SAY IT LOUD Students at a rally last year.
Editor’s Note: On Saturday, October 26, the Corporation of Brown University — the bicameral body that governs the school, consisting of a 12-member Board of Fellows and a 42-member Board of Trustees — decided not to divest school endowment funds from companies “involved in the mining or use of coal for generating electricity,” as a school news release explained.
The next day, Brown President Christina Paxson released a letter (accessible via brown.edu/about/administration/president/) explaining her agreement with the decision for reasons ranging from, “I believe that although the social harm is clear, this harm is moderated by the fact that coal is currently necessary for the functioning of the global economy,” to “It is clear that divestiture would not have a direct effect on the companies in question. Brown’s holdings are much too small for divestiture to reduce corporate profits,” to “Divestiture would convey only a nebulous statement — that coal is harmful — without speaking to the technological and policy actions needed to reduce the harm from coal—actions where Brown can make real and important contributions through teaching and research.”
Following the release of Paxson’s letter, the Phoenix reached out to Brown Divest Coal, the student organization that has actively campaigned for the school to divest since September of 2012, for a response. Here is what they sent.
An Open Letter to President Paxson and the Corporation:
We regret your decision. We regret your continued and deliberate willingness to invest in an industry fast consigning our generation to life on an inhospitable planet. Understand that you do so in defiance of thousands of students’ voices, hundreds of faculty, and members of the Brown community all over the world. You do so in defiance of your own Advisory Committee on Corporate Responsibility in Investment Policies (ACCRIP), which concluded, “The companies recommended for divestment perpetrate grave, indeed egregious, social harm, and there is no possible way to square our profiting from such harm with the values and principles of the University.” This conversation is not over. We will divest from coal.
We reject both of your critiques. First, the coal industry’s harms are in fact “sufficiently grave” to warrant divestment, regardless of divestment’s symbolic value. Yes, we understand and agree “the reality is that [coal] still provides 40% of global electricity.” But if coal-driven climate change continues unchecked, the reality is that we could lose as much as 20% of global GDP. It is precisely coal’s embeddedness in our energy system that makes its harms so dangerous. It will take vision and leadership to get us off coal in time, and this week, you demonstrated neither. Remember that society only developed manufacturing technology that did not rely on the hands of child laborers after social outcry demanded an end to child labor. Instead of demanding change, your short-sighted response shackles us to an unsustainable status quo of mountaintop removal, lethal air pollution, and climate change that has pushed us to the brink of ecological collapse and massive human suffering.