Fossil Free Texas holds workshop for upcoming Paris climate talks

Selah Maya Zighelboim

With the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Paris approaching in November and December, organizations around the world — including those in Austin and on campus — are building momentum for demand on climate action.

Student organization Fossil Free Texas held a “Power through Paris” workshop Sunday to discuss how to bring attention to climate change in advance of the UN’s Paris climate talks . About 20 people, most of them non-students representing a variety of environmental organizations, attended.

“I think climate change may be the most important issue in the world today,” said Joshua Wallas, volunteer for the petition website Avaaz.org and organizer for an upcoming climate change rally in November. “Global warming increases exponentially, and if we don’t do something soon. We may pass a tipping point that leads to the elimination of our species.”

According to 350.org, the organization that helps plan the “Power through Paris” workshops, oil and gas companies would need to decrease their current projects by 80 percent in order to stay under the temperature increase the planet can sustain.

According to a study by the Environment Texas Research & Policy Center, oil and gas companies have drilled 4,350 wells on UT System-owned lands in West Texas since 2005. High-volume hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, has been used to extract fossil fuels from 95 percent of those wells.

Alyssa Ray, University Lands marketing/corporate strategy analyst, said that University Lands is dedicated to generating revenue for the Permanent University Fund, a public endowment for the UT and Texas A&M university systems.

“Historically, oil and gas exploration and production has been the predominant form of energy-focused operations on the Lands,” Ray said in an email. “There are also two wind farms, consisting of approximately 100 turbines, that have been in operation on the Lands for many years.”

Fossil Free Texas member and Middle Eastern studies doctoral student Matthew Lundin said a goal of Fossil Free Texas is to encourage the University’s divestment from drilling and fracking on University lands.

“A lot of people think UT is the last place where you would see this type of activism because this is a place where a lot of fossil fuel [usage] happens,” Lundin said. “We don’t expect UT to switch off of fossil fuels altogether tomorrow, but we’re challenging people to see there are other ways to do things than with fossil fuels.”

Radio-television-film sophomore Tyler James said he thinks the economic interests of drilling and fracking on university land outweigh the environmental impact.
“It takes a lot of money to run a university,” James said. “These activities keep the doors open, and it also provides jobs for people.”