Just over a year ago, University President John J. DeGioia led presidents of other Washington-based colleges and universities in taking the District of Columbia College and University Sustainability Pledge, committing to develop a comprehensive sustainability plan to help advance Mayor Vincent Gray’s goal of making D.C. the “greenest college” town in the country. As alumni, we are proud to see these and other positive steps that Georgetown has taken.
However, since our graduation, the effects of climate change have grown only more severe. According to the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration, 2013 was the fourth warmest year on record. There has never been a year below the long-term average in our lifetimes, and all of the top-10 warmest years on record have occurred since 1998.
The poorest communities of the world will suffer worst from the increased frequency and severity of storms and droughts. A 2012 report for the World Bank explained, “No nation will be immune to the impacts of climate change. However, the distribution of impacts is likely to be inherently unequal and tilted against many of the world’s poorest regions, which have the least economic, institutional, scientific, and technical capacity to cope and adapt.” By 2025, 2.75 billion people will be exposed to the effects of sea level rise and other coastal threats posed by climate change.
To keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius, the internationally accepted and scientifically determined threshold to which nations agreed in the Copenhagen Accord, 80 percent of known fossil fuel reserves must be left in the ground.
While we commend Georgetown for the strides it has taken in reducing the carbon footprint of its campus, we cannot ignore the impact for which Georgetown holds responsibility by investing its endowment in fossil fuel companies. By doing so, Georgetown has tied itself morally and economically to the destructive practices of these companies and their impact on present and future generations.
Fortunately, there is a way to fix this: divestment. As students in GU Fossil Free have continuously demanded, Georgetown must rid itself of direct and indirect financial holdings in these destructive industries.
Some argue that Georgetown cannot divest because these funds yield good returns and the university has a financial responsibility to support its students’ education. However, this is a flawed argument: We can have a profitable endowment that is moral as well. In fact, fossil-free portfolios do as well or better than those invested in fossil fuels. Moreover, the valuations of fossil fuel companies are currently inflated because they assume the extraction of all known reserves. The inevitable future devaluation of these assets will put the endowment — and future generations of students — at risk.
As a Jesuit institution, Georgetown has principles of socially responsible investing, which can help manage this process. While the university’s primary Endowment Fund investment objective is to maximize return, social responsibility can supersede this mandate if the administration determines that an investment “is inconsistent with the basic values of the University as a Catholic and Jesuit institution, or the corporate practices of an investment cause substantial social injury or involve a significant violation of human rights.”
The effects of climate change violate human rights. Georgetown must acknowledge that profiting from climate change is inconsistent with our basic values.
Aligning Georgetown’s finances with its values — by joining other colleges in the fossil fuel divestment movement — will foster a more just world. When Georgetown divested from South Africa in the mid-1980s, it made a powerful moral statement and helped make history. The university’s positive actions had a ripple effect, inspiring others to do so as well. Georgetown can do this again.
We’re calling for this change from the administration and inviting the Georgetown community to join us. You can call or write to President DeGioia, visit his office, sign the GU Fossil Free petition and either refuse to donate to the school — or for the money-savvy, you can place a donation in escrow — until the endowment is fossil free. This will send a clear message that this destruction will not be done in our name.
Jonathan Cohn graduated from the College in 2010, Carter Lavin graduated from the School of Foreign Service in 2010 and Mara Schechter graduated from the College in 2011.
Co-signed by concerned alumni:
Elliott August (COL ’12)
Claire Austin (SFS ’12)
Bettina Bergoo (COL ’11)
Tripti Bhattacharya (SFS ’10)
Scott Breen (COL ’11)
Matthew Buccelli (COL ’11)
Michael Durante (MSB ’10)
Emily Gates (COL ’12)
Shea Kinser (COL ’09, GRD ’13)
Emily McGinnis (SFS ’11)
Alice Murnen (COL ’10)
Kristin Ng (MSB ’11)
Sarah Vazquez (COL ’13)