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Saturday, April 20, 2024

Student-led climate strike urges university to divest from fossil fuels

More than 100 students gathered on campus Friday for an Earth Week Climate Strike, pressuring UW-Madison and the Wisconsin Foundation & Alumni Association to divest from fossil fuels.

The protest, organized by the Wisconsin Student Climate Action Coalition featured several speakers who emphasized climate justice. 

“Today's strike centered the importance of divestment within the context of climate justice, especially as continued investment in and emission of fossil fuels disproportionately impacts BIPOC communities in the US and around the world,” said Hoofer Council Officer of Diversity and Inclusion Berit Thorson.

WSCAC partnered with over 10 student organizations to organize the strike, march and speakers. 

At the strike, WSCAC Chair CJ Koepp announced that the organization will be filing a formal complaint against UW-Madison for its continued investment in fossil fuels. The UW-Madison Faculty Senate voted on a resolution calling for WFAA to disclose how much money the university invests in fossil fuels in March.

After learning about a formal complaint that students at Harvard submitted in an effort to get the university to divest from fossil fuels, Koepp contacted the Harvard team and the attorneys they worked with. She hopes to submit the complaint by the end of the semester. 

“The general idea is that the university is not investing with prudence by investing in an industry that has spread mass disinformation campaigns against climate science and is contributing to climate change,” Koepp said. “That's explicitly against the university's mission statement.”

The UW-Madison mission statement states that: “The primary purpose of the University of Wisconsin-Madison is to provide a learning environment in which faculty, staff and students can discover, examine critically, preserve and transmit the knowledge, wisdom and values that will help ensure the survival of this and future generations and improve the quality of life for all.”

A Wisconsin Foundation & Alumni Association board member works with Southern Power Company, which is a conflict of interest that may be impacting the university’s hesitance to divest, Koepp said. 

The strike focused on climate justice, and many speakers addressed the different ways that climate change disproportionately hurts Black, Indigenous and POC communities. 

“These issues are important because everything is interconnected,” Thorson said. “Climate change is related to racial justice and gender justice and economic justice. They all weave together to form this giant web, and to care about one should mean to care about them all.” 

The strike started at Memorial Library, where many students stood to speak. “Please do something after this,” one student urged. After, the group marched to the capitol to hear from several other speakers including UW-Madison junior and city representative Juliana Bennett, Wisconsin state Rep. Francesca Hong and Wisconsin's Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes.

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“We are hoping to send a message to UW and the WFAA that their students and community members do not want money spent on supporting fossil fuels. We want divestment from fossil fuels and reinvestment in our students and our community, especially our BIPOC students and community members,” Thorson said. 

WSCAC aims to submit their formal complaint before the semester ends.

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