Pages tagged "students"

Divestment Movement Escalates

This week, the national fossil fuel divestment movement escalated, as student blockades popped up at Harvard and Washington University in St. Louis. By the end of the week, 8 students had been arrested across the two campuses, the first arrests since the fossil fuel divestment campaign launched nearly two years ago.

Harvard 1The skirmish at Harvard touched off Wednesday, where students organized as Divest Harvard have been pushing the university to get rid of  the oil, gas, and coal holdings in its $33 billion endowment. Harvard’s president, Drew Faust, has dug in against Divest Harvard’s demands, even denying that the fossil fuel industry is blocking meaningful action to address climate change.  Facing an administration that refuses to distance itself from the fossil fuel corporations driving climate crisis, Divest Harvard launched a blockade of President Faust’s office that lasted more than 24 hours. On Thursday morning, Harvard University police arrested undergraduate Brett Roche -- the first arrest in the national divestment movement. Roche’s arrest marks an increasingly hardline response from Harvard’s administrators, as the university demonstrates a willingness to use police force to defend investment in fossil fuel corporations.

Brett Roche may have been the first divestment activist arrested on campus this week, but he certainly wasn’t the last. This morning, Washington University in St. Louis joined Harvard in infamy: seven students were arrested as they attempted to deliver a letter to the university’s board of trustees. Just days before, WashU Students Against Peabody ended a historic 17-day sit-in which demanded that Greg Boyce, notorious CEO of Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private coal company, be removed from the university’s board. During negotiations, Washington University chancellor Mark Wrighton flatly refused to respond to students demands. When asked to exercise leadership, he replied “I can, but I won’t.” Faced with an administration content to cozy up to fossil fuel interests, more than 100 students staged a peaceful sat-in outside Washington University’s board meeting under the watchful eyes of police, some of whom carried shields and riot gear. When a delegation of students attempted to enter the building to deliver a letter to Washington University’s board, they were arrested. All seven were charged with trespassing on their own campus.

wustlThe implications of this week of action are both scary and heartening. Novelist Margaret Atwood spoke to the scary, criticizing the administration's response as she received an award at Harvard yesterday: “Any society where arrest is preferable to open dialogue is a scary place.” Indeed, university administrators at both Harvard and Washington University appear to be so committed to the fossil fuel industry that they'll arrest their own students for speaking out.

On the hopeful side, the student divestment movement is finding its power. After two years of power-building and by-the-book advocacy, campus climate activists are proving that they have the courage to stand up to their administrators and the fossil fuel industry. Earlier in the school year, students at Harvard, Washington University, and dozens of other campuses worked with Rainforest Action Network to disrupt campus recruitment sessions organized by Bank of America and Citi, two of the largest financiers of the U.S. coal industry. Those actions, and the arrests this week, point to a rising tide of resistance that won’t be cowed by police response. A longer, deeper struggle is opening on campuses across the country, and administrators at the more than 300 universities with active divestment campaigns need to know that their chickens are coming home to roost. It's time to divest or expect resistance.

To support the Washington University in St. Louis students arrested this morning, call Chancellor Mark Wrighton at (314) 935-5100.

Tell him universities are for students, not for coal CEOs. Washington University needs to drop Peabody Energy so the school can get back to educating students, not arresting them.

Why We Are Blocking the Office of Harvard's President

Co-authored by Sima Atri, Benjamin Franta, Sidni Frederick, Ted Hamilton, Jacob Lipton, Chloe Maxmin, Brett Roche, Kelsey Skaggs, Henney Sullivan, Tyler VanValkenburg, Jacob Lipton, Zoë Onion, Olivia Kivel, and Canyon Woodward on behalf of Divest Harvard. This op-ed originally appeared on Stacy Clark's blog on Huffington Post.

This morning we began blocking the main entrance to Massachusetts Hall, which houses the office of Harvard University President Drew Faust and other top administrators. We are here to demand an open and transparent dialogue with the Harvard Corporation—Harvard's main governing body—on fossil fuel divestment. To date, President Faust and Harvard University have rejected the case for divestment and refused to engage in public dialogue about divestment and climate change. Alongside the 72% of Harvard undergraduates and 67% of Harvard Law students, as well as the students, faculty, and alumni of Divest Harvard, we refuse to accept our university's unwillingness to hold a public meeting on this critical issue. Photo by @DivestHarvard on Twitter.

We are here today because we believe in a better Harvard. We are here because it is our duty to act. We are here today because it is our moral responsibility as students to ensure that Harvard does not contribute to and profit from the problem but instead aligns its institutional actions and policies with the shared interests of society.

We take this action with the conviction that Harvard can, must, and will be a leader in responding to the climate crisis. We owe it to the world's less fortunate and future generations to lead the way to a livable planet.

Human-made climate change is already severely disrupting weather patterns and causing misery to those most vulnerable to the effects of droughtflooding, and famine. Despite the universal acknowledgment by scientists and world governments that drastic action is needed to address this problem, we continue to extract and burn carbon energy sources at an accelerating rate.

Unless we act swiftly to restructure our economy and to end our consumption of fossil fuels, the planet faces catastrophic disturbances in the very near future. The latest report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which warns that we have less than 15 years to overhaul our energy economy, is the latest recognition that the time for bold and courageous action is upon us.

Harvard enjoys a privileged position. It is a global leader in research, thought, and policy, and its alumni, faculty, and administrators enjoy tremendous influence over our economy and political culture. Harvard has the moral authority to break the stranglehold of passivity when our governments are unable or unwilling to address climate change's impending menace. And even if Harvard were not a prominent institution, the moral imperative still exists to stop profiting from damage done to others. The fact that Harvard chooses to calculate profit from corporate activities that push damages onto others—including ourselves and our children—is intolerable, ultimately unsustainable, and must stop.

Harvard's divestment from the fossil fuel industry will accomplish two important goals. First, it will allow Harvard to retain the moral integrity of an institution purporting to care about a livable future. Today the Harvard community profits from fossil fuel investments because the true costs of oil, coal, and gas are borne by other communities. Communities close to extraction sites are being robbed of their health and communities on the frontlines of climate disasters are being robbed of their lives and cultures. Younger generations, including Harvard's own students, are being robbed of a chance at a livable future. It is unconscionable and illogical for us to continue supporting an industry that violates basic human values and the fundamental purpose of our own institution.

Second, divestment will send a strong message that our society can no longer tolerate business as usual with the fossil fuel industry. The corrupt political practices and shameful climate denial peddled by gas, oil, and coal companies have stood in the way of proactive energy policies for far too long. Harvard's wealth and influence bring with them a special responsibility to act, and this is an opportunity that we cannot afford to miss.

As the university demonstrated when it divested from tobacco and partially divested from Apartheid, Harvard's endowment can be put into alignment with shared values. We are not asking our university to inject politics into its finances: we are asking it to stop sponsoring and profiting from climate change. By investing in fossil fuel companies, Harvard itself is responsible for their behavior. President Faust's recent announcement that Harvard will sign onto the non-binding Principles for Responsible Investment and the Carbon Disclosure Project implicitly recognizes that the university cannot ignore its social responsibility when it comes to its investments and climate change.

As over one hundred Harvard faculty argued in their letter to President Faust earlier this month, it is far too late for business as usual and statements to continue that do not commit the university to action. The governing Corporation's refusal to hold an open meeting on the issue of divestment—as well as the President's recent denial that fossil fuel companies prevent political action on global warming and a Corporation member's suggestion that Harvard students thank BP for its energy practices—betray a disconcerting lack of understanding and urgency with respect to the impending risk of climate disaster.

We stand in solidarity with students and activists around the world who are raising their voices to demand that our institutions and leaders reject the carbon economy and begin aggressive action toward a greener future. We welcome members of the Harvard community and the public to our peaceful gathering in front of Massachusetts Hall. And we invite President Faust and the Harvard Corporation to join us in an open and transparent meeting to discuss the divestment of Harvard's endowment from the fossil fuel industry.

The world, and Harvard as part of it, cannot wait any longer.

Why Washington University in St. Louis Should Ditch Peabody Coal

This article first appeared in Washington University in St. Louis' Student Life on April 10, 2014.  On April 30, the UN’s International Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the best available scientific report on global warming and the likely consequences of continued carbon pollution. Based on 12,000 peer-reviewed studies, the IPCC’s report describes a terrifying future where dramatic climatic warming brings about “breakdown of food systems,” severe shortages in drinking and irrigation water, massive flooding, and social violence. Most importantly, the IPCC’s report stressed that decisions being made now will have a massive impact on the severity of climate change’s impacts. Without immediate and dramatic action to curb emissions, the report warns, the harms of global warming could spiral “out of control,” past the point where human action could avert catastrophe.  In order to prevent such a scenario, the top UN climate official warned, “three quarters of the fossil fuel reserves need to stay in the ground.” washUoccupation Greg Boyce, a member the board at Washington University in St. Louis, disagrees with the global scientific community; he thinks what the world needs to burn much, much more coal. As CEO of Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private coal company, Boyce may have the largest carbon footprint of any living private citizen (coal-fired power is the single largest source of global climate changing emissions). According to Boyce, climate change isn’t a problem. “For too long,” says Boyce, “we’ve been focused on the wrong priorities…the greatest crisis we confront is not an environmental crisis.”  Instead, Peabody Energy has determined that inadequate access to energy is "the world's number one human and environmental crisis," and Boyce has hired the world’s largest PR company to cast Peabody Energy as a kind of international aid organization that trots around the globe benevolently building coal plants for the world’s poor (according to the Guardian, Peabody’s PR consultant is infamous for serving “governments with poor human rights records and corporations in trouble;” its former clients include the tobacco industry.) We are asked to presume that Peabody’s huge advertising budget reflects primarily Boyce’s zeal for serving the global poor and ignore the fact that a “more coal ASAP” policy is enormously for Peabody. Never mind that, according to the IPCC, building more coal infrastructure will cook the planet, create new “hotspots” of poverty and hunger, and increase the gaps between rich and poor. Boyce and his mouthpieces, like Washington University’s Chancellor Mark Wrighton, are hoping that we will choke down their inevitability argument about global coal expansion if they slather it with phony smarm about caring for vulnerable populations (you should be able to watch Wrighton recite his lines this week). Do you really believe that Greg Boyce’s coal expansion dreams are motivated by empathy instead of a desire to lock in profitable coal infrastructure before carbon regulations set in? Speaking of carbon regulations, Greg Boyce and Peabody Energy are explicitly against them. On Peabody’s website, you can find a toolkit replete with anti-EPA talking points alleging that carbon regulations will have “no impact” on climate change and brilliantly observing that that U.S. coal contributes “only a fraction” of global emissions (in 2010, coal-fired power contributed 28.3% of U.S. carbon emissions in a country with the highest per-capita carbon totals). Under Greg Boyce, Peabody is not only pushing for suicidal investments in new coal infrastructure, the company is actively campaigning against any government action that would begin to constrain carbon pollution. Shamefully, Boyce has been able to purchase Washington University’s academic integrity in order to advance his deadly farce. For $5 million from Peabody Energy (with matching grants from Arch Coal and Ameren), Washington University has been willing to lend its academic credibility to the misleading advertising slogan “clean coal,” a misnomer for carbon capture and sequestration technologies that don’t exist. In a September 2013 press release, Peabody Energy obliquely referred to Washington University’s research into carbon capture technology as a justification for opposing common-sense carbon regulations. Peabody Energy argued coal’s carbon emissions should not be regulated until pie-in-the-sky carbon capture technologies are available, even while admitting that these options are “simply not commercially available and not able to satisfy America's need.” With this cynical ploy, Greg Boyce’s exploitation of our university reached a new, shameful low. Simply put, Peabody Energy is a rogue corporation bent on undermining science, damaging the climate past the point of no return, and blocking meaningful action that could avert climate catastrophe. Maintaining Gregory Boyce as a member of the University’s board is beyond the pale, and continuing to associate with Peabody Energy is unconscionable for Washington University. Clearly, Peabody Energy is beyond reform, but Washington University in St. Louis may not be. Boyce has only been member of our board since 2009 (back when Peabody successfully conspired to defeat an early climate bill). Students at the Brookings sit-in understand that their action won’t solve climate change, but they are telling the truth: Greg Boyce is undeserving of reward or recognition for his criminal behavior. Through their action, students are taking a stand against what amounts to a university-sanctioned war on ecology and society by Greg Boyce and Peabody Energy. The students have drawn a bright moral line, which means neutrality is no longer an option at Washington University. Do you stand with the students, or with the CEO of Peabody Energy, Greg Boyce?

Why We're Sitting in at WashU (And We're Not Leaving)

By Caroline Burney, Senior at Washington University. Crossposted from We Are Powershift. I’ve learned many things in my four years at Washington University in St. Louis--not all of them in the classroom. For example, before I became a student at Wash U, I had never heard of Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private sector coal corporation. In St. Louis, Peabody ingratiates itself to the local community by posing as a benefactor of the arts, charitable corporate ‘citizen,’ and hero tackling “energy poverty.” It all sounds pretty good until you realize that Peabody Energy is the world’s largest private sector coal corporation whose business model propagates climate change and destroys communities. Peabody’s list of crimes is a veritable laundry list of social and environmental injustices: the destruction of mountains in West Virginia, the forced relocation of Navajo and Hopi Indian tribes in Black Mesa, Arizona, being a major supporter of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which have been strong advocates of controversial legislation like “Stand Your Ground” laws, the destruction of Rocky Branch, Illinois through aggressive mining and logging, and the distortion of democracy here in St. Louis by striking down a city-wide ballot initiative. [caption id="attachment_23613" align="alignnone" width="500"]First night of sit-in demanding Washington University cut ties with Peabody Energy First night of sit-in demanding Washington University cut ties with Peabody Energy.[/caption] Peabody CEO Greg Boyce also holds one more distinction: member of the Washington University Board of Trustees. Since Boyce was placed on the board in 2009, students have been actively organizing against Peabody Energy’s presence on campus. We have demanded that Boyce be removed from the Board of Trustees and that the University change the name of the “Consortium for Clean Coal Utilization,” a research entity to which Peabody and Arch Coal donated $5,000,000. We have met with the Chancellor -- multiple times. We have dropped banners at coal events, peacefully disrupted speeches by Greg Boyce on campus, marched through campus and taken our demands to Peabody’s headquarters. We have protested with residents from Black Mesa, collected signatures for the Take Back St. Louis ballot initiative and rallied with the United Mine Workers in their fight against Peabody. But, five years later, Boyce is still on the board, the name of the Clean Coal Consortium remains unchanged, and Chancellor Wrighton continues to stand behind Peabody Energy. Indeed, just this week he emailed us saying, “your opinion that peabody energy behaves in an ‘irresponsible and unjust manner’ is not one that I share.” The Administration has successfully used a “deny by delay” process by holding town hall meetings and developing task forces around renewable energy and energy efficiency while ignoring the role that coal plays on the campus. Thus, like many campus divestment campaigns across the country, we are at a crossroads. We’ve decided that it’s time to escalate to let Chancellor Wrighton and Greg Boyce know that we’re running out of time and we’re not going to back down. We are engaging in a sit-in of our admissions office to tell Chancellor Wrighton that our university can no longer legitimize destructive fossil fuel corporations. By having Greg Boyce on the Board of Trustees and hosting the “Consortium for Clean Coal Utilization,” the University is propagating the lie that coal is clean. But people who live in the communities where Peabody mines, including Black Mesa and Rocky Branch, know that coal is never clean. Escalating on campus is scary. We know it is going to be divisive. We know our Chancellor fundamentally disagrees with us. But not escalating is even scarier. Not escalating means Peabody continues to destroy communities and our climate. And that’s a risk we cannot take. Let Wash U know that you stand with us by signing our petition here.

UPDATE: GM Responds to RAN Activists!

Last week I told you that RAN supporters shut down interactive features on General Motor's new greenwashing website, We posted pictures of student activists at the Detroit auto show protesting automakers on the site and thousands of RAN supporters flooded GM with comments supporting the students and asking the giant automaker to take real steps, not just greenwashing PR, on climate and green jobs. Within a matter of hours GM shut down comments on the site. Then, Christopher Barger, Director of Global Communications Technology for GM, came to our blog and wrote that they turned of the interactive features because "'dialogue' does not mean 'open to demagogues.'" One of his employees--who it seems didn't realize that her IP address identified her as part of the GM PR machine--going by the name "betty" also commented on our blog and started a lively conversation. I know, hilarious. Anyhow, Mr Barger also promised that they "are planning to have an open forum — possibly even a series of them – in the coming weeks where we will address green jobs, the quest for 100 mpg cars and other pressing environmental issues." Well, to give him credit, GM has announced the first of those forums. Mr. Barger left a note on our blog and everyone who left a comment on the site got an email today announcing that:
"GM executive Brent Dewar will be on hand to answer your questions about GM’s environmental policies and initiatives. The chat will take place Wednesday, February 6 from noon to 1 p.m. EST. To access the chat, go to and register with your e-mail address. On the day of the chat, click the “Enter Chat” button and join the conversation."
Great! Let's ask some questions! I'll be in the chat and I hope to see lots of RAN supporters there asking GM why they are doing so little about global warming, green jobs and social justice. Don't expect a lot of candor or honesty, we are, afterall, dealing with the PR apparatus of one of the biggest corporations in the world. Instead, I expect more of the same--greenwashing slogans and little real action.

RAN Supporters Shut Down GM Greenwashing Site!

Last week RAN supports shut down one of the biggest and most ambitious online corporate greenwashing campaigns. To mark its 100th anniversary two weeks ago, General Motors launched a new interactive website, gmnext, where the public was encouraged to submit photos, videos and comments in order to help the company answer questions like "how should GM best address global energy issues we’ll face for the next 100 years?" Yeah, it's typical corporate greenwashing, but with a new "web 2.0" spin where the company pretends to care what the public thinks. So last week we posted photos on the site of student activists in Michigan protesting at the Detroit auto show. Then we asked our supporters to go comment on the site and tell GM what the public really thinks about how the automakers should address global warming and energy issues. GM's response? They turned off public comments. So much for the fancy interactive that GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz said "encourages open and honest interaction." I guess it wasn't really public discussion the company wanted. Big surprise. One of GM's PR flacks claimed that they were shutting off the interactive features because "we have no intention of letting a vocal set of activists highjack the conversation with invective and dogmatic misinformation." What were these comments filled with "invective and dogmatic misinformation" actually like?
"GM needs to stop thinking of "green" as an advertising term and nothing more. Really committing to better gas mileage and alternative fuels--NOT including ethanol, which is not environmentally sound--will be better publicity for you than mere sloganeering." "Since the most famous quote from Ioccoca, "How much clean air do we really need?", the auto industry has let the public down. Most citizens believe that the auto industry has it's hands in the oil pockets as well. Whether that is true or not, we will never know. What we do know is that the "green" options are simply not good enough. We don't wish to see the auto industry pat themselves on the back for what we perceive as a poor job. It is just not good enough yet. This group pushes so that the industry doesn't stop working on it. No pats are deserved yet. Cutting emissions is great, but we want better. So less patting on the back and more work is what they want.. I have to fully agree. What the production of these batteries do to the enviroment is disgusting. We have a long way to go. No kudo's until this job is done and done responsibly. Ethanol is not a solution either. It takes just as much energy to produce as oil.. so where is the benefit, and now people are starving due to the lack of corn. Iceland uses meat that is unconsumable. Why are we not? A better job has been done by other countries.. step up to the world plate please and stop patting.."
Sounds less like dogma than clear well-reasoned comments by people who care. Of course, GM is shutting down the interactive features of their new marketing campaign because the comments they got aren't in line with their branding, not because they are inaccurate, mean-spirited, or dogmatic. My take: I think that as more and more companies move towards trying to use fake "web 2.0" "interactive" features to promote their greenwashing, we're going to keep on them and show through our actions that the public isn't going to let them get away with anything short of real action. Greenwashing on the web isn't going to be easy for them. So I say thank you to everyone who helped shut down one of the biggest greenwashing campaigns by one of the most powerful corporations on earth.

Cattle permitted to march in Detroit, students blocked.

Today we marched through the streets of downtown Detroit towards the Cobo convention center where the North American International Auto Show launched into the first day of glitz, glam, and greenwash. More than sixty students from a half-dozen campuses around Michigan carpooled (for lack of another option) to Detroit to send a clear message to the auto industry: "We refuse to drive cars that are driving global warming." detroitautoshow_08.jpg This rally concluded a three day training organized by the Freedom from Oil Campaign. The Transportation Challenge Weekend Getaway invited students from campuses across Michigan to Detroit for skills-building, networking and this historic auto show action. It was a high-energy affair with drumming, dancing and chanting. Clad in mechanic coveralls and green hard hats, the students demanded a shift to green manufacturing to revitalize Michigan and cut global warming pollution. Despite the students' pure intentions, the police would not allow the group to get within two blocks of the convention center, demonstrating the automakers' unchecked influence in...well...Motor City. And although they opted to protect the automakers’ greenwash instead of young people’s voices for green jobs and green cars (even allowed cattle to run free in the street but not us - not a joke), it didn’t prevent us from getting out our message. Check out some more pics. Then we saw about 100 green balloons floating above the convention center…an ominous sign since two students had taken a different approach to get inside. Equipped with a banner that read "Toyota: Pull Up Your Pruis, Your Tundra is Showing,” they tried to release the message attached to the balloons inside the lobby of the auto show, so it would float up for all to see. Not surprisingly, they were restrained and detained, but luckily not arrested. This kind of intimidation and restraint is becoming a predictable pattern at these auto shows. Capitulation to the auto companies by police is more and more explicit at each event, and the limitation of our freedom of speech upon the pretense of petty ordinances and permitting was hardly surprising, albeit equally disturbing. Despite the obstacles, it was an incredible weekend. The students inspired us and each other with their creativity, commitment and smooth dance moves! The number of organizations that helped us make it a success - SDS, Energy Action, the MSSC, Coop America, Global Exchange - is a testament to the incredibly collaborative spirit of this exploding youth climate change movement. Vows have already been made to return in bigger numbers next year if we have to. Take note, Brian Albright of the Michigan State Police.

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