Dear Bates Board of Trustees,
The coal industry kills people and is a chief contributor to climate change. The American Lung Association reported in 2012 that pollution from coal kills 13,000 Americans, particularly people of color, each year due to mercury poisoning and airborne illnesses. Coal burning power plants are the single largest factor in America’s contribution to global warming and account for 20% of global greenhouse emissions. According to government data, they annually emit more carbon dioxide than the entire transportation sector. The Bates Policy on Social Investment stipulates clear guidelines for investing in companies which are "consistent with, or in support of, the valuing of individual worth, safety, and a just community.” The coal industry presents a major public health and environmental threat that is in conflict with the Bates mission statement, values, and responsible investment policy.
Bates devotes considerable resources educating students about the scientifically proven risks of climate change as well as the adverse environmental and social consequences of mountain-top removal coal-mining. Coal burning power plants are the single largest factor in America’s contribution to global warming, and account for 20% of greenhouse gas emissions. The American Lung Association reported in 2012 that pollution from coal kills 13,000 Americans each year due to mercury poisoning and airborne illnesses, presenting a major public health risk to predominantly low-income communities in many parts of Appalachia. By establishing an environmental studies program, Bates has already made a public educational commitment to advancing climate research and counteracting scientifically unsound information about climate change. Investment and financial trust in coal as a viable long-term energy source is blatantly inconsistent with the scientific research that Bates students and faculty work to produce, and is thus in conflict with Bates’ educational duties and goals. Divestment from the coal industry is not merely a political statement, but a policy that is intrinsically consistent with the educational mission that our college has pledged to promote.
Likewise, as a school founded by abolitionists, welcoming of women from the beginning, and whose mission statement includes“stewardship for the wider world” and a “commitment to coming times,” divestment from coal would more accurately represent Bates’s history and values. The school has demonstrated a strong environmental ethic up to this point with President Hansen’s 2020 Carbon Neutal Pledge, the hiring of a Sustainability Manager, our environmentally-sound building code, an award-winning Dining Commons, and a very active, engaged student body. We are asking for this same ethic to be applied to the selection of companies we support through the investment of our endowment.
College divestment from fossil fuels is growing rapidly as a national student movement. Students at over 40 colleges and universities, including Amherst College, Williams College, Swarthmore College, Harvard University, Brown University, Tufts University and Smith College are all running strong campaigns to encourage their institutions to divest from all fossil fuels. The largest student environmental networks, including the Energy Action Coalition and 350.org are embracing this movement and holding conferences about responsisble investment. Hampshire College President Jonathan Lash recently released a public announcement that Hampshire has purposefully terminated its investments in all fossil fuel corporations, and actively seeking out environmentally screened investment options. Trustees at Amherst College have expressed a willingness to pursue coal divestment but are looking to work in conjunction with another college. That other college could be Bates.
In 1977, Hampshire College was the first to divest from corporations engaged with the Apartheid government of South Africa. Bates College did not follow suit until 1986. Bates should now take the opportunity to be among the first educational institutions to take action on this equally important issue, rather than wait to step forward until its peer institutions have already changed their policies.
I am writing to express my support for the Board of Trustees to divest the Bates endowment from corporations engaged in the extraction and refinement of coal. Divestment is a measure that should be considered sparingly, but there a number of reasons why I believe divestment from the coal industry is here appropriate.