Protestors held a banner that read “Fossil Fuels are Killing Our Future,” and laid their bodies down on the steps of the building, blocking the entrance. Their aim was to draw attention to SIU’s institutional support for the coal industry, which is accelerating climate change, polluting water, air and soil, and destroying the lives of communities both in Southern Illinois and around the globe.
The action was in solidarity with the ongoing sit-in at Washington University, now in its eighth day.1
Students at Wash U in St. Louis are demanding their university cut ties with Peabody Energy, a St. Louis-based company and the largest coal company in the world. Peabody is currently expanding its strip mining operations in Southern Illinois, threatening the community of Rocky Branch, just south of Harrisburg.2
Residents of Rocky Branch have called for the support of activists and anyone opposed to the coal industry. The elderly residents are on the verge of having their homes destroyed by a strip-mining operation in their backyards. But they aren’t going without a fight. Judy Kellen, a 74-year-old Rocky Branch resident who has become a vocal opponent of Peabody, expressed her support for the Wash U sit-in. In a video-letter, Judy had this to say about so-called “clean coal”:
If all this scientific work that they do in trying to burn cleaner coal or whatever – if that were put into other forms of alternative fuel that would be so much better than what they’re doing right now. Because all they’re doing is putting a bandaid on a bad situation. And when you’ve got a deep cut, a band aid is not going to take care of it. And chancellor, it would be advantageous to the future if you would cut all ties with Peabody. And students, you’uns are doing exactly the right thing, what you’uns need to do, because as long as you stand and fight for your rights, then maybe people like Peabody can be brought to their knees where they will do things that are right for the future of the country, the future of the kids.3
Judy’s message hits home here in Carbondale, too. The Coal Research Center provides support for so-called “clean coal technology” – a contradiction in terms, as shown by the residents of West Virginia, Rocky Branch, and other frontline communities endangered by coal extraction. The problem with coal is not just the burning, but the very process of digging it out of the ground, which today involves not just dangerous mine-shafts, but also strip mining and mountain-top removal. These processes cannot be made “clean” – they must be stopped.
During the sit-in this morning, a worker at the Coal Research Center insisted to us that the center did not receive any private funding. This is not true. ComEd, owned by Exelon Corporation, granted the university $25 million dollars “to support clean coal programs and projects.” The Coal Research Center is devoted to supporting these projects and encouraging institutional research to produce new coal technologies.4 As state funding dries up for higher education, corporate funding, offered through grants and donations, plays a larger role in determining research projects. In other words: the kind of knowledge SIU is producing is skewed by the interests of corporations profiting from the destruction of the earth’s eco-systems – and the corresponding loss of human life.
A 2010 study commissioned by the Clean Air Task Force determined that fine particle pollution from existing coal plants was expected to cause 13,200 deaths that year, in addition to causing “an estimated 9,700 hospitalizations and more than 20,000 heart attacks per year,” as “emissions continue to take a significant toll on the health and longevity of millions of Americans.”5 Further, “low income and minority populations are disproportionately impacted as well, die to the tendency of companies to avoid locating power plants upwind of affluent communities.”6 The coal industry has reaped huge profits, while poor people and people of color have had to deal with the pollution.
People are dying, and the time to stop institutional support for fossil fuel research is now. We are in solidarity with the students of Wash U, the residents of Rocky Branch, and people all over who believe that another world is possible.
Shut down the Coal Research Center!
Divest from fossil fuels!
Corporations out of the University!
1. http://ecowatch.com/2014/04/16/washington-university-sit-in-peabody-coal/; see also this piece about previous convergence of activism and art at Wash U to push for fossil-free investment at the university: http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/18947-student-artists-activists-aim-for-fossil-free-investment-at-washington-university
2. http://www.wsiltv.com/news/local/Justice-for-Rocky-Branch-Continues-Fight-Against-Mine-241558191.html; see also http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/22835-two-log-jail-time-to-stop-logging-strip-mine-expansion-in-illinois
3. See Judy’s video letter here: http://www.vimeo.com/92105905; see also this short documentary, entitled “Judy’s Rock”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6vR6iAaTVwQ