Recently a whopping 72% of Harvard students voted to divest the university's multi-billion dollar endowment from fossil fuel companies—and the university immediately said that wouldn't happen.
Nevertheless, soon more colleges will be feeling the pressure from students, as the some 100 more colleges have joined the fight, being urged on by 350.org, to pull investments from the single most polluting and powerful industry on the planet.
In a recent "letter" from his cross-country Do The Math tour, Bill McKibben touts some early successes: Unity College in Maine and Hampshire College have both pulled investments from fossil fuels.
Unity College president Stephen Mulkey writes:
The colleges and universities of this nation have billions invested in fossil fuels. Like the funding of public campaigns to deny climate change, such investments are fundamentally unethical. The Terrifying Math of the 350.org campaign is based on realistic, reviewed science. Moreover, in our country it is clear that economic pressure gets results where other means fail. If we are to honor our commitment to the future, divestment is not optional. [...] Our college community will lead by fearless action. We will confront policy makers who continue to deny the existence of climate change. We will encourage those who work in higher education to bravely step out from behind manicured, taxpayer funded hedges, and do what needs to be done. We will not equivocate, and we will meet those who have been misled by climate change denial in their communities. The time is long overdue for all investors to take a hard look at the consequences of supporting an industry that persists in employing a destructive business model.
This will no doubt be an uphill battle; though what environmental or social justice fight isn't? But there are some encouraging signs, beyond the Unity College and Hampshire College examples.
Even if the administration of Harvard is far from being on board, student support for divestment is already leaps and bounds ahead of the great divestment fight of a few decades ago: Apartheid South Africa. When a vote was put to the student body of Harvard about pulling investments from South Africa, though a majority initially supported doing so, it was a very slim one, with just 52% of students thinking that was the right thing to do. Now, with the fossil fuel divestment campaign just starting, nearly three-quarters of Harvard students are backing it.
This fight, to move away from fossil fuels as rapidly as possible, to push fossil fuel companies to either change their polluting ways or eliminate them entirely if they won't, to curtail the deeply damaging influence these powerful corporations, beholden to nothing but their profits, is the fight of our times. Make no mistake about it.
Winning it, creating a world where energy comes from non-polluting, renewable sources, made equitably available to all people in all nations, solves most of the climate change problem (not all of it), improves the lives of the billions of people globally without access to electricity, improves our cities, our towns, our small communities the world over reducing air pollution. It makes us all more resilient to weather disasters. It makes all nations more energy secure if not entirely independent, as the wind, sun, and waves (at least one of the three) are available everywhere.
But back to the ground.
The Fossil Free campaign really shows a maturation of the reawakened green movement that arose in the first part of the 21st century, in that the movement has expanded to really taking aim at the root causes of many of our environmental problems: The corporations whose business model has, since their very existence emerging from the Industrial Revolution, been based on extracting resources from the Earth, ignoring the damage done, and passing off the costs for all of society to bear, while they themselves rake in gigantic profits.