A greener Notre Dame
BridgeND | Friday, September 17, 2021
On Friday, Father Jenkins announced that Notre Dame has pledged to become a carbon-neutral campus by 2050. While this announcement is encouraging, the university can and should take more immediate action to combat climate change, specifically through shifting its massive $13.3 billion endowment investment portfolio away from the fossil fuel industry.
While the call for divestment is by no means new to Notre Dame, the divestment movement for American higher education institutions has recently gained momentum. On Sept. 9, Harvard University announced that it will no longer directly invest in fossil fuels. Harvard, whose $41.9 billion endowment is the largest in the country, also announced that it will not renew any of its past indirect fossil fuel investments, which constitute less than 2% of the endowment.
The Harvard announcement is a substantial win for environmental activists. Harvard’s President Lawrence Bacow has previously publicly opposed divestment and has instead focused on fighting climate change through enhancing teaching, research and campus sustainability programs, an approach similar to Notre Dame’s. Climate activists, such as those who stormed the field at the 2019 Harvard-Yale football game as an act of protest, have effectively made university administrators rethink and alter their approaches to addressing climate change.
Harvard’s announcement comes at a time when the effects of climate change are being distinctly felt around the world. In the United States, many people have suffered from unprecedented amounts of extreme weather over the past several months. In fact, nearly one in three Americans live in a county that experienced a weather disaster this summer, according to The Washington Post. Additionally, 64% of Americans live in places that endured a multi-day heat wave. Hurricane Ida recently caused an estimated $95 billion in damage, record-breaking temperatures in the Pacific Northwest killed nearly 200 people, flash floods throughout the country have drowned people in their own homes and wildfires have destroyed 5 million acres of forest. Notre Dame should recognize the urgency of the climate crisis and divest from corporations that perpetuate the kind of extreme weather that many students, faculty and alumni suffered through this summer.
As in higher education, many officials in Washington are working to mitigate the effects of climate change. The White House and Congress are focused on passing a $3.5 trillion spending plan that attempts to slow climate change, among other goals. While the $1 trillion bill that includes funding for more sustainable infrastructure passed the Senate several days ago in notably bipartisan fashion, this larger bill is a progressive priority that has the potential to define Biden’s presidency. In regards to climate, the bill would subsidize the usage of clean energy and financially punish the use of dirty energy to incentivize the electricity sector to reduce pollution sharply over the next 15 years. The bill will also likely help American families pay for electric vehicles and energy-efficient homes.
Unfortunately, the policymaking process moves slowly, but Notre Dame has the opportunity to commit to a divestment strategy that could have a more immediate impact. Following Harvard’s commitment, Notre Dame could pledge to no longer invest directly in fossil fuels or renew its past indirect fossil fuel investments. Divestment would send a clear message that they need to shift towards cleaner energy or risk facing serious financial consequences.
Although governments and institutions like Notre Dame bear greater responsibilities on solving issues like climate change, we as individuals have a role to play if we intend on preserving our environment. Unfortunately, I am far from perfect in this regard: The car I drive is certainly not environmentally friendly, I continue to eat beef despite the climate consequences of the cattle industry and I have even made some past small investments into companies that are undeniably perpetrators of climate change. I am working to change my habits to support a more sustainable future, and I encourage Notre Dame to continue its sustainability efforts while going even further through divesting from fossil fuels.
I’m not writing this article to shame Notre Dame for its past actions on climate. Instead, I hope to motivate university leadership to be a genuine champion of sustainability in all aspects. Going forward into an era where many universities are taking action on campus and in their portfolios to combat this century’s most consequential issue, Notre Dame can and should be at the forefront of the movement.
Clark Doman is the current vice president of BridgeND, a non-partisan political education and discussion group committed to bridging the partisan divide through honest, respectful and productive discourse. If you’re interested in discussing climate change alongside many other political topics, BridgeND meets weekly on Mondays at 7:00 p.m. You can contact the club at [email protected] or @bridge_ND on Twitter.
BridgeND is a student-led discussion club that is committed to bridging polarization in politics and educating on how to engage in respectful and productive discourse. BridgeND welcomes students of all backgrounds, viewpoints and experiences who want to strengthen their knowledge of current issues or educate others on an issue that is important to them. The club meets weekly on Mondays at 7 pm in the McNeill Room of LaFortune. Want to learn more? Contact [email protected] or @bridge_ND on Twitter and Instagram.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.