In 2013, former Chancellor Holden Thorp guaranteed the University would stop its coal usage by 2020 and, in a referendum held in 2013, 77 percent of students voted in support of UNC divesting from the coal industry.
But student and administration action around divestment seemed to fizzle out in the mid 2010s, Duncan and Flanagan said.
Duncan and Flanagan said they were surprised to learn of these past movements and were motivated to pick up their momentum to once again bring awareness to the issue of divestment.
“To find this out, we literally just looked up divestment on the DTH website,” Flanagan said. “We found a bunch of stuff, which we totally did not expect because I feel like when we first started this organization we were like, ‘Oh my god, no one is talking about how UNC is investing in fossil fuels!’”
One of Flanagan’s key motivations to start the club was to look at the University through a critical lens and hold it accountable for its actions, she said.
“This is supposed to be an institution of social progression, yet they are directly funding the climate crisis, and I think it’s really important to hold your institution accountable,” Flanagan said.
Junior Owen Ryerson said he joined UNC Reinvest because he believes divestment and reinvestment are the most impactful avenues of student environmental organizing that can be done on campus now.
“UNC’s investment in fossil fuels is having such a detrimental impact on our environment, on environmental justice and on our future,” Ryerson said. “By divesting, UNC has the opportunity to take a stand and show that it is willing to prioritize the values that it espouses and prioritize standing up for future generations, the lives of its students and the lives of the community members which it represents.”
Investments for UNC-Chapel Hill and the UNC System are managed by the UNC Management Company. In September 2014, the Board of Trustees passed a resolution requesting the Management Company research targeted investments for the University’s endowment assets that advance environmentally friendly, clean energy strategies.
“At the Management Company, we believe that supporting the development of alternative energy sources is the most effective and pragmatic way to assist in the important effort to reduce reliance on coal and other fossil fuel-based energy sources,” the Management Company said in its most recent report.
Mike Piehler, UNC’s chief sustainability officer, said in a statement that the University is committed to greenhouse gas neutrality and is actively pursuing its energy transition, including ending the use of coal. He did not provide a specific timeline.
“The recently established Carolina Sustainability Council has engaged the students, faculty and staff to shape and pursue a broad sustainability agenda which includes…
Read More: Student club calls for divestment from fossil fuels, reinvestment into the community