Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Science


Geography and Environmental Resources

First Advisor

Duram, Leslie


In the last ten years, the fossil fuel divestment movement at higher education institutions has emerged as a key component of the global climate movement. It has also posed a challenge to the dominant paradigm of sustainability in higher education by calling on institutions to help incite outward systemic change to ensure justice for those most impacted by environmental problems, rather than simple efforts to green the campus. As the movement sees a resurgent escalation in the U.S., this study uses data from active and inactive campaigns across the country to assess the key characteristics of institutions and campaigns that have been involved. Records from an organization involved in national coordination of the movement, campaign Facebook pages, and an online survey distributed to campaigns were used to obtain data. The results provide an overview of the current state of active campaigns and divested institutions, where divestment activity occurs and at what type of institutions, the types of groups leading campaigns and their goals, how campaigns construct their arguments, and the barriers and drivers faced by campaigns. The study offers valuable insight into the nature of the movement during its first ten years with implications for both higher education institutions and activist participants. Institutions should embrace divestment as a necessary direction for sustainability in a time of societal crisis and work to break down barriers faced by campaigns that attempt to initiate this process. The movement, though robust in the Northeast and on the West Coast, may need to work to expand, particularly into areas in the South and western half of the country that have had very few campaigns. In addition, though justice has been heralded as a key tenet of the movement, campaigns were found to be limited in their conception and application of this principle by often employing it in the abstract rather than in regards to recognition of specific populations impacted by injustice or action to mitigate such injustices. This could be further developed in the movement, for example, through more focus on solidarity with frontline communities or targeting communities in need for reinvestment.




This thesis is Open Access and may be downloaded by anyone.