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  1. Opinion

Column: UF should drop fossil fuels from its endowment

The burning of fossil fuels is the largest source of emissions of carbon dioxide, one of the greenhouse gases contributing to climate change. In this file photo, the sun sets behind Georgia Power’s coal-fired Plant Scherer, one of the nation’s top carbon dioxide emitters, in Juliette, Ga.  [AP file photo by Branden Camp]
The burning of fossil fuels is the largest source of emissions of carbon dioxide, one of the greenhouse gases contributing to climate change. In this file photo, the sun sets behind Georgia Power’s coal-fired Plant Scherer, one of the nation’s top carbon dioxide emitters, in Juliette, Ga. [AP file photo by Branden Camp]
Published Mar. 26, 2019

"As one of the world's most comprehensive research universities," the University of Florida is "addressing problems, discovering solutions and finding ways to improve almost every aspect of how we experience life." That's what UF's glossy "Go Greater" brochures say. But the reality isn't so shiny: UF invests in fossil fuel corporations through its endowment, undermining science, solutions and moral progress.

Currently, UF reports its total endowment, a pool of money managed to produce annual income, is $2 billion. It's been nearly a decade since forward-thinking colleges and universities around the nation started to divest from fossil fuels. Since then, insurance companies, U.S. cities and even an entire country — Ireland — followed the trend. At UF in Gainesville, students are coming together informally and formally — under a nonprofit organization called DivestUF — to call on our university to divest from fossil fuel companies. As a research university finding solutions for the world, the imperative is two-fold: (1) environmental justice and (2) leadership.

The burning of fossil fuels is the largest source of emissions of carbon dioxide, one of the greenhouse gases contributing to climate change. Florida feels the wrath, including economically destructive algal blooms, sea-level rise and worsening hurricane impacts, according to the Fourth National Climate Assessment released last fall.

As a champion of research science including climate science, UF betrays its mission by investing in fossil fuels. Climate change will shake the foundations of Florida society, with particular impact to our most vulnerable citizens, not to mention harm to property values, business revenues and jobs.

UF should be a strong leader on climate change. We, the students, ask those who control UF's endowment — the UF Board of Trustees and the UF Investment Corporation — to look at divestment, especially given the renewed interest in sustainability voiced by Florida's new governor, Ron DeSantis. By divesting its endowment from fossil-fuel related companies, UF would join more than 100 principled educational institutions worldwide. One of them, the University of Hawaii, assembled a task force composed of Board of Regents members, students and faculty, who then investigated and issued a report to set divestment goals. This is a potential step for UF as well.

At the same time, UF can up its investment in renewable resources and green technologies, a better measure of "addressing problems, discovering solutions and finding ways to improve almost every aspect of how we experience life."

In the past, UF has fallen behind in its leadership on social change. Indeed, the university impeded progress during key points in history, denying black students admission through the 1950s and being complicit in a state-level campaign to purge gay students and faculty from campus. This time, can UF live up to its "Go Greater" slogan? Or will it again be complicit, standing beside fossil fuel companies instead of standing up to them?

Sam Jenkins of Tampa is a senior at the University of Florida, where he also serves as an elected student senator. He will graduate in May with his bachelor's degree in political science.