Stanford beats Harvard; divests from coal

In the first big win for the fossil fuel divestment campaign, Stanford just did what campaign-founder Harvard has not yet: announced it would divest from coal-mining companies.

Here’s Stanford’s PR dated today, 7 May 2014, Stanford to divest from coal companies,

Acting on a recommendation of Stanford’s Advisory Panel on Investment Responsibility and Licensing, the Board of Trustees announced that Stanford will not make direct investments in coal mining companies. The move reflects the availability of alternate energy sources with lower greenhouse gas emissions than coal.

Who is this Advisory Panel?

In taking the action, the trustees endorsed the recommendation of the university’s Advisory Panel on Investment Responsibility and Licensing (APIRL). This panel, which includes representatives of students, faculty, staff and alumni, conducted an extensive review over the last several months of the social and environmental implications of investment in fossil fuel companies.

Maybe the unelected VSU Foundation will listen to the newly-appointed special committee on sustainability. Imagine the VSU Foundation Chairman making a statement like this, or VSU’s President making it for him:

“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,” said Stanford President John Hennessy. “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.”

Like at VSU (and at lagging Harvard), it was students who started the process at Stanford:

“Fossil Free Stanford catalyzed an important discussion, and the university has pursued a careful, research-based evaluation of the issues,” said Steven A. Denning, chairman of the Stanford Board of Trustees. “We believe this action provides leadership on a critical matter facing our world and is an appropriate application of the university’s investment responsibility policy.”

“We are proud that our university is responding to student calls for action on climate by demonstrating leadership,” the Fossil Free Stanford group said in a statement. “Stanford’s commitment to coal divestment is a major victory for the climate movement and for our generation.”

Of course, coal is hardly the only problem. So-called “natural” gas, which is mostly fracked methane these days, is far more dangerous for climate stability than CO2 from coal and it leaks from the wells (up to 1,000 times EPA estimates), from pipelines, and from end users, far more than the fracked methane industry wants to admit.

Stanford realizes coal is not the only culprit, as Michael Wines wrote for the New York Times 6 May 2014, Stanford to Purge $18 Billion Endowment of Coal Stock,

Other fossil fuels did not meet some of those criteria, but “this is not the ending point. It’s a process,” she said. “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.”

That’s a weak position, since research at Stanford already established that sun, wind, and water can power each U.S. state and the world. Maybe Stanford and Harvard and VSU and anybody else who owns fossil fuel company stock should read up on how quickly solar power is taking over.