Climate strike calls for divestment from fossil fuels

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Anh Le ('19)

Carolyn Wrightsman (’22) holds a sign at the Climate Strike on Bentdahl Commons.

Luther students participated in a global climate strike on Sept. 20 to advocate for clean energy and push for government action on climate change. Strike participants gathered on Bentdahl Commons in solidarity with 7.6 million strikers worldwide with demands for change on a local level.

Luther signed a commitment in 2007 to be carbon neutral by 2030, meaning that all of the power it uses will come from renewable sources or will be offset. Luther is currently about 60% of the way towards its goal partly due to its adoption of sustainable power sources like solar panels and a wind turbine which now produces about a third of campus’s power.

Maxwell Eness (‘20) said that while Luther is making progress in reducing carbon emissions, the school still has millions of dollars invested in fossil fuels through various mutual funds. Luther is approximately 95% divested from fossil fuels and one of Eness’s aims in helping to organize the climate strike was to push Luther to divest from the remaining five percent.

“In recent years, there have been more and more fossil fuel free mutual funds and mutual funds that are trying to reduce the amount of fossil fuels that they have, and so part of what we’re advocating for in this strike is that it’s not only an idealistic thing that you need to do on a purely moral basis,” Eness said. “Looking towards the future, fossil fuels are going to be an incredibly volatile and increasingly unprofitable investment to make.”

Sustainability Coordinator Toby Cain is working with the Center for Sustainable Communities staff and the [finance team] of the college to create a Responsible Investment Committee that would look into Luther’s investments and connections to fossil fuels.

“That committee will be a part of the [Center for Sustainable Communities] on campus, and it will be composed of faculty, staff, and one student,” Cain said. “Those folks will have the capacity to talk to our mutual fund managers and talk to the folks who manage our endowment for us and just try to see exactly how invested we are in the fossil fuel industry and then try to make recommendations to divest from that if possible.”

Cain said that Luther is making progress in moving towards carbon neutrality and that it will likely be at 70% of its goal by next year. Additionally, it may double its solar capacity with the help of a federal rebate. Cain said that in order to tackle the remaining 30%, Luther will need to completely overhaul the way it provides heating for the campus.

“We’re currently working with an engineering firm out of Rochester called MEP and Associates and when it’s over we will have  an 8-month energy masterplan,” Cain said. “They will have taken a look at every one of our buildings on campus, looked at its efficiencies, looked at its potential, and then they are going to make a recommendation on how we can get ourselves completely off of fossil fuels by 2030.”

Director of Center for Sustainable Communities James Martin-Schramm said that Luther uses a combination of natural gas and green energy technologies like solar  panels and the wind turbine. Around half of the energy required for campus goes towards heating, and the other half towards electricity.

“For the vast majority of the last 15 years, we’ve only been burning natural gas, and that’s because it’s so much cleaner, and recently much cheaper than fuel oil,” Martin-Schramm said. “But especially because it’s cleaner. We walked away from coal a long time ago.”

In addition to changing energy sources and being more conscious about energy consumption, Martin-Schramm said that the Luther community can make improvements in other areas of life to reduce negative environmental impacts.

“We have had some phone calls and emails from the head of Winneshiek County recycling because some of our dumpsters are full of trash, not recycling,” Martin-Schramm said. “I’m not sure it’s because students are being malicious. I think they’re simply ignorant. I just mean that they haven’t been trained in what to do, and that’s in part our fault in the [Center for Sustainable Communities] because we had some transition in staff and leadership and its just something that we didn’t pay enough attention to.”

Cain believes that in addition to recycling and composting correctly, students can also help by eating in the Caf more often and getting Grab-N-Go less, which reduces packaging waste. Cain wants students to be more aware of Luther’s reputation in sustainability, because it might motivate them to perpetuate it.

“I think that students should take a lot of pride in what we are doing as a campus,” Cain said. “We were just ranked number nine of all baccalaureate colleges in the United States in terms of sustainability, which is incredible. I want there to be more awareness about that accolade and for us to really take that to heart and practice that every day.”

Eness believes Luther could be more aggressive in its push to divest from fossil fuels, but that many members of the community, including students, faculty, and administration, are motivated to create change. he education Luther students receive can help them to live more sustainably.

“Honestly, I would encourage people to take a biology class or a geology class to get some background knowledge, so when people are talking about this you can be an active listener, you can know what’s going on, and you can really be engaged rather than just kind of reciting things you saw off Twitter,” Eness said. “It’s important to understand how the environment is being degraded but also to understand the little victories we are having every day.”

Anh Le (’19)
Luther students sign a poster titled, “Luther Students for Divestment.”
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