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Activists discuss University, Corporation ties to fossil fuel industry at teach-in

Members of Sunrise reiterate calls for University to cut ties with fossil fuel industry

<p>Presenters began by discussing the history of advocacy for fossil fuel divestment at Brown — they traced its origins to the creation of the group Brown Divest Coal in 2012. Courtesy of Brown University</p>

Presenters began by discussing the history of advocacy for fossil fuel divestment at Brown — they traced its origins to the creation of the group Brown Divest Coal in 2012. Courtesy of Brown University

Members of the climate advocacy group Sunrise Brown reiterated calls for the University to cut social and financial ties with the fossil fuel industry at a Wednesday teach-in.

During the teach-in, which drew roughly 20 attendees, presenters discussed findings from the group’s 2023 “Dissociate Now” report, which investigates the University’s ties to “fossil fuel-affiliated and climate disinformation-affiliated organizations.” Sunrise organizers also discussed Brown Corporation members’ alleged ties to the industry, which they argue represent “a huge issue in terms of the influence of who is making decisions about Brown.”

Presenters began by discussing the history of advocacy for fossil fuel divestment at Brown — they traced its origins to the creation of the group Brown Divest Coal in 2012. The event shifted to discussing the University’s current relationship with the fossil fuel industry. The University announced in 2020 that it had sold more than 90% of the fossil fuel holdings in the endowment and would phase out investment in the industry.

According to the group’s February 2023 report, Brown-affiliated authors have published 63 journal articles since 2010 “with funding from the world’s fifty largest oil and gas companies.” 

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The Wednesday teach-in echoed a similar case for dissociation from the fossil fuel industry at an Advisory Committee on University Resources meeting in late January. At that meeting, the group advocated for dissociation, the adoption of a fossil-free career policy and for the University to offer faculty a fossil-free retirement plan — the three demands that the group had originally listed on a memo to ACURM in April 2023. 

After discussions with Sunrise leaders, the Center for Career Exploration said it would no longer invite fossil fuel companies to host on-campus recruitment events but did not publicly alter its recruiting policies, The Herald previously reported. The University also added a “fossil-fuel free” mutual fund option to its retirement plan offerings in late December. 

Presenters also drew attention to incoming Chancellor Brian Moynihan ’81, who is CEO of Bank of America. 

The bank, speakers noted, is “one of the top five funders of the fossil fuel industry.” A 2023 report from Banking on Climate Chaos, a climate advocacy initiative, found that Bank of America was the fourth-largest funder of fossil fuels since the Paris Agreement.

 “If the person who is in charge of the Corporation is so deeply tied to the fossil fuel industry and is personally invested in those financial ties,” a presenter argued, these ties would create a “huge problem in terms of wanting to move Brown in the direction of dissociating and divesting from fossil fuels.” 

“The University's leadership shared with the Brown community in March 2020 that the Brown University Investment Office had made the decision to halt investments in fossil fuel extraction companies,” University Spokesperson Brian Clark wrote in an email to The Herald. “This has not shifted or changed. Brown remains firmly committed to confronting the realities of climate change.”

Clark did not address specific claims about Moynihan’s ties to the fossil fuel industry. 

Maddie Connery ‘27, who recently joined Sunrise’s strategy committee, said she attended the teach-in to better understand the organization’s advocacy efforts. 

“It definitely informed my perception of the DIRE campaign and why people approach it with such urgency,” Connery said, referencing Sunrise’s ongoing “Dissociate-Respect” campaign. “It definitely makes me feel a little bit more frustrated. I wasn't aware of the explicit ends to which Brown is still connected with the fossil fuel industry.”

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Ethan Schenker

Ethan Schenker is a Senior Staff Writer covering staff and student labor. He is from Bethesda, MD, and plans to study International and Public Affairs and Economics. In his free time, he enjoys playing piano and clicking on New York Times notifications.



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