Breaking: GU Fossil Free Submits Proposal for Georgetown to Fully Divest from Fossil Fuels

On January 17, 2019, GU Fossil Free (GUFF) submitted a proposal to divest from all fossil fuel companies to Georgetown University’s Committee on Investments and Social Responsibility. We believe full divestment will improve the social, environmental, and financial responsibility of Georgetown’s endowment.

Our proposal asks that Georgetown University (1) immediately freeze all new direct investments in fossil fuels companies and (2) completely divest its Endowment Fund from all fossil fuel companies by January 1, 2024. These demands build on Georgetown’s past commitments to divest from coal and tar sands while setting a pragmatic timeline.

We urge students, faculty, and staff to sign our new petition to divest Georgetown’s endowment from all fossil fuels.

We also call on all student-led organizations (recognized and unrecognized) to sign onto our proposal as allies because it’s important to show the University that there is student support for our demands. If you would like to be listed here as an Ally Organization, please email us at gufossilfree at gmail dot com.

GUFF envisions a Georgetown that embraces its role as a leader in the promotion of environmental stewardship and social justice, as well as in responsible investing. In 2017, the University created a Socially Responsible Investing policy outlining its mission to promote the common good through its investments. It can only fully do so by publicly committing to remove its financial support from the fossil fuel industry through full divestment.

Below is a link to our proposal in PDF form. We’ve included the Executive Summary on this page and listed the proposal’s contents below. To read the full proposal, feel free to download (and distribute) this document.

Proposal to Divest from All Fossil Fuel Companies by January 1, 2014

GUFF Proposal Executive Summary

Our proposal is divided into four sections and includes two additional appendices that demonstrate the achievements of the global fossil fuel divestment movement as well as changing sentiments since GUFF’s first proposal from 2014.

Contents

1) Proposal to Divest from All Fossil Fuel Companies by January 1, 2024: 1-11

  • Executive Summary: 1
  • Aims: 2-3
  • Rationale: 3-9
  • Strategy: 10-11

2) Appendix 1 – Fossil Fuel Divestment Movement in 2019: 12-16

  • Table 1 – Positive Actions Toward Full Divestment by COFHE Schools: 14
  • Table 2 – American Schools That Have Committed to Fully Divest: 15-16

3) Appendix 2 – Changing Sentiments Regarding Fossil Fuel Divestment Since 2014: 17-18

4) Notes: 19-22

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SUCCESS: Board Votes to Divest from Tar Sands

On June 7th, 2018, the Committee on Finance and Administration of the Board of Directors of Georgetown voted for divestment from tar sands. The announcement stated that the board “supported a recommendation to use reasonable efforts to avoid investments in companies whose principal business is the extraction of bituminous sands (“tar sands”) for use in energy production.”

The recommendation comes after GU Fossil Free (GUFF) submitted a proposal in November 2017 advocating to divest the endowment from companies active in tar sands extraction in Alberta, Canada. The proposal cites social, environmental, and financial arguments against investing in tar sands companies.

This vote comes as a major success for GU Fossil Free and the divestment movement at Georgetown. Tar sands divestment marks the third time in the past few years that Georgetown has listened to its students’ input on the endowment through proposals to CISR, after the divestment from coal in 2015 and private prisons in 2017.

“As a freshman, I was surprised at how slow change can be in Georgetown institutions. This vote is a change for the better, and it’s a symbol that change can happen at Georgetown. At the same time, it’s a symbol that we need to keep fighting. We won’t stop now. This is not the end,” Ezequiel Espiricueta (COL ’21), a core GUFF member said.

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University Committee Recommends Divestment from Tar Sands

On April 30th, Georgetown University’s Committee on Investments and Social Responsibility (CISR) published a memo recommending that the university “avoid investments in companies whose principal business is the extraction of tar sands.”

The recommendation comes after GU Fossil Free (GUFF) submitted a proposal in November 2017 advocating to divest the endowment from companies active in tar sands extraction in Alberta, Canada. The proposal cites social, environmental, and financial arguments against investing in tar sands companies.

“Divestment brings us into much-needed alignment with our guiding Jesuit values, and is a great step forward on the path to full divestment. It is a victory both for marginalized communities and for mitigating climate risk in our endowment,” GUFF member Theo Montgomery (SFS ’18) said in response to the decision.

CISR’s recommendation will now make its way to the Committee on Finance and Administration. If approved, it is expected to be voted on at the Georgetown Board of Directors annual meeting in June.

View all of CISR’s meetings minutes and memos here.

CISR Memo Tar Sands

GU Fossil Free and Allies Deliver Letter to DeGioia Supporting Tar Sands Oil Divestment

January 26th, 2018

GU Fossil Free and a group of 13 allied student organizations recently delivered a letter to President DeGioia, calling for support for GU Fossil Free’s latest proposal. The proposal, which recommends divestment from companies involved in oil extraction from tar sands, aims to align Georgetown’s Jesuit values with its investment policy. Read our letter to DeGioia here. A full list of student group signatories is below:

Read more:

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GU Fossil Free members before the delivery outside of Healy Hall

GU Fossil Free Submits Proposal to Divest from Tar Sands Extraction

November 6, 2017

GU Fossil Free recently submitted a new proposal to the Committee on Investments and Social Responsibility recommending direct divestment from companies that extract oil from tar sands. The decision to suggest divestment from this particular fossil fuel arose from recognition of tar sands oil’s disproportionately high rate of greenhouse gas emissions, egregious exploitations of First Nations communities, and financial instability. The proposal was submitted on November 6, 2017, and a vote from CISR is expected by March 1, 2018.

Read the proposal here and its coverage in The Hoya here.

GU Fossil Free Responds to GUSA Referendum Decision

November 24th, 2015

GU Fossil Free is disappointed that the GUSA Senate voted down GUFF’s proposal to hold a non-binding referendum in which students would vote for or against divestment. GU Fossil Free, which has accumulated over 2,500 petition signatures calling on Georgetown to divest its endowment from fossil fuels, intended to have a referendum held through GUSA in order to provide undergraduates with the opportunity to express their support or dissent of divestment in February 2016.

The GUSA Senate’s worry that insufficient education would be given to students prior to the referendum is not a justifiable reason to withhold an opportunity for students to express their opinion on a timely and important campus issue. There would be time between this semester and the referendum in February to provide sufficient educational materials and opportunities to students. In order to alleviate concerns on lack of education, GU Fossil Free proposed and reached out to third party groups and those willing to argue in opposition to divestment to create unbiased and comprehensive educational materials. GU Fossil Free also worked quickly to collaborate with other individuals to include language for reasons not to divest on the referendum in February. However, both of these attempts to create greater, more widely distributed and unbiased educational materials were rejected.

At the same time, while the Senate expressed concern over lack of education, they also indicated as part of their final conclusion that any efforts put into educating students about divestment may detract from bandwidth to educate about issues like race on campus or sustainability more broadly. Not only does this idea contradict the call for greater education put forth by the Senate, the idea that divestment may detract students’ attention from greater issues in itself is misguided. Students are able to consider more than one idea in their mind at a time, and environmental justice issues and other campus issues are by no means mutually exclusive. By deciding which issues students can and cannot hold in their heads, the Senate has in essence decided on which issues students can campaign and to which issues students may pay attention. GU Fossil Free would liken this kind of action as censorship of an active issue, especially considering the strong support that over 2,500 petition signatures signifies. GUSA has also clearly violated its own mission which states that “students have a right to play a clearly defined and significant role in the formation and application of institutional policy affecting both academic and student affairs.” By allowing students to vote on divestment, a referendum would be one significant way that would allow students to participate in institutional policy on divestment.

It is also important to note that the referendum is non-binding; that is to say, a majority in terms of student support for divestment would not force the University to divest. The referendum is simply a means for students to express their support or dissent of a campus issue that is not only a national movement but a global movement to divest from fossil fuels. The Senate was not voting on whether or not to support divestment or even just to support GU Fossil Free. The Senate voted to refuse an opportunity for students to anonymously express their opinions. The Senate has voted in favor of similar non-binding action in the past, such as in November 2013 when the Senate voted in favor of a resolution supporting the idea that the University should take a serious look at GU Fossil Free’s proposal. GUSA exists to represent the students, yet it is ignoring the concerns of over 2,500 members of the undergraduate community. To hamstring a conversation prematurely by voting down the possibility of a referendum, the Senate does their constituents an immense disservice denying students the ability to collectively voice an opinion.

This would not be the first time the student body voiced their opinion to influence University decisions through a referendum. In the fall of 2013, the University announced the possibility of adding a satellite campus in Virginia. Students immediately campaigned against it and despite the lack of “official” or binding authority to make such a decision, GUSA supported holding a referendum to illustrate student opinion. It should also be made clear that campaigning around this referendum was deeply one-sided yet the Senate passed this referendum without a call for greater, unbiased education on the benefits of a satellite campus. Such hypocrisy must be regarded as unacceptable. Ultimately, with vast student dissent against the proposition of a satellite campus, Georgetown University took the idea off the table. A referendum is a way for citizens to voice their concerns about issues that affect them on which they may not have the authority to decide. By voting against the referendum, GUSA has restricted the power of the student body to collectively voice their stance on the issue of divestment, thus eliminating this important method of involvement in a pertinent campus decision.

The University endowment growth campaign is labeled “For Generations to Come.” Current students play a necessary role in ensuring not only that the endowment can grow, but that it is invested in ways that allow other people to thrive for generations to come. As GU Fossil Free has maintained throughout our campaign, investments in the fossil fuel industry contribute not only to climate change but to other global injustices that threaten many people’s ability to thrive. Climate change is developing at a pace that does not only affect our children’s futures but our own. As members of the Georgetown community, we should show the University that we strongly support divestment as a keystone of the University’s commitment to social justice and to fighting climate change.

In light of the GUSA Senate’s decision to reject the referendum, GU Fossil Free will be turning toward some of our other sources of support, such as our strong alumni, faculty, and Georgetown Law campaigns, as well as our strong undergraduate base. We are confident that this broad coalition will ultimately prove to the Board of Directors that Georgetown will be on the right side of history when it chooses to divest from all top 200 fossil fuel companies.

The Members of the GU Fossil Free Coalition

GU Fossil Free responds to Board’s decision 

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.
Sincerely,
The members of the GU Fossil Free Coalition