Today, the climate movement won a groundbreaking victory. In a striking acknowledgement of the need for a bold and immediate response to climate change, Stanford University is divesting from the coal industry.
The Stanford endowment, valued at $18.7 billion, will now become the largest in a growing group of funds to partially divest from fossil fuels.
In November 2012, Fossil Free Stanford was born. Shiny new clipboards in hand, we petitioned door to door, watching expressions of initial confusion settle one by one into reflections of cautious hope. Our fellow students began to realize that there was finally an effective movement to help tackle climate change.
Today, the orange square, the symbol of our national movement, is recognized in all corners of campus. In classes, dining halls, and residences, our friends and classmates smile and proudly inform us “I voted yes to divest!” (Just weeks ago, 78% of student participants in an undergraduate referendum voted in support of divesting from fossil fuels.) Today, these students had their voices heard and saw their votes lead to bold and meaningful change.
Stanford’s statement announcing the move credits students with providing the impetus for divestment, stating that “Fossil Free Stanford catalyzed an important discussion” and thanking students for their “thoughtful work” on the issue. Stanford’s decision is a clear testament to the power of the student movement for divestment and the broader movement to combat climate change.
This decision is also another powerful illustration that America is waking up to the reality that continued large-scale combustion of coal is incompatible with a sustainable future. Coal is the single largest source of worldwide energy-related carbon dioxide emissions. Here in the US, particulate pollution from coal-fired power plants causes an estimated 13,000 premature deaths every year.
In communities across America, local communities have stopped more than 150 coal-fired power plants and numerous mountaintop removal mining projects. Their relentless efforts have set the stage for divestment at Stanford and elsewhere. Together, the courageous organizers on the ground and the growing student movement against fossil fuels can guarantee coal’s necessary demise.
While we celebrate Stanford’s decision to divest, we recognize that the battle to protect our climate is far from over. Fossil Free Stanford, along with over 400 student campaigns across the country, maintains the goal of divesting from all fossil fuels. Stanford’s coal divestment alone will not be enough turn the tide on climate change. We call on university administrators across the nation to follow Stanford’s lead and begin the process of divestment.
This victory marks not the end of our campaign, but a call to action and a demonstration that our generation has the power to shape its own destiny. With millions of lives from California to Bangladesh depending on swift action, we cannot afford to fail.