‘Something Big Is Shifting’: As Georgetown Announces Fossil Fuel Divestment, Students Across US Demand Their Schools Follow Suit

Jerri-Lynn here. Go Hoyas! Georgetown decides to divest from fossil fuels investments, Let’s hope this inspires others to follow.

By Julia Conley, staff writerg for Common Dreams. Originally published at Common Dreams

Student-led anti-fossil fuel campaigns at universities across the country pointed to Georgetown University Friday as the school’s board of directors announced it would divest from fossil fuels and redouble its efforts to invest in renewable energy instead.

The university’s decision came after a sustained pressure campaign from Georgetown University Fossil Free (GUFF), a student group which submitted multiple proposals to the Georgetown Committee on Investments and Social Responsibility before the panel recommended the divestment this week. The school community also voted on a referendum regarding divestment on Thursday, withn more than 90% voting in favor.

GUFF issued a statement thanking the board of directors for its decision to divest and the school community for participating in the campaign.

“We are thrilled that our university has taken this important step in supporting climate justice, student voices, and financial accountability,” GUFF wrote.

Similar groups at other schools called on administrators to follow suit:

Under Georgetown’s new policy, the board of directors said, “the university will continue to make investments that target a market rate of return in renewable energy, energy efficiency and related areas while freezing new endowment investments in companies or funds whose primary business is the exploration or extraction of fossil fuels.”

The school will divest from public securities in fossil fuel companies in the next five years and existing investments in those companies in the next decade.

“Divestment allows us to divert more capital to fund development of renewable energy projects that will play a vital role in the transition away from fossil fuels—part of the long-term solution required to prevent the most dangerous effects of climate change,” Michael Barry, Georgetown’s chief investment officer, said in a statement.

Climate action advocates including 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben and author Naomi Klein applauded the move.

“Something big is shifting,” Klein wrote.

In November, hundreds of Harvard and Yale students stormed the field during the two schools’ annual football game to demand the institutions divest from fossil fuels. The University of California system announced it would divest last September, and more than 1,000 other institutions around the world have committed to divestment in recent years.

As Georgetown students and faculty were celebrating the board’s decision Friday, the Sunrise Movement chapter at George Washington University two miles away expressed frustration with the school’s board of trustees, which announced it would form an “environmental, social, and governance responsibility” task force without naming divestment from fossil fuels as an immediate goal.

“There is absolutely no need to ‘explore’ whether or not GW’s endowment should divest from fossil fuels,” wrote the group. “The moral imperative is clear and does not need a moment’s thought as to whether or not it is actively contributing to the degradation of our planet.”

The Sunrise Movement chapter vowed to make sure it was “sufficiently considered in this process” and demanded the university join Georgetown in fully divesting from fossil fuels

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49 comments

  1. AstoriaBlowin

    Divestment is a nice but pretty empty gesture. When is Georgetown or any other university going to ban driving on the campus to reduce their emissions or use only clean energy in their physical plant? That would be something to really write about

    Reply
    1. Ibacc

      Universities are not a big factor in emissions – but they have huge, influential investment funds.

      Since in the last ~10 years the fossil fuel industry (fracking and natgas) has mostly grown by using significant debt and leverage, I agree with Jerri-Lynn that big university funds and index funds like BlackRock announcing divestment from polluters is huge news, as it could make fossil fuel extraction more expensive and riskier to finance.

      It will also push investment funds toward investing in green energy companies.

      The actual emissions of the universities do not matter much – but their investment policies might change the dynamics of fighting global warming, for the better.

      Reply
      1. chuck roast

        Universities are actually quite a big contributor to air pollution. AstoriaBlowin’s mention above about banning driving is spot on. Mobile source air pollution when combined with point and area sources is significant. Motor vehicles are major emitters of nitrous oxide and hydrocarbons, the precursors of ozone. I went back to my old U last year and it looks less like an institution of higher learning then a sprawling parking lot. All those Deans need to drive to the office.

        Reply
        1. Which is worse - bankers or terrorists

          The biggest factor in reducing miles driven would be to increase the supply of on-campus housing.

          Reply
          1. David in Santa Cruz

            This would require NIMBY faculty and rose-colored rear-view mirror alumni to grok that most universities, especially public ones, have trebled their student bodies since the 1980’s. Finding places to build desperately-needed student housing often requires significant alterations to the alma mater landscape that faculty and alumni simply refuse to accept. Personal vehicles and ride-shares instead overwhelm the landscape — and the atmosphere. I see this daily…

            Reply
        2. drumlin woodchuckles

          Campuses, and indeed the the surrounding campus metropolitan areas , would need to have very user-friendly 24/7 deep-penetration broad-reach bus service in order to be able to credibly demand their users go car-free. Are campuses prepared to do that?

          Also, campuses would have to become very extremely bike-friendly indeed in order to foster more use of bikes. Are campuses prepared to do that?

          Reply
      2. Peter Lynch

        It is a good “start”. But I have a question for everyone. I have been an investment banker for 35+ years and the Oil and Gas industry has been holding the LAST PLACE in ALL market sectors – which means if you owned any fossil fuel securities over the past 10 years you have lost money more than in any other sector. Who is running their pension funds? You get 3 years at most to STOP holding the last place – just incredible.

        Reply
    2. Ignacio

      I disagree. If you mean it won’t have an immediate impact on oil & gas extraction, that’s right, but this is not the same as empty. The more disinvesting in that the sooner will be the decay.

      Reply
      1. curious euro

        If institutional investors like pension funds, universities, etc. divest, the easier it will get for “self-made men” to invest and make huge amounts of money in this sector.
        Basically what you do is, you breed the donor class of the next decades. Just think what fossil fuel investors will have for political preferences…

        And sure, you slow the extraction and consumption a bit. Basically it takes 100 years for firing it instead of 80 or so. In the end, it’s still all up in smoke in the atmosphere.

        It’s not the investment that is a problem, it’s the consumption.

        Reply
        1. Ignacio

          Investment, and then extraction drives consumption. Why the hell are the most important producers also the biggest consumers in per capita terms?

          Reply
          1. rjs

            nonsense. i don’t drive a car or heat my home because some has invested in fossil fuels; they’re investing because they know there are a lot of us consumers out here…if no one was buying, no one would be investing…curious euro has it about right, absent universities and public funds among the stockholders, the industry just goes more rogue than they already are…

            Reply
          2. curious euro

            No it does not drive consumption. It drives at most, rate of consumption. As in: takes longer to extract and fire it, but the amount of CO2 will not go down, it only takes longer from ground to air.

            The biggest consumers are also the producers cause the fossils are cheap to produce and use, for them. That is the biggest problem by far: even if various (rich) countries stop using fossil fuels, most of the current producers are poor, very poor. So even if their customers stop buying, they will still extract and use it themselves. Countries like Venezuela who supposedly have the biggest reserves world wide, simply cannot use anything else. It’s the same for almost all OPEC countries, Russia, etc. This is why it’s mostly virtue signalling for consumers who right now can switch to something else like this uni. They have the money to switch, the poor producers don’t.

            So they will continue to fire fossils domestically. What do you want to do against it? War? Sanctions? These countries are already under sanctions like Venezuela or Russia, so no change there.

            Reply
    3. Ford Prefect

      I was in university in the 70s when the big push was on for universities to divest from South Africa. Ultimately, that was a significant factor in international pressure on South Africa. I believe that was the first time for protests focused on how universities invested money and is probably the blueprint for fossil fuel divestment today.

      I think the campus Vietnam War protests (before my time), civil rights protests (also before my time), and South Africa divestment protests all ended up being vindicated over time. The students were usually a decade or more before the rest of society (although they were playing catch-up to the 1950s black protesters in the South).

      Reply
      1. somecallmetim

        I had a similar experience, and learned a lot more about Apartheid and investment councils’ neoliberal bottom lines *prudent investors* than I would’ve otherwise. Also got a 2 year early warning on trouble to come in Iran (Irani students protesting wearing paper plates with eyeholes cut out)

        Reply
    4. Redlife2017

      For clarity on driving around GU: As someone who graduated from Georgetown University, I can attest to the fact that there aren’t that many cars there. This is very much a campus to be walked around, you actually can’t drive around it easily. Students often take public transit and even in the 90s there was a free university bus (a large one) that went to the metro regularly. Please see – https://transportation.georgetown.edu/guts/ for the current shuttle bus routes, which include 2 routes to different Metro stations, 1 that goes around Arlington, VA and two to other campuses in DC.

      Reply
  2. Dita

    Been in some big towns and heard me some big talk. What will everyone’s i-trinkets, made from plastics, be made from? Bet they’re not selling Apple stocks or Tesla.

    Reply
    1. polecat

      Or footware, clothing, furniture, accessories, or fuel (gasoline or gas produced electricity) to run those of the student bodies via a scooter, moped etc.. petroleum is ubiquitous .. it, in all it’s forms, IS our current civilized world ! If the elimination of fossil fuels is the goal … then be prepared to live without much of what we now take for granted. Are students (let alone school admins and faculty) willing and able to do what it would take, to become completely petro-free … doing without all those carbon-energy slaves to get thing done?
      I very much doubt it. Now, understand .. I see a time when oil & gas depletion will reign the day, which will hopefully result in a lighter way of life for the footprint of humans, as it purtains to living on this Blue Dot …. but it means having much less in the way of material CONsumer comfies, while engaged in harder, and I dare say, physical work for many ! BIG Progress, ever good and upward (this includes supposed ‘renewables’ as a panacea to our collective plight) is a bogus, ephemeral guilt-free proposition. Animal power will become inportant again, for those who can attain and use such. How many even consider pondering such drastic changes, not on some abstract level, but as it might relate to them upfront and personal-like ??
      Enjoy Hubert’s hump while it lasts, Kiddies !

      Reply
      1. Dita

        Yes, all of this. Striking a blow that lands lightly is as good as a miss. I don’t have a car, use my own bag to shop, and so on, but still I bring home products encased in plastic, walk in shoes that rely on fossil fuels to produce…And so on. Petroleum *is* modern life, in pretty much all forms. Divest from big tech and big pharma, etc in protest of the reliance on plastics, demand improved methods of recycling, stop making plastic cars, all more effective in my opinion.

        Reply
    2. drumlin woodchuckles

      I read somewhere that 90% of all the oil used is used for fuel . . . either heat or transport. 10% is used to make into things. So if we were able to displace oil from the heating and transport portfolio, we would be using ten times less oil than what we use now. I imagine that would go along with a lot less CO2 skyflooding.

      Reply
  3. Steve

    Without an actionable Agreement the divestment is permanent, it is – with respect – virtue signaling. Years ago as a student senator to the law school I was attending, helped a student with a legitimate gripe. The faculty because of poignant student comments had removed all student evaluations from the library, and the law student stated he used those evaluations to decide which courses and professors he wanted. Long story short, because the University accepted some federal funds, if they did evaluations, the evaluations had to be accessible . Begrudgingly they were placed back for a few years. Recollection aside…. in terms of Universities students are an income source, do not get a real seat at the table and most importantly do not actually get a say for any LONG term decisions. Every year is the start of a new crop, and each crop has a shelf life. Let’s give it five to ten years and see if this divestment is still occurring, as I am willing to be on the side of if it’s financially beneficial for the Institution decision makers they will again swim the money filled hydrocarbon lakes.

    Reply
    1. polecat

      Yeah .. just about the timeline where we’re all suppose to DIE!* to a crispy crunch, right ?

      * ….. as per the ‘hair on fire’ nashing and wailing of little St. Greta & the Rebellionites .. at the urgings of totally benign and beneficient Vulture Capitalists, Nebulous NGO$, Hop-a-long-in-front-of-the-Parade’ Politicians, and generally noxious CentralBankster/GloBull Financier Ferengi Everywhere ?

      Go ahead, pull my other Carbon Chain !

      Reply
  4. David in Santa Cruz

    We must make the children happy!

    Ditto the comment above about vast parking lots. Our local branch of the University of California isn’t only packed with the Audi’s of deans; there are also plenty of $150K Maseratis being driven by 19-year old full-tuition Chinese cash-cows (somebody has to make-up lost income from divestment). So Green! In the 1970’s cars were barely allowed on the campus.

    The acceleration of carbon emissions since 1990 has been largely due to globalization and the vast fossil fuel economies that have emerged in East and South Asia, and that are emerging in Africa. 80 percent of the world’s 7.8 Billion human beings live in those regions.

    What are the good Roman Catholics doing about population growth? This divestment is magical virtue-signaling, unicorns leaping over rainbows pooping-out Skittles, until there is an actual Green New Deal to invest in. Until then, it’s just an empty gesture masquerading as action (and everybody goes back to texting while spewing exhaust waiting for a campus parking space to open up).

    Reply
  5. Rod

    YAY GU!!!

    If something is suffering the death of a thousand cuts, or death by a thousand cuts, lots of small bad things are happening, none of which are fatal in themselves, but which add up to a slow and painful demise.

    GU and others are doing it now.

    Our host showed us another initiative with this several days ago;

    https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2020/02/climate-change-needs-to-be-on-the-balance-sheet.html

    FIRE is the enabler here.

    imo–this is the way to stifle the fossil fuel rampage of the last two hundred years–waiting for the one big solution is slow walking to the tune played by the PTB.

    is it viable??– Ask the Vietnamese or the Taliban

    imo, personal complacency is not an option anymore

    Reply
  6. rjs

    bottom line: for divestment to take place, the seller of fossil fuel stock has to find a buyer, often at a lower price and hence at a loss to those divesting….all that changes is the ownership of the financial paper, operating funds of the companies involved are not affected; chances are they won’t even know it happened…and their greenhouse gas emissions will not be changed by one molecule…so why are supposedly intelligent people like McKibben and Klein pushing this?

    Reply
  7. hermeneut

    “Virtue signaling” can be a useful term to help those of us working for systemic justice to recognize deception and demand authentic change. But its overuse gets in the way of celebrating important successes — I think we can do better, here! Can we please apply this label with more rigor? Give your reasoning; provide evidence; let the rest of us better understand how said action is actually deceptive green/pink/etc.-washing and not in fact significant change.

    Naked Capitalism has thoroughly documented the importance of finance to propping up the fossil fuel industry. Capitalists need capital, and consumers come late to the process. Read any number of articles posted here about the shale industry’s financial ponzi schemes, for example, and it should be clear that none of that is possible without investor capital, including that provided by institutions. Yes, ban parking lots, limit air travel, hold boards accountable to their commitments, and take power from elites — AND divest from fossil fuels!

    Reply
    1. rjs

      divestment is just rearranging deck chairs on the titantic; it has ZERO impact on emissions…read my comment, just before yours. i’ve written to Mckibben and received no response…

      Reply
      1. Isotope_C14

        But re-arranging the deck-chairs is a critical component of letting our betters have another couple of days of blowing white powder up their noses. If they have to get into their secret underground bunkers too soon, they will run out of that before they run out of food…

        McKibben is just an actor at this point. It was 350.org – we are at 415 now. We are certainly the Titanic.

        Reply
        1. polecat

          I’ll admit .. it would be pretty fascinating to be on the other side of a climatological disequalibium just to see how things shook out around the Planet … not that I’d necessarily like living it … If we were to see rather sudden oceanic current changes … such as in the Northern Atlantic for example, due to differentials in temperature/salinity, then, well .. it would suck moving to a new cave, because Dame Gaia thought it waaaay cool to plop a honkin erect mile-high glacier in your former sunroom …. still ?

          Reply
    2. rjs

      imagine, instead, that i was an investor: right now Exxon stock is selling for $61.50 a share, so if i could come up with $6150 i could buy 100 shares of Exxon…but my purchase of that stock would not benefit Exxon; they wouldn’t see a penny of the funds i used for the stock purchase nor would they even know that i owned part of the company unless i showed up at an annual shareholder’s meeting…my $6150 would go to whoever happened to be selling their Exxon stock on the same day i was buying, and the records that i was a shareholder would be kept by whichever financial services firm Exxon had contracted to handle their shareholder relations…similarly, if i later decided to sell my Exxon stock, someone else would have to buy it, i’d either show a capital gain or a loss, and Exxon would not be involved or affected by that transaction in any way either…

      the same is true for bonds; if i were to buy an Exxon bond such as their 2.709% 6mar2025, whoever was selling the Exxon bond would get my very hypothetical $100,000, and a financial services firm contracted by Exxon would issue me a check for $2,709 from Exxon’s account once a year up until 2025, at which time Exxon would have to pay me $100,000…Exxon would not be financed by my bond purchase; they were “financed” by who ever bought those bonds when they were issued back in 1995 or 2005 or whenever; i’d be buying into the bonds after the fact just to collect that 2.7% interest, because it’s better than i could get at a bank…they’re paying me, they’re not getting any new funding from my bond purchase…and if i sell that bond before its maturity date, they’re not losing anything either..

      Reply
      1. rjs

        i thought this was a finance site…

        the finance experts here should be the ones explaining to the climate kids how little good, other than the aforementioned virtue signalling, that this whole divestment movement accomplishes, and suggest some alternative methods, not cheerleading a university that promises to move some of its funds around in the next 10 years..

        Reply
  8. teacup

    From the bar scene in Good Will Hunting – “…You dropped a hundred and fifty grand on a fuckin’ education you could have gotten for a dollar fifty in late charges at the public library.”

    And from Buckminster Fuller’s ‘Critical Path’. …”World Game finds that 60 percent of all the jobs in the U.S.A. are not producing any real wealth—i.e., real life support. They are in fear-underwriting industries or are checking-on-other-checkers, etc. The majority of the jobs occasion the individuals using three to four gallons perday in their automobiles to go to and from work—at true cosmic costing this means four million dollars per worker per day. Obviously the computer finds that it would save the planet Earth’s energy account $500 trillion aday to give all the non-wealth-producing workers their full pay to stay at home. In the same way the World Game’s world-around-integrated computers will show that it will save-pay handsomely to pay all professors and teachers in full to stay at home or in their laboratories and relinquish all teaching to video cassettes, whose selectable programs are to be called out by the individual students of all ages around the world to be shown on their home television sets. The old educational facilities and a small fraction of individual teachers who love most to teach will use the old educational facilitieswithin which to produce the cassette programs.”

    Reply
  9. Quill

    Equity divestment is mostly useless, with the possible exception of fracking focused companies.

    Really, you’d start making more difference if you reduced consumption of fossil fuels, but that woud b inconvenient or expensive.

    Reply
    1. AbyNormal

      jest by LNG on the deadcat bounce a-comin
      if the college kiddos pick it up and don’t short it…they make enough cash to cripple GOOD N HARD

      Reply
  10. Luke

    People who keep claiming that the oil industry doesn’t make money, year after decade, don’t work in it. I do. (Mudlogger currently on an oil rig about an hour SW of San Antonio, TX, doing Eagle Ford Formation work.)

    These wells two years ago took up to 30 days. 4-5 is now usual. The price of oil has fluctuated over that time, but hardly dropped by 5/6+. These projects were calculated to make bank at the previous pad time. Now, surely hand over fist. (Oh, and I make barely half what I did before the 2014 bust, like many workers.)

    Reply
  11. drumlin woodchuckles

    It may be that this GU petro-divestment plan is important in the long-range culture-war game. I do notice that an awful lot of people came here to poo poo it, almost as though they are afraid that enough of that sort of thing may begin to work . . . and they want to kill it with ridicule before it gets out of hand.

    Reply

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