Pitzer’s decision validates the idea that the movement to divest from fossil fuels is not limited to small colleges, and that the rest of higher education should consider following suit.
A movement that began on November 13, 2012, at a 350.org event featuring environmental activist Bill McKibben and Unity College President Stephen Mulkey, has reached its most significant milestone to date.
Pitzer College of Claremont, California, has announced its intention to divest from investments in fossil fuels. With an endowment valued at $125 million, Pitzer silenced critics who said that the divestment movement in higher education would collapse.
At the 350.org event in Portland, Maine, McKibben welcomed Unity College President Stephen Mulkey to the stage. He was greeted with a standing ovation when he revealed that the environmentally focused college had become the first in the nation to divest from investments in fossil fuels. Some questioned the significance of the gesture, given that Unity’s endowment is relatively modest ($13.5 million at the time, now $15 million).
Since that time, both Mulkey and McKibben have travelled the United States nurturing the movement they started. They have supported grass roots divestment movements at high profile institutions like Harvard University, which has resisted student and faculty calls to divest.
History may be tilting on the side of visionaries like Mulkey and McKibben. With the recent announcement by Pitzer College that it will divest and strengthen campus-wide efforts to reduce its carbon footprint, a new threshold -- divestment by an institution with an endowment in excess of $100 million -- has been crossed.
“I applaud the initiative shown by Pitzer College and welcome them into the fold of colleges that have divested,” noted Mulkey. “History will look back on Pitzer’s decision as among the milestones along the way to broad action to mitigate global climate change and secure a healthy planet in perpetuity.”
Mulkey feels that with every milestone reached, the critics of divestment are losing steam.
“Not so long ago critics said that divestment was a stunt pulled by small environmental colleges with small endowments and little to lose,” Mulkey stated. “Pitzer’s decision validates the idea that this movement is not limited to small colleges, and that the rest of higher education should consider following suit.”