A message from Brown Divest Coal

by Marcel Gout-Bertsch

Brown Divest Coal’s mission stands out from that of any other student organization on campus. While others worry about what society’s future will look like, we’d just like to make sure there is an inhabitable future, period. We’re not pessimists. The effects of coal (and other pollutant fossil fuels) really do reach that far. Coal is the single largest source of global carbon dioxide pollution, helping the most to trap heat in the earth’s atmosphere and destabilize environmental equilibriums that have been at work for thousands of years.

The scale of this and its effects on our lives is unprecedented! The deadly retooling has just begun – 400,000 deaths were attributable to fossil fuels and climate change in 2010 alone. We don’t need to start naming hurricanes, do we? Good, there were 12 in the Atlantic Ocean alone. People living near some of the 500 mountaintop removal coal mining sites in Appalachia are 50 percent more likely to die of cancer and 42 percent more likely to be born with birth defects compared with others in the region.

Why aren’t Brown students up in arms about these trends, putting their hours-long homework dates on unquestionable hold? Because it’s not a coincidence that those who are most able to do something about these burdens can’t feel them. It’s an issue of environmental justice, evidenced by very legible facts. For instance, people who live within three miles of a coal power plant have an average per capita income of $18,400, far lower than the US average of $27,915. But the public’s anesthetized lack of a reaction will only last until the problem becomes too severe — that is, unless we make ourselves heard now.

Brown Divest Coal asks that Brown University divest from the 15 filthiest coal companies operating in the U.S. in order to use our prestige as an institution to help shake the U.S. and the world into consciousness over the issue. President Christina Paxson and the Brown Corporation have a moral imperative to divest from these companies, and Brown’s investments should reflect its mission statements and commitment to social justice. There are now 252 schools with divestment campaigns, and the movement is gaining unprecedented traction. This is not an afterschool program for hippies, not even close; it is the centerpiece of the U.S. environmental movement. All environmentally conscious eyes are on it and the successes it looks ready to bring.

But let us reiterate that we are not taking ourselves for a fantastical ride. We feel the need to do so only because for inexplicable reasons, every Brown student has not yet joined Divest Coal. During the dark days of South African apartheid, big business did not slap its own wrist for profiting from that exploitative regime. A grassroots consensus was built, in large part thanks to mock shantytowns built on U.S. college campuses that demanded and succeeded in coercing college divestments. Years later, as both South African whites and blacks mingled on the road to equality, Nelson Mandela gave a shout out to the University of California at Berkeley’s $3 billion divestment as a magnificent straw that helped break apartheid’s back.

Apartheid was the pathfinder. Now, we have a time-tested method at our disposal for the issue of our generation, the results of which will define all generations to come. Help us divest from the 15 dirtiest coal companies and begin our ascent into a stable, sustainable future.


photo by Michelle Carl: http://www.flickr.com/photos/michellecarl/6960298289/