Last week, the University of Minnesota became the third Big Ten school to declare its intention to disinvest in fossil fuels. Pressure from students had been growing and the administration finally recognized and agreed with the arguments being placed before them. The Gophers will now make no direct investment in fossil-fuel-related companies or make new investments in markets heavily influenced by fossil fuels. They intend to shift current investments either outside of the energy sector or into clean energy.
If the Gophers can do it, the Huskers can — and should — too. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln should not be the sixth, eighth or even tenth Big Ten school to join the movement. They should be next in line. UNL must pledge to withdraw current investments in fossil fuels. Not just for their students now, but for generations of students to come.
The divestment — or disinvestment — movement is not new to UNL students. Beginning in Jan. 2020, the Divest NU movement has been advocating for the UNL to take the step to divest from fossil fuels officially. While student efforts culminated in a change to NU’s investment policy, the university failed to commit to divesting fully. According to UNL’s sustainability page, UNL still has $91.3 million invested in fossil fuels. The Divest NU movement continues to advocate for its goals, but thus far, it seems no further progress has been made.
As part of UNL’s N2025 Strategic Plan, the university aims to “focus research … to solve challenges critical to Nebraska and the World.” Seven of these challenges were defined, including climate resilience. By choosing not to divest from fossil fuels, UNL is projecting a contradictory message. The university acknowledges the impact and challenge of climate change, yet will not take all available avenues to help mitigate the effects. NU’s sustainability and climate change mitigation efforts seem to be done to preserve an image and fulfill these goals on the surface, without making every attempt to create powerful and meaningful change.
Not only is UNL not sticking to its own values, but they are ignoring the cries of their students and students across the Big Ten. Clearly, with the presence and longevity of the Divest NU movement, there are students passionate about this topic here on our campus. Not only that, the voices of 500,000 students were represented by Big Ten student body presidents when the Association of Big Ten Students passed a resolution in Feb. 2020 calling for the divestment of fossil fuels by all Big Ten schools. As a public institution, UNL should serve the interests of its students or, at the very least, listen to their voices. But nearly two years into the movement, investment in fossil fuels remains.
It is understandable that the university’s investments are aimed at best supporting the institution financially. However, the argument for financial viability doesn’t even stand anymore. The fossil fuel industry is a failing one. Major institutions have long been questioning the long-term viability of fossil fuel investments, with projects being financially unstable and social scrutiny increasing. Oil and gas producers are bleeding and losing value every year. There was a time when investment opportunities into clean energy were risky and limited. Today, options are abundant and reliable. Even the S&P 500 has a green alternative, the S&P 500’s Fossil Fuel Free Total Return Index, which has consistently outperformed its traditional counterpart. If the university doesn’t want to divest from fossil fuels for the planet, it can divest for the financial health of the NU system.
It would not be fair to not acknowledge the efforts of many to improve UNL’s climate impact. A number of sustainability initiatives have been established, such as an enhanced recycling program, working to find an alternative to the balloon release tradition and building and renovating buildings to meet green standards. The university has received a silver rating three times from the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System, with their score improving each year. This shows a trend in the right direction. The one score that has not increased, however, is the investment score, which remains zero. Additionally, when comparing their scores to other Big Ten Universities, they rank lower than the vast majority of their peers. The steps taken towards a sustainable campus and university system are important, but they are not enough.
UNL has made significant steps in the right direction in most areas, but investment lags behind. We’re beyond the point of climate denial or taking out time to make decisions. The United Nations’ most recent climate report is nothing short of terrifying if we don’t take action right now. Maybe years ago, UNL would’ve been ahead of the curve when it came to climate response. Now, we’re falling behind. Michigan, Rutgers and Minnesota have made the change.
UNL should join the trend. There’s isn’t time for transition. There isn’t time for alternative consideration. The time for divestment is now.
Megan Buffington is a freshman journalism major. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.