When environmentalist Bill McKibben visited Syracuse in October as part of the University Lectures series, he urged students to get their schools to make more sustainable investments. His words encouraged Syracuse University and SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry students to start the Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign.
The group is part of a larger national movement to take action against university endowments and investments.
Kate Montgomery, a freshman at SUNY ESF, said they want the schools to "lay down framework and guidelines so that no future investments are made in fossil fuel industries, like gas, oil and coal."
In the late 1980s, universities began divesting - the opposite of investing - from companies that supported South African apartheid. But according to Shere Abbott, SU's vice president of sustainability initiatives, divestment is not a simple matter.
"To the best of my knowledge, Syracuse University has very few direct investments, if any," Abbott noted.
Instead, Abbott said, the majority of SU's investments are tied up in mutual funds, which are managed for maximum return and are often blind to investors.
She and other members of SU's Sustainability Action Council plan to look at the university's investment portfolio to determine whether divestment is an option. In the meantime, she said, students have a great opportunity to raise awareness about climate change and "really engage in this national debate and find some creative ways," such as organizing and going to elected officials.
Montgomery said she thinks divestment is crucial for SUNY ESF, since many graduates take jobs in sustainable energy.
"[ESF] is investing in education and research and even improving their campus, looking to be carbon-neutral by 2015," she said. "Investing in oil companies and gas companies which are basically the opposite of what they're teaching most of their students doesn't really make sense."