The divestment movement has been gaining momentum in recent years. Last year, Stanford and the University of California system divested from the fossil fuel industry. Over 500 other universities, corporations, governmental organizations, and pension funds have also divested, or pledged to divest, their fossil fuel-based investments and holdings.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, universities like MIT have decided not to divest, but to instead invest in engagement and collaboration. MIT president, L. Rafael Reif, stated that “engagement stands the greatest chance of success. MIT seeks to convene key players with the goal of helping drive significant progress for the world.”
Both strategies have their merits. The divestment campaign draws attention to the role the fossil fuel industry has played in our climate crisis, and sends a strong message that fossil fuels should be kept in the ground. The choice against divestment is motivated by the idea that by engaging carbon companies’ leaders, we can work together; as one professor puts it, “Engagement doesn’t always work, but shutting the door almost always ensures that nothing changes.”
As divestment is used more and more as a climate action tool, it is important to engage in an open dialogue with university administrators, faculty, and students about all aspects of this issue. For insights on how to communicate effectively about our climate challenge and how we can solve it, please join us on the Path to Positive.
Climate change is shaping up to be one of the great challenges of the century. Though its effects can be felt today, the most worrisome impacts lie ahead. It is therefore only fitting that young people are especially passionate about how to tame carbon dioxide and the other gases that cause warming. And they are turning to their educational institutions, particularly colleges and universities, to do just that.
But how? What can American universities actually do about the climate crisis? Across campuses, pressure is mounting for two answers to this question: divestment and refusing grants and other support from big carbon.
Divestment has been more visible. As in the good old days of the anti-apartheid movement, students and faculty are protesting to get endowment funds yanked from offending companies—now, those in the carbon business. It is an expansive list, including firms that produce and distribute hydrocarbons as well as those, such as many power companies, that burn prodigious quantities of the stuff. Administrations have signed on in different ways at Brevard College, Green Mountain College, College of the Atlantic, the New School, and Stanford; overseas institutions, such as the Australian National University in Canberra, are also onboard. Some public-interest foundations have also followed suit. At the Climate summit in Paris last December, hundreds of institutions made vague pledges to cut back on fossil fuel investments.