Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

Students launch new climate action petition to divest from fossil fuels

Maria Arthur

Students Fighting Climate Change launched a petition on April 1 urging the University to take action against the climate crisis by minimizing its carbon footprint and use of nonrenewable energy. 

As of the end of the 2021 fiscal year, UT Systems has one of the largest university endowments in the country, with investments in the fossil fuel industry and 1.3 million acres of oil leases. The Climate Action Petition, which currently has over 160 signatures, states these endowments negate the University’s core purpose to “transform lives for the benefit of society.” 

The petition also contains seven demands, including a public acknowledgment by the University of the climate crisis, divestment from fossil fuels and achieving carbon neutrality by 2040. Other demands include the creation of a climate action committee, which would hold UT accountable by approving or denying new projects and decreasing the Carl J. Eckhardt power plant on campus to net zero carbon emissions. 

“It’s important for students to sign (the petition) because I think they already believe in it,” said Madeleine Lee, an officer in the organization. “The majority of people know about the climate crisis. However, the amount of action and vocalization of that internal concern doesn’t amount to how much everybody is truly worried.” 

Between 2018 and 2022, off-campus university lands produced 32.6 million metric tons of carbon emissions, according to the McGuire Energy Institute. Students Fighting Climate Change demanded the University to “accelerate the renewable energy transition” on its 2.1 million acres of land. University Lands, the entity that oversees the physical land, currently has nine total wind and solar projects compared to 10,000 producing oil wells. 

“It is a drop in the bucket compared to the rest of the land that they are leasing to oil and gas companies,” said Abby Sullivan, Students Fighting Climate Change Director. 

The organization also plans to deliver a proposal to President Jay Hartzell next fall to flesh out the petition’s demands. Students Fighting Climate Change officers Lee and Zoey Kaul said they assessed UT’s low-performing oil investments to suggest more reliable and ethical investments. 

“A lot of people when they hear ‘divest’ (they think), ‘You just want our money to sit away and rot?’” Kaul said. “No, we don’t. We want that money to be put into other investments that are more ethically aligned.” 

The organization’s petition comes years after a planned meeting with Hartzell to discuss its “Climate Equity Plan,” which unexpectedly dropped off the agenda in October 2021. Many members graduated later that year, and the organization lost momentum. Sullivan said they’ve been building back up ever since. 

“We now have 15 active members in leadership, and I feel like spirits are high,” Sullivan said. “We’re very motivated right now to keep pressing for support for this petition and eventually try and have a meeting with UT administration.”

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