The Corner

The Sputtering Effort to Get Universities to Divest from Fossil Fuels

With college campuses on the nation’s mind, it’s a good time to note the minimal results from the effort by activists to get universities to pull out of coal, oil, and gas investments and put their money into investments in solar, wind and renewables.

Last week the National Association of Scholars issued a detailed report examining the divestment efforts and concluded:

Advocates of divestment, including Bill McKibben, acknowledge that divestment will not decrease the share prices of fossil fuel companies or appreciably shrink their profits and access to capital.

Few divestments are complete. Only 34 percent of “divested” colleges and universities have fully shed their fossil fuel investments. Four have sold no investments at all since their divestment decisions: Humboldt State University, Syracuse University, Oxford University, and the University of Otago Foundation Trust (New Zealand). We label these “DINOs”—divestments in name only.

As of September 1, 2015, 44 colleges and universities have divested from fossil fuels; they comprise 0.24 percent of the colleges and universities in the world. 29 of these are in the United States, or 0.62 percent of the post-secondary Title IV degree-granting institutions counted by the U.S. National Center for Education Statistics. 

Rejections: 35 American colleges and universities have rejected fossil fuel divestment (29 with official statements).

The money: Fossil fuel investments affected by divestment decisions comprise about 1.16 percent of the total endowments of the divesting institutions. Our sample of 13 divested colleges and universities collectively sold $17 million in fossil fuel investments, about half of the $34 million they owned in fossil fuels.

Despite the limited potency of the effort, the NAS researchers deem the movement a chill wind blowing across the country’s campuses.

The report concludes, “Advocates of fossil fuel divestment sidestep real debates about energy and environmental policy and scorn discourse as needless delay. The campaign smears opponents and bullies dissenters. It treats colleges and universities primarily as instruments of political activism and only secondarily, or even thirdly or fourthly, as places that exist to cultivate the character of an inquiring mind and to pursue truth.” No kidding.

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