Fossil Fuel Holdings Criticized
Published: Friday, January 25, 2013
Updated: Saturday, January 26, 2013 17:01
GU Fossil Free, a student lobby group allied with several other campus organizations, submitted a proposal Wednesday outlining a plan for the university to abandon its suspected investments in fossil fuel companies.
“We propose that Georgetown University immediately freeze all new investments in all fossil fuel companies and divest completely from such companies within five years,” stated the proposal, which was addressed to University President John J. DeGioia. “We urge the administration and trustees of Georgetown to sever ties with these corporations to show that Georgetown does not support the devastation of our planet.”
GU Fossil Free was established last November and comprises about 15 core members. The organization has support from more than 20 campus student groups, including the Georgetown University College Republicans, the Georgetown University College Democrats, Georgetown Solidarity Committee, Interfaith Council and The Corp Green Initiative.
After DeGioia’s office received the proposal, university spokeswoman Stacy Kerr expressed the administration’s serious consideration of the group’s requests.
“The president's office received the letter from GU Fossil Fuel today. We will give careful consideration to the issues raised. We take these concerns seriously,” Kerr wrote in an email. “In fact, that is precisely why last year we enhanced the Committee on Investments and Social Responsibility … with the ability to make recommendations about our investment practices. We are asking the [Committee on Investments and Social Responsibility] to give the proposal careful consideration at its upcoming meetings.”
CISR evaluates written proposals, such as that of GU Fossil Fuel, of socially responsible investment issues and makes further recommendations to the finance committee of the board of directors. In evaluating proposals, the committee considers the significance of the allegations in the proposal, any social injuries or human rights violations the proposal outlines, inconsistencies with Georgetown’s Jesuit values and the portion of university investments implicated by the claims in the proposal.
GU Fossil Free drew inspiration from the 350 Campaign, a global campaign that encourages and assists universities in starting divestment initiatives. The 350 Campaign provided support to GU Fossil Free in the form of proposal and letter templates, press contacts, a 350 representative and partnerships with divestment projects at other universities.
“I think of GU Fossil Free as an extension of the 350 movement because if we were just to act on our own to divest from the fossil fuel industry, we probably wouldn’t make much of a difference,” GU Fossil Free member Michelle Stearn (SFS ’15) said. “When you compound all of the efforts of all of the universities across the U.S., I think it could have potential to actually disrupt the fossil fuel industries.”
Although Georgetown’s Board of Trustees does not publicly disclose where it invests the university’s endowment, Stearn said that GU Fossil Free suspects some of the money is invested in coal and fossil fuel companies. Her group urged board members to choose more sustainable options.
“We’re proposing that there are alternative companies to fossil fuel companies that Georgetown could invest in that would be just as lucrative and in fact less risky,” Stearn said.
Member Sydney Browning (COL ’15) said that Georgetown’s divestment initiative could potentially act as a catalyst for similar projects at other universities.
“Georgetown has a specific opportunity because we are a Catholic school and a Jesuit school, so we are devoted to this type of issue,” Browning said. “This is an opportunity for Georgetown to be a leader [among] all of these different schools and to take this opportunity and to divest. We’re hoping that the administration and Board of Trustees sees that as well.”
Member Mark Waterman (SFS ’13) acknowledged the challenge in urging Georgetown’s Board of Trustees to divest from such profitable companies.
“There are certain concerns about certain investments that the university has made that we won’t be able to take the money out of right away,” Waterman said. “I think our campaign is … conscious of that fact that we’re looking at a long-term fight if we ever want to see all of this money taken out of fossil fuel companies.”
Nonetheless, Browning expressed her belief that widespread and continuous pressure would lead to eventual divestment.
“I think that [divestment] is a goal that we can attain if we make it clear to the university that we’re not just a few students and we have larger student group support,” Browning said. “We plan to gain more support each year, so it’s not a campaign that the university can wait out. It’s something that we are going to keep building and make stronger over the years.”
As GU Fossil Free awaits a response from CISR, it will develop strategies to further advance its cause. Waterman said that such tactics could potentially include referendums, petitions and protests.
“Ideally, [CISR] will respond and say ‘Yes we’re going to divest right away, thank you very much,’ but considering that won’t happen, we’ll have to look into taking more targeted action and taking things to the next level,” Waterman said. “We will put more direct pressure on the university.”