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The Georgetown University board of directors announced Thursday it would divest from fossil fuels. (Photo: Ehpien/Flickr/cc)

'Something Big Is Shifting': As Georgetown Announces Fossil Fuel Divestment, Students Across US Demand Their Schools Follow Suit

The decision came after 90% of students who voted on a referendum voted in favor of divestment.

Julia Conley

Student-led anti-fossil fuel campaigns at universities across the country pointed to Georgetown University Friday as the school's board of directors announced it would divest from fossil fuels and redouble its efforts to invest in renewable energy instead.

The university's decision came after a sustained pressure campaign from Georgetown University Fossil Free (GUFF), a student group which submitted multiple proposals to the Georgetown Committee on Investments and Social Responsibility before the panel recommended the divestment this week. The school community also voted on a referendum regarding divestment on Thursday, withn more than 90% voting in favor.

GUFF issued a statement thanking the board of directors for its decision to divest and the school community for participating in the campaign.

"We are thrilled that our university has taken this important step in supporting climate justice, student voices, and financial accountability," GUFF wrote.

Similar groups at other schools called on administrators to follow suit:

Under Georgetown's new policy, the board of directors said, "the university will continue to make investments that target a market rate of return in renewable energy, energy efficiency and related areas while freezing new endowment investments in companies or funds whose primary business is the exploration or extraction of fossil fuels."

The school will divest from public securities in fossil fuel companies in the next five years and existing investments in those companies in the next decade.

"Divestment allows us to divert more capital to fund development of renewable energy projects that will play a vital role in the transition away from fossil fuels—part of the long-term solution required to prevent the most dangerous effects of climate change," Michael Barry, Georgetown's chief investment officer, said in a statement.

Climate action advocates including 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben and author Naomi Klein applauded the move.

"Something big is shifting," Klein wrote.

In November, hundreds of Harvard and Yale students stormed the field during the two schools' annual football game to demand the institutions divest from fossil fuels. The University of California system announced it would divest last September, and more than 1,000 other institutions around the world have committed to divestment in recent years.

As Georgetown students and faculty were celebrating the board's decision Friday, the Sunrise Movement chapter at George Washington University two miles away expressed frustration with the school's board of trustees, which announced it would form an "environmental, social, and governance responsibility" task force without naming divestment from fossil fuels as an immediate goal.

"There is absolutely no need to 'explore' whether or not GW's endowment should divest from fossil fuels," wrote the group. "The moral imperative is clear and does not need a moment's thought as to whether or not it is actively contributing to the degradation of our planet."

The Sunrise Movement chapter vowed to make sure it was "sufficiently considered in this process" and demanded the university join Georgetown in fully divesting from fossil fuels.


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