Fighting Money with Money: Campuses Divest from Fossil Fuels

Hey, did you know? There’s an election coming up! Right, right, you knew. Kind of hard to miss that one. But here are a few more things you maybe didn’t know, that haven’t necessarily been advertised every 30 seconds in print, on television and online: this election season, there is a whole bunch of dirty energy money in politics.

Did you know, for example, that since 1998, Exxon Mobil has spent $176,362,742 lobbying Congress, spending almost $7 million in 2012 alone? And did you know that for every dollar the fossil fuel industry invests in Congress, they get at least $320 back in subsidies? Did you know that Exxon Mobil has spent over $22,000,000 since 1998 to fund corporations and think tanks that work to deny global warming?

Live map of campuses working on divestment projects. Click the map to visit the Responsible Endowments Coalition website.
And, did you know that college campuses control more than 400 billion dollars in investments nationwide, oftentimes in corporations at the top of the Fortune 500 list? #1:  Exxon Mobil, #3:  Chevron, #4:  ConocoPhillips. So, it might be safe to draw the conclusion that yes, colleges and universities are, in one way or another, through the investment of their endowments, funding dirty energy exploration, carbon pollution and even the very denial of climate change.

Institutions of higher education often have mission statements, generally encompassing themes like offering a high-quality education, ensuring a safe learning environment, advancing society and improving the human condition. More recent additions to many university mission statements are mentions of sustainability–a broad term that, for most, brings to mind resource conservation, clean energy projects and a green and sparkling future.

Well that sounds nice. It also sounds like there’s a disconnect between the way things are today and the socially and environmentally just world that universities are striving to create. Colleges and universities aren’t quite putting their money where their mouths are. But that is about to change.

There is a strong and growing collection of students issuing a challenge to institutions nationwide to stop investing in corporations that aren’t looking out for our health, or the health of our planet.

Divestment is a complicated issue, and there is no one-size-fits-all method to magically end campus funding of corporate polluters. Luckily, there are plenty of resources out there to help you and your team choose the most effective strategy for your campus.

The Responsible Endowments Coalition has tons of great resources for students who want to get involved with influencing their campuses’ endowment policies, including a Student Handbook, a collection of articles and blogs about divestment, and several firsthand accounts for best practices. They also offer educational and networking opportunities, like the upcoming conference on responsible investing and sustainability and other ways for students and administrators to connect and build the movement. The Energy Action Coalition has a coal divestment campaign to work with students who want to get their campuses to divest from the biggest and worst coal companies. The Sustainable Endowments Institute just launched the Billion Dollar Challenge to encourage campuses to use their endowments to invest in energy efficiency and clean energy projects for their campus.

So gather some friends and some faculty and see what kind of change you can make!

And now a word from Bill McKibben:

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Is your campus working on a divestment campaign? What other ways are you encouraging your community to support clean energy over fossil fuels? Leave a comment, tell us on Facebook, or send us a tweet. We want to hear from you!

Campus Divestment projects in the news: