UMaine students hold a climate strike to call on the university system to divest from fossil fuels
About 40 students and community members rallied at the University of Maine at Orono on Friday as part of a "climate strike," where they called on university officials to divest the system's investments from all fossil fuels.
The rally on the Orono campus was one of hundreds of climate strikes planned across the country connected to the "Fridays for Future" movement, which began in 2018 by activist Greta Thunberg. The event in Orono was specifically focused on the issue of divesting from fossil fuels at a time when global leaders continue to warn about the imminent, detrimental effects of climate change.
Belu Katz, with the group Divest UMS, said that after Maine legislators passed a first-in-the-nation law last year to divest the state's pension system from fossil fuels, the university system should follow suit.
"The financial viability of fossil fuels is diminishing. The global economy is already moving towards renewable energy, and the university is behind the curve," Katz said.
A university spokesperson didn't respond to a request for comment. But at a board meeting in November, University of Maine System Board Chair Mark Gardner said that the system had reduced its fossil fuel investments to about two percent of its holdings -- a drop from 6.5 percent in 2014. The system also implemented a policy five years ago requiring it to consider environmental, social and governmental factors in its investing decisions.
Divest UMS President Charles Cooper said that those steps weren't adequate, and he and other students want a firm commitment that the system will work to completely divest as soon as possible.
"Yeah, it's complex. But we want a commitment to making it happen," Cooper said. "And we know it can happen. Because other institutions have done it. And other institutions have managed a lot more money than ours."
Several other colleges, including Unity College and College of the Atlantic, have already divested from fossil fuels.
Cooper said Divest UMS is also creating a plan proposing how the system should reinvest its holdings, which it could eventually present to officials as soon as later this year. In the meantime, the group plans to once again pressure the University of Maine System Board of Trustees on the issue at their meeting next week.