University News

U. unlikely to divest from coal in May

Admins, faculty members and students at Tuesday’s BUCC meeting debated divestment

By
Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Corporation will likely not vote to divest from coal at its meeting in May, “as it will be the first time they will discuss the issue,” said President Christina Paxson at a Brown University Community Council meeting Tuesday.

Trevor Culhane ’15, along with two other members of the Brown Divest Coal Campaign, asked the University to divest from “the top 10 coal burning utilities and the top five coal extraction companies” at the meeting.

The BUCC also heard presentations from members of the Sustainability Strategic Planning and Advisory Committee and Alpert Medical School Student Senate President Julia Heneghan ’09 MD ’13.

Culhane said “considering the urgency of climate change,” the University should “recognize (its) responsibility as a moral compass and a moral leader” in the divestment campaign.

Tammy Jiang ’16 talked about visiting her home in Brooklyn after Hurricane Sandy last October and attributed coal to worsening climate change.

“There will be more extreme weather events like Hurricane Sandy if we don’t take action against climate change,” Jiang said. “Brown would be the first university of this magnitude in size and prestige to divest from these coal companies.”

Paxson formed an ad hoc committee of the Corporation after the Advisory Committee on Corporate Responsibility in Investment Policies released its recommendation that the University divest from the 15 coal companies. The ad hoc committee will meet with students from the campaign Friday and report to the Corporation in May.

Eric Suuberg, professor of engineering, said the University would be sending “a peculiar mixed message” if it divested.

“We’re saying on the one hand that this is an evil, and on the other hand we’re benefiting from the existence of that industry and the very companies we’re saying we should divest from,” Suuberg said, referring to Rhode Island’s use of coal for electrical power.

Chris Powell, director of sustainable energy and environmental initiatives, said the University’s electrical supplier, TransCanada, “has one of the lowest coal percentages.”

The University uses 3.7 percent coal “of our fuel mix from electricity that we get from TransCanada,” Powell added.

Provost Mark Schlissel P’15 said he doesn’t think divesting will achieve the long-term goal of the Brown Divest Coal campaign to combat climate change.

“I’m concerned it’s a more symbolic strategy than a substantial strategy that the problem deserves,” Schlissel said. He asked the group members whether they have considered focusing their efforts “on elected officials that can actually make laws that influence all companies.”

Daniel Sherrell ’13.5 said the Brown Divest Coal Campaign aims “to send a strong symbolic signal to start eroding the social license of the fossil fuel industry that has allowed it with a good deal of impunity to prevent the legislators from taking serious action.” He added that fossil fuel companies have the financial resources to lobby Congress “to make sure that this industry perpetuates itself.”

Culhane asked Paxson to allow BUCC to vote on an endorsement for divestment. But Paxson said “formal votes are rare” and BUCC meetings are “for conversation and idea generation, not to formally endorse or not endorse” recommendations.

The Sustainability Strategic Planning and Advisory Committee also presented its interim report to BUCC. In its presentation, the committee recommended creating an EcoDistrict to enable “strategic and centralized” sustainability efforts.

An EcoDistrict is “a conceptual framework for planning … and maintaining sustainable solutions at a district level within a community … considering water, transportation, air and energy in decisions beyond the level of the building, but at the level of the campus and the community,” said Kai Morrell ’11, outreach coordinator for Facilities Management.

The interim report also recommended that the University add sustainability to its liberal learning goals.

“We’ll work on the details of each of the recommendations,” Schlissel said. “I think they’re all worth pursuing.”

Heneghan spoke on behalf of the Medical School Student Senate and provided an overview of what the organization does. Margaret Klawunn, vice president for campus life and student services, asked Heneghan what the University could do to facilitate more involvement with the Senate.

Anne Fausto-Sterling, professor of biology, said the differences in undergraduate and medical student schedules makes it difficult for interaction to happen.

“I can tell you it has had a huge negative effect … on collaboration of medical students with campus faculty and campus undergraduates,” Fausto-Sterling said.

Tuesday’s meeting was BUCC’s last of the semester.

  • ’13

    It’s still not too late for the Corporation to vote to divest in May! After a full school year of debate, discussion, and conversation, the campus has spoken. It’s time to divest!

  • Freshman

    ACCRIP, the Advisory Committee on Corporate Responsibility in Investment Policies, has already voted to recommend divestment from the fifteen largest coal companies in the U.S.!! The Board of Trustees needs to vote yes to divestment to bring its investments in line with its values and commitments to sustainability and reducing environmental impacts!