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BU fossil fuel endowment concerns students

Despite Boston University’s efforts toward becoming a more environmentally sustainable campus, several students said they are critical of BU’s investing endowment funds in fossil fuel companies.

Students established Divest BU in September to encourage BU officials to consider the effect monetary support of fossil fuels has on perpetuating the industry.

“All of [the sustainability] initiatives are awesome, and they prove that BU is committed to a cleaner environment,” said College of Engineering sophomore John Griese, a member of Divest BU. “So why is it [BU] still investing in the fossil fuel industry, the root source of the threat to the environment?”

BU spokesman Colin Riley said BU’s investment in fossil fuels is not significant.

“Anyone who has investments in a mutual fund will very likely have funds in oil companies, gas companies, traditional energy companies,” he said. “Virtually anyone who has a diversified portfolio or a mutual fund also invested in fossil fuel energy.”

BU has taken steps to decrease its reliance on fossil fuels around campus, such as starting to use geothermal technologies and natural gas, said earth sciences professor James Lawford Anderson.

“It [BU] sure is far ahead of a lot of universities,” Anderson said. “It makes the University of Southern California, which is really highly ranked, look dismal with its record.”

Riley said BU has made great strides environmentally, particularly with a transition to natural gas over the past two decades.

“We are much more energy efficient as a university, as an institution, in many different areas, from the use of water, water consumption, energy consumption and use of renewable resources,” he said. “It’s really not just about investments, so you can’t just single out fossil fuels.”

Divest BU wishes for BU to cease all use of endowment funds for fossil fuel companies, said member Ben Thompson, a first-year Graduate School of Arts and Sciences student.

“We need political change that will create a discussion,” he said. “It’s in the financial interest of the university, and it is of moral urgency for the earth and its population to get the national and international fossil fuel consumption down to a manageable level.”

Griese said there is little time to waste as fossil fuels pose an immediate threat.

“We are demanding that our university stop profiting off a process that will cause such vast destruction,” Griese said. “No other phenomenon threatens such a vast number of people and has such lasting consequences [as climate change].”

The impact of climate change due to fossil fuels will have devastating consequences on the Earth and the population it holds, said Divest BU member Colby Smith.

“We have come to a point in time where fossil fuels are not only a danger to our health but also a threat to our lives as we know it,” Smith, an ENG junior, said. “We can no longer afford to kneel to this industry’s power.”

A full-time sustainability director, a dining services sustainability coordinator and a communication specialist oversee BU’s sustainability initiative, according to the Sustainability@BU website.

Anderson said BU is working to adopt cleaner ways of consuming energy, such as increasing its use of natural gas.

“The nice thing about natural gas is that it’s the one fossil fuel that’s mostly clean,” he said. “I don’t think any university can go entirely ‘green,’ but we’re making the right decisions with what we can.”

Caleb Montague, a College of Arts and Sciences sophomore, said BU can make a difference nationally by setting a precedent.

“As such a large research institution, BU can pave the way for other smaller schools to follow with similar policies, and change the way universities impact climate change,” Montague said.

Thompson said he is hopeful his organization can work well with BU’s administration.

“We have not yet had that much interaction with the administration,” he said. “I’m very hopeful that once we demonstrate student support for fossil fuel divestment, the administration will be willing to sit down and have a sincere, meaningful discussion about the school’s future and our future.”

Margaret Waterman contributed to the reporting of this article.

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