ECOpinion: Ten Things I Learned from the Fossil Free NU Teach In


Scott Brown, the campaign coordinator for Fossil Free NU, talks about the economics of divestment at the group's Teach In on Monday. By Amanda Hermans

Fossil Free Northwestern held their first teach in on Monday night about the science of climate change, social justice, our endowment, and the history of their movement. If you didn’t attend, here are my top 10 takeaways:

  1. Coal emits the most greenhouse gases, such as CO2, out of all fuel sources.

Coal emits 1,041 tons of carbon dioxide for every gigawatt hour that it burns, compared to renewable energy sources like solar and wind, which emit 39 and 14 tons respectively.

  1. The effects of climate change will not be proportionate, and the people who are affected by it the most are not the ones causing it.

The people of the Maldives, a chain of islands six feet above sea level, have already been evacuating their homes from sea level rise, despite their negligible contribution to climate change. The disproportionate effects of climate change lead to environmental racism: countries made up of people of color are being hit the hardest, and white, wealthier countries who cause the most damage and make most of the policies fail to address the problem or who it’s affecting.

  1. Agriculture is being affected by climate change.

Climate change has caused more extreme weather like droughts and heat waves that will greatly impact agricultural yields, particularly in Africa, South America, Asia, and the southwest U.S. For example, the drought in California has been found to have climate change origins. As a result, food will become more expensive.

  1. Fossil fuel companies pour huge amounts of money into climate-change deniers.

The fossil fuel industries, including the infamous Koch brothers, reportedly put a total of $721 million into the 2014 elections, supporting candidates who would deny climate change and protect fossil fuel friendly legislation.

  1. Coal is a bad investment—coal stock prices have fallen by 50 percent since 2011.

Stocks for coal have been falling due to something called the carbon bubble— fossil fuel companies base their value on their total reserves, even though there is no way we can burn all of these reserves and still have a livable planet. When regulations on emissions are put in place, companies won’t be able to burn those reserves, which will turn them into stranded assets and burst the carbon bubble.

  1. Decisions about Northwestern’s approximately $10 billion endowment are made by a group of about 30 people.

A subset of the Northwestern Board of Trustees is in control of all of this money. It is a group of very successful, very white business gurus. Hmm.

  1. $17 million of our endowment is invested in coal.

Even though this is a ton of money, it is still less than 0.2 percent of our total endowment. Northwestern could divest from coal without risk of losing anything, while making a big positive statement about our school’s stance on climate change.

  1. Northwestern’s own Strategic Plan states that “[we will] contribute to the solutions for renewable energy and a sustainable environment and to how public policies and economic incentives promote implementation of new technologies and practices.”

Something is not adding up.

  1. Morty Schapiro supports divestment from coal.

He said it himself last June at a meeting of the Faculty Assembly, and then again at a Board of Trustees Investment Subcommittee meeting in July.

10. This battle to divest is about all of us, and we are the ones who can make a difference.

You can like Fossil Free NU on Facebook, follow them on Twitter, and join them at their meetings on Tuesday nights at 8 p.m. in Annenberg G29.