The University of Washington’s Board of Regents voted Thursday night to sell off its investments in thermal coal -- the kind of coal used to generate power.
It’s only the fourth time the university has “divested” its endowment – the other issues were South Africa, tobacco and Sudan.
Among those in the room to see the board’s vote was UW graduate Robert Marsh, who started pushing for divestment as a student three years ago.
"When you look at what’s happening in the world with climate change, it’s easy to get disheartened. Easily,” he said. “Because of the whole math with climate change.”
But then, watching the board vote: "I personally got shivers."
Angela Feng was also there.
"I feel really, really just euphoric,” Feng said. “I’m just like so relieved. The feeling in the room after everyone clapped. It was, like, so great."
Regent Joanne Harrell called the students "phenomenal. To take the time to make the case to us."
UW senior Sarra Tekola also noted that effort.
"It’s cool to see that this research that we’ve been sending them continuously has really started to change their minds," Tekola said.
Advocates for disinvestment hope that the UW regents’ vote will lead others to act.
"When they hear that this big university is going to divest from coal, people are going to say ‘oh, it’s OK, I guess we could do it too,’” Feng said.
But when it comes to fossil fuels, coal is just a drop in the bucket. Thursday’s divestment should cost the university around $13 million over two decades. But divesting from all fossil fuels, altogether – would cost an estimated $250 million.
"At this point, we don’t believe that the best decision would be to divest from fossil fuels," Harrell said. "But we do believe that the divestment of coal is the right thing to do."
She admits it’s a symbolic gesture. Student Alex Lenferna doesn’t seem to mind.
"Divestment is an important symbol,but it’s part of a much broader movement,and a lot of us are involved in that broader movement trying to work so we can transition to cleaner energy," he said.
Lenferna says next he’ll be joining the effort to stop Shell Oil from drilling in the Arctic. And he’s involved in legislation to putting a price on carbon pollution here in Washington state.