Colleges and universities are bustling with activity. Among the conversations on campus: the call from students to sell endowment investments in the fossil fuel industry. Stanford has eliminated its coal investments, and a small number of other universities have divested to varying degrees.
Nearly every student involved in this call-to-action will have used fossil fuel to arrive on campus this fall. Nearly everyone will have a cell phone plugged into the nearest electric outlet, largely powered by fossil fuels. Nearly everyone will eat pizza cooked in a gas-fired oven.
It is unfortunate that our society is so dependent on fossil fuels, but until alternatives can prove themselves, fossil fuels will be with us. This can be the basis for a more effective campaign on college campuses.
Let’s hear calls to those who manage endowments to invest in alternative energy. Across the country, bright young entrepreneurs have ideas for fossil fuel alternatives and ways to improve energy efficiency. These companies deserve the encouragement of investments from endowment funds.
It’s best to focus on pure-plays—companies whose clean energy products are not hidden behind a huge raft of products and services that support the old way of doing business. Universities should take a special look at wind and solar power providers, and those who manufacture LED light bulbs, electric cars, new batteries, and synthetic liquid fuels from plant biomass.
In this era of cheap oil, these companies are having a rocky time getting started; investor support would be welcome. Instead of getting bogged down trying to define what to divest, let’s move forth to invest in the ideas that will carry the world to where we want to be.
–This segment was adapted from a blog post by William Schlesinger, biogeochemist and Emeritus President of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies.
Photo, posted March 4, 2013, courtesy of James Ennis via Flickr.
Earth Wise is a production of WAMC Northeast Public Radio, with script contribution from the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies.