Fossil fuel divestment is for every college that cares about its students' future

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Everyone in college has their favorite study spot. Sitting right next to mine was a recycling bin. This was fortunate, due to my minor (OK, major) addiction to caffeine. My small liberal arts college had finally decided to get quite serious about sustainability and reducing its carbon footprint. This was great, because higher education needs to be leading the charge on sustainability and stopping climate change. So when you have incidents such as Harvard President Dr. Drew Gilpin Faust's refusal to help fight climate change by divesting the school’s endowment from fossil fuels, it is deeply troubling. Institutions of higher education cannot act in the best interests of their students unless they are part of the fight for a sustainable civilization. Fortunately, many colleges and universities are getting off the sidelines.

Sustainability makes sense in higher education. Many sustainability measures, such as efficient heating and cooling systems, proper insulation, and behavioral changes in electricity use, benefit institutions by saving them money. The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) has been hard at work persuading colleges and universities to jump on the sustainability bandwagon. AASHE provides resources to institutions that are looking for a place to start. LEED-certified buildings have been going up on campuses across the United States. Indiana University has even tentatively proclaimed an ultimate goal of carbon neutrality. Such measures have the potential to not only improve the bottom line, but improve the public health of the communities that institutions serve.

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