A key Brown University oversight committee has voted to recommend the school divest from coal, delivering a significant victory to student climate change activists.

The Advisory Committee on Corporate Responsibility in Investment Policies (ACCRIP) has suggested divestment only three times before: from tobacco companies, from Darfur during the genocide there, and from the HEI hotel chain, accused of mistreating workers and blocking unionization.

In all three cases, the university followed ACCRIP's advice.

"The board of trustees can't ignore this recommendation," said Jordan Schultz, a student with the Brown Divest Coal Campaign, in a statement. "It can't ignore the pressure from Brown's student body and from students around the world. And it can't ignore the dictates of science and ethics."

Since September, 2100 undergraduates and hundreds of faculty and alumni have signed petitions demanding the university divest from the nation's 15 largest coal companies.

The push is part of a national movement that sprouted this fall, aimed at choking off college and university investment in fossil fuel companies. Thus far, five colleges — Unity College, Hampshire College, Sterling College, Santa Fe Art Institute, and College of the Atlantic — have agreed to divest.

Brown would be the biggest prize yet.

Environmentalist and journalist Bill McKibben, de facto leader of the climate change movement in this country, has argued that the fossil fuel industry's grip on Washington is so strong, activists can only hope to win a lasting victory by going after the industry directly.

The divestment campaign is part of that effort, he told the Phoenix during a visit to Brown last fall. Activists will also protest at shareholder meetings, he said. And they've got to do all they can to soil the reputation of fossil fuel companies: the message, he said, is that this is the tobacco industry of our time.

"It takes movements, that's what makes things change," McKibben said at the time. "Nothing else. Power and wealth do not just listen to scientific studies. Power listens to power. We're not going to outspend the fossil fuel industry, so we're going to need our own currencies and those are the currencies of movement: passion, spirit, creativity, sometimes we spend our bodies."

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