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Dear Father Jenkins

| Monday, October 10, 2016

Dear Father Jenkins,

We write to broach the topic of Notre Dame’s recently announced sustainability strategy. We believe that this topic should have been brought to us during strategy development since, as you know, we are deeply invested in the outcome of this strategy as current students at the University, as members of the local community and as citizens of the planet.

Despite the press release describing this as a “new” and “updated” strategy, we are fully aware that Notre Dame’s carbon reduction goal remains exactly what it was in the first strategy, released six years ago in 2010. At that point, it was shamefully the least ambitious carbon reduction goal to be found among the nation’s top 20 universities or the top Catholic universities across the country. Now in 2016, in the context of Laudato Si, the Paris Agreement and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, it is even more shameful.

We applaud the long overdue decision to abandon the use of coal by the end of the decade. However, the alternative should not be increased reliance on natural gas, given the risk that fracking poses to our drinking water and the mounting evidence that fracking releases quantities of methane that put its carbon footprint on par with that of coal. A commitment to 25 percent renewables by 2050 only sounds impressive to those unaware that other major research universities, including Cornell University and the University of Pennsylvania, have committed to achieving carbon neutrality well before 2050. As current students of the University, we realize that by the time we are in our 40s, Notre Dame will only be a quarter renewable. This timeline is incredibly disappointing, short-sighted and demonstrates irresponsible leadership given the immediate action this crisis demands.

We are particularly disappointed that divestment of the University endowment from fossil fuels has no place in the updated strategy. We find disingenuous in the extreme your repeated excuse that it is hypocritical to divest from fossil fuels while continuing to use them. Parishes, colleges and cities that have divested around the world are aware that they use fossil fuels, but also aware that fossil fuel companies utilize their enormous profits to sow doubt about basic science, to make personal attacks on climate scientists, and to maintain and create public policy that propagates the fossil fuel economy through massive campaign contributions.  In short, they are waging war on the scientific method, civil discourse and the basic functioning of our democracy. By remaining invested, Notre Dame is aiding and abetting this war on science and democracy in the interest of profits.

Additionally, the “activist shareholder argument” is specious. It asserts that by keeping investments in fossil fuel companies, Notre Dame has proportional rights to vote on motions put to the ownership, either by the board or shareholders, and can urge from within that fossil fuel companies transition to renewable technology.  The argument fails because while that strategy has had impact in some instances, in this case, Notre Dame is not taking on the role of an activist shareholder, and fossil fuel companies are not listening. By joining the divestment movement, Notre Dame could make the only statement that fossil fuel companies can hear, and could begin to provide actual leadership in creating a world unleashed from our destructive and systemic addiction on fossil fuels in our everyday lives.

Lastly, we are not ignorant to the notion that divesting Notre Dame endowments from fossil fuel companies will not necessarily bankrupt the companies, halt fossil fuel consumption and prevent climate change. However, we cannot underestimate the scope of Notre Dame’s influence in changing attitudes and providing leadership on the urgency of addressing climate change. Under USCCB guidelines, Notre Dame has already committed itself to ethical investing by refusing to financially support companies that are, for example, in the business of firearms sales or manufacturing, or in the business of providing abortion or contraceptives, or pornography. These companies, just like fossil fuel companies promote business practices that stand in stark contrast with Notre Dame values. If you are truly concerned about the hypocrisy, you need not look further than Notre Dame’s claim to being a moral institution while profiting from the wreckage of God’s earth.

Pope Francis has told us, “Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience.” And yet, the sustainability initiative on this revered Catholic University campus is staffed by amateurs and relegated to a backwater of University operations. It belongs in your office, and should be considered in every aspect of University planning. It is not acceptable to us that the University’s sustainability initiative has achieved little of note since the 2010 strategy was publicized, and it should be unacceptable to you as well.  We urge you to take up the mantel of leadership in protecting the sustainability of God’s handiwork and begin prioritizing the health of people and planet over profit.

Carolyn Yvellez

Fossil Free ND

club member

Oct. 7

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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Letters to the Editor can be submitted by all members of the Notre Dame community. To submit a letter to the Viewpoint Editor, email viewpoint@ndsmcobserver.com

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  • Matt Benedict

    Great letter Carolyn.

  • AdamSmithJr

    Dear Ms. Yvellez:

    Your rather acerbic bit of jeremiad reminds one of how students credulously see themselves as having come to our nation’s universities to teach more than to be taught. Just how is it that as mere students having been on campus for no more than two or three years for most of you and as “citizens of the world” find that you should have so much significance as stakeholders in the University of Notre Dame that you rightly take offense in not having been first consulted regarding policy making decisions by the University’s president? I also have long understood that wisdom, if ever obtained, came largely through a lifetime of learning, and that humility teaches that we ought to care foremost about what is right and not who is right. As for what is right…

    The theory of anthropogenic global warming cannot stand up to intelligent review of what is indeed known by the entire scientific community, and not just by the global warming scientific complex.

    It is known that the earth’s magnetic field has reversed its polarity over the earth’s history. This was first discovered by a study made of rocks lying deep beneath the Atlantic Ocean along the mid-Atlantic ridge. The periodicity of such reversals of the magnetic poles of the earth suggest that the earth is about due for another reversal in its polarity, though that timing is not certain. What apparently is better known is that the earth’s magnetic field has weakened by as much as 10% over the last 150 years (see the websites I cite below, including the BBC and CBS News). The magnetic field deflects much of the sun’s radiation and solar wind away from the earth. If the field is weakening, then more of that energy is reaching the earth. If more of such energy is reaching the earth, then does it stand to reason that this energy is having an effect on the earth’s temperature?

    The question I put to you is this: What have climate scientists done to account for this known natural phenomenon’s effect on the earth’s climate?

    I suspect that this aspect of nature has not been fully dealt with by climate scientists, or, if it it has, then I have to congratulate them for having the omniscience of God in being able to fully and accurately account for its impact on the world’s climate without much in the way of experimental testing of their hypothesis.

    I learned that experimental testing is the “scientific method” which you apparently believe you are defending. But you are not. You are defending no more than mere conjecture based on reported correlation of certain data sets. This is not science, and correlation is not necessarily evidence of causation. Yet this is all we have from climate scientists.

    How could consensus ever pass for science? What was once thought certain even in recent history by science has been proven incorrect in many different scientific fields. At one time most all scientists believed brain cells could not replicate. That is now known to be false. Most all doctors believed that ulcers were caused by stress. That is now known to be false thanks to a 2005 Nobel Prize winning doctor from Australia who was castigated by many of his colleagues for challenging their consensus until they all agreed he was right. One famous example of a known scientific “fact” falling onto hard times is the scientific consensus of physicists at one time that the size of the universe was an unchanging constant. Every physicist knew this to be “true” so much so that even Einstein, rather than question the consensus of his profession, forced that constant into his theory of relativity. Later Einstein confessed this was the greatest mistake he ever made. In the latter part of the 20th century, and after several independent measurements of light from exploding stars in deep space, science learned that the expansion of the universe is accelerating. The examples go on and on.

    No doubt you applaud the Orwellian efforts of several state AGs to deny First Amendment rights to the fossil fuel industry and its proponents and to charge them with fraud for having dared to question the global warming science community’s consensus on humanity’s impact on the earth’s climate. But should we hang fossil fuel companies with a criminal charge of fraud that is based on no more than conjecture?

    Sincerely yours,





  • jhsniegocki

    Thank you so much for this excellent, thoughtful, and deeply informed letter. As a graduate of ND’s doctoral program in Christian Ethics, I am grateful to see that there are students such as yourself who are continuing to do the hard work of trying to get ND to actually take seriously the values that it proclaims.