Divest Northwestern holds day of action to protest coal investment


Mariana Alfaro/The Daily Northwestern

Yue Zeng, a McCormick sophomore from Beijing, speaks at DivestNU's mock trial against coal on Friday. Zeng said air pollution in Beijing is so dangerous that people have to wear masks to go outside.

Mariana Alfaro, Assistant Campus Editor

Students participated in an international day of action Friday as part of an ongoing movement to demand Northwestern divest from coal companies.

Divest Northwestern, which is working to reduce the University’s investment in the fossil fuel industry, had members stationed at The Rock, Technological Institute and Norris University Center on Friday for Global Divestment Day. DivestNU asked students and passersby to sign a petition to ASG and a letter addressed to the Board of Trustees, both asking them to respond to the movement’s requests.

“What we’re trying to do now is to start to ramp up the pressure on them to really, seriously consider divestment,” Medill sophomore Scott Brown, a leader of DivestNU, told The Daily. “We’re trying to … build up a lot more student voice and student support around this as well as faculty and alumni support.”

Brown, a former Daily staffer, said they’ve met with members of the Board of Trustees in the past, with whom they’ve done research about NU’s energy investment.

William McLean, the University’s vice president and chief investment officer, told The Daily in January that his office looked up information about Northwestern’s expenditures in energy and provided it to DivestNU.

“We did the research, we found we had more money invested in sustainable, battery, solar, wind, those types of strategies than we did in coal,” he said.

However, Brown said he believes the University can do more to stop investing in coal industries.

“DivestNU has been around for a couple years, and we are all about having the University divest from coal,” said Bienen freshman Noah Becker, who helped plan Friday’s events. “Northwestern has pledged time and time again to work to help alleviate the effects of climate change … And yet, our board of trustees who controls the endowment is still investing in coal.”

Becker, DivestNU’s treasurer, estimated that at least 200 people signed the petition and about 150 letters to the board were submitted. Their goal was to get 200 signatures in order to submit their petition to the Associated Student Government.

“We’re trying to get ASG to send out a referendum to the student body asking whether they would support Northwestern divesting from coal,” Brown said.

DivestNU held a “Burning Love, Not Burning Coal” march on Friday, which was followed by a mock trial Friday night during which students whose lives have been affected by coal spoke against the use of the fuel.

“I’d been in college for barely a month when my childhood home in Long Island fell to the impacts of hurricane Sandy,” said Medill junior Miranda Cawley during the event. “The rebuilding efforts took a whole year to complete … and we were one of the lucky families. Much of our community was underwater for weeks.”

Like Cawley, other students shared their experiences with climate change affecting their day-to-day lives.

Yue Zeng, a McCormick sophomore from Beijing, spoke at the event about air pollution and its effect on her family’s daily life in China. She said people have to wear lab masks when going outside and sometimes students are given “smoke days,” which she compared to snow days, during which they don’t go to school because air contamination levels are too high.

“If you ask any kid that was born later than 2010 what color is the sky, they’ll say gray,” she said. “That’s what they see every day. A blue sky is something luxurious to see, you might see a few of them every year.”

DivestNU plans to host a dialogue between students and two speakers, one pro-nuclear energy and another anti-nuclear energy, who will speak about the dangers of coal in the environment.

“They’re going to disagree on everything, but the one thing that’s going to unite them is the fact that they both think fossil fuels need to stop right now,” Becker said.

The event will be held Spring Quarter.

Olivia Exstrum contributed reporting. 

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