Monday, September 15, 2014

Fossil Fuel Divestment Universities Will Not be Able to Resist

A number of schools have already divested from fossil fuels and many movements are underway to encourage remaining schools to divest. Universities running the gamut from tiny Unity College in Maine to major ivy league universities like Stanford have already succeeded in making strides to divest from fossil fuels.

Pitzer College

California based Pitzer College launched the Robert Redford Conservancy for Southern California Sustainability in 2012 and opened four mixed-use residential buildings that earned LEED Platinum certification. In 2014 they set some ambitious sustainability goals that include divestment from fossil fuels.

In April, the Board of Trustees at the college approved a fossil fuel divestment-climate action model that commits it to divest virtually all endowment investments in fossil fuel stocks by the end of the year. The model sets forth an environmental, social and governance policy to guide endowment investment decisions. It also creates a sustainability fund for environmentally responsible investments and a campus sustainability task force. The goal is to reduce the college's carbon footprint by one quarter between now and 2016.


In May of this year, Fifty-nine Oxford academics signed an open letter urging the University to “take action on climate change” by ridding its £3.8 billion ($6.15 billion) endowment of investments in fossil fuel companies.

The letter came during a university-wide consultation on fossil fuel divestment that concluded on June 23. The consultation was announced following a year of sustained pressure from the student-led Fossil Free campaign.

In their open letter, the a wide assortment of academics representing a number of different departments argued that Oxford has a “responsibility to show leadership in tackling one of the greatest challenges we as a society currently face.”

Nearly 20 college common rooms have passed a motion calling for divestment, as has the university student union.

In the UK, 46 university and college divestment campaigns have been launched since September last year.


The Oxford letter follows a similar initiative by academics at Harvard, where faculty members called for divestment in a letter released in April this year. Harvard students are also putting pressure on the school to divest. On April 30th, 2014 a group of students with Divest Harvard sat down in front of the Harvard administration building and refused to leave.

Earlier this year Harvard President Drew Faust committed to new investment standards in response to escalating student and faculty pressure. However this does not include divestment from fossil fuels.

In response to the bad press it received from ignoring call to divest from fossil fuels, Harvard announced it would become a signatory of the United Nations–supported Principles for Responsible Investing and the Carbon Disclosure Project.

Harvard's April 7 “Confronting Climate Change” announcement included a call for a $20 million Climate Change Solutions Fund and increased research budgets for clean energy innovation.


Not all calls go unheeded. In response to calls from students through their Fossil Free Stanford campaign, the school has agreed to divest from coal. On May 6 Stanford University announced its decision to divest from coal companies. Stanford’s Board of Trustees (BOT) passed a resolution mandating that the endowment divest all directly held investments in any publicly listed company whose principal business is the mining of coal for use in energy generation. Although this represents a tiny fraction of Stanford's $21.9 billion holdings, it is an important symbolic gesture. Stanford is also sending a message to its investment managers urging them to divest as well.

Stanford is also involved with Precourt Institute for Energy, the Global Climate & Energy Project and the TomKat Center for Sustainable Energy.

Bill McKibben

As explained by Bill McKibben in August of this year,

"Over the last eighteen months, the effort to get colleges and universities to divest themselves of their fossil fuel stock has gained amazing momentum."

McKibben makes a powerful argument for colleges to divest:

"If you own Exxon, you own part of a company that’s made huge contributions to climate-denier “think tanks,” and whose CEO explicitly told Chinese leaders in the late 1990s to ignore climate change (the globe was cooling, he insisted) and go full speed ahead on fossil fuel. If you own Chevron, you helped make the largest corporate campaign donation post-Citizens United, two weeks before the last federal election, a gift designed to make sure that the House stayed in the hands of people who think physics is some kind of liberal plot."

He remains hopeful that schools will be compelled to divest:

"Over time, Harvard and the rest will divest. It took them a decade to even partially sell their racist South African stock, but I bet this will go more quickly. It will go more quickly because arguments travel more quickly now. The amazing students around the country who are pressing this campaign have the technological tools for minute-by-minute coordination. It will move more quickly because it’s abundantly clear that those students are actually doing their endowments a favor by warning them off fossil fuel stocks. If and when the world actually tackles climate change, their values will start to fall, as analysts at far left institutions like HSBC Bank have made clear."

While college presidents at institutions like Vassar, Swarthmore, Middlebury, and Brown continue to fight divestment they will soon be forced to heed the call of their student bodies.

McKibben makes the point that the impacts of climate change will force schools to divest from fossil fuels. "At a certain point, the moral pressure will simply get too great, and they and the others will act," McKibben explains

Investors, businesses, students and citizens are taking notice. Led by colleges and universities around the world, the support for fossils fuels is waning.

Students Advocating Divestment from Fossil Fuels
Video - Bill McKibben Makes the Case for Fossil Fuel Divestment at Middlebury College
Why You Should Divest from Fossil Fuels and Invest in Clean Energy
Video - Why You Should Divest from Fossil Fuels
Infographic - Why You Should Sell Your Fossil Fuel Stock Now (DC Divest)
Video - Growing Momentum for Fossil Fuel Divestment
Divesting from Fossil Fuels will Soon be a Fiduciary Duty
Rockefeller Brothers Fund to Divest from Fossil Fuels
The Global Divest-Invest Coalition and Campaign
Divestment from Coal Foreshadows the Fate of All Fossil Fuels
Climate Change is a Heath Problem and Divestment is the Cure
Charitable Organizations and Philanthropists are Being Encouraged to Divest from Fossil Fuels
Bill McKibben Talks about Divestment from Fossil Fuels in a Fortune Interview
Video - Investment and Divestment: Making Sustainable Choices with Campus Endowments European Commissioner for Climate Action Urges Development Banks to Divest from Fossil Fuels
Video - Bill McKibben on Faith and Fossil Fuel Divestment
Fossil Fuel Action Day Divestment Strategy
Video - A Debate about the Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign

1 comment:

andrew rollings said...

* Great news! Congrats to all...
Just a pity so many 'leaders'(?) of so many countries have far, far less commonsense and ethics than we 'underlings' have.
Btw, Everyone should be made aware of the corruption exemplified/ indicated in the 'Exxon' paragraph of the above text...
*People power must get bigger than
$profit power!!!