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Divestment is not the answer

| Thursday, January 25, 2018

Following the announcement last month that 40 Catholic institutions have agreed to divest from all fossil fuels, a recent letter to the editor in The Observer called on Notre Dame to follow suit and divest as well.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am a Notre Dame alum who now works in energy and natural resources at a consulting firm. I certainly respect the Notre Dame divest campaign’s resolve — and share in their concerns for the environment — but divestment is not the way to achieve progress on climate.

First, it’s important to remember that natural gas is what is helping the United States lead on climate, because it has far fewer emissions than traditional fuels. Even the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) — the most prominent climate scientific body in the world — has said that our increased use of natural gas for electricity generation is an “important reason” for the United States’ dramatic reduction in carbon emissions.

Even more importantly, as Catholics, we are called to serve the poor — and there are so many people in our own communities and in developing countries who don’t have access to affordable energy. In other words, divesting from the most affordable resources we have is not the best way to help them. Even Bill Gates has stated that, “We should not try to solve the [climate] problem on the backs of the poor. For one thing, poor countries represent a small part of the carbon-emissions problem. And they desperately need cheap sources of energy now to fuel the economic growth that lifts families out of poverty.”

Divestment would also be a financial blow to students at Notre Dame: One study finds that purging the Notre Dame’s endowment of fossil-fuel related equities could cost the fund tens of millions due to the transaction and management costs, not to mention reduced diversification benefits from giving up a key sector of the economy. That’s money that’s not going towards scholarships, faculty recruitment or even some of the University’s great sustainability programs.

We all want to be responsible stewards of the environment and advocates for the poor, but divestment is not the right way to accomplish either of those things. Instead of making an empty gesture through divestment, Notre Dame is right to move forward with real solutions.


Katie Brown

class of 2002

Dec. 19

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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