UNC’s Beyond Coal Movement

The push on campus to divest from coal

by: Connor Herring
Sophomore, Economics and PWAD
Rocky Mount, NC

If you voted in this year’s Student Body President election, you probably remember being asked if you supported the resolution to divest from coal.  For many, the answer was yes. 77% of the student body voted in favor of divesting the $2.1 billion endowment from coal mining and burning companies in the United States.

Beyond Coal is an on-campus student group that is part of the Sierra Student Coalition urging campuses to divest from coal in favor of cleaner, more environment friendly alternatives. According to Robert Corriher, who petitioned for coal divestment, the reasons supporters of the Beyond Coal movement have for divesting from coal are the following:

  1. Coal is detrimental to Americans’ health.  There are tens of thousands of deaths and hospitalizations and hundreds of thousands of asthma attacks each year due to the effects of burning coal, and as one of the leading healthcare education universities, UNC needs to “bring our investment practices in line with our mission statement, which reads: With lux, libertas—light and liberty—as its founding principles, the University has charted a bold course of leading change to improve society and to help solve the world’s greatest problems” (Corriher).  In short, the University needs to practice what it preaches.
  2. Using coal for energy damages the environment.  Emissions from coal-mining plants heavily contribute to smog and pollution, and are the largest contributors to greenhouse gas pollution in the world.
  3. Coal is a risky financial investment. The technologies and methods of coal mining are becoming increasing outdated and costly to maintain, making a heavy investment in companies centered around this volatile resource a precarious source of funds for the University.


While Chancellor Thorpe did not actively participate in the divestment campaign, he did make clear both the dangers of coal and his desire to see Carolina move away from coal dependency by 2020. In an update on the website of the Office of the Chancellor, Thorpe wrote that after much thinking that “Carolyn Elfland and Ray DuBose from Energy Services came up with a great solution, which is to burn biomass in the current boilers.  Biomass produces only 8 percent of the greenhouse gases of coal”.

Jasmine Ruddy, a sophomore at UNC and a passionate supporter of the UNC Divest Coal Campaign, explained their position and goals for the future, and the significance of the 77% student in favor of coal divestment in this exclusive interview.

“What are the goals of the Beyond Coal Movement?”

 We are asking the university to divest from a list of the 15 worst coal mining/burning companies in the US. We are actually hoping to make a presentation to the Board of Trustees next week to ask them to start looking into the possibility of divestment.

“What alternatives to coal-mining companies does Beyond Coal suggest as sources of endowments? And how important/what was the effect of the students’ vote to divest from coal in the SBP election?”

So we do have a $2.1 billion endowment, but there’s only a small fraction of that money that the university actually controls (about 4%). About 7-8% of the entire endowment is invested in fossil fuels in general, and the administration has acknowledged publicly that we do invest in coal. We just don’t know how much, since there such a lack of transparency with the endowment. It makes sense that there is, because we couldn’t keep the endowment at the size that it is and be competitive if it were completely transparent. But we’re asking the Board to look into divesting from a list of just 15 companies, which can easily be done and has been done in the past. You may have heard about this already, but in the 1980’s at Carolina there was a student movement to divest from companies that did business in South Africa, and they were successful. So there’s definitely precedence for divestment.

As far as our suggestions for re-investment, we definitely encourage the administration to look into investing in renewable energy as an option, but we also understand that the fund managers know how to do their jobs better than we do. They can invest the money in anything else — we’re just asking that they take it out of coal.

The vote was really successful for us, and 77% is a pretty large majority. We’re hoping to use the vote at the Board meeting next week, and we hope that it will put pressure on them to make a decision. We also just received a resolution from Student Congress in a vote of 24-6, which is also great.


This article’s pictures can be found at: http://coalfreeunc.wordpress.com/ and http://cargocollective.com/tristanbowersox/Anti-Coal-posters-motion-graphic.

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