April 4 2013 12:00 AM

The launch of a new environmental campaign calls for MSU to disinvest in oil companies contributing to climate change

Sam Inglot/City Pulse

Thursday, April 4 — The gathering may have been small, but the message was big. MSU Fossil Free, a re-launched student environmental group at Michigan State University, called on the school to divest the millions of dollars it has pledged to oil companies.

According to the group’s press release, MSU has “at least $13.8 million of its endowment invested in fossil fuel companies including BP, Canadian Oil Sands, and Shell International through stocks, bonds and asset backed securities.”

Today in front of the Hannah Administration Building, a small cohort from MSU Fossil Free officially announced the start of their divestment campaign.

The goal of the divestment campaign is to push MSU to officially take a stand against climate change and the fossil fuel companies that perpetuate it by withdrawing the funds they’ve invested in the companies.

“These are all very profitable companies and we have no illusion that divesting from them would somehow bring about their collapse,” said Steve Riccardi, vice president of MSU Fossil Free. “That’s not the point. Instead, the point is for our university to admit that there is a problem and we don’t want to be a part of it.”

Riccardi said MSU should act like it did in 1978, when the university said it would no longer invest with companies that did business in South Africa during the apartheid. It should do the same with big oil, they say.

“I’m here today to tell the university that climate change is another problem that we cannot be a part of. If the administration wants to lead like we did in 1978, they will recognize this and once again announce: ‘This is a problem,’” he said. “When Michigan State University announces that it does not want oil on its hands when the rivers turn black, Texas dries up and the Pacific starts swallowing up the Maldives, the world will hear it and perhaps it will finally say: ‘This is a problem.’”

Riccardi said the group would take a “top-down” approach by lobbying the MSU Board of Trustees. The end goal, he said, is to have the university completely divest from fossil fuel companies in five years.

According to Riccardi, ASMSU, the MSU student government, recently adopted a resolution supporting the divestment campaign.

MSU Fossil Free was formerly MSU Beyond Coal, a student environmental group that focused on eliminating the use of coal at the T.B. Simon Power Plant on campus. Riccardi said the name changed because the power plant is now run on only 30 percent coal and because MSU is taking steps toward more green energy. The name and focus change will help the group tackle a broader set of environmental issues, he said.

MSU Fossil Free is a chapter of the Fossil Free Campaign, which was launched by 350.org, a global environmental organization focused on combating climate change.

The group will be hosting a “Fossil Free Forum” tonight at 7:30 p.m. in room 105 of the South Kedzie building. The forum will feature a panel of experts who will talk specifics about climate change, sustainable investing and MSU’s divestment from South Africa in the 1970s.