Last week, Fossil Free CU, the student divestment group at the University of Colorado at Boulder, announced it was ceasing operations in a Facebook post. It’s a somewhat ironic development based on the fact that CU Boulder is typically ranked among the nation’s “greenest” campuses each year—but it’s a reflection of where the divestment movement stands both in the state of Colorado and across the country.
The closure comes after a five year campaign that proved unsuccessful in convincing the state-wide elected Board of Regents to divest from fossil fuels. In 2015, the CU Board of Regents voted against divestment in a 7-2 vote, a tally which included “no” votes from two Democrats. The vote came despite organized protests by students that included sit-ins and camp-outs in the snow.
During the 2016 elections, the issue remained front and center during the race to replace an at large seat on the Board. Most candidates ended up coming out against the unpopular policy, including 350.org-backed Democrat Alice Madden (after months of avoiding the question). Heidi Ganahl, who ran an anti-divestment campaign, ended up winning the seat.
Instead of continuing to perpetuate unsuccessful divestment protests, Fossil Free CU is now associating itself with the Sunrise movement, a group involved in broader climate policy, but one that does not specifically focus on divestment.
It’s not just CU Boulder–divestment has been an overall failure throughout the state of Colorado. Early this year the University of Denver rejected divestment, despite an intense campaign organized by 350.org. The board did not buy the argument that stigmatizing an industry would somehow help the climate:
“A strategy of industry stigmatization drives a wedge between the University of Denver and the fossil fuel companies that represent an important part of the economic base of Colorado and the nation. Equally important, stigmatizing fossil fuel companies inherently involves stigmatization of their employees as well. As a general matter, the panel believes that stigmatizing individuals based upon a career choice to work for an employer engaged in a lawful enterprise is inappropriate.”
In the lead up to the decision, the Denver Post also called the movement “unrealistic and unwise” in an editorial:
“…it’s completely unrealistic to think that our state, our nation or other others can immediately stop depending on the plentiful fossil fuels available to provide the power we need to live the lives to which we are accustomed. It would be cruel to poor and hardworking people in our country and impoverished nations beyond our borders to do so.”
And Fossil Free CU is not the first Colorado University to stop operations. About a year ago Colorado College’s campus divestment group shut down because of a lack of student interest. As reported by the student newspaper, the Catalyst at the time:
“’Throughout the years there have been a number of proposals to the Board of Trustees, and they have basically been shut down every time,’ said Scott Broadbent, a senior graduating in December. ‘And so I think a lot of kids grew tired… Basically it all fizzled out.’”
It seems that colleges have caught on to the fact that divestment is an empty gesture that does nothing to help the environment. At the end of the day, its price tag isn’t worth the outcome. It appears students can see the tough road ahead of them, and are looking to change direction.