Divestment 101

As students return to college campuses, many will become more aware of climate change concerns, and attend lectures or classes that educate them about the impact to our planet from continuing and increasing use of fossil fuels. Such broadening awareness may then bring the question, “What can I do about this?” In response, increasing numbers of students are leading divestment campaigns, demanding that their college administrations stop investing in fossil fuels and reinvest in environmentally and socially responsible alternatives. This movement has quickly spread to over 300 campuses nationwide, as well as other civic organizations and religious institutions.

The premise is that organizations who serve to shape the future of our youth, also hold a moral obligation to preserve and protect the planet they are passing on.  As Washington University student Maddy Salzman puts it, “If I’m going to pay all this money, and that money is being invested in ways that destroy the quality of my future, that doesn’t make sense.”

The movement has gained momentum and support from Bill McKibben and 350.org, an organization dedicated to inspiring  a global response to the climate crisis.  With McKibben’s 2012 Rolling Stone article “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math” and his 25-city bus tour, the author/activist spoke at a number of college and university campuses. He appeals to students higher “moral authority” (they have more years ahead of them on this planet to deal with its decline) to apply pressure on institutional boards to rid their portfolios of fossil fuels. Sierra Club’s Student Coalition also stands behind the efforts of students by offering direct organizational training and support to campus groups.

You can read more about the recent developments of the movement in recent Sierra Club Magazine’s articles Filthy Lucre and Divestment: The Math. McKibben acknowledges that he’s not going to put fossil fuel companies out of business, as others will invest in them, even as intellectual institutions divest. But, he is trying to establish a similar effect as that of apartheid in South Africa: a statement from the elites of society that they identify the fossil fuel industry as a rogue industry and don’t want to be connected with it.

Commonly students receive agreement on principle from their institution administrators—they say they would like to divest of fossil fuel investment, but it’s just too hard.

McKibben arms the students with his counter-argument, “On the list of hard things that we’re going to have to do to deal with global warming, cleansing your portfolio of the biggest carbon emitters is not that hard.”

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