Global Divestment Day

A brief activity on the movement to get colleges, cities, churches and other entities to divest from fossil fuels, pegged to Global Divestment Day on Feb. 13-14, 2015.  

Ask students if they’ve heard about "Global Divestment Day."

Elicit or explain that on February 13-14, 2015, Global Divestment Day, people around the world  will organize flash-mobs, sit-ins and rallies to pressure their cities, colleges, churches, and other institutions to sell their stocks in fossil fuel companies (divest) as a way to combat climate change.

The world’s climate scientists tell us that we need to cut our use of fossil fuels quickly and dramatically to avoid global catastrophe. Fossil fuel companies such as Shell, Exxon and Peabody Coal have five times more oil and coal and gas in known reserves than climate scientists think is safe to burn. Activists hope that their global disinvestment campaign will force fossil fuel companies to leave 80% of their reserves in the ground so that we can lessen the effects of climate change - including devastating  floods, droughts, food and water shortages and species loss.

Young people - including high school and college students - have been at the forefront of organizing for fossil fuel divestment. They’ve gotten universities from Stanford in California to the University of Maine to divest. The New School, a university in New York, is not only divesting, but reshaping its entire curriculum to address the challenge of climate change. Many other entities have divested as well, from the cities of Seattle and Providence to the United Church of Christ.

On February 10, 2015, a Massachusetts state court will hear a case brought by students at Harvard University to force the school to sell off fossil fuel stocks. Harvard president Drew Gilpin Faust has said divestment is neither "warranted nor wise" and that Harvard’s endowment "is a resource, not an instrument to impel social or political change."

Ask students:

  • What do you think about Global Divestment Day and the movement to divest from fossil fuels? 
  • Do you think this movement is needed?
  • Do you think it is a good strategy for combatting climate change? Why or why not?  
  • What other strategies do you think are needed to dramatically reduce fossil fuel consumption?

Students can find out if there are any Divestment Day activities planned in your area here:

To find out if there are divestment petition drives underway in your area (or to start one):

Optional follow-up activities

Ask students to research the student divestment movement. Then write a short essay that addresses these questions:

  • What are students in this country doing to get universities and other institutions to divest from fossil fuel companies?
  • What challenges have they faced? What successes have they had?
  • Do you think divestment is a good strategy for addressing climate change?  Why or why not?

Additional resources

Wall Street Journal debate over divestment:

Letter to college presidents against divestment:

Two divestment organizers discuss their strategies:

National student divestment group:

Campus divestment groups sampler:

High school activism: