A new campaign to push colleges and universities to divest from the fossil fuel industry has spread like wildfire to over 190 campuses across the country in just over a month. Now, as students head home for the holidays, organizers are celebrating some significant early victories and looking forward to a busy spring semester.
“2012 was the hottest year in American history—drought, wildfire, storm, we had it all,” said Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org, one of the organizations leading the new divestment campaign. “But 2013 is going to be the hottest year on American campuses in a very long time, because students have done the math, connected the dots and gotten down to the hard work of divesting from the fossil fuel companies at the root of our trouble.”
In a speech on the floor of the Senate on Wednesday, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) commended students for getting involved in the campaign, “These students are imploring their schools to weigh the real cost of climate change against the drive for more financial returns, and divest from the polluters. With American college and university endowments estimated to total more than $400 billion, this movement by students deserves significant attention.”
Two small schools, Unity College and Hampshire College, have already divested their endowments from fossil fuels. Unity College President Stephen Mulkey wrote in a blog post announcing the decision, “The colleges and universities of this nation have billions invested in fossil fuels. Like the funding of public campaigns to deny climate change, such investments are fundamentally unethical.”
In the last month, a growing number of other colleges and universities are beginning to take the divestment debate seriously:
Harvard has met student demands to set up a “social choice fund” for alumni donations and President Faust has agreed to discuss divestment with students next semester. In November, an official student resolution supporting divestment passed with 72 percent of the vote.
Swarthmore, where student efforts were recently profiled in The New York Times, also just launched a new process to look into investing its endowment more responsibly.
At Bryn Mawr, the CFO of the college told students that the endowment was invested in only a couple fossil fuel companies and divestment should be doable.
Middlebury recently disclosed that it has 3.6 percent of its endowment invested in fossil fuels and is launching a formal process this January to consider divestment.
Students at Bates, Bowdoin, Earlham, the University of Wisconsin, the University of New Hampshire, the University of North Carolina and elsewhere have also opened up dialogues with their administrations.
With significant media coverage in The New York Times, Time, MSN Finance, Rolling Stone and more, the campaign is also beginning to make an impact in economic circles.
“The speed at which this campaign has spread is causing ripples in the investment community,” said Andy Behar, the CEO of As You Sow, a campaign partner that promotes environmental and social corporate responsibility through shareholder advocacy and coalition building. “We anticipate more ‘carbon free’ investment options coming onto the market over the coming months for endowments, foundations, and other institutional investors who want to move investment dollars to build a clean-energy future.”