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A Future Worth Investing In

Chancellor Blank has taken a bold move of leadership this month, as she pushed the dialogue of corporate-civic relations in her piece “A Stronger Civic Sector” published by Ford Forum. Blank warns against unregulated economies, and stresses the need for the civic sector to ensure companies are working toward the common good. She pays tribute that “Markets are very, very good at looking at cost of production and demand and getting people together, finding a way to sell goods or sell services” but she warns “but they don’t do anything beyond that.”  Blank sums the piece up simply when she says “Markets alone can’t solve social problems.”
Blank uses this framework for her argument. She pushes the need of a strong civic sector to regulate markets because sometimes “it isn’t in the best interest of the invest in the community”. She outlines tools that the civic sector has to influence the marketplace, including it’s ability to influence a company’s reputation, and affect voluntary compliance.
Chancellor Blank’s background in economics and her strong principled character makes her a leader in this dialogue about corporations and community. As a student of UW, I am proud of our chancellor’s courage in Ford Forum, and am excited about new opportunities moving forward. This is a pivotal time for our University to leverage our civic sector tools in ways that  temper the power of big industries that have put profit as priority above the well-being of global communities.

In 2010, millions raged as BP oil begrudgingly worked toward fixing their oil spill, which put approximately 210 million gallons of oil in the Gulf of Mexico over the course of 87 days. The oil spill was one of the most devastating in history, affecting 16,000 miles of American coastline, killing over 8,000 animals and leaving 11 Americans dead. 

In 2008 the fossil fuel industry funded the largest campaign against climate science in history, causing climate change denial to double in a single year. Big think tanks, including the CATO institute, formed to create pseudo climate-science to instill skepticism in Americans. It functioned to persuade the American public that climate scientists at research universities like UW-Madison were grant hungry marauders who researched the public threats of climate change for selfish gain. But, having taken classes with climate experts like Galen McKinley and Jonathan Patz here at the UW, our students know firsthand that our climate researchers are some of the most dependable, intelligent, and compassionate people, and we are glad they are leading the warning on climate. In fact, it is our scientists here at UW who have warned the public that we must stay under two degrees warming if we wish to continue to live in a society that is still familiar to the one we live in today.

The devastation we will see if we cross the two degree threshold is almost unbearable. Hurricane sandy becomes commonplace. Millions of American’s struggle to feed their family as farmers work tirelessly to farm a patchwork of dwindling landscapes that have become more and more weary from overuse, variable weather, and drought. Madisonian families tuck tight in their basements as wildfires, tornadoes, and winter storms charge across the Midwest with increased severity and duration that rivals even this year’s relentless tornado streak. If we are to stay under this two degree threshold, two-thirds of the fossil fuel industry’s current oil reserves are unburnable. Yet our university is currently making a profit off of fossil fuel stock--A profit margin which grows when the industry finds and burns even more fuel reserves.

We simply cannot maintain our integrity as a research university which knows the severity of crossing these climate change thresholds, while simultaneously investing in a company which has blindly disregarded our own university’s warnings and uses our university’s investment in ways that fundamentally go against our own research of needed climate mitigation.

As individual students, we do not have a loud enough voice to speak to fossil fuel giants that are jesting with our futures. Chancellor blank affirms this; “The market, for instance, pays no attention to any group of people who have no money to bring into it.” But if we stand together again as a university of united civic citizens, we can make our voices heard by suppressing the reputations of fossil fuel companies which jeopardize our student’s ability to prosper, and undermine our faculty’s research. By divesting, the university sends a clear message that fossil fuel companies have not been good stewards of our futures, nor responsible members of our community, and we will withhold patronage until they are.

Our Alma Mater doesn’t hide in cowardice when courage is needed. In 1977 chancellor Irving Shain heeded the call from divestment activists when he guided the University to be the first of the nation to use divestment as a voice against apartheid. This was a signal to the nation--our university would refuse to support South African companies that benefited from and propagated apartheid in South Africa. It was not an economically rational decision for the university, it was a moral one. Nelson Mandela later gave his personal thanks to the University of Wisconsin-Madison for being a major player in the decomposition of apartheid in his country.

The University of Wisconsin again stands at this pivotal leadership opportunity. As a research university with bright scholars, faculty that produce globally renowned climate research, and courageous executive leadership, we have the credibility to influence the marketplace once again.

Our Chancellor took courageous leadership this month, and I am excited to see the ways students and executive staff can work together, using our civic tools to craft the future we want to see for ourselves and for this world. Together we can create Blanks vision:“a culture in which the expectation is that companies are responsible members of communities”. We are excited to stand side by side with renowned faculty here at the UW, including Nobel Peace Prize winner Jonathan Patz, who have already taken a stance in favor of divestment.

Our prerogative as intellectuals and academics is not to be complicit with the status quo; The Wisconsin Idea challenges us as researchers, and as a university, to work hand and hand with our community, influence policy and the legislature, and most importantly, leave the world better in a better place than we found it.
We stand at a crux where we will determine whether we as a society can bolster the political will to make vital decisions fast enough to avoid far surpassing dangerous climatic thresholds. We ask the Chancellor to stand with us, as members of the University, to believe in our ability to stand out as a leader in uncertain times. We ask Chancellor Blank to support divestment and ask for your help, reader, to strengthen this call by asking the Chancellor to make a public statement on divestment. You can do this by signing our petition at . We ask this not because it benefits the University financially, not because it’s politically neutral, but because we cannot bear the consequences of inaction.

Fossil Free UW Student Coalition

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