University News

Divest Coal looks to UCS for support

Council considers resolution to support coal divestment, continue pressure on University

By
Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Brown Divest Coal members are drafting a resolution for consideration by the Undergraduate Council of Students. If passed, the resolution would reaffirm UCS support for the University's divestment of coal.

The Undergraduate Council of Students is set to consider another resolution in support of Brown Divest Coal, said Todd Harris ’14.5, UCS president.

After Council leaders attended a Divest Coal meeting earlier this month, Divest Coal members are drafting a resolution to present to a UCS “working group,” Harris said.

Last spring, UCS voted to pass a resolution in support of divesting the University’s endowment from major coal and fossil fuel companies. But resolutions are not typically binding from year to year due to changing Council members.

“Having previous statements of support restated is super important, and UCS was one of our strongest supporters in the past,” said Ryan Greene ’16, a Divest Coal member.

The Council’s current consideration of support of divestment arrives after the Corporation’s October decision not to divest.

Council leaders hope to “continue the conversation about coal,” Harris said. “We’ve also just been trying to brainstorm new ways to support student initiatives and student groups on campus, Divest Coal being one of them and one of the hot topics throughout the year.”

The Council has the important role of “going to student group meetings, student advocacy causes like Divest Coal and having conversations about what methods have you tried, what methods can we help you with, where can we partner to get data, information and decision-makers all in a place where we can have a more informed conversation about these issues,” said UCS Vice President Sam Gilman ’15.

When working with student advocacy groups, “UCS can support them, but we also don’t want to subsume or take over different causes from other groups,” Gilman added. “We want to be a partner, a supporter and an advocate, but to not take over advocacy efforts.”

Tammy Jiang ’16, a Divest Coal member, said she anticipates the Council will vote in favor of the resolution. “They have endorsed us (in the past), but obviously there’s a new UCS general body this year and we’re eager to have them pass another resolution,” she said.

The Council is “supposed to be representative of student voices,” Jiang added.

About 44 percent of undergraduates said they disagreed with the Corporation’s decision not to divest in a November Herald poll, compared to roughly 28 percent who agreed.

Divest Coal members are still in the process of clarifying the resolution’s wording, Greene said, adding that he hopes it includes language conducive to letting future Councils continue to pass resolutions supporting divestment.

When Divest Coal finishes writing the resolution, it will be passed on to a UCS working group dedicated to community engagement, “which includes amongst other things issues related to social justice and political student advocacy on campus,” said Cameron Johnson ’17, who is both a Divest Coal member and a UCS general body member. After that group deliberates, the resolution will come before the UCS general body for a vote.

Divest Coal plans to use UCS to try to “mobilize all the undergraduate students to further this conversation and show the administration that this is something we still find important, something we want to talk about,” Johnson said.

“I realized that if we want to take something as important and urgent as divestiture, … we need to use UCS as a mechanism,” he added. “Luckily UCS believes in the same thing, so we’re really working in tandem right now, and it’s been going swimmingly.”

At a March 2 Divest Coal meeting attended by UCS leaders, each side presented ideas for how the groups could collaborate, Johnson said, adding that he was happy to see Harris and Gilman present.

“We talked about what type of things we’d like to see UCS do,” such as creating “language in the resolution that not only supports divestiture but pushes UCS to make statements and stands after the resolution has passed,” he said.

“They were tossing ideas back and forth about where they could fit in and where we could fit in, and right now it seems like a lot of it is going to be publicity,” said Divest Coal member Jahmour Givans ’16. “Todd and Sam seemed very receptive — they presented some of their ideas but they were mostly listening to what we had to say.”

  • John Doe

    And yet, I would place wagers that none of those sign holders are living in a Yurt, sans electricity. How ironic, well, ok, not ironic, but hypocritical.

  • Tom Bale ’63

    Bravo to Brown Divest Coal: They understand that global warming/climate change is far too important to let President Paxson and the Corporation have the last word. As has been pointed out long after these authorities have passed from the scene the students will be left “holding the bag” of this global disaster. It will be too late for all those who sit on the side line of inactivity to do anything about their sad denial that chokes off wisdom. Unfortunately, all those from President Paxson on down have yet to frame a statement that says, “The national political stalemate on climate change policy is intolerable. Brown cannot sit idly by, and let politics take its course without speaking out boldly. Therefore we will join with Governor Chafee and all other politicians to demand our body politic get to work on a bi-partisan policy to turn back the threat of CO2.” Not likely to happen? Tell that to the Brown Divest Coal group. They simply will not go away.

    • Get over yourselves

      “Speaking out boldly”? Exactly nobody outside of Brown would care if Brown divested. Nobody. The difference it will make in climate change is literally zero. But I guess it will make a bunch of hippies feel better about themselves, and that’s apparently what matters around here.

      Call me when you get China and India to stop building hundreds of coal plants with zero environmental regulations attached to them.

      • Tom Bale ’63

        “Get over yourselves” Sadly, I think your cynical comments are probably true. You have given up hope for any change in the face of the reality Brown students, faculty, and alumni face on our very campus. Last fall Brown Divest Coal leaders called out several Corporation members with a vested interest in the fossil fuel industry. You can guess why they never spoke up. Brown needs them. And you are right. This is simply a reflection of much of the rest of the world’s response to climate change. As the political commentator, Dick Polman, stated yesterday, “…if more extreme weather “events” lay waste to coastlines and power grids, there may indeed come a time in the not too distant future when respecting science will be the safe political position. If only.”

        • Common Cents

          Tom, it’s a little odd to be to applaud the actions of Divest Coal calling out Trustees yet everyone in BDC and yourself fails to acknowledge the source of funding for 350.org (the organization that funds and organizes all the college DC groups). What of Tom Steyer “Daddy Greenbucks” as called by Bill McKibben (leader of 350.org)? What of Farallon Capital (started by Tom Steyer) and it’s history in making most of its money from holdings in gas and oil? What of their interest in TransMountain pipeline, the current pipeline running through Canada that is most threatened by completion of Keystone XL? Why are there NEVER any protests at TransMountain?

          The troubling thing here is that BDC is manipulated by interests beyond your radar, not that Brown will/won’t divest. Was it the $ and empty ideology that proved too seductive to question and do some due diligence?

          • Tom Bale ’63

            Common Cents: You are aware of a web of connections I have no knowledge of, but if I get the gist of your comments I am undoubtedly guilty of hypocrisy. In this bitter winter my first priority is to make sure the thermostat is steady at 70o, and I don’t care where the source of energy is coming from. My own failing speaks to one reason why my township (Elkins Park), and my state (PA), and the US, and North America, etc., etc. can not act together on this calamity: we want to first of all, above all make sure we can keep our thermostat at 70o. We will worry about the hypothetical future later.

          • Common Cents

            Tom, you’ve highlighted the major issue in green fuels–at the end of the day we don’t care where the fuel comes from. To make an analogy, energy demand, is a lot like asking for a hole in the wall; it doesn’t matter what drill or tool is used as long as the job gets done well.

            Fortunately, rising demand and prices for coal (mostly due to international demand like from China and India with poor natural gas resources and access) is making alternatives very attractive and even economically viable. We have seen the dramatic rise in natural gas usage in the US for energy production. For even greener alternatives we know of the photovoltaics and wind turbines, but there’s also bio-fuels from lipid enriched algae, thermal towers, ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) that’s being used today and will continue to grow in use due to advances in material and biological sciences. Just recently scientists in Liverpool successfully attained the first net energy out positive nuclear fusion reaction (like the Sun).

          • Get over yourselves

            If you prevented the construction of one plant in China, you’d do more for the planet than anyone in the history of getting colleges to divest from coal.

          • Common Cents

            Agreed, but how do you propose doing that?

            In some respects, China is ahead of the US in terms of alternative energies. China has a government mandate to build electrical energy production plants in any form viable. They already have some of the largest hydroelectric plants and plans for the largest OTEC plants. They have buses running on next generation electric drivetrains using quick charging ultra capacitors rather than Li-ion batteries.

            I hope we can collectively wake up to the realities of what alternative energy means and stop wasting time with unproductive divest coal nonsense.

  • DontGetIt

    Wouldn’t it effect more change in the world if the university invested more in technologies that will reduce the need for coal?

    Why spend all this time and energy getting the university to divest? It’s not going to really harm or hamper the coal companies. It’s not like the university is buying newly issued stock…

  • johnlonergan

    Seems to me that natural gas from fracking has removed any impetus to “Divest Coal.” We’ve moved from 49% of coal-generated electric power to 38% in the past 10 years, cutting our CO2 emissions more than any other OECD country.

    If everyone at “Divest Coal” took up knitting and stopped protesting against the coal mining sector, coal would continue to decline in importance in this country–while Germans would continue to import more coal.

    Here’s a radical idea: How about working to reform Brown root-and-branch:

    1) Teach millions, not the 8500 now in Providence. Charge for the privilege.
    2) Flip the classroom, improve teacher-student interaction, and measure teacher effectiveness.
    3) Accept from a pool of hundreds of millions, not just the 30,000 who apply to Brown each year (and 45% of those accepted choose to go elsewhere.

    Now THERE’S a cause worth fighting for–and you CAN make a difference.

  • TomHarrisICSC

    I think readers would find my article about the best way for university leaders to handle the Divestment program interesting. It may be seen here:

    http://www.universitybusiness.com/article/eight-questions-ask-student-activists-about-fossil-fuel-divestment-campaign

    Tom Harris
    International Climate Science Coalition.