Response to Board of Directors’ Decision on Divestment04 June 2015
From its inception, GU Fossil Free has been guided by a single goal: to advocate for the divestment of Georgetown’s endowment from the top 200 oil, coal, and gas companies based on proven carbon reserves. The rationale for divestment at Georgetown lies in both climate justice and the University’s Jesuit roots. Georgetown has made enormous strides in recent years to become more sustainable and, simultaneously, its beliefs have demanded that it support social justice for all peoples around the world. As the effects of climate change become more pronounced globally, the need for fundamental, systemic change has also become more clear. The divestment movement is a major driver in the conversation that will ultimately move the world away from a crippling dependency on fossil fuels. For Georgetown, divestment offers a way for the University to realign its endowment with its moral values: if Georgetown professes to care for all people as a Jesuit university, its endowment should work to not only grow fiscally, but also be representative of the world the University ethically supports and cares to create.
In light of today’s decision of the Georgetown University Board of Directors only to divest from direct investments in coal companies, which as the resolution itself states represents an “insubstantial portion of the endowment,” GU Fossil Free maintains that this is not a victory. Georgetown’s direct investments in coal, oil, and gas, as opposed to those in commingled funds, represent only about 2% of the endowment. Therefore, at this moment, we cannot say what portion of the endowment will be divested from coal, but we know it is very small. As a top administrator said to us, “coal investments weren’t such great investments to begin with.” It is evident that the University made its decisions for mostly financial and public relations reasons. If the Board had made their decision for principally moral reasons, then they would have supported full divestment from both direct and commingled funds from coal, oil, and gas companies. If Georgetown understands coal investments to be immoral, the only reason not to divest from commingled funds which include coal would be because doing so is more logistically difficult than divesting from direct investments, a meager excuse considering the urgency of the climate crisis.
Today, Georgetown decided to continue investing in commingled coal, oil, and gas funds, as well as keep its direct investments in oil and gas companies. This decision is morally indefensible. It relies on indiscriminate moral distinctions between coal and oil/gas companies and greatly weakens the political tactic that divestment provides. GUFF’s proposal targets the top 200 oil, gas, and coal companies, as determined by the potential carbon emissions content of their proven reserves. The decision for this particular metric 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. By divesting from only direct coal holdings, Georgetown has legitimized commingled coal funds and oil/gas as socially just and morally responsible investments – which is indefensible, because these companies’ products pose just as severe a threat to global human rights.
As a university with strong roots in Catholic social teaching and Jesuit identity, Georgetown has an obligation to align its investment practices with its espoused ideal of a life lived in service of others. Pope Francis explicitly called upon those in “positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life” to act as “protectors of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment.” Retaining investments in the fossil fuel industry flies in the face of the University’s commitments to vulnerable communities around the world and to future generations.
We thank the Board for helping us begin this process of examining the consequences of our investments, and for the tiny step of divesting from direct coal investments, but they did not make the right decision: Georgetown University has decided to continue immoral investments, actively undermining its Jesuit values and global reputation as a moral leader. Our endowment continues to facilitate an energy economy and global power structure that does not serve the poor, those fighting for clean air and water, small farmers trying to make a living in a rapidly deteriorating climate, or our children and grandchildren. This is unacceptable.
GU Fossil Free looks forward to urging Georgetown to make the right decision.
The members of the GU Fossil Free Coalition