On Friday evening, 60 Brown University students and community members joined Brown Divest Coal to hear ethical arguments for Brown to divest its funds from the coal industry. The event came two weeks in advance of the expected vote on divestment by Brown’s Board of Trustees. At the event, students heard from speakers with a variety of perspectives, including Peter Singer, a Princeton Professor and one of the world's leading ethicists, Junior Walk, a mountaintop removal activist from Appalachia, as well as George Thurston, a Brown alumnus and NYU Population Health Professor.
“As far as I’m concerned, the coal industry is responsible for poisoning my community,” said Walk, a West Virginia native who grew up downstream from an active coal mine. In support of divestment, Walk insisted “everyone needs to do what they can from where they are to stop this industry.” While Walk shared his first hand experience with the environmental hazards of mountaintop removal mining and his efforts campaigning to regulate its rampant water pollution, Professor Thurston discussed health impacts of burning coal across the country. He stressed that this research suggests tens of thousands of people across the country are dying needless deaths from air pollution due to coal burning power plants. “This is a moral imperative” said bioethicist Peter Singer in a taped interview. Singer argued that if Brown failed to divest from an industry that so significantly contributes to climate change, it would be condoning the catastrophic impact global warming will have on the lives of people across the world, and would undermine its own research and educational mission.
Brown Divest Coal is a student campaign that has been working for the last year to push Brown’s administration to remove its funds from the 15 largest coal companies in the country. Throughout they year they have hosted numerous rallies, teach-ins, and information sessions, and have collected over 2,700 petition signatures from faculty, alumni, and students in support of divestment. Brown’s committee charged with considering the morals of Brown’s endowment recommended divestment back in April, and in May Brown Divest Coal students had the unprecedented opportunity to present their case to Brown’s board of trustees.
“Divest Coal has gone through every channel necessary to secure a divestment decision. Hearing the arguments presented at the teach-in tonight just confirms the moral imperative for Brown to take action. The University has spoken and the issues at hand are urgent- it’s time for the Board to listen and vote yes to divestment,” said Camilla Bustos, Brown student and member of Brown Divest Coal.