College fossil-fuel divestment movement builds

Lauren Williams's picture
Friday, May 24, 2013

Student activists at more than 200 colleges, including University of Texas at San Antonio, are trying a new tactic in hopes of slowing the pace of climate change: They are asking their schools to stop investing in fossil fuel companies.

The Fossil Free campaign argues that if it's wrong to pour pollution into the air and contribute to climate change, it's also wrong to profit from it. The strategy, modeled after anti-apartheid campaigns of the 1980s, aims to limit the flow of capital to fossil fuel companies by making their stocks morally and financially unattractive. In theory, that could lead to a slowdown in how much fossil fuel is burned and indirectly speed investments in renewable energy.

The students say it's hard for colleges and universities to ignore the arguments when scientists are teaching about the threats of climate change, and when the core mission of such institutions is to prepare young people for the future.

But it is far from certain that the campaign will help change the behavior of fossil fuel companies or public attitudes about climate change. And unlike apartheid, the target of previous divestment campaigns, there is no ready alternative to fossil fuels.

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