Divestment on Campus

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Across the world, college students are urging their institutions to “divest” from fossil fuels. Divestment is short for dis-investment, a strategy used in social change movements. In this case, the idea is that if colleges and universities pull oil and gas companies from their endowment portfolios, those firms will take a financial hit and create less demand for fossil-fuels, which contribute to global warming.

It turns out no one really believes that divestment will have a direct monetary impact on fossil fuel companies, but supporters of divestment say such action would be symbolic and could effect change in other ways. Critics of the idea say if colleges stop investing in oil and gas, their endowments will shrink and there will be less money to support vital institutional needs like scholarships, and believe that divestment will divert campuses from other meaningful climate change work.

This week on the podcast, Stephen talks to Pat Oles, a professor of social work at Skidmore College who served on a campus committee there considering divestment. Oles wrote an opinion piece in the Chronicle of Higher Ed last month titled, “Institutions’ Misplaced Fear of Fossil-Fuel Divestment.”