Preserving the Environment

In a Battle Between College Students and Coal Companies, Who Do You Think Won?

May 26, 2014
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In a Battle Between College Students and Coal Companies, Who Do You Think Won?
A student-led movement convinced Stanford University to ditch their investments in coal companies. Getty Images
A student-led movement convinced Stanford University to ditch their investments in coal companies.

When it comes to investing in the future, there are considerations that are much more important than money.

A year-long petition from the student-led organization Fossil Free Stanford has led California’s Stanford University to agree to divest its $18.7 billion endowment away from coal-mining companies due to concerns over climate change.

“We are proud that our university is responding to student calls for action on climate by demonstrating leadership,” Fossil Free Stanford said in a statement. “Stanford’s commitment to coal divestment is a major victory for the climate movement and for our generation.”

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Stanford’s trustees have promised to sell off stocks in companies whose primary business is in coal. The university will, however, hold onto their other stocks in fossil fuel — oil and natural gas. “Stanford has a responsibility as a global citizen to promote sustainability for our planet, and we work intensively to do so through our research, our educational programs and our campus operations,” said Stanford President John Hennessy in a statement. “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.”

Stanford is by far the biggest and most prestigious name to join the growing list of higher education institutions that are cutting ties from fossil fuel companies. As Reuters points out, San Francisco State University and Hampshire College in Massachusetts have also ditched their holdings in coal.

In fact, Stanford’s move could already be influencing colleges elsewhere, including other big-name universities. California Governor Jerry Brown suggested that the state’s UC system should study the possibility of divesting from the coal industry. And Harvard (which has the country’s largest endowment of $32 billion) is also hearing its fair share of student rumblings.

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“Having Stanford come out like this is huge,” Alli Welton, one of the student founders of Divest Harvard told Bloomberg. “The decision by Stanford will become a very powerful tool for other campaigns.”

Let’s hope Stanford’s divestment is just the beginning of this movement.

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