OPINION: I am proud to be a Maverick


Zee Elmer

All four University of Nebraska student senates have passed resolutions in favor of divestment — but there is much more to be done. Photo courtesy of Pexels.

Zee is the president of SustainUNO and a member of DivestNU. They are also a voting member of the Chancellor’s Sustainability Committee.

I am proud to be a Maverick.

My first semester at UNO was one that really shaped who I am today. I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to make a difference, but I didn’t know how. That was until I took a class that ignited a spark in me: Human-Environment Geography.

I found my passion for environmentalism. Not just the reduce-reuse-recycle environmentalism that so many people are familiar with, but with the ground floor, shaping the future, intersectional environmentalism our world desperately needs. I jumped into activism feet first, ready to see the university become a leader in the charge against our current environmental crisis.

As I’ve gained my footing in this arena, I have met so many people from all backgrounds that are just as passionate as me, if not more, working towards a common goal that will prove the University of Nebraska’s environmental leadership: divestment.

Divestment is the act of removing current and future investments in the fossil fuel industry and transitioning that money into renewable energy sources. This is not a new conversation in academia — over 1,300 colleges have divested $1.5 trillion from the fossil fuel industry. Through our efforts, all four University of Nebraska student senates have passed resolutions in favor of divestment.

Divestment has not been an easy journey amongst a global pandemic. While public efforts slowed due to COVID-19, activists continued behind the scenes to make sure this movement wouldn’t lose the momentum we had worked so hard for. We met with administrators, chancellors and even testified at several Board of Regents meetings to educate the decision makers on why divestment is so vital.

Knowing that our grassroots movement is securing a place at the table to make sure our voices are heard by administrators is what keeps driving me forward — but it has come to my attention that they aren’t listening.

As an activist, all I ask of the people I meet with is transparency. I don’t concern myself with PR answers, talking around the point, shifting blame or using sustainability buzzwords to avoid tough questions. The truth can be ugly, but it is better than a pretty lie.

The science is clear: if we do not act now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the damage being done to our planet will be irreversible. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has issued a “code red for humanity” if we don’t act swiftly and aggressively to quell our emissions.

According to the Energy Information Administration, 74% of the US’s greenhouse gas emissions come from the burning of fossil fuels. The Environmental Protection Agency breaks greenhouse gas emissions into six sectors: commercial and residential, transportation, electricity, industry, agriculture, and land use and forestry. There are only two sectors in which the primary emitter of greenhouse gases is not fossil fuels: agriculture and land use and forestry.

We cannot reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases without unchaining ourselves from our dependence on fossil fuels. Between government subsidies and Wall Street investments, the cash flow into the fossil fuel industry has created a goliath too large for the much smaller green alternative sector to withstand on its own.

This is where divestment comes in. By removing these investments and in turn reinvesting into clean energy, we level the playing field for an easier transition away from fossil fuels. Divestment is the first step in a proper response to our climate crisis.

From a purely financial perspective, divestment just makes sense. Studies confirm that investments in the fossil fuel industry yield a 97.2% return while renewables made 200.3%. If all the Board of Regents is worried about is money, they should be catapulting themselves from the coal train to the wind turbine.

The University of Nebraska is aware of the need to divest. Student activists have asked for a resolution to be passed, a commitment made, an actionable plan be put in place. Instead, in a meeting with a member of the University of Nebraska administration, I was told that we, the students, faculty and staff involved in the divestment movement, would be easy to ignore.

Now, speaking candidly, when I hear that I would be easy to ignore, I will find a way to make that more difficult to do. I am not fighting for divestment to be a thorn in anyone’s side or to fulfill some eco-anarchist agenda.

I am fighting for divestment because I want to leave a better world for the future than the one that we inherited; because I want to make sure that people do not suffer from environmental destruction; because I love being part of the University of Nebraska and I want nothing more than for us to set an example.

I am still proud to be a Maverick.

But I am so disappointed in our leadership.