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Sunday, September 24, 2023
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Fossil fuel companies are a cancer: The UW Foundation must divest now

On March 1, the University of Wisconsin Faculty Senate passed a resolution urging the UW Foundation to divest from fossil fuel companies. But, before we take a victory lap, let’s flash back and remember that a similar effort failed in 2014 because it was too ‘divisive.’

Not only is this resolution too late, but it is also too little to urge the Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association to divest. UW faculty — along with anyone else interested in the preservation of human civilization — needs to aim higher: urge national elected officials to nationalize the fossil fuel industry and manage its complete liquidation as quickly as possible.

Fossil fuel companies are a cancer on this planet and on our civilization. Almost all climate experts’ projections for the future include mass extinctions and famines, and some less optimistic experts have said a climate apocalypse could start by 2050 if we stay on our current trajectory. These companies fuel the engine accelerating us towards apocalypse: Just 100 of these companies are responsible for 71% of the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming.  

While those predictions are obviously frightening in their own right, we do not need to rely on prophecies for the future to conceptualize the consequences of climate change. Those are easily detectable right now.

Already, the Great Barrier Reef has lost half of its corals and one million plant and animal species are threatened with extinction. Frogs, fish and flowers which occupy vital roles in their respective ecosystems and which may never be seen again. Last month, more than 70 people died in Texas from a winter storm some experts have linked to the destabilization of the polar jet stream — caused by climate change. Year after year, extreme summer heat is killing an ever-increasing number of Wisconsinites, and it already kills more Wisconsinites than all other weather disasters combined.

To slow down this destruction, we will need to do more than ask the WFAA to stop sponsoring it. We will need to fight a long, laborious battle against companies and their representatives who — by exploiting our planet — have accumulated wealth and power most could only dream of.

But again, we need only observe the present to get a vision for our future. To get an idea of what we’ll be up against, look to the plight of Steven Donziger, a Harvard Law graduate who has been on house arrest for more than one and a half years on a misdemeanor charge. March 15th marked Donziger’s 585th consecutive day on house arrest.

Donziger’s crime? Winning a lawsuit against Chevron. 

In 2011, Donziger won a historic civil decision in Ecuador against Chevron and her predecessor company, Texaco, after they dumped over 70 billion liters of oil and toxic waste into pristine areas of Ecuador’s rainforests; in doing so, they gave cancer and other illnesses to hundreds of the indigenous people that called those areas home. Chevron did this intentionally in order to cut costs, and they have still yet to pay for clean-up or for compensation to the victims of their actions.

Holding fossil fuel executives to account for abusing the earth should not go unpunished. After Chevron issued an internal memo stating that their goal would be to demonize Donziger, they brought a bogus countersuit against him years later. Then the government appointed a private company, Seward and Kissel, to prosecute him on contempt charges. This law firm has represented Chevron in numerous other matters — which I’m sure is 100% coincidental. 

Chevron has attacked Donziger with everything at their disposal — money, lawyers and connections — in order to destroy his life. This is how we should expect these companies to treat us if we try to protect our home and ourselves from them. If we take the task of saving the world seriously, Donziger’s present is our future.

It is for this reason that we must pressure our institutions to not only stop financing fossil fuel companies, but to be allies in a war against their existence. Ordinary people do not have the resources to fight against fossil fuel companies. We need the University of Wisconsin — yes, the system, not just the Madison campus — on our side.

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A future of destruction and unaccountability, though we are already starting to see it and feel it, is not inevitable. A different future is possible. Fossil fuel companies are not a part of that future.

Nick is a Junior studying Journalism and Spanish. Do you think we need to take actionable steps towards ending climate change? Do you think UW should divest from fossil fuels? Send all comments to

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