FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 26 2015
GUFF Issues Response to the CISR’s Failure to Endorse Divestment Proposal
Today, the Committee on Investments and Social Responsibility (CISR), after over a week of deliberation regarding the divestment proposal put forward by GU Fossil Free (GUFF), has published their recommendation to the University. The CISR’s recommendation, in brief, states:
The CISR does not recommend full divestment from the 200 fossil fuel companies with the largest proven reserves, while simultaneously recognizing the “real dangers of climate change,” as well as the “broad range of moral concerns” associated with investments in fossil fuel companies.
The CISR recommends divesting from “energy companies with the worst environmental impact, least commitment to alternative energy, and least responsiveness to engagement efforts.” Over a “reasonable time period,” the primary targets of CISR’s limited divestment would be coal companies.
The CISR recommends that Georgetown “proactively engage energy companies” to alter policies which have “harmful environmental impact” through shareholder engagement.
The CISR recommends that divestment efforts at Georgetown be reviewed on an annual basis to determine their impact and efficacy, with a full review after three years. The CISR recommends the creation of a “working group” to develop formal criteria to assess the behavior of the companies in question from a moral perspective.
Lastly, the CISR recognizes and welcomes the “significant and ongoing work” that Georgetown is undertaking in regards to climate change and environmental responsibility.
GU Fossil Free’s Response
The CISR’s decision not to support full divestment is disappointing. Partial divestment is a positive first step, and while we are encouraged by the CISR’s receptiveness to divestment as a tactic, their alterations to our proposal rely on false moral distinctions between different fossil fuel companies and greatly weaken the statement that full divestment would make. Partial divestment is an insufficient tactic, and, in light of the challenges at hand, is ideologically inconsistent with the CISR’s mandate to align Georgetown’s investments with its ethical standards:
GUFF’s proposal targets the top 200 oil, gas, and coal companies, as determined by the potential carbon emissions content of their proven reserves. Our choice of this particular number is not arbitrary. While companies on this list arguably do apply varying degrees of ethical discretion to some aspects of their governance, the fact remains that not one of them will elect, of their own accord, to cease extraction operations in the foreseeable future. Divestment from only coal would effectively legitimize other fossil fuel sectors whose products pose just as severe a threat to global human rights. While we would encourage divestment from any fossil fuel companies, partial divestment does not recognize the severity of the injustices perpetuated by the sector as a whole. Further, the CISR’s provision for divestment over a “reasonable time period” leaves open the door for inaction regarding an issue for which inaction has, for too long, been the norm.
The CISR’s recommendation for ‘proactive engagement’ with fossil fuel companies in which we remain invested constitutes an unrealistic approach to effecting substantive change. As we discuss in our proposal, shareholder advocacy efforts with companies whose objectionable behavior makes up the core of their business will never bring about the kind of adjustment that urgently needs to take place. Paying heed to the Jesuit-supported principle of engagement, the CISR advocates that Georgetown become more involved with the social implication of its investments. However, a working group is unnecessary to evaluate, from a moral perspective, the behavior of fossil fuel companies. It is naive to think that fossil fuel companies will change their behaviors, even if Georgetown switches from its current passive form of shareholder engagement to a more active form. These companies’ entire business model revolves around the unethical extraction and combustion of the carbon reserves they profess to own; engaging with these companies will not change this fact. Over time, shareholder engagement has proved, and will continue to prove an ineffective form of social responsibility when it comes to fossil fuel investments (see pg. 11-14 of our proposal). Continued shareholder advocacy is tantamount to inaction in the face of imminent crisis.
GUFF, alongside CISR, supports the efforts Georgetown has made recently to increase sustainability and environmental awareness on campus. However, our objections to fossil fuel companies derive from the human rights violations and direct harms on marginalized and vulnerable communities currently associated with extraction. Moreover, the problems that these measures seek to address are rooted in the fossil fuel industry’s hegemonic political and economic clout. We cannot mount an appropriately consistent and comprehensive institutional response to this climate crisis while we continue to hold a financial stake in the success of its primary authors. Such endeavors fail, by themselves, to eliminate the moral inconsistencies of Georgetown investing in fossil fuel companies while simultaneously creating policies designed to counteract climate change.
GU Fossil Free member Annie Wang (COL ‘16) says, “I don’t think the CISR is actually recognizing the broad range of moral concerns associated with our University’s investments in fossil fuels, nor the real dangers of climate change. These require urgent and visionary action. Other schools have stepped up to the plate with such responses, but none of the CISR’s recommendations for Georgetown meets these criteria.” GU Fossil Free first-year, Theo Montgomery (SFS ‘18), added, “Full divestment represents an incredible opportunity for Georgetown to demonstrate its moral leadership in the face of grave injustice. I hope the Board is more forward-thinking and ethically-minded than this Committee.”
At the end of their recommendation, the CISR quotes Pope Francis’s 2014 address to the UN Convention on Climate Change: “The time to find global solutions is running out. We will only be able to find adequate solutions if we act together and in agreement. Hence, there is a clear, definitive and ineluctable ethical imperative to act.” The Pope further goes on to state that “the effective struggle against global warming will only be possible with a responsible collective answer, that goes beyond particular interests and behavior and is developed free of political and economic pressures.” The responsibility to action falls particularly heavily on Georgetown as an institution founded on a strong commitment to justice and a powerful voice of moral authority. In the midst of a public discourse in which inertia reigns, we hold an exceptional obligation to step forward as a model for those who would heed the Pope’s call to action. Collective responsibility entails the willingness of individual actors to exceed the narrowest interpretation of their duties, to aim higher than the watermark set by their peers. Selective divestment (e.g. from a subset of coal companies) would feed the already-prevalent narrative that a sufficient response to climate change need not target the entire fossil fuel sector. Comprehensive divestment would make Georgetown’s contribution to this conversation a substantive one–we would be the first university with a comparable endowment to make such a commitment, and in doing so we would convey the message that a status-quo response to so urgent an issue is grossly insufficient. At Georgetown we place great stock in the ideal of being first and foremost “men and women for others,” but the chariness evident in the CISR’s recommendation would suggest that this standard is of secondary importance.
We hope that members of the Board of Directors will favor a more decisive commitment to moral leadership and opt for comprehensive divestment from the top 200 fossil fuel companies across all sectors.
The GU Fossil Free Coalition
A PDF version of this press release can be found here: 26Jan2015 GUFF Response to CISR Failure to Endorse Proposal