University News

Students petition to divest from fossil fuels

Collecting signatures from over 330 students and 70 alums, Fossil Free Brown aims to foster solidarity

By
Staff Writer
Friday, December 5, 2014

Fossil Free Brown, the student group formerly known as Brown Divest Coal, has launched a petition to divest the University’s endowment from the top 200 global fossil fuel companies.

Since the Corporation’s decision not to divest from the top 15 coal companies last October, the student group has expanded its mission from supporting divestment from coal alone to natural gas and oil as well.
The petition already has gotten over 450 signatures since its launch last month, including more than 330 from students and more than 70 from alums, said Peter Dutton ’18, a member of Fossil Free Brown.

The organizers hope the petition will show that the larger Brown community — including alums and faculty members, not just a small subset of students — supports divestment from fossil fuels, said Austen Sharpe ’18, a member of Fossil Free Brown.

“By creating this petition, we’re more grounded in the Brown community,” she said. “The petition is a way of building a strong foundation for the campaign, so hopefully (the administration will) address us after we have that strong backing.”

Cameron Johnson ’17, also a member of Fossil Free Brown, said there is great alum and faculty support. Faculty members have been circulating their own letter to the administration to voice their support for fossil fuel divestment, he said.

On Friday afternoon, Fossil Free Brown “will be delivering a letter to President (Christina) Paxson formalizing our ask to divest from fossil fuels — that is, divesting any current investment it has and not making any future investments in fossil fuels,” Johnson said. “We’ve articulated that we want to meet with them and we want to work (with) them.”

But if the administration is not willing to work with members of Fossil Free Brown, they will have to engage the community to put more pressure on the administration in order to hold the University accountable, he added.

The divestment movement has grown nationally, and Fossil Free Brown has been working with divestment groups at other universities to discuss ideas, said Janice Gan ’17, a member of Fossil Free Brown.
“When the coal divestment movement started, it was one of maybe 15 other campaigns going on around the country,” Johnson said.

Now as the broader fossil fuel divestment campaign gets underway at Brown, around 600 colleges are pursuing the same goal, he said. “Being with other (organizers) gives me inspiration because I know we’re all working on this together.”

Harvard students filed a lawsuit against their school Nov. 19 after they decided the administration would not otherwise satisfy their requests to divest from fossil fuel companies. But multiple members of Fossil Free Brown said they would prefer to use other tactics to pressure the administration rather than pursuing a lawsuit.

Gan said she thinks recent changes in climate policy, such as the agreement between China and the United States to reduce carbon emissions, “will add to the conversation.”

The increase in climate change awareness would likely call attention to the issue on campus, Dutton said.
The major climate march in New York City Sept. 26 and decisions by prominent public and private leaders — such as the Rockefeller family’s announcement that the philanthropic Rockefeller Brothers Fund would divest from fossil fuels — could bring attention to the issue, said J. Timmons Roberts, professor of environmental studies and sociology.

But he added that broader global developments are unlikely to affect the divestment campaign here. “They’re different efforts,” he said. “The divestment movement has been discussed internationally, but it’s really seen as something local.”