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Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Making Georgetown Cleaner and Greener

Julia Hennrikus

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.

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  • A

    Addressing "Marty Big Stick" 's issueOct 21, 2014 at 7:28 pm

    I found a wonderful response to the first comment in the New Zealand Herald, conveniently published today as well.

    “All this fossil fuel bashing will be too much for some. “We all use fossil fuels, you included!” says the critic when she leaps to the defence of big oil.

    This is true, as far as it goes, but naïve. Energy use is not a matter of individual choice – whether we like it or not we are locked into world systems whose very life-blood is oil. We can’t choose a decentralised grid, renewable supply, or decent cycling infrastructure, thanks to historic legacies and the continued power of big oil. We need divestment to work because fossil fuel companies distort politics and stand in the way of a sustainable future.

    “We should engage fossil fuel companies, not demonise them,” runs another counter-argument. Investor engagement can work, but only if clear goals and timelines are set.

    Research that helps companies extract more efficiently just gets carbon out of the ground faster; working with companies on renewables, carbon capture and storage, or low-carbon technology can work, but does nothing to transform the core business of big carbon.

    And when the laws of coercive competition squeeze, big carbon will always retreat to its core business.

    We are well past the point where the good delivered by fossil fuel companies outweighs the environmental, social, and economic negatives.

    We need any and all tactics to achieve a post-carbon world. Divestment puts fossil fuel companies in the spotlight, names them responsible for climate change, and confronts their power. Divestment should be supported by everyone who cares about climate change.”

  • V

    vsdfsadfOct 21, 2014 at 4:11 pm

    I’ve actually read their proposal, and they amply address all of the points you raise (or at least all of the halfway-cogent ones). I guess the question of how this will affect the endowment must have (astonishingly) already come up once or twice in the years since this campaign started.

    I’d encourage you to go take a look at it yourself, though that might cut into valuable time that you could otherwise devote to self-congratulatory posturing on the internet

  • M

    martybigstickOct 21, 2014 at 12:03 pm

    The authors of this article seem to suggest that because a lot of people believe fossil fuels are a bad thing, Georgetown University should join this “unstoppable movement” to “lead” the fight against Big Bad Oil. In other words, popularity equals correctness. Sadly, nothing could be farther from the truth.

    Let’s look at the ideas of investment and divestment.

    A fund manager, using his expertise and knowledge, invests in companies and stocks that he believes will make the highest return for his client, Georgetown University. He invests in fossil fuel stocks because they have value and a HIGHER expected return than alternative investments. When you constrain his judgment and choices, you by necessity earn a LESSER return for Georgetown. The result? The less future funds that are available to Georgetown, the less it will be able to carry out its mission to provide a high-quality education to its students. This could mean attracting lesser-qualified professors, offering less programs and activities, or providing less student aid and support than it might otherwise offer. But I guess since you’re already in, it’s okay to pull up the ladder on future students. Who cares about those poor slobs?

    Meanwhile, the divested stocks still have a fair market value that will most assuredly be purchased by others, including foreign fossil fuel companies. And since fossil fuels are the best and cheapest energy choice for a large number of uses, those companies will earn profits. US dollars will enrich those foreign companies. American jobs will be lost. The debt of Americans will increase. Please explain how all of these things are good for your country.

    Here’s a quick test of your resolve (or hypocrisy): Do you own an iPhone or iPad? They’re made of plastic, which comes from fossil fuels. The battery is recharged by electricity, which almost certainly comes from a fossil fuel powered utility plant. Why don’t you divest FIRST and give up your gadgets? THEN you can tell everybody else how to live. Wake me when this happens.

    Do you drive a car or take the Metro or the bus or the train? Again, fossil fuel powered. Do you work or study in a building that has electric lights. More fossil fuels. In other words, dear activist, the world runs on fossil fuels. As a Georgetown graduate, your ideal government grant-funded “career” might entail walking off into the woods to study how squirrels store acorns for the winter, but the vast majority of your fellow humans require fossil fuels to get to work, earn a paycheck, and put food on the family dinner table. Your objection to this great truth doesn’t make it any less true.

    “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.”