Educating Colleges On Climate Change

Bill McKibben continues his crusade against fossil fuels, making the case for divestment at college campuses:

In the 1980s, 156 colleges divested from companies that did business in apartheid South Africa, a stand that Nelson Mandela credited with providing a great boost to the liberation struggle. “I remember those days well,” says James Powell, who served as president of Oberlin, Franklin and Marshall, and Reed College. “Trustees at first said our only job was to maximize returns, that we don’t do anything else.  They had to be persuaded there were some practices colleges simply shouldn’t be associated with, things that involved the oppression of people.” Since then, colleges have taken stances with their endowments on issues from Sudan to sweatshops. When Harvard divested from tobacco stocks in 1990, then-president Derek Bok said the university did not want “to be associated with companies whose products create a substantial and unjustifiable risk of harm to other human beings.”

Given that the most recent data indicates fossil fuel pollution could kill 100 million by 2030, the coal, oil and gas industry would seem to pass that test pretty easily; it’s also on the edge of setting off the 6th great extinction crisis, so everyone over in the biology lab studying non-human beings has a stake too.

Christian Parenti believes that divestment is only a first step:

“If you actually look at the details of previous struggles you will see that symbolic power [of divestment] has to eventually crystallize as government action,” Parenti tells In These Times. “Take tobacco. The moral spectacle of dumping tobacco stock was itself not economically painful. But once that moral power was crystallized as legal power in the form of anti-tobacco laws, then consumption of tobacco and tobacco profits began to decline.”

Watch McKibben’s video series on the Dish here.