OPINION: What is divestment? How WKU can divest from the fossil fuel industry


If you were to turn on a news channel right now, it is probable that new information regarding climate change would be reported. We are constantly hearing about the inevitable doom that is to come if society doesn’t change its ways. This can create a lot of anxiety in the younger generations, and it can be discouraging. If you’re wondering how to get involved on WKU’s campus through environmental activism, keep reading. 

On Thursday, Feb. 13, Bowling Green’s Sunrise Movement held Global Divestment Day in Downing Student Union. The audience included WKU students, faculty, and Bowling Green community members. The event consisted of four guest speakers, each of them educating the crowd on the ethics and morals of divestment.

First, what is divestment? One of the speakers for this movement, Ryan St. Clair, said “Divestment is the act or process of selling off investments.” 

Specifically, he’s talking about how WKU invests in mutual funds that hold investments in a variety of industries. Although WKU isn’t directly investing in fossil fuel companies, they aren’t showing social responsibility with their mutual funds. In order to understand why this is important, it is vital to understand the nature of investments. 

“Whenever you invest in a company, then you are taking on partial ownership of that company … You are saying that ‘I think this company will succeed and I now want them to succeed because it will boost our financial performance. I will get more returns if they expand and if they grow,’”  St. Clair said.

Some may say that climate change isn’t an issue, but that is simply untrue. Our planet is experiencing a crisis due to the effects of climate change. Global temperature rise, sea level rise, and extreme weather events are only a few examples of evidence that climate change is occurring. Not only are animals and ecosystems dying, but so are human beings, specifically people in poverty and people of color. The time to intervene is now.

This crisis is being exacerbated by fossil fuel companies, generating profit through extracting carbon from the ground, which is emitted into the air we breathe and live in. Because WKU’s mutual fund portfolio may include business that encourages fossil fuel extraction, the institution is indirectly contributing to global warming.

If you believe divestment wouldn’t help fix the issue of climate change, think again.

Divestment is a large global movement. All over the world, over 1,000 institutions have divested over 11 trillion dollars. Although divestment wouldn’t solve the entirety of the destruction that accompanies climate change, it creates an impact and it creates a stigma surrounding fossil fuels. Every effort, despite its size, helps create a better future.

The biggest long-term goal of this movement is to eliminate all investments in the fossil fuel industry. Another goal is to reinvest into sustainable alternatives; this will create good-paying jobs for those in need. 

For the entirety of the event, each speaker gave their reasoning as to why WKU should divest. They spoke from various points of view. For example, St. Clair gave an overview of economic arguments for divestment. 

Another speaker was Tony Harkins, a WKU history professor. He was representing himself and his views as an activist. He wanted to put divestment “into context of a longer history of economic pressure campaigns devoted to moral suasion.” 

Several WKU alumni spoke as well. They explained the qualitative benefits of divestment, how WKU and Bowling Green can benefit, and the strategies they created to urge WKU into divesting. 

If we were to successfully divest from fossil fuels, we would be the first public university in Kentucky to do so. This would be an exceptional victory for the institution. 

“I came to Divestment Day to support my hub members and understand what the logistics of divestment is … This is important to me so we can save lives and have America stop being a contributor to global despair,” Rachel Fantasia, a member of the Sunrise Bowling Green Hub, said. 

Our planet is beautiful, so in order to maintain its beauty and ensure the livelihood of future generations, I encourage everyone to take a stand against WKU’s involvement in unethical industries. The age of fossil fuels is coming to an end, and WKU should become a catalyst in creating that end.

This movement is seeking speakers, researchers, advertising, and canvassing. If you are looking to get involved be sure to follow @sunrisemvmtbgky on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to learn about upcoming events. 

Opinion writer Ruby Chapdelaine can be reached at [email protected]