Last week the Fellows of PPEH had the lucky opportunity to talk with a student who has been making waves in the environmental community at Penn and in the larger Philadelphia area. A college sophomore majoring in Urban Studies, Peter Thacher is a member of Fossil Free Penn, a group on campus that is working to make the Penn community a more environmentally friendly member of the Philadelphia area and the larger United States.
Founded in late September of last semester, Fossil Free Penn runs a campaign asking Penn to take a more ethical and sustainable approach to investing its $9.6 billion endowment. This campaign is organized into three distinctive, yet equally important requests: an immediate end to new investments to the fossil fuel industry, a divestment of the endowment from the top 200 fossil fuel companies in the next five years, and a reinvestment of a portion of the divested funds into clean energy companies and projects. Although these requests will require several years to fulfill, Fossil Free Penn is positive that they will have a significant effect on the fossil fuel industry as a whole.
One of the most recent accomplishments for the group in their journey for divestment has been the extremely successful campus-wide referendum election. 33% of undergraduates turned out to vote, with 87.8% voting to divest from fossil fuels and reinvest in clean energy. This outcome far surpassed the necessary 15% of undergraduates required to make the referendum valid.
So where does the group go from here?
Now that students have demonstrated a passionate interest in fossil fuel divestment and Penn’s relationship with these industries, Fossil Free Penn is now focusing their efforts on working with the administration to produce tangible results. Last Friday marked the end of a second election to promote Undergraduate Assembly members who support fossil fuel divestment and Fossil Free Penn’s campaign. The group is now talking with the Social Responsibility Advisory Committee as well as members of the University Council to take the next steps towards reaching their goal.
Since the beginning of Fossil Free Penn, Thacher has been repeatedly impressed with the support of the Penn community and its role in helping to bring the group to where it is today:
“I think it’s important to recognize that even if your group is small, you can still have big success. We are a relatively small group of twelve to fifteen people, but for our referendum we were able to get eighty volunteers to help us out. There really is broad support among the Penn community.”
The group meets every Monday at 8:30pm in Mayer Hall (3817 Spruce Street) and appreciates everyone who is interested in getting involved. Any level of commitment is welcome. Be sure to check out their facebook page and twitter account for upcoming events and updates!