Three hundred Stanford University professors have called on their university to divest itself from all financial interest in fossil fuels. In a letter sent to Stanford’s president and board of trustees on Sunday the professors say it’s the university’s obligation to rid itself of fossil fuel interests and thus “practice what it preaches.” They say doing so would show an effort to help slow climate change, which would help create a better future for students of the university.
From the letter:
“If a university seeks to educate extraordinary youth so they may achieve the brightest possible future, what does it mean for that university simultaneously to invest in the destruction of that future? Given that the university has signaled its awareness of the dangers posed by fossil fuels, what are the implications of Stanford’s making only a partial confrontation with this danger?”
According to the National Association of College and University Business Officers, U.S. colleges and universities have approximately “five percent of their assets invested in energy and natural resources including fossil fuels.”
At the same time, some colleges and universities are pledging to go “fossil fuel free,” according to Go Fossil Free. Schools such as the College of the Atlantic in Maine, the University of Glasgow in the United Kingdom and Green Mountain College in Vermont have pledged to divest of fossil fuels. Last year, Stanford University made the list by stopping their investment in coal plants but has yet to commit fully to the practice, and was criticized for its endowment investing in three oil and gas companies soon after.
Harvard University, whose endowment rose to $36 billion in 2014 to make it the largest fossil fuel fund of any university in the world, is critical in of the move and says divesting of fossil fuel operations do little, if anything, to curb climate change.
“Divestment is likely to have negligible financial impact on the affected companies. And such a strategy would diminish the influence or voice we might have with this industry,” Drew Faust, Harvard’s president, said in an Oct. 3, 2013 letter to the university community. “Divestment pits concerned citizens and institutions against companies that have enormous capacity and responsibility to promote progress toward a more sustainable future.”
Proponents of the strategy claim that whether or not it has a negligible impact is beside the point. It’s the example the strategy sets that matters more. Nobel Laureate Paul Ehrlich wants universities like Stanford to make that stand. In an article for the Guardian, he said, “It is very important that educational institutions in particular and organizations that think of themselves as part of civil society make this important step,” he said. “It is symbolic. It is not going to instantly change the amount of greenhouse gas emissions, but it is damn important.”