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Stanford Says No To Investing In Coal

Stanford University recently announced it will no longer directly invest in publicly traded companies that mine for coal for energy generation. There are about 100 such companies and Stanford will no longer invest any of its $18.7 billion endowment in any of them. The university will also divest any funds currently invested in them.

stanford campus

Stanford Campus

“Stanford has a responsibility as a global citizen to promote sustainability for our planet, and we work intensively to do so through our research, our educational programs and our campus operations. The university’s review has concluded that coal is one of the most carbon-intensive methods of energy generation and that other sources can be readily substituted for it. Moving away from coal in the investment context is a small, but constructive, step while work continues, at Stanford and elsewhere, to develop broadly viable sustainable energy solutions for the future,” said Stanford President John Hennessy.

While burning coal for power generation contributes to climate change, it also generates a steady flow of harmful air pollution. A Harvard Medical School study found that the impact on human health in terms of lung disease, heart disease, and water pollution costs the US about $500 billion each year.

Though it may seem shocking that a top-ranked university would publicly announce such a rejection of a very common fossil fuel, Stanford was not the first to do so. It was preceded by the following schools:

  • College of the Atlantic
  • Foothill-De Anza Community College
  • Green Mountain College
  • Hampshire College
  • Naropa University
  • Peralta Community College District
  • Pitzer College, Prescott College
  • San Francisco State University
  • Sterling College
  • Unity College

Foothill-De Anza, SF State, and Peralta are all located in the Bay Area. Stanford is the most prominent of them all, but there is another potential divestor that some consider to be the most reputable in America: Harvard University. Student activists played a role in the Stanford divestiture and they may do so again at America’s best university. A student leader there explained, “I think it’s an extremely exciting first step. And I think they’re divesting from coal because there are alternative investments in renewable energy that Stanford can be looking at. This is a really important message for Harvard because it says that our investments do  have an impact. And if we’re investing in coal companies, then we are having a negative impact on people’s health and our environment. So we can align our values without sacrificing anything financially.”

If Harvard also divests, other Ivy League institutions may follow. Some might argue that such gestures are of little to no impact in the larger energy scheme, but they do seem to matter in terms of exercising whatever social influence universities do have.

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