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Fossil fuel divestment push hits Harvard...and beyond

Aaron Task
Editor in Chief

In the 1980s, pressure from student groups over apartheid forced many universities to divest from South Africa. Today, activists are targeting a far larger target: 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 last year it will 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. (On the flipside, the University of Colorado's Board of Regents this week rejected a similar plea from students to divest its roughly$2.7 billion endowment.)

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

This week, students at Harvard staged a week-long protest in 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.

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 of climate change.  Basically to "stress test" their businesses for climate change. 

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

The accompanying video is a from a live 'town hall'-style event I 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 as other experts. 

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

Aaron Task is Editor-at-Large of Yahoo Finance. You can follow him on Twitter at @aarontask or email him at atask@yahoo-inc.com.