Last month, a cross-country campaign began to inspire universities to cut fossil fuels out of their investment portfolios, in a desperate attempt to get action on climate change.
Since fossil fuel industries are making it impossible to address climate change, 350.org is going after their bottom lines. And the effort is gaining momentum.
In just four weeks, students at over 150 colleges and universities have picked up the mantle, lobbying senior administrators and boards of trustees to sell holdings and investments in fossil fuels companies, reports InsideClimate News.
Universities and colleges targeted by author and activist McKibben's "Do the Math" tour collectively control endowments estimated to be worth $400 billion. The tour was sold out in every city it visited.
The mission is to educate students about the math behind climate change. Not just about the direct impact that fossil fuels investments have in perpetuating damage to the planet but also how those investments are delaying the rise of clean energy alternatives.
An estimated 2,795 gigatons of fossil fuel reserves exist - that the industry is hell-bent on burning, says 350.org. If that's burned, there's absolutely no chance of staying below the critical 2 degree Celsius threshold. McKibben explains this in his Rolling Stone article, "Global Warming's Terrifying New Math," published in July, and shared more than just about any article in the magazine's history.
“We've felt serious momentum along this transcontinental roadshow -- but the numbers of full-on divestment campaigns got larger faster than we could have dreamed,” says McKibben. “A year notable for ice-melt, parched crops, and superstorms is going out with a different kind of bang: an explosion in activism, aimed squarely at the rogue fossil fuel industry.”
Unity College in Maine immediately decided to divest. "Bottom line, for a college or university, you do not want your institution to be on the wrong side of this issue," Stephen Mulkey, president of Unity College, told InsideClimate. "We realized that investing in fossil fuels was an unethical position, especially considering our focus on environmental issues."
Discussions are underway at 153 colleges and universities ranging from big state schools such as the University of Michigan and University of New Hampshire to private schools like Amherst and Swarthmore.
More than 650 universities have already made significant commitments to addressing climate change by reducing their own carbon footprints, targeting net-zero greenhouse gas emissions.
The next step is taking a financial stand, but it won't be easy. Many are closely watching Harvard University, which has a $32 billion endowment and (of course) a very big name. Harvard's support was crucial in the anti-apartheid movement of the 1980s. In November, 72% of the 3,600 undergraduates voted in favor of divestment.
So far, though, Harvard administrators have ignored student requests for a meeting. Kevin Galvin, Harvard's director of news and media relations, told InsideClimate News that the university "is not considering divesting from companies related to fossil fuels."
The fossil fuel divestment campaign is led by a coalition including 350.org, Energy Action Coalition, Responsible Endowments Coalition, Sierra Student Coalition, and As You Sow.
Here's a list of the universities that have adopted 350.org's divestment guidelines, at least among students.
Go Fossil Free lists 200 fossil fuel companies targeted by the campaign and gives guidelines for how to divest from them.
For more on the next phase of the divestment movement, visit the 350.org site: