University Divestment Movement Grows – Cornell and UC System Are Latest Wins

Photo: Boris Tsang, The Cornell Daily Sun

Cornell University’s Board of Trustees announced on Friday that the University will make no new investments in fossil fuels, and it is believed that they have been divesting of their previous investments for several years, though the details of their endowment are not public.  This follows on the announcement last week that the University of California system had completed its divestment from fossil fuels, becoming the largest in the country do so.  Cornell’s decision increases the pressure on Harvard and Yale, both of which have young alumni running for spots on their boards of trustees for the explicit purpose of forcing both the divest.

Why This Matters:  The climate movement has been led by young people and one easy focus of their activism is the universities they attend.  At universities like Georgetown and Cornell, well-organized student organizations, supported by faculty, had been demanding divestment for years.  Cornell seems to have been off-loading its fossil fuel investments for several years, but only this week made the formal decision to forego future investments.  The Trustees cited a “growing recognition” that fossil fuels are out of favor rather than student pressure.  The students there are not satisfied and are demanding a total divestment from even index funds that hold fossil fuel stocks.  

UC System Is Divested

It took five years for the University of California system to divest —  it sold more than $1 billion in fossil fuel assets from its $126 billion in pension, endowment and working capital pools and invested $1 billion in clean energy projects, the University said in a statement. “Today’s announcements on our investment strategy underscore our hopeful view of the future,” Richard Sherman, chair of the UC Board of Regents’ investments committee, said in a statement. “As long-term investors, we believe the university and its stakeholders are much better served by investing in promising opportunities in the alternative energy field rather than gambling on oil and gas.”

The Ivy League

Yale Forward jumped on the Cornell announcement, noting a shifting tide in favor of energy investments that don’t endanger the futures of the students.  “The world can see which way the wind is blowing, and it’s time for Yale to lead the way forward and become a leader in the fight against climate change,” said Yale Forward co-founder Scott Gigante in a statement. “Yale Forward’s platform, promoted by candidate Maggie Thomas, does just that by divesting from fossil fuels and making the Yale Corporation more representative and democratic.” Maggie Thomas is a former climate policy advisor to presidential candidates Governor Jay Inslee and Senator Elizabeth Warren is campaigning for the Yale Corporation Board, calling on the University to divest nearly $30 billion endowment from fossil fuels and moving Yale to a carbon-neutral campus as quickly as possible.

What You Can Do: If you are a Yale alum, sign the Yale Forward petition to put Maggie Thomas on the ballot for the Corporation Board to push for divestment.

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