Students Protest for University Fossil Fuel Divestment on Over 180 Campuses

article image
350.org
350.org's "Do The Math" tour reached thousands of people, urging students on more than 100 college campuses to begin fossil fuel divestment campaigns to keep their university dollars out of the hands of multi-national fossil fuel companies.

Over 180
campuses across the country have joined a new campaign from 350.org calling on
colleges and universities to divest their endowments from the fossil fuel
industry, estimated at a total of $400 billion nationwide.

The campaign
is being sparked by Bill McKibben and 350.org’s “Do The Math” tour, an effort
to connect the dots between extreme weather, climate change and the fossil fuel
industry. The 21-city tour kicked off on Nov. 7, 2012, in Seattle and sold out many venues it’s
visited.

“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,”
said 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.”

From big
state schools like the University of Michigan to small liberal arts colleges like Amherst, students have
taken up the cause. At a number of schools, such as Swarthmore, students have
already met with their boards of trustees to discuss proposals; at others, like
the University of
New Hampshire, activists
have gathered thousands of petition signatures calling for action. Earlier this
month, an official Harvard student resolution supporting divestment passed with
72 percent of the vote.

“Students
are the sleeping giant that rose to end apartheid and fight for many other just
causes,” wrote Harvard sophomore Alli Welton in a blog for The Nation. “Now
more and more students are mobilizing against business as usual in the fossil
fuel industry.”

Hurricane Sandy, and the string of
extreme weather events that preceded it, have provided a new sense of urgency
for many student activists. At a Do The Math tour stop in Los Angeles, over 100
students from the five Claremont Colleges rallied with a banner that read
“Hurricane Sandy Says: Divest the West.”

The Go
Fossil Free campaign is specifically calling for institutions to immediately
freeze new investments in the 200 corporations that hold the vast majority of
the world’s fossil fuel reserves and divest within five years from direct
ownership and from any commingled funds that include fossil-fuel public
equities and corporate bonds.

The effort
has scored a number of early victories. At the Do The Math tour stop in Seattle, Mayor Michael
McGinn committed to studying how the city could divest from fossil fuels. Just
days later, Unity College in Maine
announced that it would divest its entire endowment from fossil fuels.

“I am proud
to be a part of the 350.org program of divestment, and I am especially proud of
the Unity College Board of Trustees for their willingness to make this
affiliation,” wrote Unity College President Stephen Mulkey in an oped
announcing the move. “Like the colleges and universities of the 1980s that
disinvested from apartheid South African interests – and successfully pressured
the South African government to dismantle the apartheid system – we must be
willing to exclude fossil fuels from our investment portfolios.”

Over 155 colleges
and universities, and dozens of states, cities and pension funds, eventually
divested from apartheid South
Africa. The current fossil fuel divestment
effort has received the blessings from one of the anti-apartheid movement’s
greatest champions, Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

“The
divestment movement played a key role in helping liberate South Africa.
The corporations understood the logics of money even when they weren’t swayed
by the dictates of morality,” said Tutu in a video for the campaign. “Climate
change is a deeply moral issue too, of course. Here in Africa
we see the dreadful suffering of people from worsening drought, from rising
food prices, from floods, even though they’ve done nothing to cause the
situation. Once again, we can join together as a world and put pressure where
it counts.”

For McKibben
and 350.org, the impetus for the new divestment campaign was a series of
reports that laid out the terrifying new math of the climate crisis. To keep
global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, a target the United States and nearly every
other country on Earth has agreed to, scientists say we can emit roughly 500
more gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The fossil fuel industry,
however, has over 2,700 gigatons of CO2 stored in their reserves, more than
five times too much.

“What this
math shows is that the fossil fuel industry is a rogue industry,” said
McKibben. “You can have a healthy fossil-fuel balance sheet, or a relatively
healthy planet – but now that we know the numbers, it looks like you can’t have
both.”

The fossil
fuel divestment campaign is led by a coalition including 350.org, the Energy
Action Coalition, the Responsible Endowments Coalition, the Sierra Student
Coalition, and As You Sow.

View a full list of campuses who have joined the campaign, and find out top 200 fossil fuel companies so that you know, as fellow writer and activist Naomi Klein puts it,
“who the enemy is.”

For
tips how you can start a divestment campaign on your own campus – and for resources
to urge your Alma Mater – visit 350.org’s resources page.