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Student "Stands Up" For Fossil Fuel Divestment At Penn State

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Jaimee Kester

The Rock Ethics Institute honors Penn State undergrads who demonstrate “confidence, experience and knowledge” by taking a stand for a cause they believe in.

The 2016 recipients were honored yesterday. Alanna Kaiser and Nathan Larkin won for their dedication to the on-campus organization Fossil Free PSU.

When Nathan Larkin came to Penn State as a freshman in 2013 he already had a cause he cared about in mind: fossil fuel divestment at Penn State.

“I had read about the fossil fuel divestment movement when I was in high school," said Larkin. “It kind of started around 2012 so I was still in high school then, and I read an article about what they were doing at Harvard. And it just sort of immediately struck me as the most productive form of climate activism that college students could do.”

During his first semester on campus, Larkin organized a group of like-minded students and formed what would later be known as Fossil Free PSU. One of his co-organizers was his cousin and fellow Stand Up award winner Alanna Kaiser, who is currently in Africa. Larkin says the group started during the first weeks of his freshman year.

“We met up in my dorm in East Halls, Sproul Hall, and we did a little bit of scheming. We hashed out how we were going to start this thing and so that was in the fall of our freshman year just a couple of weeks after we all got to campus," Larkin said. “We spent the rest of that semester working to become an actual student recognized organization.”

Fast-forward to spring 2016 and the organization has taken off. Larkin says the club is a tight-knit group of extremely involved students. In 2014 Fossil Free PSU sent a group of students to New York City to take part in the People’s Climate March -- the largest climate march in history.

Last November the club took on a new challenge and organized Onward On Climate, a demonstration on climate change and environmental issues that featured 32 campus organizations. The rally created a buzz about Fossil Free PSU.

Doug Goodstein works for the Sustainability Institute at Penn State and met Larkin earlier this year. Goodstein says he immediately recognized Larkin’s dedication to Fossil Free PSU and his passion for informing those around him. It was based on those qualities that Goodstein nominated Larkin for the Stand Up award.

“When I read 'ethical leadership' I said wow that was him. How he’s engaged with people, how he’s worked with people and how he’s really brought this issue not just to the administration but to the consciousness of our student population,” said Goodstein, “it’s just phenomenal.”

Larkin says he’s happy he and Kaiser were honored with the Stand Up award, but he’s more excited because of what he thinks the award says about Fossil Free PSU. 

“A big part of our argument for divestment is that it’s the ethical thing to do. It’s unethical for Penn State to be investing in fossil fuel companies, which perpetuate climate change,” said Larkin. “So by having the Rock Ethics Institute recognize that what we’re doing is ethical, you know that’s an official Penn State institute, that’s huge for our group.”   

While he hasn’t changed Penn State’s mind about fossil fuels yet, he thinks there’s still time to make a difference. Larkin has another year at Penn State and hopes to keep Fossil Free PSU growing and at the forefront of the administration’s mind. He says the underclassmen in the club are extremely involved and he hopes Fossil Free PSU is an organization that thrives at Penn State for years to come.  

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