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Moving from words to actions

| Thursday, March 17, 2016

This year has been an exciting time for sustainability on campus. Laudato Lunches, the Climate Investing Conference, and a GreeND Sustainability Festival are only a few examples of the variety of environmentally-themed events on campus. Notre Dame’s announcement to stop burning coal within five years is further encouragement that the University is acting on Pope Francis’ call to care for our common home. There is much discussion of other initiatives and ideas that would build on this momentum to reduce Notre Dame’s carbon footprint, yet there seems to be a roadblock in the way of the implementation of these ideals.

My first example is fossil fuel divestment. University of Dayton divested from fossil fuels in 2014, stating, “Catholic higher education was founded to examine culture and find ways to advance the common good. Here is one way to lead as a good steward of God’s creation.” One year later, Georgetown divested from the coal, citing Catholic and Jesuit values. At Mendoza’s Climate Investing Conference in September, one panelist urged Notre Dame to take a leading role in acting on climate change by divesting from fossil fuels, stating it is our moral responsibility as a leading Catholic university that we act in accordance with Catholic social teaching in this way. However, during an Energy Week panel, the VP and Treasurer of Exxon Mobil called divestment efforts “pointless” because fossil fuels will still likely be in use in 50 years. While I understand he was simply trying to “get ahead” of anything that may “undermine” the Notre Dame-Exxon Mobil relationship, he failed to understand the mindset behind divestment. It is not to stop burning fossil fuels overnight, but rather, to make the statement that Notre Dame has a moral obligation to act on climate change, and therefore not invest in companies that most directly contribute to it. Pope Francis states that the use of “highly polluting fossil fuels … needs to be progressively reduced without delay.” This cannot happen when fossil fuel companies are so powerful that they can lobby politicians to promote legislation favoring fossil fuels, dissuade use of renewables and promote misinformation on climate change. How can Notre Dame, as a Catholic institution, support these companies when Pope Francis calls on us to do all we can to pursue less carbon-intensive sources of energy? While Notre Dame has a financial obligation to its stakeholders, it also bears a responsibility to its students to promote a sustainable world. Last year, University President Fr. John Jenkins stated it was hypocritical to divest from fossil fuels when they are still in use. However, how can we expect a clean energy future if we do not take action to demand it?

Fossil fuel divestment is not the only example of initiatives that have run into difficulty. Some other examples are the removal of styrofoam and plastic cups from the dining hall and the tray-free campaign. Despite the significant waste reduction from these initiatives, there is a student outcry. Students, who have the most to lose from climate change and unsustainable practices, are complaining about initiatives that will serve to help their future. I understand — life is less convenient without these items. However, Pope Francis states we need to shift away from a throwaway culture. Our world simply cannot support the lifestyle we are living. We need to act, in however little ways, to reduce our carbon footprint, for the good of ourselves, and our common home. These sustainable initiatives are not out to make life more difficult for us, but rather, to encourage a lifestyle that will make the future better for all.

While Notre Dame has taken significant strides towards sustainability, it is not yet a leader. However, with a campus full of passionate and motivated individuals, I have no doubt that it can be. The discussions brought about this year by the Center for Social Concerns’ theme of “Care of Creation” have shown that we have the ability. Now, it is simply a matter of action.

Tessa Clarizio
GreeND President

Feb. 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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