Response to ‘Divestment is not the answer’
Letter to the Editor | Wednesday, January 31, 2018
Last week a Notre Dame alumnus, and current director of corporate reputation at FTI Consulting, wrote a letter to the editor titled “Divestment is not the answer.” The conflict of interest is overwhelming and something that Ms. Brown herself admits to writing, “I am a Notre Dame alum who now works in energy and natural resources at a consulting firm.” Also, from her public LinkedIn profile: “I was the team lead and spokesperson for Energy in Depth, a research and education program of the Independent Petroleum Association of America.” Nevertheless, as a member of Notre Dame’s divestment campaign, FFND, there is a need to respond to the three specious arguments she poses in her letter.
She first posits that “natural gas is helping the United States lead on climate.” Natural gas is often praised for being “clean burning” and for decreasing CO2 emissions compared to coal power. However, this assumes that 100 percent of natural gas reserves are burned. Unfortunately, significant percentages of natural gas are lost everyday through leaks — allowing methane, a greenhouse gas even more devastating than CO2, into the atmosphere. Furthermore, the large sums of money that are currently being thrust towards natural gas investments as a replacement for coal could likely be better invested in renewable energy projects — projects that do not pose threats such as methane leaks or water pollution.
Secondly, she argues that divestment would hurt the poor in developing countries that need access to cheap resources. FFND has heard this type of rhetoric time and time again. The vice president of the University has told us that fossil fuel companies serve as a lifeline for over 3 billion people in the world. This statement reflects a lack of knowledge of the divestment process and uses rhetoric meant to dissuade students and institutions from using their voice and power to demand fossil fuel companies respond to the climate crisis. Divestment doesn’t happen overnight. It doesn’t bankrupt companies and disrupt production that would leave people without access to electricity. It is a strategic and symbolic maneuver that pressures companies to transition their energy portfolios to meet the increasingly popular demands for access to clean, renewable technology. This statement reflects a lack of knowledge of the divestment process and uses rhetoric meant to dissuade students and institutions from using their voice and power to demand fossil fuel companies respond to the climate crisis. Divestment doesn’t happen overnight. It doesn’t bankrupt companies and disrupt production that would leave people without access to electricity. It is a strategic and symbolic maneuver that pressures companies to transition their energy portfolios to meet the increasingly popular demands for access to clean, renewable technology.
Lastly, she contends that divestment would hurt the Notre Dame student body because diminished profits would result in less financial aid. To prove this point, she cites one study that just so happens to be “a project of the Independent Petroleum Association of America.” Yikes. But let’s put aside the glaring conflict of interest once again and consider the argument at face value. Does Notre Dame need to be conscious of how it invests to ensure a hefty financial aid package? Sure. But as multiple studies show, a litany of peer institutions (such as those who divested in October), entire cities (including NYC) and whole countries (Ireland) can attest their investment portfolios have remained profitable. If that doesn’t impress you enough, we just spent over $400 million dollars on a colossal stadium project. Currently the University has about 4 percent of a $10 billion endowment invested in fossil fuel companies. I’ll let you do the math. It’s not a problem of cost; it’s a problem of priorities.
In reality, the divestment movement is heating up and finding great success throughout the world. In Bill McKibben’s latest article, “3 Strategies to Get to a Fossil Free America,” he writes: “The fossil fuel–divestment movement has become the biggest corporate campaign of its kind in history, with endowments and portfolios worth a combined $6 trillion having sworn off coal and gas and oil in part or in whole.” He adds that studies (not funded by fossil fuel companies) have found that “the campaign has catalyzed the rest of the climate movement, driving the debate towards grappling with the harsh reality that we had far more carbon than we could ever burn … [and] the falls in share values that divestment has caused help[s] dry up the capital needed for more exploration and drilling.”
Divestment is working. Notre Dame needs to get on board and start prioritizing the planet over profits.
Fossil Free Notre Dame
The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.