By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now
Concerned about the heavy toll that carbon pollution is taking on the planet, students across the US are petitioning their colleges to divest from fossil fuels.
While the divestment movement is relatively new and sporadic, it is gathering speed via a website, GoFossilFree.org, created by the climate change group 350.org. GoFossilFree has set up online petitions for students at more than 120 campuses, ranging from state universities to top-tier private schools, from Maine to California. The petitions ask the universities to “freeze any new investment in fossil-fuel companies, and to divest within five years from direct ownership and from any commingled funds that include fossil-fuel public equities and corporate bonds.”
By clicking on the link to their school, students are connected either to a petition they can sign, or to a website for their campus group working for fossil fuel divestment. Divestment groups are active on campuses across the nation, including prominent schools like Harvard and Columbia universities; and smaller campuses. Amherst, University of Massachusetts, Smith, Mt. Holyoke and Hampshire Universities, for instance, have formed Five Colleges Against Fossil Fuels to share information on Facebook.
Student divestment appeals have been making news regularly since the idea began spreading in 2012. Just today, Georgetown University students with GU Fossil Free delivered a letter to President John DeGioia's demanding that GU close its investments in fossil-fuel companies.
"Fossil-fuel companies are responsible for the deteriorating condition of our planet. They pose a threat to public health, and they have a long track record of disregarding human rights," said Sydney Browning (COL '15), a member of GU Fossil Free, in The Georgetown Voice. "Consequently, GU Fossil Free believes that investment in any such companies signifies complicity in carrying out one of the most profound injustices of our era.”
If the history of student movements is any measure — past generations successfully persuaded universities to divest from apartheid South Africa and before that, to support American civil rights — this could be the beginning of the end of universities endorsing fossil fuels via their investment portfolios.
As the students press to disconnect from the coal and oil industries, universities will at least have to confront the issues. Do they want their endowments fueling the major carbon polluters that are jeopardizing the futures of the kids they’re educating? Or can they move their investments away from coal, oil and gas enterprises to greener options, such as solar, wind and geothermal power and advanced biofuels? Can the boards of these schools, in effect, become more student-friendly?
It’s not a fuzzy issue when you boils it down to NASA’s climate expert James E. Hansen’s prediction that barreling ahead with fossil fuels such as the inefficient, toxic Canadian tar sands will mean “game over” for civilization. That’s because the atmosphere can only contain so much in greenhouse gases before a series of irrevocable changes rock the planet, such as:
- The total melt of the Arctic ice cap reducing Earth’s ability to reflect heat.
- The acidification of the oceans to the point where they can no longer absorb carbon.
- Sea level rises that swamp cities worldwide forcing massive relocations inland.
- Erratic weather pattern changes that will complicate farming and could drastically shrink arable land.
Considering the gravity of these outcomes — even if only half of them transpired — this student movement is apropos, even overdue. It’s their future.
Universities aren’t the only institutions starting to think about their financial support for carbon polluters. The nascent fossil fuel divestment group at Cornell University points to the city of Seattle where Mayor Mike McGinn is contemplating divesting city’s pension funds from fossil fuels. The group asks on its Facebook page, “If an entire city is divesting, why can’t Cornell?”
Below are the links to schools where students are appealing to the administration to divest. This list was supplied by 350.org, the environmental group that has been fighting climate change since 2007 through a variety of actions and campaigns. 350.org is named for the tolerable level of carbon (350 parts per million), which scientists say would maintain a stable climate. Earth has rapidly surpassed that level in the past two decades; carbon in the atmosphere is now at about 394 ppm, uncharted territory since humans have dominated the planet. (You can monitor carbon and learn more about its effects — ocean acidification, rising seas caused by melting ice and more– at CO2Now.org.)
Learn more at GoFossilFree.org.
Appalachian State University
Bemidji State University
Bryn Mawr College
California Institute of the Arts
California State University, Northridge
California State University, Bakersfield
Colorado Mountain College
Colorado State University
College of William and Mary
Columbia College Chicago
Community College of Denver
Evergreen State College
George Mason University
George Washington University
Grand Valley State
Johns Hopkins University
Hawaii Pacific University
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
James Madison University
Massachussetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
Metro State University of Denver
Montana State University
Mount Holyoke College
Mount Wachusett Community College
New York University
Ohio State University
Oregon State University
Portland Community College
Rochester Institute of Technology
Savannah College of Art & Design
School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Southern Oregon University
University of Toronto
University of Arizona
University of British Columbia
University of California, Los Angeles
University of California, Santa Barbara
University of Chicago
University of Colorado
University of Connecticut
University of Georgia
University of Houston Clear Lake
University of Illinois
University of Louisville
University of Maine
University of Maryland
University of Massachusetts, Amherst
University of Michigan
University of Minnesota
University of Nebraska
University of New England
University of New Hampshire
University of New Mexico
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
University of Northern Colorado
University of Ottawa
University of Pennsylvania
University of Puget Sound
University of Rochester
University of the South (Sewanee)
University of Southern California
University of Southern Maine
University of Utah
University of Vermont
University of Washington
University of Wisconsin
Vanguard University of Southern California
Western Washington University
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