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To divest or not to divest: College students on fossil fuel debate

Yahoo Finance
Yahoo Finance

Students at Harvard University are on the final day of something called Heat Week.  It's a week long protest pushing for the University to divest of fossil fuel stocks. It's a movement gaining steam at universities across the country.

Schools like Swarthmore College, Tulane University and the University of Mary Washington have had similar sit-ins and demonstrations.  MIT held a debate on the topic this week as well.

The protest at Harvard is an effort to get the university's $36 billion endowment to divest from the oil and gas and coal industries.  Student action included blocking  the entrance to Massachusetts Hall, Harvard's oldest building, preventing university president Drew Gilpin Faust from entering her office. On Thursday, President Faust agreed to meet with the students, who nonetheless vowed to continue the protests until Harvard's endowment divests from the oil and gas industry.

In the 1980s, pressure from student groups over apartheid forced many universities to divest from South Africa. Today, activists are targeting a far larger goal: The fossil fuel industry.

Last month, Syracuse University announced its $1.2 billion endowment plans to drop all fossil fuel stocks. Last year,  Stanford's $21.4 billion endowment said it would divest from coal stocks thanks largely to the efforts of university trustee Tom Steyer, a billionaire former hedge fund manager and president of NextGen Climate.  

Related: Fossil fuels under fire: Divestment push picks up steam

On Friday CalPERS,  the nation’s largest pension fund with more than $240 billion in assets under management, joined by  nearly 60 other institutional investors and several state treasurers, asked the SEC to require oil and gas industries to publish detailed analysis of the risks to their business from climate change - a sort of corporate "stress test."

Related: NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer: Concerned about fossil fuel investments

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The accompanying video is a from a live 'town hall'-style event Yahoo Finance's Aaron Task hosted on Friday featuring students on both sides of the debate, representatives from 350.org, a pro-divestment organizing group, and the Independent Petroleum Association of America, an industry lobbying group, as well an investment expert who has crunched the numbers on the act of divestment. 

You can watch the entire town hall on the divestment movement here.