An article in Wednesday’s New York Times features students at Swarthmore College who are pushing the institution to sell off its endowment holdings in fossil-fuel companies. According to the Times, the students hope that such a shift “could force climate change, barely discussed in the presidential campaign, back onto the national political agenda.”
More important, the theory goes, by encouraging companies (particularly in the oil, coal, and gas industries) to increase their research into renewable, noncarbon sources of energy, the colleges could help reduce carbon emissions to what scientists say is a safe level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, 350 parts per million, down from the current level of about 390.
The push for basing investment decisions on sustainable criteria is not a new one. For several years in the mid-to-late aughts, the Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors supported a project called the Sustainable Endowments Institute, which urged campus-based energy efficiency as well as endowment investments in companies using or developing renewable energy. From 2007 to 2012, the institute produced an in-depth “report card” of participating universities that rated them on their performance.