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Students Push Universities to Stop Investing in Coal, Oil and Gas

Students hold placards during a demonstration against climate change at Columbus Circle in New York, March 15, 2019.
Students hold placards during a demonstration against climate change at Columbus Circle in New York, March 15, 2019.
Students Push Universities to Stop Investing in Coal,Oil and Gas
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Students who are worried about climate change want universities to cut investments in energy companies that deal in fossil fuels.

The effort is gaining attention at well-known schools like Georgetown University in Washington D.C., Harvard University in Massachusetts and Yale University in Connecticut.

The effort began nearly 10 years ago. Student activists increasingly have learned methods from each other on how to act to push for changes. They also have grown increasingly concerned as predictions of the effects of climate change become more troubling.

Georgetown University’s board of directors announced this month that it will end its investments in coal, oil and gas companies within 10 years. Some professors at Harvard have called for similar measures.

In recent weeks, demonstrations were held at several schools, including Gonzaga University in Washington state, the University of Wisconsin, the University of Pittsburgh and Cornell University in New York state.

Some schools have stopped investing in energy companies. However, critics question whether such actions slow the effects of climate change or hurt the profits of energy companies.

Many schools defend their investments. They say they have a responsibility to grow the money they receive from donations. They also say it is easier to effect change as an investor, so they can help change company policies or find answers to climate problems through research.

For student activists, however, it is about taking a moral and political position.

Yale University, for example, has an endowment valued at $30.3 billion. An endowment is money that was donated to support a university and that is invested to grow and support future goals.

Recently, some Yale professors agreed to discuss the university’s moral obligations related to fossil fuels. The issue got attention when student protests interrupted the yearly Harvard and Yale football game.

“Yale has to take it seriously. We forced them to take it seriously,” said Ben Levin. He is a student leader with the Yale Endowment Justice Coalition.

Yale said it has supported shareholder proposals that companies report on what they are doing to fight climate change. Yale has asked supervisors of its investments not to invest in companies that do not work to reduce gas emissions. But, student activists want a clean break.

The actions are part of a larger movement to get insurance companies, large investors and governments to end fossil fuel investments.

Environmentalist and writer Bill McKibben is a leader of the movement to stop investments in fossil fuels. He said students have played an important part because they keep pressure on university officials. McKibben is a professor at Middlebury College in Vermont. The school announced last year that it would sell all its investments related to fossil fuel companies.

The Independent Petroleum Association of America has answered with its own campaign. It argues that pulling back from fossil fuel-related investments will be very costly for universities and it will do little to affect climate change.

I’m Susan Shand.

The Associated Press reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.

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Words in This Story

fossil fuel – n. a fuel (such as coal, oil, or natural gas) that is formed in the earth from dead plants or animals

board – n. a group of people who manage or direct a company or organization

obligation – n. something that you must do because of a law, rule, promise

endowment – n. a large amount of money that has been given to a school, hospital, etc., and that is used to pay for its creation and continuing support

shareholder – n. someone who owns shares in a company or business