Divest UK Climate Change protest

Posters hung by the group Divest UK hang in the Gatton Student Center with various messages about climate change on Friday, Dec. 6, 2019, in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Arden Barnes | Staff

A student-led climate protest gathered on the Student Center's social staircase Friday afternoon as part of Divest UK’s mission of ending the university’s fossil fuel investment.

Signs around the Wildcat Statue displayed four reasons for UK to divest in fossil fuels: “the carbon bubble is coming”, “climate change kills”, “UK should lead on climate” and “students want divestment.”

Divest UK is a student organization formed in early 2017 and previously has held events and protests on-campus. Cameron Baller, a natural resources and environmental major, said the group is about climate justice and fossil fuel divestment.

Baller said that about $100 million of the university’s $1.5 billion endowment is directly invested in fossil fuel industries.

“We want the university to stop investing in fossil fuels,” said Baller. “We want them to reinvest the money that they have in fossil fuels in more sustainable things like clean energy, sustainable agriculture, and then we want to alter the way the university invests all of its money, that whole $1.5 billion, to incorporate social and environmental goals as well as bottom line of profit.”

UK spokesperson Jay Blanton said he couldn't verify the group's assertion that $100 million of the university's endowment was invested in fossil fuels, but he did say that UK has been meeting and working with Divest UK.

"We support our students who are making their voices heard on issues of critical importance to them and the world," Blanton said in a statement. He added that the student's input has been "invaluable" and has made the university be more transparent about how it spends its endowment.

"(W)e have sought ways to be even more transparent with how the institution invests resources that are critical in support of scholarships, teaching, research and the infrastructure that supports those missions," Blanton said.  

In response to meetings with students, Blanton said the university has added more information to the endowment webpage and has made a statement about the "endowment’s approach and efforts in sustainable investing."

At 1 p.m., Baller said they had five or six members participating in the strike. One member had first arrived in the student center at 10 a.m.

The strike is in solidarity with national climate strikes and the Fridays for Future movement. Baller said their goal was to raise awareness about UK’s fossil fuel investment.

Other drawings were dropped off by a professor who came from teaching a global climate change class.

“It’s showing up in Lexington to show we’re not absent, we’re showing up too. We’re showing up for climate justice and showing up for reality,” said Alice Melendez, a member of Extinction Rebellion Kentucky.

Baller said the strike was just for the day, for now.

Baller said Divest UK has met with the administration at least five times, and that while the administration is willing to work on transparency, they are not willing to work on fossil fuel investment.

“One of our goals was to provide more students with information about the endowment,” said Baller as he spoke to a questioning passerby. He said that the administration has said they are worried about the diversification of the portfolio and that other groups may demand divestment in other areas.

Upon learning of UK’s fossil fuel investments, one student responded with “of course we do.”

“Right now we only invest in what will make us the most money,” said Baller. “We want to instead invest in things that are good for people and good for the planet.”

The group will hold an interest meeting at 5 p.m. Friday, in the Student Center.