Stanford University’s decision this week to end investments in coal companies may bolster student-led campaigns to stop climate change that have spread to hundreds of U.S. college campuses.
Stanford, which has an $18.7 billion endowment, is the wealthiest and most high-profile university to embrace the argument that universities should divest from fossil-fuel companies contributing to global warming. The other 11 institutions are relatively small, with endowments ranging from $960,000 to $124 million, and have stopped investing in oil and gas companies as well as coal, according to 350.org, the group behind the movement.
“Having Stanford come out like this is huge,” said Alli Welton, one of the student founders of Divest Harvard, which has been trying to pressure Harvard University. “The decision by Stanford will become a very powerful tool for other campaigns.”
Activists have been seeking a high-profile convert to the cause of divestment in the hopes that it will create a domino effect, making it safe for other universities to follow, Welton said. The climate campaign has been following a pattern found in other divestment drives that began in the 1970s when students sought to end the apartheid regime in South Africa by forcing universities to sell holding of companies with links to the country.
Harvard, the world’s richest university, has declined repeated calls by both students and faculty to sell its holdings of fossil-fuel companies. Instead Harvard President Drew Faust has said the school is embracing more sustainable investing while relying on research and teaching to provide solutions to climate change and also cutting carbon emissions on campus.
Last week, activists at Harvard tried blockading the president’s office on the Cambridge, Mass., campus, pushing for an open meeting with the university’s trustees.