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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(05/06/2014) America’s favorite astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson, tackled climate change on the most recent episode of the hit show, Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. The episode, the ninth in the series, looked back on the climatic and physical upheavals undergone by Earth, before highlighting the mild interglacial climate that allowed the human species to kickstart the neolithic revolution and the first civilizations.
(05/01/2014) Dutch police arrested 31 Greenpeace activists today, who were attempting to block the Russian oil tanker, Mikhail Ulyanov, from delivering the first shipment of offshore Arctic oil to the European market.
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(04/23/2014) Last March was the fourth warmest on record, according to new data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Overall, temperatures were 0.71 degrees Celsius (1.28 degrees Fahrenheit) above the 20th century average during March. Looking at the first three months of 2014, this year is the seventh warmest on record to date.
(04/18/2014) For years climate change activists and environmentalists have been clamoring for a high-profile, high-impact TV series about climate change to make Americans more aware of an issue that will affect billions of people around the globe in coming decades. This week they finally got it when Showtime released the first episode of Years of Living Dangerously, a big-budget TV series featuring a number of Hollywood’s biggest stars as reporters and corespondents.
(04/18/2014) From 1999-2010, nearly three percent of the Amazon rainforest burned, and climate forecasts indicate dry conditions conducive to fire will only become more commonplace in the future. A new study indicates that rainforests are more vulnerable to fire than previously thought, and it warns the current combination of climate change and deforestation may be pushing Amazon forests past the breaking point.
(04/14/2014) The world is warming rapidly due to greenhouse gas emissions, threatening everything from our food supply to our ecosystems, but the solution may be surprisingly cheap, according to the third and final report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The report recommends a rapid and aggressive switch from fossil fuel-based energy to renewables.
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(04/07/2014) One of the most iconic species of the ongoing climate change drama, polar bears have dropped in numbers as their habitat melts, with previous estimates forecasting a further 30 percent reduction within three generations. However, their situation may not be as dire as it seems.
(04/04/2014) Climate change is contributing to a slew of global problems, from rising seas to desertification. Now, researchers have added another repercussion: shrinking salamanders. Many amphibian populations around the world are currently experiencing precipitous declines, estimated to be at least 211 times normal extinction rates. Scientists believe these declines are due to a multitude of factors such as habitat loss, agricultural contamination, and the accidental introduction of a killer fungus, among others.