Editorial — NMU must divest from the fossil fuel industry


Molly Birch/NW

Divest NMU and the Keweenaw Youth Climate Action Group of MTU protest from their seats at the NMU vs MTU hockey game this Saturday at the Berry Events Center. The club has been advocating for NMU to phase out its investments in the fossil fuel industry and reinvest in sustainable projects since October 2021.

Last Saturday, students from both Northern Michigan University and Michigan Technological University stood together in solidarity at their rival hockey game to encourage both of their universities to remove their financial investments from the fossil fuel industry.

A concentrated effort to convince NMU to completely divest from the fossil fuel industry and prioritize more sustainable alternatives began during the fall 2021 semester after concerned students came together to form Divest NMU. Since its creation, the student organization has worked tirelessly to receive some form of acknowledgment and/or commitment from university administrators regarding their end goal of a greener future.

The protest at Saturday night’s game was incredibly symbolic. The coming together of the Wildcats and Huskies demonstrated that the catastrophic nature of our current climate crisis exceeds the bounds of a fatuous and decades-long rivalry. The students’ chants were filled with urgency and sincerity in the hopes that both community members and administrators were listening closely.

Undoubtedly, climate change and its effects on our environment are a major concern for the campus community. In addition to the efforts being put forth by Divest NMU, including a petition that boasts nearly 200 signatures, student organizations like EcoReps and Conservation Crew are working to push NMU onto a greener and more sustainable path.

For instance, when the Green Fund referendum was first presented to the NMU student body on the 2018 ASNMU ballot, 76% of those who voted did so in favor of the fund. Since the Green Fund officially went into effect, over $120,000 has been collected and used to fund EcoReps projects such as the clover lawn, rain garden and solar panel installation on Presque Isle Avenue. Conservation Crew has also conducted several trash cleanups around Marquette, including local beaches, bike paths and NMU’s campus.

To the university’s credit, they have developed several initiatives demonstrating an interest in preserving the ecosystem that allures so many students to its campus. Not only is the university committed to carbon neutrality, but recycling bins have been placed throughout the academic mall and the Outdoor Learning Area, helping preserve vegetation and wildlife native to the area. Several “No Mow” zones can be seen around campus as well.

However, it is counterintuitive to be committed to carbon neutrality while simultaneously profiting from an industry that is the largest source of carbon emissions in the United States. Additionally, a portion of the Outdoor Learning Area was replaced by The Woods residence hall in 2016, despite pushback from students and faculty regarding the preservation of the essential ecologic and academic space.

The university’s continued financial investment in the fossil fuel industry is unfair to both current and prospective students of NMU, most of whom arrived at campus eager to explore the forests and waters that are heavily promoted during student recruitment. Students ultimately come to find that their university reaps the soon-to-be feeble benefits of Marquette’s natural beauty while their investments continue to devastate that same ecosystem. 

It seems that legitimate change on campus regarding climate change has only come as a result of the research, mobilization and outreach of students.

Divest NMU has created a clear path for NMU to follow based on successful divestment plans by other universities across the nation, including the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Divest NMU has proposed that the university remove all fossil fuel investment by 2028, half of which is to be completed by 2025. The proposal also states that a percentage of the divested funds are to be reinvested into greener alternatives. 

The student organization’s proposed route is much more affordable for the university, considering the inevitable collapse of the fossil fuel industry will ultimately cost them more in the long run.

It is undeniable that we are running out of time to preserve and protect the ecosystems that allow Earth to thrive. Marquette is already witnessing the effects of climate change with the disruption of Lake Superior, one of the world’s largest freshwater sources. Superior is currently enduring an increase in both water temperatures and invasive species, which has created unsuitable living conditions for native species.

The urgency of the climate crisis to NMU students has transcended the bounds of any other social justice issue on campus, and this can be seen in the student’s selection for the faculty keynote speaker at the recent winter graduation ceremony.

During her keynote address, Assistant Professor of Wildlife Ecology Diana Lafferty, discussed the interconnectedness of humans not only with the ecosystems in which we inhabit but also with each other through our shared use of natural resources. 

Lafferty continued, however, to discuss the dangers of our exploitation, stating “we are connected through our gluttonous use of fossil fuels which we burn to fuel our lives despite these actions degrading the very air, water and soil we need to survive, while simultaneously contributing to the rapid warming of our world.”

Because the climate crisis extends beyond the bounds of campus, Divest NMU has been participating in Marquette City Commission meetings to spread awareness to community members and local decision-makers. We applaud Divest NMU’s outreach and hope that the concerned citizens of Marquette will help support the cause.

Editor’s Note: The North Wind is committed to offering a free and open public forum of ideas, publishing a wide range of viewpoints to accurately represent the NMU student body. This is an editorial, written by the North Wind Editorial Board in its entirety. It reflects the majority views of the individuals who make up the editorial staff of the North Wind. It is the policy of the Editorial Board not to endorse candidates for any political office, in order to avoid aligning this public forum with particular political organizations.