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University Of Florida Students Demand Campus-Wide Measures To Avert The Climate Crisis

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Of all the people in Florida who have the determination to stand up to Governor Ron DeSantis’ and pals’ dangerous worldviews, who do you think it would be? Established business people? Senior citizens watching out for their grandchildren’s future? State legislators who have been endowed to do the right thing for the citizens they serve? Enlightened feminists? Nope — it’s the Student Senate at the University of Florida. They voted unanimously this month to support a Green New Deal.

With such activism, University of Florida students are calling out state legislators who promote climate denialism, perpetuate fossil fuel power, and inhibit free speech on campuses. In doing so, they have brought their campus into the public spotlight as the first public university to adopt such resolutions through their student government.

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The resolutions outline specific actions to mitigate the climate crisis:

  • a just transition;
  • total divestment from fossil fuels;
  • disclosure of the university’s financial ties within the private sector; and,
  • a ban on receiving research funding from the fossil fuel industry.

The Student Senate bill reads in part:

“LET IT BE RESOLVED that the University of Florida Student Senate recognizes the importance of a worker-led transition to greener systems by ensuring that those whose employment is affected by the climate crisis are given the ability to take a major role in building solutions… and that the University of Florida Student Senate recognizes the just transition as a guiding pillar of a Green New Deal for the University of Florida which it endorses the implementation of.”

Importantly, the University of Florida Student Senate recognizes timely divestment of endowment funds in the fossil fuel industry as a guiding pillar of a Green New Deal for the University of Florida. Their resolve to divest from fossil fuel and related industries calls on UF to:

  • extend its divestment of endowment and pension funds from any entities that own fossil fuel reserves, including bundled assets like exchange traded funds;
  • divest its endowment and pension funds of any entity where 10% or more of their revenue derives from providing services to the fossil fuel industry or processing fossil fuels;
  • redistribute its investment portfolio such that any investments in energy are in solely sustainable energy; and,
  • to replace existing retirement/pension funds with ones that maintain strong environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) ratings.

Because the Student Senate has serious doubts of UF’s commitment to combating the climate crisis, they have issued a separate transparency and disclosure bill. It critiques the University of Florida governing board due to inaccessibility to information regarding investments, dealings with the fossil fuel industry, or its own carbon footprint.

The Student Senate also made explicit that the receipt of funding from the fossil fuel industry as a means to finance research has been linked to more favorable findings of fossil fuels as an energy source. As such, they called on the deans of each college within UF and the Vice President of Research to prohibit the receipt of any financial contributions from the fossil fuel industry to finance research.

Next steps for this version of the Green New Deal will be for the University of Florida board of trustees to review and possibly approve the financial elements of the resolution on March 7. The resolution also calls for an immediate implementation of the UF Climate Action Plan, which is a shared strategic framework for reducing and mitigating the University of Florida’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in order to reach carbon neutrality. It also intends to support the university’s academic mission and improve the university’s resilience to related climate change impacts. The university’s updated climate action plan states:

“Given the location of UF, in a state that is highly vulnerable to climate-related impacts (severe storms, drought, flooding, etc.), it is critically important that CAP 2.0 efforts also include resilience, or the ability to adapt, bounce back & flourish in the face of disruptions. At UF, climate resilience strategies mean bringing the preparation for, adaptation to, and recovery from climate-related impacts to the forefront of campus-wide planning, decision-making, and regional collaboration.”

Drafted by the university’s office of sustainability, the plan’s approval has been stalled for nearly a year.

Leadership behind the Scenes

Sunrise is a youth movement that plans global climate strikes and compels politicians to finally take the climate crisis seriously. It’s been 5 years since Sunrise came on the national scene, and today they continue their advocacy, having already achieved major successes. They say policies adopted by financial institutions to limit support for fossil fuels are having a direct impact in the real economy, driving up the cost of capital, and shifting the cost/benefit equation for new projects. The group works from the position that shifting finance is a key strategy in the global effort to transition from fossil fuels to clean energy.

Sofia Aviles, a third-year student at the University of Florida and the president of Sunrise Movement Gainesville, explained she and her peers were “trying to show the Florida government that despite their efforts, we are an institution backed by science.”

Cameron Driggers, a business administration student and the executive director of Youth Action Fund, which is a collective of Gen-Z activists fighting against the far right culture war raging throughout Florida.  “Seeing a huge campus in a red state adopt a ‘green new deal’ is hopefully a sign that this movement is spreading to other universities around the country, and start treating this climate crisis like a crisis that it is,” Driggers told the Guardian. Moreover, the first-year University of Florida student described the vote as “a stunning rebuke of the ideology of climate denialism that DeSantis has championed.”

The students at the University of Florida are not alone in their climate activism. Students at American University are calling for decarbonization and financial transparency. The University of California, San Diego committed to carbon-neutral goals in 2019 by divesting from fossil fuels. New York University announced plans in 2023 to divest from fossil fuels, crediting Sunrise movement student organizers in the decision. This student activism is another reason to be optimistic in 2024 as we fight together to mitigate the climate crisis.

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Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn Fortuna, PhD, is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavey Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a 2022 Tesla Model Y as well as a 2017 Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Substack:

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