“Huge victory”: Stanford Divests $18 Billion Endowment from Coal Stock
Under pressure from Fossil Free Stanford, Stanford University announced on Tuesday that it would immediately divest its $18.7 billion endowment of stock in coal-mining companies. The New York Times commented yesterday on Stanford’s role as a national and global leader: “At least 11 small universities have elected to remove fossil-fuel stocks from their endowments, but none approaches Stanford’s prestige or national influence.”
Yari Greaney, 20, a Fossil Free Stanford organizer, said the group was “very proud of Stanford taking this leadership position.” Bill McKibben, leader of 350.org, emphasized that Stanford “knows the havoc that climate change creates around our planet… Other forward-thinking and internationally minded institutions will follow, I’m sure.” Maura Cowley, executive director of Energy Action Coalition, called the decision a “huge, huge victory.”
Stanford’s focus on divesting from coal includes about 100 companies wordwide which have coal mining as their primary activity. The decision came after an advisory panel of students, faculty, staff and alumni spent about five months studying the issue before making their recommendation, Deborah DeCotis, the chairwoman of the board’s special committee on investment responsibility, told the New York Times.
Fossil Fuels Meet Criteria for “Substantial Social Injury”
The university’s decision to divest from coal hinged on three elements. First: the growing clout of the campaign to divest fossil fuel investments, which now has a base on 300 campuses. Second: Stanford’s internal guidance allows its trustees to consider whether “corporate policies or practices create substantial social injury” when choosing investments. Third: the Stanford coalition was successful in using a broad-based study group, in addition to protest and pressure tactics, to achieve consensus among students, faculty, staff and alumni, giving the trustees a solid basis for their decision. It’s likely that, having witnessed this major success, other university-based groups will emulate their tactics. While coal currently stands alone in Stanford’s decision to divest, Ms. DeCotis told the Times,
This is not the ending point. It’s a process. We’re a research institute, and as the technology develops to make other forms of alternative energy sources available, we will continue to review and make decisions about things we should not be invested in. Don’t interpret this as a pass on other things.”
“Other things” should include shale oil and gas, damaging fossil fuel infrastructure, and other aspects of extreme energy extraction, such as the uranium mining which has poisoned First Nations’ lands for many decades. The vagueness of “other things” leaves us on the edge of our seats, eager to witness Act Two as Stanford begins to take its moral responsibility to stop escalating climate change more seriously.
Looking Forward: Fracking, Earthquakes, and Divestment
Yesterday’s New York Times physically positioned its prominent coverage of Stanford’s decision, “Stanford to Purge $18 Billion Endowment of Coal Stock,” on page A15, immediately below its major story on climate, “U.S. Climate Has Already Changed, Scientists Find in Study.” But they also positioned it immediately to the left of “Scientists See Quake Risk Increasing in Oklahoma,” as if to remind alert readers that those who laughed a few years ago at the prospect of increasing frequency and intensity of earthquakes due to underground injection of fracking waste… are no longer laughing. Oklahoma has already experienced 145 “small” earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or higher this year, according to scientists with the United States Geological Survey and the Oklahoma Geological Survey. Prior to the onset of fracking waste injection wells, for thirty years — the three decades until 2009 — Oklahoma averaged only two quakes a year of magnitude 3.0 or higher. Scientists now say that the sharp rise in the number of earthquakes due to oil and gas flowback injection underground has “significantly increased the chances that a damaging quake will occur there.” Perhaps water contamination from shale gas and oil operations; massive climate-harming methane leaks throughout the extraction, processing and transportation life-cycle of shale gas; intense air pollution; and harms to public health — not to mention earthquakes — from high-volume horizontal shale fracking with multi-well pads… will soon be on Stanford’s list of fossil fuels that create “substantial social injury” as the divestment movement broadens, deepens, and wins.