Universities like to tell their students they’re preparing them for a brighter future, which is why it is so troubling that schools like Columbia University and the University of Pittsburgh invest part of their endowment in the fossil fuel industry. Institutions of higher education are earning money from and bankrolling the destruction of our futures and a livable planet.
Universities have endowments, which are made up of donations and major gifts from the university’s alumni and supporters. The endowment is built up over time by investing in stocks, mutual funds, index funds, and other investments, acting as a savings account for the university. The endowment’s size can influence the school’s rankings and perceived prestige. In 2018, the combined endowments of universities in the United States totaled more than $542 billion— an enormous amount of wealth.
We can’t stand for it any longer. Students around the country are fighting for climate justice by calling on their universities to divest — or withdraw their assets — from fossil fuel corporations.
We are at a tipping point in our movement. Thanks to pressure from student activists, Columbia, in 2017, agreed to divest from thermal coal producers. Last September, divestment students helped organize huge climate strikes that turned out hundreds and even thousands of students. In October, campaigns across the country began weekly sit-ins, joining the Fossil-Free Fridaysmovement. In November, Harvard and Yale students blew up the internet by disrupting the annual Harvard-Yale football game. In 2019, we saw multi-year campaigns at Middlebury College, Smith College, and the University of California win their divestment demands.
On February 13, college students across the globe are taking action, demanding their universities divest from fossil fuel corporations and reinvest in regenerative, community-controlled economies. With the support of Divest Ed, the national training and strategy hub for the movement, about 50 campaigns are participating. This makes Fossil Fuel Divestment Day (F2D2) an unprecedented moment for our movement.
Fossil fuel divestment is a crucial tactic in our fight for climate justice. Climate justice is centering justice in climate solutions. In short, it means that we must fundamentally shift the way we interact with each other and all living beings on the planet to avoid climate catastrophe.
This perspective names capitalism as the root cause of the climate crisis. Our movement believes that a better world is possible, but only if we make a just transition from an extractive economy to a regenerative one.
The climate crisis is already here and already causing grave harm to low-income communities and indigenous communities, and especially to those living in the Global South. While we are fighting to hold our institutions of higher learning accountable to students, we are also fighting in solidarity with the larger movement for collective liberation. Collective liberation refers to the concept that all movements for justice must win in order for liberation to be truly achieved. As Aboriginal activists have said, “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
We know that the climate movement can be fraught with the perpetuation of systems of injustice. In our movement and escalation, we have committed to deconstructing systems of oppression, like white supremacy, patriarchy, ableism, classism, colonialism, imperialism, and more. All the campuses participating in F2D2 have agreed to our principles of radical love, democratic organizing, and a shared vision of a just world.