Students protest University energy policy; call for fossil fuel divestment
Katie Galioto | Friday, October 28, 2016
On Thursday afternoon, sophomore Adam Wiechman donned his orange cape and mask. It was time for the Climate Justice League to get to work.
Wiechman is part of Fossil Free ND, which promotes fossil fuel divestment and other sustainable practices on campus. The student-run organization led a rally Thursday to call for more action against climate change from the University, in light of its most recent sustainability plan.
“Go Jenkins,” the group chanted. “Beat climate change.”
About 40 people marched from O’Shaughnessy Hall to the steps of Main Building, shouting chants and waving signs. They wanted to show University President Fr. John Jenkins that he has a chance to be a hero, an example for other institutions around the world, Wiechman said.
They called themselves the Climate Justice League, he added, to put a fun, positive spin on their mission to separate Notre Dame from the fossil fuel industry.
“This is a university where it matters what we do and what those actions mean for the rest of the world,” he said. “I know Notre Dame does a lot of good stuff. But the problem is, no institution is perfect. Sometimes, you need a little guidance, a little help.”
And that’s where Fossil Free ND gets involved, senior Cameron Hart said.
“We’re drawing attention to the fact that we think there is a disconnect between what students feel about how sustainability should be acted upon on campus and how the administration is addressing that,” he said.
On Sept. 20, Jenkins announced a five-year sustainability plan to eliminate coal usage on campus by 2020 and provide at least 25 percent of the University’s energy from renewable resources by 2020.
Fifth-year Bryan Ricketts said the plan does not do enough. A crowd at the rally cheered in accordance.
“We would love the University to divest from fossil fuels and to set a target of 100 percent renewable energy by 2050 and start to work to meet that,” he said.
The event kicked off with a skit, with Hart and Wiechman portraying Jenkins and “Divestman,” a superhero working for “climate justice.”
“The idea all started with our mission of the march, which is trying to reinforce and support Jenkins in the decision to take action on climate change,” Hart said.
Students chanted as they made their way to Golden Dome, gathering on the ground below Jenkins’ office. They held up their painted cardboard signs.
One read: “Don’t be a fossil fool.” Another bore the phrase, “Divest like a champion today.”
Currently, 4 percent of Notre Dame’s endowment funds are invested in fossil fuel companies — a number that Jenkins has said he does not plan on changing in the near future.
Hart argued that it would not take much effort on the University’s part to divest from fossil fuels. And a little bit of effort could go a long way, he said.
“It’s definitely like Notre Dame making statements that are more in line with the idea that climate change is happening, and it’s happening now,” he said. “We need to act on it to protect the poor and protect the planet.”
Ricketts, the former student body president, said Pope Francis discusses the importance of preserving the environment in his most recent encyclical, “Laudato si’.”
“He says the cost of adjusting to climate change should not fall on the most vulnerable,” Ricketts said. “And it will if we continue to grow our fossil fuels and invest in fossil fuel industries — and then expect impoverished nations and people on the coastlines to adjust.”
“Climate justice is social justice,” the rally group chanted as they crossed the heart of campus.
Wiechman said members of Fossil Free ND are going to meet with University executive vice president John Affleck-Graves next week to discuss the sustainability plan. They organized the demonstration to show student support for their cause before.
In the future, the organization has plans to engage and mobilize even more members of the campus community, he added.
“Two weeks from now, we’re going to storm the dorms,” Wiechman said. “Two weeks from now, every dorm on campus is going to have every single door in that dorm knocked on by one of us.”
Fossil Free ND has weekly meetings on Mondays at 9 p.m. in the basement of Geddes Hall that are open to the public.
There’s a lot that can be accomplished by students advocating for issues they’re passionate about, Hart said.
“I would say that the greatest opportunity that we have as students to create change on this campus is to come together with a unified voice and to call for the same thing,” he said. “I would encourage students to get out there and support things. The administration will listen. But just the more people, the better — the more powerful the message.”