University News

Divest Coal expands goals under new name

Fossil Free Brown, green activist group, urges divestment from top 200 fossil fuel firms

Staff Writer
Friday, October 10, 2014

Fossil Free Brown joins 400 other campuses nationally and internationally in promoting divestment from top fossil fuel companies. The group, which used to be the Brown Divest Coal Campaign, embraces broader goals after the Corporation decided not to divest from coal last October.

One year after the Corporation decided not to divest the University’s endowment from the country’s 15 biggest coal companies, the Brown Divest Coal Campaign is redoubling its efforts, changing its name to Fossil Free Brown and altering its mission to divesting from the top 200 fossil fuel companies in the world.

Divestment from fossil fuels has always been part of the group’s broad mission, said Ryan Greene ’16, a member of Fossil Free Brown. But in the past, group members chose to focus on divestment from coal because they hoped a more specific campaign would achieve immediate results and pave the way for future divestment from other fossil fuels, he said.

When the Corporation’s “no vote” on divestment from coal was made public last October, the group decided that “it made more sense to ask for what we really wanted,” Greene said.

This summer, Greene and five other undergraduates helped plan the group’s transition toward tackling a broader issue.

“Given the urgency of the problem and the reality of it, it makes much more sense to expand our ask to all fossil fuels,” said Camila Bustos ’16, another member of Fossil Free Brown.

“This is a new campaign with a lot of membership that overlaps with the last one and a lot of history that overlaps with the last one,” Greene said.

While divestment is a financial action, group members assert that the movement is more about social justice than money.

“My goal is that the Brown community critically engages with the question of climate change as a social justice issue,” Bustos said.

“The people in the group fundamentally see the fossil fuel industry as exacerbating and perpetuating social inequity,” Greene said.

Since the semester began, the group has focused on creating a community in which new members are kept up to speed on the history of the campaign and feel their voices are heard.

In focusing on fossil fuels, the movement at Brown aligns with campaigns at campuses across the country.

“In a lot of ways the action being taken on our campus ties directly to movements on other campuses in other cities,” Greene said, citing the 400 campuses pledged to the Fossil Free campaign.

“Of the many factors that went into our decision, one of them was being in solidarity with a national movement, internationally, all over the world,” said Cameron Johnson ’17, who has been involved with the movement since the beginning of last year. He added that this solidarity creates a “collective power.”

Several other institutions in the U.S. and abroad have recently reached decisions to divest. On Wednesday, Glasgow University in Scotland became the first European institution to divest from fossil fuels, marking a victory for the Glasgow University Climate Action Society, multiple news outlets reported. Last May, Stanford University’s Board of Trustees concluded the university would not make direct investments in coal mining companies following a campaign by Fossil Free Stanford, according to a Stanford press release.

“From alums to faculty to students, so many people I’ve talked to are severely disappointed” by the Corporation’s decision against divestment, Greene said. But while group members were disheartened by the Corporation’s decision not to divest, “there were a lot of victories,” he added.

Corporation members were forced to consider climate change and how the University is implicated, Green said, adding that the group also perceived an outpouring of support from individuals both inside and outside the Brown community.

Several group members expressed excitement that the Undergraduate Council of Students has included a question on this year’s undergraduate fall poll about support for divestment from coal.

“This is a big chance for people to interact with the issue,” Johnson said.

“The conversation is not over,” he added. “We are not done.”


Correction: A previous version of this article misstated that the Corporation voted against divesting from coal. In fact, it decided against doing so without a formal vote. The Herald regrets the error.

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  1. Tom Bale '63 says:

    Just when President Paxson and the Corporation were breathing a sigh of relief that Brown Divest Coal had gone away here comes Fossil Free Brown determined to pursue divestment as a legitimate climate change strategy. As one alumnus I support your efforts. The problem is this administration is not about to change its mind, thinking they are dealing with climate change in other positive ways. Previous student protests called out some members of the Corporation with ties to fossil fuel companies for a conflict of interest. There was never a response to this issue. Their silence suggests they would never consider divestment which might undermine a corporation member’s economic interest. Our President was not going to push for this issue with the Corporation strongly opposed. How are you going to deal with this unyielding position?

  2. One year after the Corporation voted not to divest

    According to the Herald, no vote occurred. How were none of the editors of this article familiar with their own past coverage?

  3. Divestiture is not the answer. If you want to change a company, you need to vote as a shareholder. Shareholder activism is proven with fossil fuels companies. Most recently, Exxon.

    So what’s it going to be, results or pie in the sky plans with no action?

    • If you actually read the Managing Climate Risk shareholder report that came as a result of Arjuna Capital’s resolution, you will notice that Exxon’s climate action plan is to extract all the fossil fuels they can get their greedy hands on–something that those of us calling for divestment already knew. In fact this is one of the best examples of why divestment is necessary–because fossil fuel companies believe that climate change is just another cost that can be externalized to society. To be sure, shareholder resolutions have their function–to get corporations to issue reports about practices that may raise ethical questions about social harm or risks to shareholders. But no shareholder resolution will ever get a company to actually abandon its core business model. In the case of fossil fuel companies like Exxon, that core business model IS the social harm in question. This is why we must #divestnow.

      • Thank you Ian for clearing up the true intentions of BDC. It was never to get the 15 dirtiest coal companies to clean up their act, rather to naively believe a 0.0001% sell off of their stock would shut them down. What you fail to realize is that if there is money somewhere to be made, someone will come in and do it. BDC has been selling a false narrative (or deliberatively misleading one at best).

        The point of the Exxon vote (completely overlooked by your response) is that it forces oil prices down and thus makes it unnattractive for Exxon to extract a large portion of it given the current market–I don’t know how you arrived at the wrong conclusion there. By not reporting the number of reserves, Exxon could better “manage” the known supply and thus pricing. Revealing the true amount of reserves pushes prices down and makes it unattractive for setting up new oil exploration and drilling. We see today great advancements in energy production as an oversupply of natural gas and historically low prices has spurred widescale conversion of dirty coal plants into dramatically cleaner natural gas electricity generation. This is why for the first time in years, America’s C02 output has fallen.

        • Ok three things! 1) I don’t represent BDC or Fossil Free Brown. 2) If you look at the students’ own materials, you will notice that they do suggest that divestment would shut down the companies, but rather that a movement for divestment from fossil fuels is necessary as part of an overall strategy to generate the political momentum our society needs to generate a comprehensive (political) response to fossil fuel companies’ reckless practices, just like divestment from South Africa did in the mid-80s. 3) Exxon already reports on its carbon reserves (this is one of the major criteria for their stock pricing), and whatever effect this has on international oil prices certainly doesn’t appear to have slowed down their drilling or investments in new exploration. Also, the Arjuna/As You Sow resolution never came to a vote, as it was withdrawn once the company agreed to produce the aforementioned Climate Risk Management Report. Once again, shareholder activism has its role to play, but it is clearly not sufficient to produce change on the scale we need.

  4. “While divestment is a financial action, group members assert that the movement is more about social justice than money.” This is where the problem lies. You will not persuade a Board of Trustees with “social justice” arguments. You will change their minds by making economic arguments. Heck, one of the strongest arguments against slavery was that it depressed wages. Appealing to people’s pocketbook/bottom line, in my mind, is almost always more persuasive than appealing to their sense of morality.

  5. johnlonergan says:

    Has anyone noticed the herd of elephants in the room? The problem is not Brown’s investments in fossil fuel companies, the problem is that Brown’s portfolio performance is below that of comparable Ivy League schools. See

    With Brown’s risible endowment (only $3.2 billion), high tuition and falling position in rankings (see, Brown is in a downward spiral. Poor performance on the endowment investments simply exacerbates Brown’s slippage.

    Students should instead be marching for better endowment performance, lower tuition, and broadening Brown’s income base and improving competitiveness. That’s the real problem–not investment in coal.

  6. Reality Check says:

    Meanwhile, China and India are building hundreds of coal-fired plants subject to essentially zero environmental regulation. But by all means let’s pretend that divesting Brown will accomplish anything besides make a small group of hippies feel good about themselves.

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