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It’s time to divest

| Friday, September 25, 2015

University President Fr. John Jenkins announced Monday that within five years, Notre Dame will stop burning coal as an energy source, and within 15 years it will cut its carbon footprint by at least half.

In light of Pope Francis’s May encyclical, “Laudato si’,” and the Holy Father’s first-ever visit to the United States this week, Jenkins said the University is recommitting to caring for our planet and preserving it for future generations. Furthermore, Jenkins said the University plans to invest $113 million in renewable energy technology, including solar, hydroelectric, biomass and geothermal.

At the White House on Wednesday, Pope Francis said, “Climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation. When it comes to the care of our ‘common home,’ we are living at a critical moment of history. We still have time to make the changes needed to bring about a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change. Such change demands on our part a serious and responsible recognition not only of the kind of world we may be leaving to our children, but also to the millions of people living under a system which has overlooked them.”

As members of a generation who will live to see the potentially devastating effects of human impact on the environment, we agree, and thus we applaud the University’s pledge to cut coal and invest in sustainable energy. We can only hope other colleges and universities, and beyond those, cities and nations, enact similar plans to substantially reduce carbon dioxide emissions and work to meaningfully stem the tide of global climate change.

And while we wholeheartedly support Notre Dame’s multi-pronged approach to building a more sustainable future for the University and the world, we join numerous fellow students and student groups in urging the administration to go one step further and divest all University money from fossil fuel companies. What good are our efforts to utilize sustainable energy if we simultaneously fund definitively unsustainable sources?

More than 25 other colleges and universities, including Stanford, California and Dayton, have already fully or partially divested or pledged to divest from fossil fuel companies, according to Fossil Free, an international network of divestment campaigns.

On its website, Fossil Free includes a common refrain from the divestment movement: “If it is wrong to wreck the climate, then it is wrong to profit from that wreckage.” We agree, and we call on Notre Dame to join the growing list of colleges, universities, faith-based groups and communities pulling their investments from companies that produce fossil fuels and profit off the exacerbation of climate change.

We accept that divestment may not be the most astute immediate financial decision for the University, but with an endowment of nearly $10 billion, we argue a true and full commitment to sustainable energy and development outweighs any short-term financial gain fossil fuel companies might provide. The University certainly has a financial obligation to its students, faculty and donors, but more so, we have a moral obligation to our planet and all who inhabit it.

If Notre Dame is the great Catholic university it strives and professes to be, then we ought to prioritize our moral responsibilities to our planet and to each other over the forces of capitalism, something Pope Francis has consistently emphasized.

Fr. Jenkins announced Notre Dame’s coal-free plan Monday. On Wednesday, he marked the 10-year anniversary of his inauguration as University President. While his eventual legacy, like all Notre Dame presidents, will undoubtedly span a wide range of issues and events, we feel the issue of climate change will play a defining role, as it should with all leaders of our day — including Pope Francis.

Thus, we implore Fr. Jenkins and the rest of the University administration to seriously consider and ultimately enact a divestment policy for Notre Dame.

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