Letter to the Editor: Calling on President Schapiro to abandon the Adani Carmichael Coal Mine

The climate crisis, often called the Climate Genocide by many island nations, has and continues to impact millions of people globally. Many of those least responsible – people of lower socioeconomic status, Black communities, Indigenous communities and people of color – are bearing the brunt of the climate disasters that have occurred and are still to come. Specifically, Indigenous communities have led the charge to dismantle systems and projects that perpetuate the climate genocide. This crisis is time-sensitive, and there is no time to waste.

We write today as constituents of Northwestern University concerned with President Morton Schapiro’s key role and involvement with the transnational Marsh & McLennan Companies (MMC). President Schapiro serves as one of the 13 directors on the Board of Directors for the company, which is currently brokering insurance for what is said to be one of the biggest proposed coal mines in the world: the Adani Carmichael coal mine in Queensland, Australia.

This mine, if built, will occupy the lands of the Indigenous Wangan and Jagalingou people, who have never provided Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) for the mine. Already, Native Title has been extinguished, breaching Traditional Owners’ rights and sovereignty under international law. The company is permitted up to 60 million tons of coal per year. Estimated annual emissions from the Adani project are comparable to other countries’ entire annual emissions. Additionally, it would drain ancient underground aquifers in a time when Australia has been experiencing unprecedented climate-related droughts and bushfires. Should it go forward, it would set the stage for future projects in the basin that would tap into an estimated 27 billion tons of coal. If all mines in the basin were developed to their maximum potential, an estimated 700 million tons of carbon dioxide would be released into the atmosphere per year .

It is imperative that as a representative of Northwestern, a leading academic institution also occupying Indigenous land and committed to “environmental and ethical stewardship,” President Schapiro use his power and influence at Marsh & McLennan to halt the insurance brokerage of the Adani Carmichael Mine.

Implications of the Adani Carmichael Coal Mine

Although the effects of the Adani Carmichael Coal Mine will especially devastate the local region — plundering Indigenous land and heightening threats to the Great Barrier Reef — it is a global issue with global consequences. The millions of tons in carbon emission output will affect global temperatures and weather changes everywhere — not just in Australia. Additionally, the majority of this coal will be exported, as Australia is the largest global exporter of coal, exacerbating local air pollution and environmental degradation around the world.

The potential consequences of the Adani Carmichael Coal Mine are harrowing and present a ripe opportunity for leaders to intervene. If MMC, a well-trusted insurance broker, abandons the project, it will join a group of over 65 companies who have also backed out due to the overwhelming risk. The mine faces mounting community opposition and other threats due to the rise of renewables, a drop in coal prices and, now, the global recession and market changes due to COVID-19. Halting the Adani Carmichael mine would send a clear message, discouraging other fossil fuel ventures and driving us closer to a just transition and more livable future for all.

Our climate is rapidly approaching its tipping point, and the urgency of this issue cannot be overstated. The Adani Carmichael Coal Mine will only exacerbate the climate crisis at a scale that will affect everyone, with youth and marginalized communities on the frontlines. In recognition of these lasting damages, we are calling on the students, faculty and staff of Northwestern University, as well as the greater Evanston community, to support and encourage President Morton Schapiro, the leading representative of Northwestern University, to take a stand against the Adani Carmichael Coal Mine and Rail Project.

NU’s Sustainability Commitments & Global Impact

Northwestern has continuously been recognized for its commitments to sustainability and its institutional leadership on climate change. Created in 2013, Northwestern’s Strategic Sustainability Plan (SSP) lays out these principles as they relate to student, faculty and staff-led sustainability programs on campus. The most recent version laid out 50 initiatives with implementation dates from 2018 to as far out as 2030. A recent meeting of the Northwestern University Sustainability Council determined over 80 percent of those goals had been met or were on track to be met by proposed deadlines.

While Northwestern has excelled in enacting on-campus sustainability initiatives, the University’s plan on climate change remains vague. Currently, the SSP only presents a stance on climate change as it relates to carbon emissions. Already Northwestern has reduced its own greenhouse gas emissions by 13% in 2019. However, this recognition of “the dangers of climate change” and associated actions remain campus-centric in their scope.

We commend Northwestern for its institutional sustainability efforts, but as the executive director of the Buffett Institute Annelise Riles reminds us, Northwestern has a “special role to play” in solving global crises beyond the walls of our university as a widely “trusted” institution. Given Northwestern’s deep yearning and comprehensive plan to expand its positive global influence, every member of our community serves a crucial role in leveraging the leadership, expertise, research and connections of the University to affect positive societal change.

Thus, as the leading representative of Northwestern’s ethos and global reputation, President Schapiro’s direct involvement in the Adani Carmichael coal mine will shape Northwestern University’s global stance on the climate crisis. Leveraging his power and influence to halt the insurance brokerage of the Adani Carmichael coal mine would convey the resounding message that the Northwestern is a global leader in the fight against climate change

President Schapiro’s Direct Involvement

President Schapiro is one of 13 individuals on the Board of Directors for MMC, earning $315,000 from this position alone last year. He sits on four committees, including the Directors and Governance Committee, on which he serves at the Chair, and the Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) committee, whose purpose is “to oversee and support the Company’s commitment to social, environmental and other public policy initiatives.”

With a crucial role and material power in the insurance brokerage of the Adani Carmichael mine, President Schapiro is able to spur positive change, and we believe and trust in his leadership from his time at Northwestern.

Final Call to Action

We are aware that MMC is forming a new global position on coal, which we expect them to release before or at their Annual General Meeting on May 21. We are proud of what Northwestern has accomplished in addressing climate change and want to see members of our community continue to lead in this realm. For this reason, we call on President Schapiro to use his power, influence, and position on the Board of Directors to help ensure Marsh’s new global position on coal includes ruling out further work with the Adani Carmichael mine.

Support our petition to President Schapiro

Lucy London, Lauren Simitz, Sarah Fernandez Tabet, Keala Uchoa

Fossil Free Northwestern
ASG Sustainability Committee