Why Divest Coal?
Divestment, the process of selling an asset for either financial or social goals, is a powerful tool that investors can use to show companies that they cannot and will not invest in detrimental or morally ambiguous activities. Divestment can be a profound step when a specific community decides to make a statement by withdrawing financial support from a corporation that is abusing the environment, the community, or larger society.
Divestment campaigns at the college level have a strong history of success. Colleges across the country participated in the South African divestment campaign in the 1970s and 1980s, with 155 colleges partially or completely divested from companies that traded or had operations in South Africa. More recently, in 2006, institutions like Harvard, Brown, Amherst, and the University of California system voted to withdraw billions of dollars from companies with Sudanese ties as a statement against the country’s genocide of Sudanese civilians. Divestment campaigns represent an opportunity to expose the real financial liability of investing in a company, country, or industry, and to remove the financial support that enables that them to operate according to business as usual.
So divestment works. But why should colleges and universities consider divesting from coal-fired utilities and coal mining companies?
Because mining and burning coal damages the health of American citizens. Every year in the United States, there are 21,000 deaths, 24,000 hospitalizations, and 280,000 severe asthma attacks attributable to the impacts of mining and burning coal. Damages from the coal industry cause an estimated $100 billion in healthcare costs in the U.S. every year. And as many of the coal-fired power plants are located near low-income communities, they impose the greatest health risk on those citizens least able to afford it.
Because mining and burning coal for energy damages the environment that these citizens live in. Coal-fired power plants contribute to increased mercury, particulate, and arsenic groundwater contamination, as well as increases in smog, acid rain, and regional haze. Coal is the largest U.S. contributor to greenhouse gas pollution worldwide.
Because coal is a risky financial investment. More than half of the coal plants in the U.S. are old, inefficient, and require major costly retrofits to continue their operations. And because of the volatility of the price of coal and the rising cost of extraction, coal-fired electricity is fast-becoming a financial loser, one that is being replaced by more sustainable, long-term alternative energy solutions.
Coal has always been a dirty and dangerous fuel. Obtaining it destroys mountains, burning it releases hazardous emissions into the air we breathe, and disposing of it results in hazardous toxic waste that seeps into the ground and waterways where we live, work, and play.
Coal is a risky investment economically, environmentally, and socially. But if that’s the case, why is there coal in my endowment?