The fossil-fuel university divestment campaign, started by the international climate change organization 350.org, is gaining momentum, as over two hundred student groupshave now formed official campaigns on campuses across the United States.
This week, author, activist, and 350.org founder Bill McKibben spoke to over 500 students at one of the nation’s largest private university systems — New York University. He told the crowd that “NYU would be a perfect place for this to happen…. It’s a progressive institution, and it was near ground zero for Hurricane Sandy—the Atlantic was pouring into the subway system nearby, and the lights were off. If anyone understands why we need to change course, you’d think it would be NYU.”
The event was organized by NYDivest, a student and faculty-run group on campus.
“We’re asking NYU to divest from any funds in the top two hundred fossil fuel companies… within the next five years, and to not invest in any new ones,” said Dr. Julianne Warren, an ecologist and professor in both Liberal Studies and Environmental Studies, who helped form NY Divest along with students.
“We haven’t been in touch with the (NYU) Trustees yet,” said Belinda Rodriguez, one of the student organizers of NYU Divest. “RIght now we’re figuring out exactly how we want to approach them. NYU Divest meets once a week and anyone is welcome to attend. You can follow us on facebook and twitter (@nyudivest) for updates.”
The divestment movement seems to be growing. “I’m very excited about the divestment coalitions that are forming around the city,” said Rodriguez, citing similar divestment campaigns across green New York City and New York State, including Columbia University, The New School, Hunter College, and Cornell University.
To date, three university administrations have pledged to divest from fossil fuel investments as the campaign has expanded. McKibben noted that the campaign is “really taking off,” considering that “we just started this only in November, after the (Presidential) election.”
Cities and labor groups have also started to join the campaign. Last week, the City of Seattle voted to divest; San Fransico is currently considering it. Public Health associations, such as the New York Nurses Association, are also calling for fossil fuel divestment, recognizing the public health risks inherent with the continuation of carbon emissions at current levels.
Observers are now drawing comparisons between the fossil fuel divestment campaign and the student-led anti-apartheid campaign during the 1980s. Between 1984 and 1987 (the height of that campaign), some 300 educational institutions either fully or partially divested their investments in South Africa, including Harvard, Columbia University, the University of California system, and many smaller institutions.
Don Lieber's writing and research has been published by the United Nations, The Associated Press, The International Campaign to Ban Landmines, The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, E-The Environmental Magazine and others. He contributes regularly to PlanetSave.com.