Graduation Year

Spring 2014

Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis


Environmental Analysis

Reader 1

Brinda Sarathy

Reader 2

Paul Steinberg

Terms of Use & License Information

Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Rights Information

© 2014 Jessica Grady-Benson


In the face of dire threats posed by anthropogenic climate change, a growing international Movement for Fossil Fuel Divestment has emerged to challenge the political and economic power of the fossil fuel industry. Building off a history of college and university divestment campaigns, students are spearheading the movement to rid their institutions’ endowments of investments in the top 200 companies with the largest reserves of coal, oil, and natural gas. Highlighting perspectives from within the movement and drawing from literature in social movement theory and Climate Justice, I explore three crucial components of the student Fossil Fuel Divestment Movement: Climate Justice, perceptions of risk, and potential political impacts. I argue that Fossil Fuel Divestment is a powerful component of the broader Climate Movement because it is mobilizing and radicalizing a new generation of activists to fight the climate crisis, challenging the dominant paradigm of individualized climate action, and is significantly influencing the public discourse on climate change. In seeking to further illuminate the power of this movement, I explore the possibilities and limitations of divestment as a tactic for Climate Justice and offer recommendations for moving forward.


This thesis aims to present critical insights into the student movement for fossil fuel divestment, however its breadth is limited. It does not completely cover the extensive primary research completed as a part of this project, nor does it represent all perspectives present in the movement. Further research and writing is necessary going forward to continue documenting and exploring this movement.

On the date that this thesis was completed, Stanford University announced that it will be divesting its $18 billion endowment from coal. This is further evidence of the continual growth and strength of this movement.