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viewpoint

A response to the sustainability strategy

| Thursday, February 9, 2017

Dear University President Fr. John Jenkins,

Fossil Free ND would like to thank you for your response to our call for divestment and a more ambitious sustainability plan. We appreciate your acknowledgement of our campaign, and the time you set aside to address our concern for the future of our planet and the people inhabiting it. However, we respectfully disagree with several of the points in your letter.

While our investment strategy may be consistent with the general guidelines of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, we feel as though the actions of fossil fuel companies violate more essential tenets of our faith. Catholic Social Teaching “instructs us to put the needs of the poor and vulnerable first.” Fossil fuel companies devastate the areas in which they operate. Companies are holding captive labor forces, draining and devaluing their land, and leaving behind waste and hazardous health conditions. As climate change intensifies, the effects will most severely impact those in developing countries who lack the means to adapt to harmful conditions. Our own sustainability strategy states that University actions should first benefit the people, secondly respect the planet’s inherent value, and only then consider the economic impacts of University actions. By remaining invested, Notre Dame is putting economic considerations above marginalized groups most affected by the impacts of global climate change. As students of this university, we demand consistency with administrative rhetoric and action. Notre Dame should not be applauded as a moral institution if our actions do not align with our values.

Parishes, colleges and cities that have divested around the world do not dispute the reality of our society’s dependence on fossil fuels. Rather, they challenge fossil fuel companies that utilize 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. These brave institutions have chosen to be a part of the solution while phasing out their own usage in favor of sustainable growth. By divesting, Notre Dame will not end the world’s energy dependence, but join a movement to end a war on humanity, science and democracy in the pursuit of profits.

Regarding the University’s sustainability strategy, we strongly object to your reluctance to make ambitious commitments towards emission reduction goals because of your concern that a future administration will have to inherit an undue responsibility. This perspective comes off as neglectful when compared to the consequence of inaction, which is the inheritance of an unlivable planet for future generations. The decisions you make now certainly impact future administrations. By not making ambitious commitments, you are putting fear of failure above your concern for the future of our planet. This is a time of great moral uncertainty, one that requires faith in a future for all people.

We would like to engage with you in dialogue on this issue in a way that is fair and open to all members of our university, for we are more than a single constituency of students as our petition clearly showed. When will we have the opportunity to do so? We leave it to you to decide what context would be most appropriate. We await your reply.

Cameron Hart
senior
Fossil Free ND
Feb. 9

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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