The fossil fuel divestment campaign won a major victory today as Stanford University announced it would drop coal companies from its massive $18.7 billion endowment, the fourth largest of any American university. The action follows a petition by student group Fossil Free Stanford, five months of research by Stanford’s Advisory Panel on Investment Responsibility and Licensing, and finally a vote by the Board of Trustees.
“The university’s review has concluded that coal is one of the most carbon-intensive methods of energy generation and that other sources can be readily substituted for it,” said Stanford President John Hennessy. “Moving away from coal in the investment context is a small, but constructive, step while work continues, at Stanford and elsewhere, to develop broadly viable sustainable energy solutions for the future.”
The move means that Stanford will sell off any stock related to around 100 global companies that make most of their money from extracting coal. However the university will not sell off investments related to other fossil fuels, such as gas and oil, at this time.
Eleven other smaller universities have divested from fossil fuels entirely, but Stanford is the first major university to move forward on fossil fuel divestment, an issue that has plagued other institutions, such as Harvard.
Coal mine in Wyoming. Burning coal is the most carbon-intensive energy source. Photo by: the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
Activists say the fossil fuel divestment campaign’s primary goal isn’t to hurt company’s bottom lines, but instead to add ethical and political pressure for change.
“Just like in the struggle for Civil Rights here in America or the fight to end Apartheid in South Africa, the more we can make climate change a deeply moral issue, the more we will push society towards action,” writes the activist group Fossil Free. “We need to make it clear that if it’s wrong to wreck the planet, than it’s also wrong to profit from that wreckage.”
The movement is largely based on the divestment campaign against South Africa, which many experts say helped raise awareness worldwide regarding the injustice of apartheid.
“We are proud that our university is responding to student calls for action on climate by demonstrating leadership,” Fossil Free Stanford group said in a statement. “Stanford’s commitment to coal divestment is a major victory for the climate movement and for our generation.”
If governments worldwide are to hold to their promise of keeping global temperatures from rising above 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels, then much of the world’s unexploited fossil fuel reserves will have to be left unburnt. Last year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimated that global society could only burn 800-880 gigatons of carbon in total to keep the pledge. By 2011, we had already burned 530 gigatons—or over 60 percent of that “carbon budget.” Since 2011, global emissions have only risen.
The most recent IPCC reports found that climate change was already hurting global food supply, exacerbating extreme weather, and acidifying our oceans. The reports were echoed yesterday by a U.S. report that climate change was causing extensive damage across the country. The solution, according to the IPCC, includes aggressive and rapid investment in renewable energy, a renewed focus on energy efficiency, and dealing with land use issues such as deforestation and industrialized agriculture.
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(03/31/2014) It’s not just melting glaciers and bizarrely-early Springs anymore; climate change is impacting every facet of human civilization from our ability to grow enough crops to our ability to get along with each other, according to a new 2,300-page report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The massive report states definitively that climate change is already affecting human societies on every continent.