University News

Panel addresses potential divestment

The Janus Forum hosted a former energy CEO and two divestment advocates to debate the issue

Contributing Writer
Thursday, October 3, 2013

Alex Friedland ’15 introduced the Janus Forum panel, where Bill McKibben P’16, Christian Parenti and James Rogers debated whether colleges should divest from large coal companies.

The tension was palpable in Sayles Hall yesterday as coal divestment advocates Bill McKibben P’16 and Christian Parenti locked horns with former Duke Energy CEO James Rogers in a Janus Forum event held just weeks before the Corporation is due to vote on coal divestment.

McKibben, founder of, a site that advocates divestment from fossil fuels, called the need to divest “morally urgent,” adding that fossil fuel companies “want the old world to hang on longer … far longer than science tells us it can.”

The coal industry “devastates human health and the environment” and is a “huge contributor to climate change,” according to a statement on student group Brown Divest Coal’s website.

Rogers argued for a long-term approach to refining the coal business, explaining that his company “is making the transition” to cleaner energy but that it “can’t do this overnight.” He likened the development of environmentally friendly energy sources to the construction of the Notre Dame Cathedral — though it took generations of workers to build the cathedral and many of those who worked on it died before its completion, he said, the workers “had vision, they had faith and they believed.” He urged listeners to believe that technological innovation will ultimately provide the solution to environmental problems regarding the coal industry.

But McKibben and Parenti said there is no time left to wait for innovation. “In four decades,” McKibben said, “the cathedral is going to be under water.”

Parenti, a professor of sustainable development at the School for International Training Graduate Institute, contextualized the economic significance of institutions like Brown divesting. Coal divestment “does not hurt the bottom line of the fossil fuel industry,” he said, but “if institutions started consuming clean energy, it would create economies of scale for the clean energy sector.”

McKibben conceded that financially bankrupting coal companies like Duke Energy through divestment would be impossible but said “the goal is to politically bankrupt them.”

The conversation was not confined to coal divestment. McKibben pointed out that fossil fuel divestment is an uphill battle because “the entire budget of … is less than half of what Duke paid Mr. Rogers to be its CEO last year.”

Rogers said he felt “insulted” and “attacked” by some of the other speakers’ comments and had “never heard so many half-truths said so fast.”

Janus Fellows Director Alex Friedland ’15 commenced the event by addressing concerns over the format of the debate, which featured three speakers instead of two on either side of the issue, as is traditional at Janus Forum events. He assured the audience that “the speakers represent three distinct viewpoints” and urged against a tendency to “dichotomize issues.”

The forum “wanted people on either sides of the issue so (it) could get multiple sides of the debate,” said Haakim Nainar ’14, executive director of the Janus Forum. The primary objective was to inform students about a topic Nainar feels “we should definitely know more about.”

After the debate, Friendland said “it was still balanced” but added that he “would have encouraged more focus on the topic of divestment.”

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One Comment

  1. Christian Parenti is not who he makes himself out to be. While he speaks and writes about environmental issues and pushes for change, in his personal life he is nothing short of a monster. I lived with him for 5 months recently in which I was strangled by this man repeatedly, rendering me unconscious once, he hit me repeatedly, warned me to tread carefully as I was living with him. Christian gifted me $26,000 and said he would never hold it over my head. Then the abuse started and he told me I was now his whore and sex slave and I had to pay. He said he liked to see me in pain and I deserved pain because I was worthless. Knowing about a previous rape, at first he comforted me – then he started telling me I liked being raped and I deserved to be raped and so it was okay if he raped me. He searches for real rapes online to watch so he can get off. He says there is no such thing as child sex slaves because they want it. He hates women. I was lucky to get out alive after being severely brainwashed by him to think everything was my fault and I had done something wrong. I met him when I was a student at a University he was speaking at. I was an intern and the Director knew him and so I thought I could trust him. He made my life a complete nightmare. I initially saw what everyone else did on the surface but once I moved in, I found out he is nothing like the person he portrays himself as.

    So….keep listening to and representing this guy and believing he truly stands for the right things, while behind the scenes he is ruining people’s lives. The money he gave me does not even begin to make right what he did. It’s hard to see him get away with it – to stand up and speak at events, write articles that are humanitarian inspired, when no one should hang off of even one word this man says because while he is an advocate in presentation, simultaneously he is one of the worst kind of perpetrators. And I have the evidence to prove it.

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