There are many compelling reasons for universities to divest themselves of investment in the fossil fuel industry – including and especially the physical and potentially irreversible effects of climate change to which university endowments essentially contribute.
But for our colleagues now asking for an end to these investments, there's an almost equally compelling argument: universities exist to foster knowledge, learning and understanding, and the fossil-fuel industry has worked systematically over the past 20 years to undermine that work. It has worked and continues to work in direct opposition to our mission as scientists and educators through the political process and PR campaigns.
While giving money to support research, fossil-fuel companies also spend money to undermine its results, both directly through misleading advertising and indirectly by supporting think-tanks, trade organizations and other "third party allies" who are continuing to promote disinformation and doubt.
- Since 1750, more than 375 gigatons of carbon dioxide have been released to the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels and making cement; if we include deforestation, there would be another another 180 gigatons.
- More than half of this occurred since the mid-1970s, when scientific groups like the World Meteorological Organization and the US National Academy of Sciences first began to warn publicly of the risks implied.