Beyond Coal "Our University" Demonstration

Along with the silhouettes, members of Beyond Coal also spoke to passing students about coal divestment and passed out orange solidarity squares, the symbol of the national divestment movement. Supporters of the national movement (now more than 250 schools strong) wear the squares on their jackets and book bags to display their support for the divestment campaign. Our very own Tyler Rotche (Beyond Coal president) and Felicia Speranske (SECS co-president) found themselves featured in a Daily Illini featured photo on Friday as Tyler pinned a square on Felicia’s jacket (right).

If you happened to pass through the quad this past Thursday, you may have noticed some disturbing signs posted around its north end. You may also have noticed the ten foot tall tombstone resting in front of the Illini Union or the motley crew serving up knowledge and orange pins to passers by.

The sights were all part of SECS’s working group Beyond Coal’s “Our University” demonstration scheduled in congruence with the University of Illinois Board of Trustees meeting on the same day. Beyond Coal members erected the visuals pictured below to educate the campus community on the negative effects of coal.To wrap up the day, Beyond Coal members walked north into the Union where the Board of Trustees meeting had been going on throughout the day in anticipation for President Tyler Rotche’s public comment speech before the board. After an hour wait, Tyler took the podium.

“I spoke at this meeting almost a year ago today to talk about the same topic, which is coal divestment,” Tyler began. The rest of his speech is as follows:

“Since then a few things have changed, last winter UIUC Beyond Coal was one of three operating divestment campaigns in the United States. Today, over 250 campaigns are pressuring their Universities to divest from fossil fuels. Since last year, we have gathered a few thousand more petitions, met with more members of the administration, and have pushed a resolution through the student senate demanding divestment from coal. Since last year, the University has released promotional videos saying that right here right now we have the chance to define a new global university by taking risks necessary to innovate by imagining the world 20 or 50 years from now and by finding ways to solve the world’s greatest problems.”

“This list would seem like the perfect recipe for progress, but unfortunately since last year nothing has changed. Our climate has continued to warm at an alarming rate, polluters have continued to destroy our mountains, dismantle our farmland, and besiege our communities with toxic air and water, and our university continues to invest in this process.”

“It’s not difficult to see that there is injustice present, and when injustice is present inaction is conscious, myopic, and immoral choice. Our proposition for action, then, is divestment from the so-called Filthy 15 coal mining and utilities companies. These are companies that jeopardize public health, damage the environment, and place an unfair burden on low-income and minority communities. Companies like Edison International whose Fisk and Crawford plants in Chicago’s Pilsen and Little Village neighborhoods caused 42 premature deaths, 66 heart attacks, and 720 asthma attacks every year.”

“The ask that we stop investing in these companies is not ignorant of the fact that taking a few thousand dollars out of coal will not bring down the fossil fuel industry. The ask is founded on the fundamental notion that the purpose of a university is to prepare an existing generation to confront the world’s problems. It’s founded on the principal that we should not be actively contributing to the greatest of those problems not only in the future but in the present. It baffles me that we can fund one of the most destructive industries this planet has ever seen and call it an investment. Coal investment might pay short-term profit for us, but it is at the cost of 21,000 deaths, 24,000 hospitalizations, and 280,000 severe asthma attacks every year. Given that the center for disease control and prevention estimates the homicides in the US to be about 16,000 per year it’s not a stretch to say that coal is assaulting our communities. The question before us is which side of history will we choose to be on? Will we use our privilege to fund the future or short term profit?”

“I understand that when these questions are proposed by a college sophomore they can easily be seen as accompanied by a youthful inexperience and idealism, but I also recognize the pressure to maintain a healthy endowment. A recent study by the Aperio Group found that a portfolio free of the Filthy 15 increases absolute portfolio risk by only 0.0006% or about half of one one-thousandth of a percent, so in other words the portfolio does become riskier, but by such a trivial amount that that impact is statistically irrelevant. In terms of forgone return it is placed at 0.0002% or two one-hundredths of a basis point”

“Coal divestment is feasible and it is our moral and ethical duty to our University and our future that we stop investing in coal. When we walk out of this building today, we will see that the Alma Mater is gone, but when she stands upon the base this spring and in those springs to come, the question is what future will she welcome and will we be able to say confidently that is a future we contributed to?”

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