to publicly combat climate change on a global scale by supporting the divestment from fossil fuels out of the UWRF Foundation.

I believe it worthwhile to thank Van Galen and the president of the UWRF Foundation, Chris Mueller, for their willingness to create and continue an open dialogue with a group of concerned students, showing their commitment to current and future classes on campus. Thank you, and we look forward to continuing our goals of fostering a more sustainable campus.

Dear Van Galen,

We–students, faculty, staff and alumni of UWRF–are writing you to express concerns about the pending budget cuts and its impact on sustainability efforts on this campus.

Last year we made a plea to Student Senate, Faculty Senate and administrators to allocate funds for a sustainability coordinator and a faculty fellow curriculum coordinator. It was a powerful feeling to be part of a group who sought action on an important issue and saw the administration act on behalf of concerned students and faculty.

We realized that our voice can make an impact on pending administrative decisions. The number of voices in support of a full-time sustainability coordinator and faculty fellow curriculum coordinator has grown vastly in the past year, along with the voice for decisive action on climate change, such as Divestment.

Through the looming budget cuts, we ask you to continue being mindful of our dedications. Surely you remember the statement you made in regard to the mission of our university to the Student Voice in October of 2009: “The focus of the university of global literacy, sustainability and inclusion I think are very important, and I’m interested in working with the university to move those efforts forward.”

As one student, Roberta Schoofs, so eloquently put it,   “…the importance of a sustainability coordinator position demonstrates UWRF’s sincere commitment to the progress of sustainability. Their expertise could help lower our emissions, overall energy consumption, and hopefully eliminate wasteful practices that may otherwise create unnecessary financial burdens and energy inefficiencies.”

Sustainability is something we believe cannot be on the chopping block. The core values of our university, as well as most academic institutions, is to look at what we can analyze and interpret in an peer-reviewed setting, often creating syllabi based off these conclusions.

When looking at sustainability and the science of climate change, we, and hundreds of scientific institutions, conclude that the time to act on climate change was long ago, but now is as good a time to start as any.

When fiscal abilities are at their lowest, as a university, we cannot feasibly invest in such energy-efficient products such as a wind turbine or more Renewable Energy Certificates. Funding a sustainability coordinator and a curriculum coordinator is a step towards taking on climate change, but actions don’t stop with dollar amounts. Gaining points for the Sustainability Tracking Assessment and Rating System (STARS) is one of the many benefits of divestment.

The time is perfect for our university to make a statement by removing the UWRF Foundation’s assets in the top 200 most destructive oil and gas companies as well as commingled mutual funds, as rated by 350.org. As a result, we ask the excess funds are entered into renewable energy companies and green funds; many of which make higher investment returns.

The nature of our political atmosphere and the high cost of green energy has made it nearly impossible for the world to adequately address climate change.
Through divestment, our university can make a fiscally moral statement in support of meaningful action on climate change. Divestment is a tactic our university can embrace by showing its commitment to sustainability and a healthy planet for future classes.

We are asking for you to support sustainability by funding a sustainability coordinator, a faculty fellow curriculum coordinator, and to publicly support our university’s divestment from fossil fuels.

Sincerely,

UWRF ECOS,
Sustainable Working Group,
Gustavo Cavilehro (ambassador to the Board of Directors),
UWRF SALSA,
UWRF College Democrats,
UWRF RMC,
560 divestment signatories

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