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Why we march

| Friday, April 22, 2016

Last week at the annual Hesburgh lecture, one of the world’s most esteemed environmentalists, Bill McKibben, gave a speech titled, “The Last Ditch Effort for a Working Climate: Report from the Front Lines.”  After first jokingly admitting his role to be a “professional bummer-outer,” he described the myriad of environmental consequences that result from climate change. Specifically, he focused on the social and economic implications of climate change, showing that environmental problems are human problems. McKibben then called upon Notre Dame to lead the movement for fossil fuel divestment.

McKibben urged us to utilize “the enormous reputation and prestige, rightly earned by decades of leadership from people like Fr. Theodore Hesburgh and by a generation of scholars and students,” and using it in this case to “deprive the fossil fuel industry of the social license under which it operates.” Investment in fossil fuel companies promotes processes of destruction and inequality. Notre Dame, therefore, has an opportunity and a duty as a leading Catholic institution to withdraw support from these industries by divesting from fossil fuels.

Catholic moral values are not compatible with investment in the fossil fuel industry. Perhaps in the past ignorance validated a lack of action; However, today we know for certain that fossil fuels have catastrophic impacts for the Earth and the people who live here. Climate change affects everyone and is seen everywhere — from the drought in California to Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

Pope Francis makes it clear in Laudato Si that it is our duty as Catholics and human beings to take action on climate change. As we destroy the natural bounty and wealth of our common home with a selfish, throwaway culture, the tarnished ecosystem harms human beings, and affects the poor disproportionately. In order to escape this downward spiral, it is imperative that developed countries like the United States dramatically reduce their fossil fuel usage and embrace renewable energy without delay. However, the prevalence of the fossil fuel industry in politics prevents this from happening. For decades the industry has blocked serious action on this global problem by perpetuating doubt about climate science and exercising financial influence on our political system. As McKibben mentioned in his speech, he initially thought that the climate crisis was simply a matter of education — write a book, people will read it and, once informed and aware, people will change. Yet regardless of all the data, we still see climate change denial in the news and media as if it were a debate. Our system needs to change, and divestment from fossil fuels will promote this energy transformation.

Notre Dame states that they do not invest in industries that are not in line with its values as a Catholic institution. Examples are companies whose products give support to abortion, embryonic stem-cell research, contraceptives and pornography, as well as companies involved in arms manufacturing, discrimination or “sweatshop” labor practices. Climate change is undeniably a right to life issue as well; Environmental destruction threatens the life of the entire planet and its future inhabitants.  

By continuing to invest in fossil fuels, Notre Dame chooses to declare that it is acceptable to profit from the root of the largest and most complex problem humanity has ever faced. By inviting McKibben to deliver the 22nd Annual Hesburgh Lecture, Notre Dame attempted to build upon the strong moral foundation upon which Fr. Hesburgh and many others laid for this university. Therefore, out of respect for the legacy of social justice that Notre Dame celebrates, we must reevaluate our investments.

Following the McKibben talk, over 50 individuals joined Fossil Free ND in a rally, marching to the Main Building to demand the University remove investments from fossil fuel companies, reinvest in the energy transition and commit to advocate for climate justice. These demands are not radical; preventing the annihilation of our planet and its inhabitants is anything but radical. Fossil fuel divestment is one of the tools with which Notre Dame can act to save our planet and uphold the dignity of those most affected by climate change. Let’s take a word of advice from our founder, Fr. Edward Sorin: “Let no one ever say we dreamed too small.”

Fossil Free ND

Tessa Clarizio
Kurt Natke
Gemma Stanton
April 21

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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