UMass divests from fossil fuel industry that ‘perpetuates injustice’

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( – The winters are cold in Amherst, Massachusetts, where the state university relies on a modern central heating plant that burns natural gas most of the time, switching to fuel oil when gas is not available.

But no matter.

Now that spring is here, the heat is coming from students who are horrified at the university’s financial investments in fossil fuels.

Following protests (and student arrests) last month, the UMass System announced on Wednesday that it is the first major public university in the United States to fully divest from the fossil fuel industry.

The announcement on Wednesday said the Board of Directors of the UMass Foundation, which is responsible for overseeing the university’s $770-million endowment, voted unanimously to divest all direct holdings in coal, oil and gas.

The money will be re-invested in projects and funds “on the frontlines of the climate crisis.”

“This decision is not only an enormous victory for this campaign and for UMass, but for the global climate justice movement,” said Kristie Herman, a recent graduate and four-year “core organizer” of the campaign.

“As the first major public university to fully divest from fossil fuels, we are showing the country and the world that our institutions have a responsibility to align their investments with the public interest, and to sever ties with industries that perpetuate injustice.

“We have pushed our leaders to act with the urgency of this crisis, which has already caused millions of climate related deaths and is making communities across the world uninhabitable every day.”

UMass said it is joining an international movement of more than 500 universities, religious organizations, retirement funds, and other institutions in committing to some level of fossil-fuel divestment.

The decision follows a recent week-long sit-in at a university administration building, where 34 students were arrested in what they describe as an “act of nonviolent civil disobedience.”

Marty Meehan, president of the UMass System, said the divestment “is consistent with the principles that have guided our university since its Land Grant inception and reflects our commitment to take on the environmental challenges that confront us all.

“Important societal change often begins on college campuses and it often begins with students,” Meehan said. “I’m proud of the students and the entire University community for putting UMass at the forefront of a vital movement, one that has been important to me throughout my professional life.”

The UMass Foundation’s Board of Directors has described climate change as “a serious threat to the planet.”

“Divesting from investments in any particular sector is not done lightly, and we have done so rarely,” said UMass Foundation Treasurer and Investment Committee Chairman Edward H. D’Alelio.

“The Foundation’s primary responsibility is a fiduciary one. Its primary mission is overseeing the endowment in an effort to maximize returns on funds donated for research, academic programs, financial aid and other purposes. That we took this step reflects not just our comfort as fiduciaries but the seriousness with which we see climate change.”

The UMass Board of Trustees is expected to endorse the Foundation’s divestment decision when it meets on June 15.

The UMass Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign, the group that launched the divestment movement four years ago, said in a news release that the global “climate crisis” stems from “economic inequality and climate change.”

— Written by Susan Jones