Stanford Dumps Its Holdings In Coal, With Climate In Mind

Stanford says it will its divest holdings in coal companies over climate change concerns. It's the most prominent of the roughly one dozen colleges that have decided to sell off fossil fuel holdings.

Copyright © 2014 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

One of the nation's top universities is taking a stand against coal. Responding to dire warnings about the effects of climate change, Stanford made this announcement. The school's nearly $19 billion endowment fund will no longer make direct investments in companies that mine coal for energy.

Environmentalists have been calling for colleges and others to divest in fossil fuel companies. And Stanford now becomes the biggest educational institution to get out of coal. Industry analysts are skeptical the move will have much impact. We'll hear about that in a moment. But first to NPR's Richard Gonzales who's covering Stanford's decision.

RICHARD GONZALES, BYLINE: Stanford students, primarily undergrads, first organized their divestiture campaign back in November 2012. It was slow going at first, but they collected support from graduate students and some faculty and call themselves Fossil Free Stanford. Michael Penuelas is a Stanford junior and one of the leaders of the group.

MICHAEL PENUELAS: And we realized that if we could bring our voices together, we could leverage the power in the name of our institution, and we could make change on a scale completely new to us as young people.

GONZALES: At the end of last year, Fossil Free Stanford took its case to the university's advisory panel on investment responsibility, the group that sets investment policies. It was a first step towards convincing the Board of Trustees to invest in the coal industry. Several months passed. Last Thursday, the students got an answer from the trustees says Penuelas.

PENUELAS: And then we walked in, and there were all these proud smiles confronting us from these administrators. And what they said was, you know, Stanford's going to be a leader. Stanford is about to prove itself a leader in the climate movement.

GONZALES: The Board of Trustees at Stanford had agreed with the investment advisory panel that the university would divest its $18.7 billion endowment of any stock in about 100 coal companies worldwide. Susan Weinstein, chair of the advisory panel on investment responsibility.

SUSAN WEINSTEIN: We did an extensive amount of research and came to the conclusion that fossil fuels are impacting climate change, which negatively impacts social and economic systems. We concluded that coal contributes a disproportionate amount to greenhouse gas emission for the amount of energy it produces. And we concluded that there are viable alternatives to coal.

GONZALES: Weinstein says Stanford has a long history in research in energy and sustainability. It's crudely embarked on a campus-wide overhaul of its energy systems so that the trustees' decision wasn't really a stretch. Still, the university took no action on the students' request that it divest in oil and gas companies too. A campus spokeswoman said that such action is still under review, but no other decisions are expected in the near term.

The trustees' announcement this week might be dismissed as symbolic given the size of the coal industry, but for the students who launched this campaign, the taste of victory is more than sweet says junior Yari Greaney.

YARI GREANEY: We've always wanted to do something about climate change. We learned about it since we were young. And we never really had something concrete to rally around. Divestment has become our mechanism. And it's working.

GONZALES: Greaney says her group's next step is spreading the word about their divestiture movement and offering aid to similar efforts on other campuses. Richard Gonzales, NPR News, Stanford.

Copyright © 2014 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.