Earlier this month, ExxonMobil published a blog post presenting its position on the burgeoning international fossil fuel divestment movement — unsurprisingly, they do not look favorably on it.
Claiming that the movement is out of touch with “reality,” it sings the praises of fossil fuels and makes the case that modern society requires oil and gas to progress. This publication came on the heels of the high-profile announcements of divestment by the University of Glasgow and the near-billion dollar Rockefeller Brothers Fund, as well as the decisions earlier in the year by Pitzer College to fully divest and Stanford University to divest from the coal industry.
It is not at all surprising that the fourth largest oil and gas company in the world, which relies on the extraction and sales of fossil fuels, is in opposition to a movement that aims to stigmatize such corporations.
What is surprising, however, is when institutions of higher education that often claim to be institutions of enlightenment choose to retain their investments in the companies’ fueling climate destruction and global social injustice. Georgetown University must hold itself to a higher standard and align its nominal values and goals with its actual practices, including its investments.
The student- and community-driven campaign, GU Fossil Free, has been fighting for Georgetown to divest from fossil fuel companies since the end of 2012. The GUFF coalition is expanding rapidly, with a quickly growing faculty and law student support base. Notably, a pro-divestment resolution is under consideration by the Student Bar Association, which would constitute a Georgetown University Law Center equivalent of the pro-divestment resolution passed last November by the Georgetown University Student Association.
The global climate movement is picking up speed as well. In September, the largest climate rally in history was held, in which 400,000 people marched through the streets of New York City, showing politicians and corporations that citizens from all walks of life are ready for meaningful action on climate. Many members of the Georgetown community and GU Fossil Free coalition attended that march and have brought that enthusiasm and readiness to mobilize climate action back to the Hilltop.
For its part, GU Fossil Free is preparing to meet with the Georgetown Committee on Investment and Social Responsibility later this month to formally present our proposal to divest the university’s endowment from fossil fuel companies.
GUFF’s final proposal, a 35-page document that has been shaped to meet Georgetown’s specific needs through collaboration with members of CISR over the past three-and-a-half semesters, was released in August of this year. A positive vote from CISR will make the proposal eligible for consideration by the university’s board of directors and would secure a spot on the board’s agenda for their winter meeting. The ladder of approval requires that all proposals addressing social responsibility through financial investment be advanced through the committee.
GU Fossil Free and its coalition look forward to a final meeting with CISR in the coming weeks, and especially to their vote in support of divestment. This is a chance for the committee to advance Georgetown’s legacy of social responsibility, and to give the board of directors the opportunity to join an unstoppable global movement toward a clean, green and more just future. Georgetown has the unique opportunity to take on a role as a leader of the movement and join the group of universities that have fully divested from fossil fuel companies.
In the coming months, the university must take a stand one way or the other on its continued financial implication in a globally looming human rights catastrophe. The entire GUFF coalition looks with optimism to those tasked with the just and conscientious management of our endowment to fulfill their duties and join in the fight for a fossil-free Georgetown.
Sean McLernon is a first-year at the Law Center. Caitlin Meagher is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service. Nina Sherburne works in university Human Resources. They are members of the GU Fossil Free coalition.