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St. Louis 'Divestment Day' event draws few

St. Louis 'Divestment Day' event draws few

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Global Divestment Day

A small crowd marched along the intersection of Market Street and Tucker Boulevard on Friday, Feb. 13, 2015 to show their support for Global Divestment Day. Photo by Cristina Fletes-Boutte, cfletes-boutte@post-dispatch.com

A planned day of protests and demonstrations around the world aimed at protesting the power of global oil, gas and coal companies drew a small crowd to downtown St. Louis Friday.

The so-called “National Divestment Day” called for people around the world to urge officials to sell off investments in fossil fuel companies, a strategy climate change activists are increasingly pushing. It is organized by climate activist group 350.org.

A planned St. Louis gathering at Market Street and Tucker Boulevard, however, drew only 10 people.

“Midwesterners, they’re a little more conservative, they don’t know we have five coal companies headquartered here,” said local organizer Stephanie Dinges.

Another, Juli Viel, said “even though there’s not that many of us, it’s a movement.” She added the “writing was on the wall” and the world had to begin to transition to more carbon free fuel.

The small group marched around the intersection with anti-fossil fuel signs. Some cars honked, but it was hard to tell whether the acknowledgement was directed at the divestment group or at two pro-cannabis demonstrators who happened to post up at one of the corners at the same time.

The petroleum and coal industry launched a pre-emptive campaign in anticipation of the day’s events. The Independent Petroleum Association of America circulated a study it sponsored saying divestment would hurt endowment funds, not the targeted companies. Other groups had statements and counterarguments ready.

At the St. Louis demonstration, two people affiliated with the group CFACT, which questions climate change, even showed up to observe. Fossil fuels are working fine so far said Michael Fellner, a member of CFACT’s collegiate arm who said he was in town from Washington D.C.

“I think our ancestors would be very confused to see how far we’ve come and then see us regress on it,” he said.

The divestment push has had some success with smaller university endowments, and Stanford University last spring decided to sell off its coal holdings.

That was good timing. Shares at some of the largest coal companies have fallen more than 50 percent in that time, including those of St. Louis-based Peabody Energy and Creve Coeur-based Arch Coal.

As part of Friday’s activities, students occupied a building at Harvard, which has the largest endowment in the world, the Boston Globe reported. 

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