ADVERTISEMENT

SWARTHMORE, Pa. – Student activists at more than 200 colleges are trying a new tactic in hopes of slowing the pace of climate change: They are asking their schools to stop investing in fossil fuel companies.

The Fossil Free campaign argues that if it’s wrong to pour pollution into the air and contribute to climate change, it’s also wrong to profit from it.

The strategy, modeled after anti-apartheid campaigns of the 1980s, aims to limit the flow of capital to fossil fuel companies by making their stocks morally and financially unattractive. In theory, that could lead to a slowdown in how much fossil fuel is burned and indirectly speed investments in renewable energy.

“We know this is something that’s going to really matter in our lifetimes,” said Sophie Harrison, an 18-year-old freshman at Stanford University. “The world that we’re going to be raising our kids in is going to be very different from the one we were born into.”

It is far from certain that the campaign will help change the behavior of fossil fuel companies or public attitudes about climate change.

And unlike apartheid there is no ready alternative to fossil fuels. .

Organizers acknowledged their efforts may take years to have any effect, but they are frustrated, they said, that not enough has been done to address climate change.

The campaign targets companies that own most of the world’s coal, oil and natural gas reserves. While many schools argue divestment would harm their endowments, an analysis conducted for AP casts doubt on that. The research firm S&P Capital IQ found that by one measure, endowments would have been better off had they divested 10 years ago.

The firm calculated the total returns of the broad U.S. market as tracked by the S&P 500 index, with and without the companies singled out by Fossil Free. An endowment of $1 billion that excluded fossil fuel companies would have grown to $2.26 billion over the past 10 years, but an endowment that included investments in fossil fuel companies would have grown to $2.14 billion.