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By Candice Bernd
January 10, 2013
Caption : Students are pressuring their universities to cut financial ties with the top 200 fossil fuel companies in unprecedented numbers.     


The ongoing national movement to divest university endowments from the top 200 fossil fuel companies is spreading like wild fire. There are at least 210 student-driven campaigns pressuring the boards of colleges and universities across the nation to cut financial ties with major carbon polluters, with most campaigns popping up in the northeast.

But the divestment campaign isn’t just affecting university endowments anymore. In a stunning announcement, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn sent letters to two of the city’s top pension funds late December formally requesting they “refrain from future investments in fossil fuel companies and begin the process of divesting our pension portfolio from those companies.” According to

"Climate change is one of the most important challenges we currently face as a city and as a society,” wrote Mayor McGinn in a letter to the Seattle City Employees’ Retirement System (SCERS) Board and the City of Seattle Voluntary Deferred Compensation Plan Committee. “I believe that Seattle ought to discourage these companies from extracting that fossil fuel, and divesting the pension fund from these companies is one way we can do that.”

Students at New York University picked up the ball with their campaign and called on NYU President John Sexton to reinvest the school’s endowment money in solutions to climate change. It’s an issue that likely hits closer to home for them post-Hurricane Sandy. Administrators cancelled classes for weeks after the superstorm left students without power and heat.

Harvard University's student body voted 72 percent in favor of divesting Harvard’s $30.7 billion endowment from fossil fuels in the first student-wide referendum of its kind, bringing student organizers one step closer to their goal. The referendum makes fossil fuel divestment the official position of the Harvard College Undergraduate Council but the binding vote alone doesn't have the power to change the structure of the university’s endowment.

Alli Welton, student organizer with Students for a Just and Stable Future, told Campus Progress that students have secured a meeting with one or more members of the universities’ Committee on Shareholder Responsibility to discuss the issue further next semester. The committee is made up of three people from Harvard’s board, the Harvard Corporation. However, the board has indicated it was not considering divesting its fossil fuel stocks.

Middlebury College in Vermont, caving under pressure from student organizers, pledged to begin looking at divestment as an option early December. The institution revealed that 3.6 percent of the school’s $900 million endowment is currently comprised of fossil fuel stocks. 

The fossil fuel industry isn't going down without a fight. Robert Bryce, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute—which has received more than $600,000 from Exxon Mobile since 1998—wrote an op-ed criticizing the movement that appeared in the Wall Street Journal. The Journal failed to disclose his ties to the industry.


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