Many environmental groups consider the Obama administration’s plan to regulate carbon-spewing coal plants, which aims to cut carbon pollution by 30%, as one of our last chances to win the fight against climate change.
Nestled in Vermont’s bucolic Champlain valley, Middlebury College is a seedbed of environmental activism. Middlebury students started 350.org, the environmental organization that is fighting climate change and coordinating the global campaign for fossil-fuel divestment. Bill McKibben, the writer and environmentalist who is spearheading the campaign, has taught there since 2001. Yet Middlebury has declined to sell the oil, gas, and coal company holdings in its $1 billion endowment.
McKibben’s alma mater, Harvard University — which has a $36 billion endowment, the largest of any university — also has decided not to divest its holdings in fossil fuel companies. Indeed, virtually all of the United States’ wealthiest universities, foundations, and public pension funds have resisted pressures to sell their stakes in fossil fuel companies. And while a handful of big institutional investors — Norway’s sovereign wealth fund, Stanford University, and AXA, a French insurance company — have pledged to sell some of their coal investments, coal companies account for less than 1 percent of the value of publicly traded stocks and an even smaller sliver of endowments.
Put simply, the divestment movement is not even a blip on the world’s capital markets.
Yet McKibben says the campaign is succeeding “beyond our wildest possible dreams.” By email, he tells Yale Environment 360:
At this point to have everyone from the Episcopal Church to Stanford to the biggest insurance carrier in France to the biggest pool of investment capital on earth (Norway's sovereign wealth fund) taking steps along this path is almost unbelievable. Almost from the start, academics have called it the fastest growing such anti-corporate campaign in history, and it's clearly accelerating by the day.
He may well be right.
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