Payne: Calling to counter coal

This is the time to play the Yale card. Wall Street giant Stephen Schwarzman, CEO of the private equity firm Blackstone Group, graduated from Yale in 1969, is an active supporter of the University and has served as an adjunct professor at the School of Management.

He is also heavily invested in the construction of three new coal plants. In 2007, Blackstone Group purchased an 80 percent ownership in Sithe Global, an energy company that plans to construct coal-fired power plants in Pennsylvania, Nevada, and New Mexico. At a time when every new coal plant will mean a larger sea-level rise, more species lost and more refugees in the coming decades, Blackstone Group has more proposed coal projects than any other company in the United States.

Schwarzman has a choice. He can either profit from the destabilization of our climate, or he can demonstrate his commitment to our generation and to the generations to come by withdrawing funding for these three coal plants.

These projects are not popular. Communities around the proposed plant sites are already calling for Schwarzman to pull funding. Their voices are joined by national groups like the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council, but Schwarzman has not responded.

So Yale must use its voice.

Schwarzman’s ties to the University will make him hear its words more clearly. But making Yale speak depends upon all of us — students, faculty, staff and administrators. Some claim that because Schwarzman has donated money to Yale in the past, and may do so in the future, we have no right to speak. I say that because he has given to us, we have an obligation to do so. Silent acceptance of those gifts is complicity in the construction of those coal plants. Yale must now assert its sustainable identity or see it deeply compromised.

As a member of the Yale Student Environmental Coalition and its working group Students Against New Coal I ask you to join us in calling on Schwarzman to withdraw his support of the proposed coal plants and invest instead in renewable energy. Despite his investments in coal we should remember that Schwarzman could easily become a hero in the renewable energy sector. The Nevada and New Mexico plants are planned for an area with some of the greatest potential for solar energy in the country. In fact, for less money than he’s committed to the New Mexico plant, he could support several renewable energy projects that would generate the same amount of energy. The Pennsylvania plant is intended for Clearfield County, which has been highly rated as a site for wind power projects. Our message to him today is simple: withdraw funding for new coal, and use your wealth to help build the green economy.

This Saturday is the International Day of Climate Action, or 350 Day. People in 169 countries, in 4,062 separate actions, will call on their leaders to commit to cut global carbon dioxide concentrations to 350 parts per million. The campaign for 350 is about rejecting compromise and committing ourselves to the work necessary for preserving a livable climate. It is a platform from which we can demand action from Wall Street as well. The whole world would suffer from the expansion of the coal industry. And the poorest in the world, who are not equipped to deal with rising sea levels, crop failures, hurricanes or cyclones, will suffer most of all. The time has come for Yale to speak: no new investment in coal.

Rachel Payne is a sophomore in Saybrook College.

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