Fossil Free AU Responds to William Reilly’s SPA Commencement Speech

William K. Reilly, who served as Administrator of the EPA under George H. W. Bush and worked on the passage of the Clean Air Act, received an honorary doctorate degree from the School of Public affairs and spoke at its commencement ceremony on May 9th. Reilly is currently a prominent voice in environmental policy, as shown by his leading role in the Obama administration’s investigation into the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. His perspective on environmentalism, however, should be considered with careful regard to his current corporate ties. Reilly is a director at ConocoPhillips, a Fortune 500 energy exploration and production corporation, and until recently served as a director at DuPont, a leader in GMO production.

Reilly is a product of his time – the 1990’s-era environmental movement.  Under the extreme free-market ideology still running rampant, many environmental groups (including the EPA) sought to reconcile the needs of corporations with the future of our planet.  This was perhaps most telling in his comment praising Walmart for selling more sustainably-sourced produce.  But the climate chaos that we face today is in many ways very different from the environmental issues of the past, given its sheer scientific urgency.  To avoid the worst impacts of climate change, the UN says we must warm the planet by no more than 2 degrees Celsius, and yet the business-as-usual approach championed by Reilly puts us on a path far beyond safe atmospheric limits.  And, as if we were not yet satisfied with our current levels of catastrophe, fossil fuel companies continue to tear the planet apart for more unconventional energy sources like tar sands.  One of the world’s leading climate scientists, Dr. James Hansen, asserted that the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline and future tar sands development projects would be “game over for the climate,” given how considerably dirtier these tar sands are compared with conventional oil and gas – a comment that Reilly casually shrugged off as mere pessimism.

But Hansen is not pessimistic.  Climate activists today are the opposite of pessimistic – we are taking on one of the most powerful industries throughout history, and we expect to win.  However, this does not mean we are not realistic.  We know that climate change is not an easy political task.  After all, think of states like Kentucky, Reilly says, that rely on coal for revenue.  However difficult it might be for our government to act on climate, though, it is infinitely more difficult for the frontline communities already facing the impacts of a warming planet.  Whether you look at disenfranchised and polluted communities forced to live down the road from a coal-fired power plant in the United States or the people of Kiribati losing their country to a rising ocean while simultaneously enduring intensifying storms, these individuals have it harder than Mitch McConnell will when he is forced to acknowledge the scientific reality of climate change.  And their lives matter more than any political inconvenience that this reality demands.  When talking about solutions to climate change, we have to be honest: there will be no win-win scenario.  We would be delusional to look to the Exxons and Walmarts of the world to get us out of a problem that they not only helped create, but also profit from every day.  In fact, we would be more ignorant than those who deny the existence of climate change if we expect solutions to come from its benefactors.

This level of global destruction and disregard for human rights has been disheartening and overwhelming, and climate chaos has quite literally taken the life out of powerful community organizers around the world. But we are not without options; we have the power to make change on this issue. The rapidly growing fossil fuel divestment movement has demonstrated a vigor that proves today’s environmental advocates are not a picture of pessimism. To take on the giant that is the fossil fuel industry is a daunting task, to be sure. But the science of this issue is clear, even if corporate politics are muddled by competing interests. Divestment is the tool we can use to call out these companies for the unabashed devastation they have caused around the globe. We do not seek to bankrupt the fossil fuel industry or to set our sights on unrealistic goals, but rather to make clear that this profit-driven degradation is not something our community will stand for any longer. The divestment movement is based in the reality of climate science, and we are calling on the leaders of our American University to recognize the urgency of facts and remember its commitment to social justice.


Fossil Free AU Celebrates Cambridge Associates Win, Delivers Letter to President Kerwin

10698392_398091420340571_6950014887537578763_nDays ahead of the American University Board of Trustees vote on fossil fuel divestment, Cambridge Associates, the school’s investment consultant, has announced that they are now able to provide fossil free portfolios to their clients. Cambridge advises 81% of major college and university endowments and until now, their position on divestment had been relatively unclear. Cambridge stated:

“Climate change is on the minds of many institutional investors, including endowments. Fortunately, there are a number of avenues institutions can elect to pursue to act on their concerns, from a focus on alternative energy and fossil-free investment managers, to various degrees of divestment within a portfolio. Cambridge Associates stands ready to help institutions pursue any of these paths.”

This quote was accompanied by a commitment to provide clients interested in fossil fuel divestment, like American, with a list of managers who were able to create fossil free portfolios.

IMG_4432Members of Fossil Free American University met with Cambridge in late September to discuss Cambridge’s role in making divestment feasible for colleges and universities. “It’s clear that Cambridge Associates, and the financial community in general, recognizes that the divestment movement has legs — and it’s great to see them rise to the opportunity,” said Audrey Irvine-Broque, a Fossil Free American University organizer who attended the Cambridge meetings. “That Cambridge Associates stands ready to assist American University should it choose to divest, allows us to say with more confidence than ever before: ‘AU Board of Trustees–divest our endowment from the fossil fuel industry.”

Fossil Free American University delivered a letter to President Kerwin today with the Cambridge announcement, and has sent Cambridge’s commitments to the Board of Trustees and administrators in the Office of the Treasury. Just days before the AU Board of Trustees makes their decision on divestment, Cambridge’s announcement gives Trustees a final push to vote YES. Join Fossil Free American University on Friday November 21st at 7:30 AM in Mary Gordon Center right before the Board of Trustees vote on divestment.

Renewable Energy Deal A Start, But Worthless Without Divestment: A Joint Press Release from Fossil Free AU and Fossil Free GW

June 24, 2014

Earlier today, American University (AU), the George Washington University (GWU), and the George Washington University Hospital (GWUH) signed a joint agreement to bring 52 megawatts of photovoltaic (PV) power from North Carolina to the three institutions, equivalent to the electricity used in 8,200 homes each year. While this represents the largest non-utility solar PV power purchase agreement in the United States in total contracted megawatt hours, students from Fossil Free AU and Fossil Free GW fail to see how their universities reconcile such a large investment in renewable energy with continued investment in fossil fuels.

Fossil Free AU and Fossil Free GW, both fossil fuel divestment campaigns, stand together to congratulate our respective universities on their growing commitment to renewable energy and sustainability initiatives. But today, our campaigns urge our universities to acknowledge that our investment practices contradict this new initiative, and that bolder action on climate change is necessary.

Both GWU President Steven Knapp and AU President Neil Kerwin have made statements promoting this project’s value towards their institution’s respective carbon neutrality goals. But as long as both universities continue to hold investments in fossil fuel corporations, carbon neutrality remains unacheivable. Divestment from the industry driving climate change would show true institutional leadership, and is the kind of major change needed to combat the biggest issue facing our generation.

Furthermore, the agreement is with Duke Energy Renewables, a subsidiary of Duke Energy. Duke is a fossil fuel corporation whose renewables comprise just 3% of its total energy generation. To make matters worse, they are responsible for the tens of thousands of tons of coal ash spilled into North Carolina’s Dan River in February of this year, after Duke ignored a decades-old warning about the likelihood of a spill.

This negligent behavior shows Duke’s true “commitment to sustainability;” and continuing to invest in fossil fuel companies without challenging their power will prove ineffective in the fight against climate change.

It is also worth noting that, Richard W. Blackburn, retired Executive Vice President of Duke Energy, is on GW’s Board of Trustees.

Fossil Free AU and Fossil Free GW are pleased to see that our respective administrations have their hearts in the right place. But until our investment policies reflect our sustainability initiatives, our universities will remain complicit in climate change.

The only way to achieve our universities’ commitment to sustainability is through full divestment.


Fossil Free AU:
David Shadburn
(917) 742-3078

Deirdre Shelly
(717) 645-7222

Fossil Free GW:
Kyla Lang
(484) 574-1339

Fossil Free AU and Fossil Free GW are part of the national movement to divest universities’ endowments from the fossil fuel industry. They are working to achieve divestment on their respective campuses.

Download Full Press Release Here

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Redacted Recommendation from Socially Responsible Investing Committee

Today, our campaign received a redacted copy of a recommendation regarding fossil fuel divestment prepared by the Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing. The committee, which was established by the Board of Trustees during their November 2013 meeting, declined our request to release the recommendation ahead of the May 14-15 Board meeting. In the interest of transparency, we feel that the redacted version should be made available to the AU community and have decided to publish the full document here. Here are a few important points that our campaign has pulled out of the recommendation:

1) The committee, whose members were selected by Student Government, the Faculty Senate and the Office of the Provost, has produced a consensus document.

2) The committee found that, based on a memo from AU’s legal council, divestment could fit within the fiduciary responsibilities of the Board of Trustees.

3) The committee recommended that AU adopt a fossil fuel divestment policy, consisting of at least three elements. These elements include immediate divestment of small portions of the endowment, a negative screen for the top 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies, and yearly assessments of further divestment options.

4) The committee also recommended creating a green investment fund and engaging in shareholder advocacy. It is important to stress that while these steps may be compatible with a more robust divestment policy, they would not alone represent divestment or a meaningful moral statement on climate change.

Our campaign is pleased that the committee has produced a thorough assessment of divestment at AU. However, we feel that a more aggressive approach to divestment is necessary to achieve the goals of the fossil fuel divestment campaign and climate justice more broadly. We expect the recommendation to result in a decision by the full Board at the upcoming meeting.

Earth Day Rally and Open Forum

A. ALVAREZ - Fossil Free AU Walk-Out-345This past Tuesday, over 100 American University students walked out of classes to rally on the quad before marching to an open forum with AU President Neil Kerwin and Board Chair Jeffrey Sine. The open forum, which was held on Earth Day, was the last opportunity for students to publicly pressure the Board before graduation and an expected vote on divestment in mid-May.

Before the forum, we held a rally to remind the administration and the campus community of the urgency of climate change and the importance of divestment. Newly elected Student Government executives Sophia Wirth and Abby Dunn called on their peers to use their power as students to create more just and sustainable institutions. “Our voices demand to be heard…we’re not backing down until AU invests in justice instead of climate destruction.”

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Most importantly, AU students from the front lines of fossil fuel burning and extraction shared their personal stories and battles with the industry.

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Julia West, from a fracked town in rural Pennsylvania: “I never thought that the fossil fuel industry would exploit me and my family.They promised wealth. But you can’t drink money. I want you to ask yourselves: do you want to be a part of an institution that not only supports this kind of exploitation but INVESTS in it?”

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Edgar Ortega from the Little Village of Chicago plagued by the Crawford coal plant: “The problems at Crawford are mirrored across the country in communities affected by coal-fired power plants…Fossil fuel divestment should work along side stopping these projects so that we can challenge the power of the fossil fuel industry.”

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Paige MacNamara from Houston Texas, where tar sands are being refined and exported: “The climate legacy of duplicitous politicians means nothing to me. Any millions or billions you make from your investments will only ever be a payment for selling your children’s future—when our families became your market externalities.”

With these stories as inspiration, students marched to the open forum. Filling the seats, we held orange signs reading, “Divest from fossil fuels” chest high for Kerwin and Sine to see.


Divestment was the topic for most of the forum, and the forthcoming recommendation from the Socially Responsible Investing Committee lent a sense of importance to the discussion. These forums are not designed for in-depth conversations, and are often under-utilized by students. But we have used them as an opportunity to get President Kerwin and Chairman Sine on the record, and to build and show the power of our campaign.

We know that the Board will likely vote on divestment at the upcoming May meeting, which means that there’s more work to do. But this Earth Day, our rally and presence at the forum demonstrated the strength of the campaign, and proved once again that young people have the power to create a just and sustainable future-we just need to reach out and take it.

Photos by Alejandro Alvarez and Sophia Miyoshi

Board of Trustees Week of Action


After months of preparation, Fossil Free AU wrapped up an incredible week of action last Friday. While administrators refused students the opportunity to present the case for divestment to the full Board of Trustees, we managed to get our message to the Board in other ways.

Fossil Free AU has spent much of the fall semester responding to the questions and concerns posed by the Board in May. While it was clear that the Board did not intend for their questions to actually be answered, Fossil Free AU used the May memo as a way to propel the conversation on divestment forward, while at the same time engaging large portions of the campus community. Countless hours of research and preparation produced three public fora, the last of which was held last Wednesday. These meetings have been attended by students, professors, and administrators, and have generated productive discussions on the finer points of fossil fuel divestment. 


After the final forum, the focus of the campaign turned to the Board meetings on Thursday and Friday. Our friends in student government  brought the demands of Fossil Free AU to Finance and Campus Life committee meetings on Thursday, once again stressing the broad support divestment has from students. That evening, President Kerwin and Chairmen Sine hosted an open forum to hear concerns from the campus community. While administrators had restructured the format to only allow questions on divestment during the first half of the meeting, the event was overwhelmingly attended by Fossil Free AU members, who asked pointed and strategic questions. It was obvious that President Kerwin or Chairman Sine would not make any commitments or be caught off-guard during this forum, but our goal was to demonstrate our power to them and other administrators in the room. As they skipped the usual post-event glad-handing and chit chat, it was clear that we had succeeded in this goal.


Friday morning began bright and early with the Board of Trustees breakfast. Some Fossil Free AU members managed to gain invitations, and spent their time inside assessing the opinions of Trustees with which we rarely interact. Others were outside to greet Trustees with copies of our summarized response to the May memo. 


Once the Trustees were all inside, our group got ready for the culminating action of the week. Over sixty students rallied on the quad before marching to the base of Butler pavilion, where the Board was meeting in the top-floor conference room. Using fishing line and bunches of balloons, students raised signs reading “AU DIVEST” up to the level of the boardroom. This interrupted the Board meeting as Trustees came to the window to see students demanding fossil fuel divestment.


This week of action managed to do what no singular event could do: put pressure on the Board, energize the campaign, and reinvigorate the campus discussion on divestment. The devotion, passion, and creativity of our friends and supporters was on full display, and has taken this campaign to new “heights”.

1474464_254209134728801_2037514087_nPhotos by Sophi Miyoshi, Alejandro Alvarez, and Forest McGraw. To see more, check out our Facebook page.

Kicking Off the Semester Right!


Last night, students from American University, George Washington University, and the city of DC gathered on AUs campus to kick-off the new school year in a big way. About 70 of us came together on a gorgeous late-summer evening to get ready for a year of fighting for fossil freedom. After an opening performance from Blends with Benefits, a great AU a cappella group, we heard from Rachel Mandelbaum, an AU alum currently working to organize Power Shift 2013. Rachel gave us some important insights into the national divestment movement and spoke about the work that students around the country are doing to build a just and sustainable future. Next, we heard from Reverend Mark Schaefer, AUs Methodist Chaplain. Reverend Schaefer eloquently explained how AU and other institutions can draw on religious principles as justification for divesting from fossil fuels and climate destruction.

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Professors Paul Wapner and Simon Nicholson, who both teach in the Global Environmental Politics program, spoke next, putting our push for divestment within the context of the global climate crisis. Professors Wapner and Nicholson have been great allies during our campaign, and it’s clear that students and faculty will need to work together to achieve fossil freedom on our campuses.

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After a short break for some yummy vegetarian and vegan pizza, we heard from GW students Kyla and Anthony.
Fossil Free GW, along with Georgetown Fossil Free, is doing some amazing work on their campus. Our campaigns will surely complement each other because, as Professor Wapner put it, “If GW said it was going to divest on Thursday, AU would divest on Wednesday”. We also got the chance to hear from John Noel, an AU graduate student working with DC Divest, a city-wide divestment campaign which just got legislation introduced to the city council which would divest the city’s retirement accounts from fossil fuel companies.

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All of the organizing being done on divestment in DC is cumulative. Most of the district’s universities have sign sustainability agreements with DC Mayor Vincent Gray, and are always competing to beat each other in national rankings of green-ness and political activity. If one thing was made clear last night, it was that our individual successes will be mutually beneficial, and that working together, we can make our vision of a just and sustainable future a reality.

FFAU Takes our Board Presentation to the Community

WASHINGTON DC — On Friday May 17th, American University students joined a nationwide campaign active on 320 campuses calling on universities to divest from 200 companies that hold the vast majority of the world’s oil, coal and gas reserves. Climate change caused by the unchecked burning of fossil fuels poses a critical threat to human life on earth. Fossil fuel divestment supporters reject the idea that higher education should be financed by companies whose business plans guarantee there will not be a livable planet for the future.

Speakers included students Deirdre Shelly, David Shadburn, and Lauren Neville of AU Fossil Free, Alex Hoffman the President of AU College Democrats, alumni supporter Mary Schellentrager ‘10 with Energy Action Coalition, and Lili Molina, an environmental justice advocate who worked with Little Village Environmental Justice Organization on the 10-year campaign to successfully close the Crawford & Fisk coal plants in Chicago.

Fossil Free AU Holds Open Community Meeting in Response to Lack of Representation at Board of Trustees May Meetings

Today, May 17th, our campaign wrapped up the semester with an Open People’s Board Meeting just outside the room where our Board of Trustees was considering our divestment proposals and support we’ve gained over the last few months.   After the Board refused to let a representative from our campaign present, Fossil Free decided the best way to get our message across would be to hold this open meeting, allowing for the opportunity for all AU voices to be heard.  We had previously been told that a voice through Student Government leadership was our only option for communicating the urgency of this issue.


American University students and alumni, along with organizers and supporters from throughout the DC community, rallied at the Open People’s Board Meeting to envision what their endowment could look like if the Board had permitted representatives from American University Fossil Free to present on their campaign work.

During the Open Meeting, the case for divestment was presented to student representations of Board Members, Jeffery Sine and Gary Cohn, COO of Goldman Sachs.  They also heard from organizers at the Energy Action Coalition,, campus coalition partners, and environmental justice activist Lili Molina.  At the end of the speeches and presentations, our student board members decided the evidence was clear, and “fake” divested our endowment from fossil fuels while reinvesting our money into clean energy technology.


This action has followed several scheduled Board meetings, and conversations with the administration over the past week.  Students waited outside of Thursday’s Finance and Investment Committee meeting, as well as Friday morning’s General Body meeting, greeting trustees and administration and thanking them for considering divesting.  After several conversations, it was clear that fossil fuel divestment is the biggest student issue at AU this semester, but the students are waiting for a full Board report with results from all the meetings before deciding how to move forward on the next steps of the campaign.   Image

This year Fossil Free American University has run an amazing campaign, from a kickoff event of fifty students in December, this amazing campus group has pulled together a strong coalition of campus organizations, and won a unanimous Student Government referendum, a student resolution advocating for divestment with 80% of the vote, hundreds of petition signatures and photos, and a Faculty Senate endorsement. They have held meetings with students and administrators, a week of social media and email actions, rallies, culminating with a weekend of action around commencement and a campaign endorsement from Lisa Jackson.

Big thanks to everyone who came out and supported us throughout the semester and on a weekday morning, we’ll make sure to keep you in the loop about our the future plans, this summer, and the rest of our campaign!


AU Fossil Free’s Final Push – Open Community Meeting and Rally for Divestment

PRESS RELEASE                                                                              

May 17th, 2012

Contact: Deirdre Shelly, 717-645-7222,

Students will hold “Open Community Meeting” and rally for divestment after being shut out of Board of Trustees Meeting

Community to rally after Lisa Jackson’s endorsement as part of national movement on 320 college campuses

WASHINGTON DC—American University students are taking their demands directly to the Board on the heels of last weekend’s major endorsement from former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson during her commencement address.  

Fossil Free student organizers will hold an “Open Community Board Meeting” on Friday morning to pressure the Board to divest AU’s endowment from climate change caused by the fossil fuel industry.  This meeting will be held concurrently to the official Board of Trustees meeting where students were denied the opportunity to present.

During the rally, students representing Board Chair Jeffrey Sine and Investment Committee Chair Gary Cone will hear the student presentation.  They will decide to divest from fossil fuels and void a large check from AU’s endowment to the fossil fuel industry financing climate change and environmental destruction. Sine and Cone will present a large check to clean energy in order to lead the university into a socially responsible future.

This action follows last Friday’s delivery to President Neil Kerwin of supportive student government and faculty senate legislation as well as a resolution where 80% of students voted yes to divest. Students also lobbied the Board’s Finance and Investment Committee on Thursday afternoon.

WHO:  Speakers will include students Deirdre Shelly and David Shadburn of AU Fossil Free, Meredith Hollingsworth from AU United Methodists, Alex Hoffman President of AU College Democrats, alumni supporter Mary Schellentrager ‘10 with Energy Action Coalition, and Lili Molina, an environmental justice advocate who worked with Little Village Environmental Justice Organization on the 10-year campaign to successfully close the Crawford & Fisk coal plants in Chicago.

WHAT: As the Board of Trustees meets behind closed doors, divestment supporters will hold a public meeting and rally for fossil fuel divestment. Highlights of the meeting will include: students representing Board Chair Sine and Investment Committee Chair Cone, a presentation from Fossil Free students, an alumni speech, Lili Molina’s speech, the AU divestment robot, and a large check made out to AU’s clean energy future.

Main Quadrangle, American University, 4400 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20016

Friday, May 17th, 10:00am-11:00am

 American University students have joined a nationwide campaign active on 320 campuses calling on universities to divest from 200 companies that hold the vast majority of the world’s oil, coal and gas reserves. Climate change caused by the unchecked burning of fossil fuels poses a critical threat to human life on earth.    Fossil fuel divestment supporters reject the idea that higher education should be financed by companies whose business plans guarantee there will not be a livable planet for the future

For more information please visit: and