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Fossil Free Stanford: Universities, Climate Ethics, and Fossil Fuel Divestment
Medium (2014)
  • Matthew Rimmer, Australian National University College of Law
There has been an international movement led by, Bill McKibben, and student groups to encourage schools, universities, and educational institutions to divest their endowments of fossil fuel stocks. The decision of Stanford University on coal divestment should an inspiration for elite universities around the world...
The student-run organisation Fossil Free Stanford lobbied Stanford University to engage in fossil fuel divestment. The group observed that ‘Students at Stanford and young people around the world recognize that climate change poses an unprecedented threat to our future’. The students noted that it was a question of values:
Stanford University was founded to ‘promote the public welfare by exercising an influence on behalf of humanity and civilization.’ Stanford considers environmental sustainability to be a core value. Hundreds of our engineers, scientists, policy experts, and economists are working to better understand and combat climate change. However, at the same time, our endowment is invested in the very fuels causing this crisis. We are tacitly supporting companies that use their enormous wealth and power to perpetuate climate change denial and inaction.
Fossil Free Stanford urged: ‘With the vast financial and social capital we leverage, Stanford has a unique opportunity to drive real action on climate change by divesting from the fossil fuel industry.’ The group recommended: ‘Doing so will not only be a sound financial decision for our institution’s portfolio, it will promote the well-being of current and future graduating classes, who deserve a future that is not defined by climate chaos.’
In May 2014, Stanford University made an important announcement about fossil fuel divestment. Upon recommendation from Stanford’s Advisory Panel on Investment Responsibility and Licensing, the Board of Trustees recommended that Stanford University will not make direct investments in coal mining companies. Stanford President John Hennessy commented on the decision:
Stanford has a responsibility as a global citizen to promote sustainability for our planet, and we work intensively to do so through our research, our educational programs and our campus operations. The university’s review has concluded that coal is one of the most carbon-intensive methods of energy generation and that other sources can be readily substituted for it. Moving away from coal in the investment context is a small, but constructive, step while work continues, at Stanford and elsewhere, to develop broadly viable sustainable energy solutions for the future.
The decision by Stanford University is landmark one – especially given the reputation of the university, and the massive size of its endowment, standing at 18.7 billion dollars. The decision received international attention. It should also be recognised that the decision was just focused upon coal. Stanford University does not yet have a comprehensive fossil fuel divestment policy.
  • Fossil Fuels,
  • Divestment,
  • Education,
  • Universities,
  • Coal.
Publication Date
August 25, 2014
Citation Information
Matthew Rimmer. "Fossil Free Stanford: Universities, Climate Ethics, and Fossil Fuel Divestment" Medium (2014)
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