Students seek to divest Whitworth from fossil fuels

by Katie Shaw

A group of Whitworth students are pushing the administration to rid Whitworth’s investments of fossil fuels, part of a national movement of students at universities across the country. Just before January, senior Niko Aberle drafted a petition, addressed to President Beck Taylor and the Board of Trustees, encouraging the university to divest from the world’s 200 worst fossil fuel producing companies.

Members of the Whitworth Divestment Campaign have gathered 433 signatures on the petition as of Feb. 15, according to the Facebook page of the same name. Because of the Campaign members’ presentation and the petition, Chief of Staff Rhosetta Rhodes is currently evaluating which those 200 worst companies is on Whitworth’s list of investments, junior Joel Silvius said.

Aberle, Silvius, senior Rebecca Korf  and senior Elon Roe led a student symposium on Jan. 14 in which each of them presented about divestment from their own area of expertise.

In the case of chemistry major Korf, that was a scientific perspective.

Greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide absorb and hold the sun’s energy, Korf explained at the symposium. As a result, temperatures rise, weather becomes more drastic and sea levels and ocean acidity rise.

“We’re not asking for a return to horses and buggies,” Korf said, “but for a realization of how our actions affect the planet.”

The companies providing oil are not the problem and the products they provide are needed, Korf said; but most fossil fuel companies have unsustainable, harmful practices and do not invest in trying to find renewable sources of energy. Society needs fuel, but from a sustainable source, Korf said.

Aberle addressed how the university and individuals might respond to this information. Whitworth has an endowment of $108 million (according to a 2013 endowment report from, which is invested in a variety of places.

“[Divestment] is an excellent tool to put pressure on companies and to pressure the government to put regulations on companies,” Aberle said.

Divestment for financial impact doesn’t produce much; even if all the universities in the countries were to divest from fossil fuels, it would not significantly affect the large coal and oil corporations, Aberle said.

Divestment as a political strategy, however, has been used effectively in the past as a method of protest. Aberle gave the example of universities protesting apartheid in South Africa being a “catalyst for social change.”

Whitworth would be the first Protestant school in the country to divest from fossil fuels, Silvius said.

Silvius brought a theological argument to the symposium. “When God put Adam in the Garden, He put him there to work the land and to care for it,” Silvius said, citing Genesis 2:15

“We want to make sure what we do lines up with what we say we believe,” Korf said.

Roe, an economics major, discussed the potential financial impacts of divestment and alternative investments for Whitworth’s endowment, including wind power, solar power and biofuels.

If approved, the university will divest from any of the Carbon Underground 200 it is currently invested in. The Carbon Underground 200 lists the top 100 public coal companies and the top 100 public oil and gas companies globally.

When asked by a Symposium attendee how students can participate, Korf said to sign the petition. It can be signed electronically by going to the Facebook page called “Whitworth Divestment Campaign” and following the link in the “about” section.

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