Fossil Free Brown: Global Divestment Day at Brown

Guest Columnist
Friday, February 13, 2015

Today and tomorrow, fossil fuel divestment campaigns from around the world will call on universities, cities, banks and other institutions to pull their investments from the fossil fuel industry as part of Global Divestment Day. On these two days, united by the knowledge that keeping our economies so heavily dependent on fossil fuels is incompatible with avoiding catastrophic climate change, people around the globe will join together and continue to push against the industry’s lobbying, greenwashing and political arm-bending that has become the status quo.

The movement has grown immensely since our campaign started three years ago. Today, there are more than 700 fossil fuel divestment campaigns calling for action on climate change. More than 180 institutions and municipalities have committed to divest a combined $50 billion from fossil fuels, including Pitzer College and the city of Providence.

The global effort to stigmatize the fossil fuel companies that are blocking action on climate change has the power to reshape the political landscape. The effects of these political changes, like those of divestment from Apartheid in South Africa, can have profound results, influencing emission reductions far more than any one institution could through its energy choices.

Brown’s current investments in the fossil fuel industry are a gamble, like all other stock investments. It is a particularly risky gamble because the stock prices of fossil fuel companies are based on a tacit acceptance that these companies can burn all of their existing reserves — which would raise the temperature of the planet far beyond the internationally agreed-upon limit of 2 degrees Celsius.

In short, the University’s investments in fossil fuel stocks signal that we are decidedly confident that no action will be taken against climate change and that we are willing to bet our endowment on it. With the integrative theme in President Christina Paxson’s P’19 of “Sustaining Life on Earth,” is Brown truly willing to make this bet?

As a global movement, divestment gives us a platform for confronting the reality that we simply cannot maintain the status quo in energy consumption and production methods without having to face severe global consequences. These consequences — which are projected to include sea level rise, ocean acidification and innumerable ecological and climate impacts — will not affect all of us uniformly. Many of the most vulnerable nations are ones that are already racked with poverty, instability and poor resource distribution.

These conditions will only compound when environmental catastrophes, such as drought and seawater infiltration, destroy arable land and sources of potable water. This has already begun to occur in countries such as Bangladesh and the Marshall Islands. By continuing to build short-sighted, fossil fuel-dependent infrastructure, these problems cannot be solved. The solution ultimately requires a global collaborative effort toward climate-resilient and renewable systems.

The racism that allows the West to sacrifice low-lying island nations in the name of GDP growth allows those who profit most from climate change to be least affected by it. There is a long history of these grievances, which cannot be solved by any one tactic. Divestment is just one of many ways people are working to address this tangle of issues. It accompanies rather than excludes the policy changes, civil societal actions, technological developments and community-based interventions that are occurring around the world. We hope that this campaign and the growing global fossil fuel divestment movement will continue to spark important conversations and shape attitudes.

This campaign is part of a broader story — one that we wish to be about human ingenuity and tenacity in the face of political, socioeconomic and infrastructural obstacles. We hope you can come out at noon Friday on the Main Green and be part of helping to build a more sustainable and equitable future.

Fossil Free Brown welcomes any questions, comments or ideas and can be reached at

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