UT profits off of environmental destruction, exploitation

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Photo Credit: Mel Westfall | Daily Texan Staff

Climate change has been a hot issue lately, especially among those who were born after Tom Cruise became a scientologist — probably because we have to live with the imminent threat of the sixth mass extinction. A key piece of the solution is to move away from industries contributing to environmental destruction. 

Divestment, the process of selling off investments, is a big ask, since the fossil fuel industry and the military-industrial complex are deeply rooted in the structure of the United States economy. We have to start somewhere, so why not college campuses?

At The University of Texas, students are becoming increasingly conscious and concerned about the administration’s complacency in a range of issues. One of them: UT’s ties to the fossil fuel industry and investments in the war machine. 

The UT and A&M systems owned the Texas fossil fuel industry before it was even born. In 1876, Texas allotted over a million acres to fund the creation of The University of Texas and Texas A&M University systems and Permanent University Fund. Since oil was discovered in the Permian Basin in the 1920s, the oil and money from the West Texas fossil fuel industry has not stopped flowing. There is now over $19.5 billion in the fund, which is managed by the University of Texas/Texas A&M Investment Management Company (UTIMCO), a nonprofit corporation. UT-Austin is allowed to use about 3% of revenue from the Permanent University Fund each year, which goes into the Available University Fund.

Additionally, a substantial amount of the money in the Available University Fund comes from returns on UTIMCO’s investments in corporations, many of whom are merchants of death and environmental destruction. UTIMCO invests in Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon. All of these corporations are actively contributing to militarization, and consequently, global climate change. They also profit from war on the U.S. border. They have contracts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the organization responsible for the incarceration and deportation of thousands of refugees. Additionally, the U.S. Army Futures Command, a program aimed at “modernizing” military weaponry, is residing in UT-Austin buildings. 

What starts here really does change the world. UT is embroiled in a culture of mass destruction for profit. Beyond ending our unethical investments, we need to adjust our priorities as a university. Instead of funding petroleum and nuclear weapons research, we should be developing negative carbon technology to reverse the effects of climate change. 

Divestment will not be a quick or easy task — it’s a Texas-sized problem at a Texas-sized university. We will need a transition plan, much like the Green New Deal, to replace funding for financial aid and university programs, and create jobs lost by ending our ties to unethical industries. UT prides itself on innovation; we do have seven Nobel Laureates in science and medicine, after all. 

Rather than putting energy into petroleum engineering or nuclear weapons development, we should be leading the charge in technology to correct environmental damage. Divestment transcends bipartisan disagreements. This is about building a movement for our future. If anyone can do it, it’s us. Texas fights, remember?

Epstein is molecular biology frehsman.