In his speech at the Missouri Theatre in early October, environmentalist Bill McKibben recognized the Mizzou Energy Action Coalition as an example of how younger people are changing the world in the climate crisis.
"Young people are doing most of the leading around the world," McKibben said.
Since 2015, the coalition, a student environmental organization focused on divestment from fossil fuels, has worked to revitalize a fossil fuel divestment campaign at MU.
Mason Brobeck, a representative for the coalition and the Missouri Students Association, said fossil fuels are playing a negative role in the climate crisis, and they're also not going to raise global living standards.
In April, the Missouri Students Association passed a resolution asking that the UM System divest from fossil fuel companies. Frankie Hawkins, a representative for the coalition, said the UM System's estimated $10 million invested in fossil fuels represents about 1 percent of the system's $1.5 billion endowment pool.
While the organization would like for the UM System to invest in renewable energy companies, its main objective is divestment.
“This is a way to continue working towards sustainability without having to spend millions or billions of dollars on green energy infrastructure on campus,” Hawkins said.
UM System leaders have refused.
In a June response to the resolution, UM System President Mun Choi and Maurice B. Graham, the chair of the UM System Board of Curators, sent the coalition a letter emphasizing the importance of fossil fuels in the global economy.
“From an economic perspective, the fossil fuel industry will remain a critically important component of the global economy for decades,” the response letter said. “Disengaging from a large segment of the global economy is not in the best interests of the university nor our community.”
The letter noted that the university could not function without the energy they provide.
“We do not believe that alternatives to fossil fuels exist today at the scale demanded by our global economy,” the response letter said. “We do not feel that there is currently any persuasive or compelling argument that suggests divestment by the UM System will have any meaningful impact on the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.”
Students at Washington University in St. Louis have launched similar campaigns.
Last spring, members of Fossil Free WashU — a student environmental group — met with the university’s chancellor, Mark S. Wrighton, to discuss the divestment of fossil fuels from its endowment fund, according to the organization’s Facebook page. Wrighton, like Choi and Graham, refused.
While the coalition has not planned any specific events to further its campaign, representatives said they intend to collaborate with other universities, like Washington University.
Despite the UM System's refusal, the coalition remains hopeful for grassroots change led by students and the community, Hawkins said.
“It’s clear that the people who are in charge of things are not going to be the ones who are calling to fix this crisis,” Hawkins said. “It’s normal people.”
Supervising editors are Katherine Reed and Dylan Jackson.