Environment & Science

Pitzer College, Robert Redford announce plans to divest $125 million endowment of fossil fuels

Robert Redford using Molly Peterson's microphone to interview the president of Pitzer College about climate divestment on Saturday, April 12, 2014.
Robert Redford using Molly Peterson's microphone to interview the president of Pitzer College about climate divestment on Saturday, April 12, 2014.
Molly Peterson/KPCC
Robert Redford using Molly Peterson's microphone to interview the president of Pitzer College about climate divestment on Saturday, April 12, 2014.
Pitzer College junior Jess Grady-Benson and dozens of other students at the Claremont colleges are working together to push their schools' investments out of fossil fuels.
Molly Peterson/KPCC
Robert Redford using Molly Peterson's microphone to interview the president of Pitzer College about climate divestment on Saturday, April 12, 2014.
350.org campaigner Deirdre Smith trains students in Claremont to campaign for fossil fuel divestment.
Molly Peterson/KPCC


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Pitzer College has announced it will divest its $125 million endowment of financial holdings in fossil fuel companies by the end of the year. The move makes Pitzer the first college in Southern California to commit to climate divestment, and the largest endowment in higher education to do so to date. 

Divestment from fossil fuel companies is the goal of a network of activists who argue that profiting from or supporting industries that contribute heavily to climate change is morally wrong.

Pitzer president Laura Skandera Trombley issued an invitation to other schools in announcing the plan. “Come join the party,” she said. “It’s so much fun to do the right thing.”

RELATED: Claremont colleges' divestment movement aims to create urgency to get off fossil fuels

Divestment is one of five policies in a new climate action program Pitzer announced Saturday.  Trombley and several Pitzer trustees said they hope it can serve as a model for other places.

Students activists have been campaigning at all the Claremont colleges to limit their school’s contribution to climate change. Trustee Don Gould said that the move to divest was “spurred by the students’ voice.”

Pitzer senior Jess Grady-Benson says one reason her school has divested after a short campaign is that sustainability and social responsibility are core values of her school.

“Countless campuses are being rejected by their respective administrations,” she said, noting escalating tensions at Harvard University over the subject. “And we’ve been very fortunate to have a collaborative process among students, alumni, faculty, staff, trustees, that really got us to this point.

One of the trustees of Pitzer is Robert Redford, who set off a barrage of camera clicks every time he turned his head. “The role I’m here for is to endorse and support this initiative as a member of the board of trustees, so I do.”

Redford said it’s past time to disrupt the status quo when it comes to climate change. But he, too, emphasized that the decision to divest was student-driven. He said Grady-Benson is inspiring.

“When you look at her, and you hear her, and you see where her mind is going, and that she’s a product of this school — boy, there you go.”

Gould said divestment will change about 5 percent of the school’s endowment by the end of this year. Jess Grady -Benson, who graduates in two months, doesn’t have a job yet. But she says she’s going to campaign against fracking in California next.