Is investing in fossil fuels “inimical to the values the University espouses”?

Over the last three years Fossil Free Gonzaga has been making the case that global climate change is an existential and moral crisis the likes of which our species has never experienced and that seeking to profit (investing in) from the sale of the substances causing the problem is clearly inimical to our most fundamental values. We don’t think our argument is especially controversial: if ever there was a time that our ESG policy would require us to exclude securities inimical to the values the University espouses,  fossil fuels stocks would seem to be it. What is fascinating is that, to a significant degree, Gonzaga has already affirmed the premises of this divestment argument. So far it has been unwilling to face squarely and courageously the inexorable implication of those premises. Let’s consider the premises.

  1. The Catholic church has, since 1990, recognized that there is an “ecological crisis” and that anthropogenic climate change is a real and present threat to much of life on the planet, especially to the most vulnerable members of the human family.[1] This was enshrined in Catholic Social Teaching in Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical.[2]
  2. The Jesuits in particular have affirmed since General Congregation 35 (2008) that care for and right relation with creation is a fundamental and irreducible aspect of the Society’s charism.[3] This was made especially clear in the 2011 Special Report of the Society’s Social Justice and Ecology Secretariat.[4]
  3. Gonzaga President Thayne McCulloh has affirmed the importance of the Paris Climate Agreement, the reality and urgency of anthropogenic climate change caused primarily by the burning of fossil fuels, and that “the trajectory of emissions” ultimately “leads to a catastrophic future.”[5]
  4. Gonzaga’s own mission statement recognizes our obligation to “care for creation” and “responsible stewardship of our physical, financial, and human resources.”
  5. Gonzaga has for some time maintained, and in December 2015 reaffirmed, an Environmental Social and Governance (ESG) Investment Policy that states, in part, “In keeping with the Mission Statement of Gonzaga University, it is the intention of this Investment Policy to promote the basic moral values of fairness, respect for human life, defense of human rights and social justice. In the process of accomplishing a satisfactory risk adjusted return on the invested assets of the Endowment Fund, the Committee may weigh … excluding from the Fund, securities of firms or managers whose policies or practices are inimical to the values the University espouses….”

What is the logical implication of these five premises?

  • The Catholic church, the Society of Jesus, and Gonzaga University have all affirmed the scientific account that global warming is anthropogenic, driven primarily by the burning of fossil fuels, and that the climate change caused by this warming is morally and existentially urgent.
  • Gonzaga’s own Investment Policy allows it to exclude investments that are contrary to the values of the University.

The only thing that is missing is the logical implication of these premises. We admit that climate change is happening, that fossil fuels are its primary cause, that it is and will increasingly harm all life, especially the most vulnerable humans, and that it is morally urgent. If seeking to profit from the sale of the substances causing the climate crisis is not inimical to the most fundamental values of the institution, it is hard to imagine what would be. Gonzaga has already affirmed every premise. Will it have the courage to recognize the logical implication of those premises?

[1] Pope John Paul II, “The Ecological Crisis: A Common Responsibility”

[2] Pope Francis, Laudato Si’: On Care of Our Common Home,

[3] General Congregation 35,

[4] “Healing a Broken World,” “To the oft-asked question whether GC 35 says anything new regarding the relationship between ecology and our fundamental charism as defined by GC 34, the answer must clearly be ―”Yes”. There are two significant departures from the way the theme of ecology was treated before GC 35. First, GC 35 makes a comparison between reconciliation and right relationships, that is, it introduces the idea of reconciliation into the faith-justice dyad; and second, it establishes an intrinsic and indissoluble unity among the three types of relationships (with God, with others, and with creation).”

[5] President McCulloh’s September 14, 2017 memo: “The rapid, measurable changes in our earth’s atmosphere, and the impact these are having on the planet itself are some of the most pressing concerns of our time, with massive implications for the future and for the generations to come.  For decades scientists, politicians, activists, and theologians have expressed concern over the increase in CO2 in the atmosphere, the thinning of the ozone layer, and the consequential impact of thawing ice caps and warming seas.  Much of the recent focus has been on human-produced emissions from the burning of “fossil fuels” such as petroleum oil and coal.  Reflective of international efforts to bring attention to this issue, and deeply concerned that the current level of worldwide emissions — and more importantly, the trajectory of emissions based on growing consumption — leads to a catastrophic future, the nations of the world have endeavored to forge agreements to decrease CO2  emissions (such as the UN’s Paris Climate Accord).”


Is Gonzaga’s ESG Investment Policy Meaningless?

The discussion over fossil fuel divestment is running up against a difficult problem. At times we are being told that, given Gonzaga’s current investment strategies, it simply isn’t possible to do any negative screens for fossil fuels. Actually, it isn’t just fossil fuels. At present, we are told, there are no mechanisms by which Gonzaga could exclude or include anything, ever. This is an interesting admission. Why? If it is true that the current investment strategies are incompatible with any screening, then there are currently no conditions under which it is possible for Gonzaga to follow its own Environmental Social and Governance (ESG) Investment Policy. This would be very problematic because it would imply that Gonzaga’s ESG policy is quite literally meaningless.

Let’s look at this argument a bit more carefully from the beginning, starting with the key section of Gonzaga’s Endowment Fund Investment Policy, which was reaffirmed by the Board of Trustees in December of 2015. Section L is labeled “Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) Considerations” and states:

“In keeping with the Mission Statement of Gonzaga University, it is the intention of this Investment Policy to promote the basic moral values of fairness, respect for human life, defense of human rights and social justice. In the process of accomplishing a satisfactory risk adjusted return on the invested assets of the Endowment Fund, the Committee may weigh: (1) excluding from the Fund, securities of firms or managers whose policies or practices are inimical to the values the University espouses; (2) investing in securities of firms or managers that demonstrate a high level of social concern; (3) influencing the social behavior of firms invested in through the exercise of ownership rights.”

We are proud to be part of an institution that has a policy such as this. Gonzaga is right to recognize that its mission is not value neutral and that the investment of its Endowment Fund is itself a moral statement. It is right that the university should exclude or include securities or firms based on whether they are compatible with our most deeply held values. Further, we recognize that it is not always obvious which values or investments are so important that they would require action under this ESG policy. That would need to be decided on a case by case basis. What about fossil fuel divestment?

A common refrain we hear is not that climate change is not urgent but that, given how we invest our endowment, it really is not possible to do negative screens on anything, including fossil fuels. This is a very surprising claim. For, if it is true that it is not possible to do any negative screens, then there are no conditions under which it is possible to ever follow our own ESG Investment Policy. If there are no conditions under which it is possible to ever follow our ESG Investment Policy, then the ESG Policy is itself meaningless. Perhaps it makes us feel good, but it can never meaningfully inform decision-making. Put even more directly, if negative screens are not possible, then our ESG Policy is, at best, window dressing and, at worst, a sham.

But this isn’t all bad news. We believe that Gonzaga does want to have a meaningful ESG policy that can inform Endowment Fund investment. That means that it is incumbent upon Gonzaga to create the necessary mechanisms by which negative (and positive) screens could, in principle, be used by its fund managers. And this is good news. For, once those mechanisms are created, once it is possible to, in principle, follow our own ESG policy and include or exclude securities based on our fundamental mission values, then it also becomes possible to divest from the fossil fuels causing catastrophic climate change.

So there we have it. Either negative screens (and divestment) are impossible and the ESG policy is meaningless or the ESG policy is meaningful and negative screens (and divestment) are possible. In other words, the very act of affirming our ESG policy refutes the claim that it isn’t possible to divest. The ESG policy requires that divestment is, in principle, possible.

This is a very important realization because it allows us to return focus to the real issue. The real issue is not whether it is possible to divest, we now see that our ESG policy establishes that it is, but whether investing in fossil fuels is so inimical to the values of Gonzaga that any reasonable interpretation of the ESG policy entails fossil fuel divestment. In the justification for the resolution we have made the case that the answer to this question is, “Yes.” Here we make the case that the University has, in a sense, already agreed to the premises of the argument for divestment.


Claim that divesting could cost $1.3 million misleading

Some may say: “Divesting could cost the University an estimated $1.3 million dollars.”
However, the $1.3 million figure postulated is misleading. There are no inherent costs of divestment.

Based on reporting in the Gonzaga Bulletin and conversations with Faculty Senators, the Faculty Senate delayed a vote on the Fossil Free Gonzaga Resolution primarily for two reasons. In our earlier blog we responded to the first concern. In this blog we respond to the second concern: “Divesting from the 200 most carbon-intensive companies would cost the University an estimated $1.3 million dollars.”

At a recent meeting of the Faculty Senate, the claim was introduced that divesting could cost the University an estimated $1.3 million dollars. At the time it was not given any context or explanation. Subsequent inquiries yielded the following information about how this figure was derived:

“The University has not commissioned a study, internally or externally, to measure the cost of transition to fossil fuel divestment. … In lieu of a more exhaustive divestment study, a reasonable starting point for such an estimate, in very rough terms, is to look to the market of active fund managers that provide negative screens. It is not uncommon for such funds to charge 20 to 50 basis points (0.20% to 0.50%) annually for the administration of such a program. This also does not include any internal costs to administer or any frictional costs of making the transition.

So, for conversational measurement of the cost of implementation, a working estimate is .50% x $250,000,000 (our pooled endowment figure), which approximates $1.3M. The actual figure … could be lower or higher. This analysis also does not factor in the opportunity cost of what such fees could have earned over time had they not been charged annually to the portfolio. Assuredly, there are additional costs required to administer such a portfolio.”

There are several responses to this claim.

  1. This analysis seems to misrepresent the fraction of the endowment potentially affected by divestment. Less than half of the Endowment Fund is in equities. Thus, even if the analysis above were reasonable, and we do not believe that it is, the estimated cost would not be $1.3 million, but less than $650,000.
  2. As Gonzaga’s former President Fr. Robert Spitzer is fond of saying: “Arbitrarily asserted, arbitrarily denied.” The fact that this “conversational estimate” picks the high end of an arbitrary range suggests that the University is looking for excuses not to divest, rather creatively discerning responsible paths to divestment.
  3. It is important to put the proffered 0.5% number into some perspective. The challenge of managing the Endowment Fund is to achieve adequate risk adjusted returns over time. $1.3 million is not a small amount of money, but it is dwarfed by the massive market uncertainties. Historically there have been decade-long periods where the S&P 500 has lost money and decades where the returns have been in the high teens. Will the endowment be worth less than $250 Million in a decade? More than $1 Billion? These are the fundamental challenges for the Endowment Fund, not a rounding error discussion about divestment.
  4. If divestment is done over a responsible period of time, which is what we are calling for, it is possible to achieve desired risk adjusted returns while gradually shifting to fund managers willing to assist with negative screens. There is no inherent reason that a fossil free endowment would be more expensive to manage and transition costs will be negligible if done responsibly over time.
  5. Insufficient justification is given for the .5% figure. Specifically:
    • There is no mention of the costs of the existing program, either portfolio management, advisory or mutual fund, or separately managed account costs, nor is there any comparison to the costs reasonably available with an intelligent asset management strategy.
    • As we see in the discussion lead by finance expert Randy Cerf last fall, there is no reasonable justification available for this assumption of .5%.  It is not uncommon for an asset management fee to be charged whether a portfolio is fossil free or not and there is no inherent reason for it to be any different with or without divestment.
  6. Any reasonable comparison would involve actually doing the work of constructing a before and after portfolio. Anything short of that is not worth taking seriously. If one were tasked with doing so to prove that divestment was expensive, one could clearly construct portfolios that proved that divestment was costly. No doubt one could generate costs even more expensive than 0.5%. Similarly, if one wanted to prove that divestment was costless, one could construct a lower cost portfolio, perhaps with 0.5% lower costs. Neither of these are meaningful because neither approach replicates anything like reasonable portfolio strategy.  Both ignore the most important goal of maximizing returns on a risk adjusted basis after all fees.

Bottom line: there are multiple responsible paths to meaningful divestment. Gonzaga just needs to commit itself to finding one that works for us.

(See our comprehensive list of objections and replies to fossil fuel divestment. )

Is divesting from the CU 200 a “moving target”?

Based on reporting in the Gonzaga Bulletin and conversations with Faculty Senators, the Faculty Senate delayed a vote on the Fossil Free Gonzaga Resolution primarily for two reasons. In an effort to help the Senate in its deliberations, in a series of blogs we will offer our own analysis of these new concerns.

(See our comprehensive list of objections and replies to fossil fuel divestment. )

Concern #1: Carbon Underground 200 is a Moving Target

One concern expressed by some faculty goes something like this: “Divesting from the 200 most carbon-intensive companies creates a moving target, making divestment difficult or unreasonably burdensome.” However, this seems to be based on a misunderstanding, since there is significant implementation flexibility & targeting those who hold the carbon is better than creating a black-list.

Image result for carbon underground

The Carbon Underground 200 (CU200) is an annually updated listing of the top 100 public coal companies globally and the top 100 public oil and gas companies globally, ranked by the potential carbon emissions content of their reported reserves. The list is produced and maintained by Fossil Free Indexes, LLC. Some express concern that targeting the CU 200 creates a moving target, making divestment impractical. There are at least three responses to these concerns:

  1. The CU200 is a list of the companies that own the largest stores of carbon (oil & coal). This approach is preferable to creating a “black list” of companies. The goal is not to vilify certain companies but to keep the carbon in the ground. For instance, divestment isn’t targeting Exxon per se, unless Exxon holds a lot of carbon (which they currently do). If they move away from high-carbon fuels, then there is no reason we couldn’t invest in them. In other words, the CU200 keeps the focus on the problem (high-carbon fuels), not on certain companies. In this way the CU200 creates a positive incentive for companies to eliminate holdings of fossil fuels so as to get off the list and be open for investment.
  2. If the CU200 or something like it was not used and instead individual companies were targeted for divestment, it would create a game of “whack-a-mole.” It is too easy for companies to rename, spin-off, or create subsidiaries to avoid divestment. The CU200 keeps the focus on the problem: keeping the carbon in the ground to avoid catastrophic climate change.
  3. The CU200 is not a burdensome moving target and does not create an undue implementation burden. As the Stuart Braman, Founder and Chairman of Fossil Free Indexes, put it:

    “Universities, endowments and individuals divesting their portfolios have the right to be as flexible as they choose in implementation in order to minimize costs as they divest. FFI clients update their CU200 screens at a variety of frequencies – quarterly, semiannually and annually.  There may even be some who update every two years –  the point is the details and logistics of any decision to divest lie with the divesting institution and cost minimization can always be a dimension of the approach.”

A subsequent blog will examine the claim, introduced moments before the faculty vote on the Resolution, with neither context nor explanation, that divesting will cost the University $1.3 million dollars. Given the very broad and deep support for divestment among Gonzaga faculty, we remain optimistic that the Faculty Senate will vote in support of fossil fuel divestment.

(See our comprehensive list of objections and replies to fossil fuel divestment. )

Calling all alumni, parents, and friends of Gonzaga University. Should we divest?

GonzagaFor more than two and a half years now Fossil Free Gonzaga has been campaigning to convince the Board of Trustees to align our endowment with our values and end its investment in the fossil fuels causing climate change. It is immoral to continue to seek to profit from the sale of the very substances destroying the planet and harming the poor and vulnerable. Our campaign has the support of the students and faculty, as evidenced by the fact that Gonzaga Student Body Association voted in favor of divestment and a third of all faculty have now signed in support of divestment.

As a response to our divestment campaign, the Gonzaga Board of Trustees created a task force to study this and related issues during the 2017-2018 school year. As part of its work last semester (fall 2017), this task force solicited the feedback of current students, staff, and faculty. Now the task force is inviting feedback from “alumni, parents, and friends” of Gonzaga via a story in the latest issue of the Gonzaga alumni magazine.

If you yourself are an alumna/us, the parent of one, or just a friend of Gonzaga, please consider responding to the call for input. Here is how the alumni Magazine puts it:

We’re asking you – alumni, parents, friends of Gonzaga – for your input.

How do you hope to see Gonzaga move forward with these issues? What wisdom can you offer as to how we can advance our sustainability efforts? To what extent should sustainability considerations be included in the investment strategy for the University’s endowment?

Email with your thoughts and observations. Thank you for contributing your Zag voice to this important conversation! More here

If you know other GU alumni, parents, or friends, encourage them to respond in favor of divestment. And while you are at it, please sign our petition!

To educate yourself further on the topic, common objections and replies to fossil fuel divestment can be found here. This  infographic from the Global Catholic Climate Network is also helpful in explaining the issue. With your help we can get Gonzaga’s name on this list!

Catholic Divestment Infographic

Again, send your thoughts in support of divestment to Associate VP for Finance, Joe Smith, at



Gonzaga Student Body Association Supports Divestment

gsba1.PNGThis is the speech given by the Gonzaga Student Body Association Sustainability Chair, Anna Belinski, in support of the Student Divestment Policy at the Board of Trustees’ ESG Task Force Listening Session.

“I am here representing the Gonzaga Student Body Association as the Sustainability Chair. My position was created two years ago in response to the growing environmental movement on campus. My role includes overseeing the Green Fund, helping to increase environmental awareness across campus and continuing past GSBA environmental initiatives. The need for such a role within GSBA speaks to the importance of sustainability to our student body. University wide, this voice is being heard and changes are being made along many avenues, but there is still plenty of work to be done.

Images: Examples of some current sustainability initiatives at Gonzaga University, many of which were Green Fund projects.

Last May, GSBA passed a resolution stating its support in the Student Divestment Policy, requesting that Gonzaga University’s Board of Trustees commit to divest Gonzaga’s endowment from the current 200 most carbon-intensive companies by the year 2020. This policy was passed by a resounding majority with 22 of the 25 senators voting in favor of the Divestment Policy and 2 abstains. The resolution states that in divesting our endowment, Gonzaga “will formally recognize the reality and urgency of the climate crisis and show fidelity to our Jesuit, Catholic, and humanistic mission and to our endowment Investment Policy and Guidelines.”

The Gonzaga Student Body Association mission states that we will “support and advocate for our fellow students, while providing the opportunity for experiences which inspire Zags to live extraordinary lives as men and women for others.” This Divestment Policy falls directly in line with our mission at GSBA. Our job is to advocate for fellow students, and as such, it is right that we would support a policy advocating for the betterment of our planet and hold our university to its moral standards, in turn benefiting the current and future lives of all Gonzaga students, investors, and alum. Our job as GSBA is also to provide opportunities for Zags to fulfill our mission and get involved with sustainability. And the Divestment Policy is doing just that. This movement is inspiring for students across campus, whether they are already in support of this action or just hearing about it from the outreach the Divestment Student Group has worked hard on. These students are already living lives as extraordinary people fighting to protect their fellow students and planet, and in turn pushing the university and those within to do the same.

This divestment resolution confirms our student commitment to “care for creation” and encourages students to live lives for others, which includes lives lived for our planet. GSBA as an organization echoes the decision of our senators in voting to divest the endowment from these carbon-intensive companies by 2020; the moral and ethical importance of working to rescue our planet in need, as well as the clear financial ramifications of continuing our investments, provide ample reason for our university to work toward following its mission statement in all aspects and avenues. Thank you for your time and willingness to hear our concerns and take our input seriously. I am excited to see how Gonzaga will continue to progress toward an environmentally responsible university and help lead the way to a sustainable future.”

A student letter to Gonzaga’s Board of Trustees

Dear Board of Trustees and ESG Task force members,

In October of last school year, I had the pleasure of attending a student dinner with members of the Board of Regents and the Board of Trustees. I would like to thank you all for taking the time to be there because, as a student, it was nice to finally have a few faces and names to associate with the Board of Trustees, a group we often hear about but rarely have the opportunity to interact with. At the dinner, chairman Scott Morris thanked students for our involvement with the university and encouraged us to come to the boards with any questions, requests, or concerns that we may have in regarding the university. That is why I am writing to you today. As a senior environmental studies and psychology student with multiple science, environmental, and ethics classes now under my belt I am deeply concerned by what is arguably the biggest problem facing my generation: Climate change. While this issue is complex, a key component of the problem is the rising atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide which primarily occurs from the burning of fossil fuels such as oil, coal, and natural gas. To avoid catastrophic climate change, the majority of fossil fuel reserves that we have access to must not be consumed. Aside from causing harm to the planet, the effects of climate change brought on by the burning of fossil fuels harm the poor and the vulnerable disproportionately as they are the least able to adapt to severe storms and environmental changes. That is why I am deeply troubled by the investment of Gonzaga University’s endowment in fossil fuel stocks. Institutions of higher education, particularly Jesuit universities such as our own, are grounded in solidarity, social justice, service to others, and commitment to humanistic education on the natural and social world through the sciences. As a Jesuit University committed to said values, we are morally and ethically obligated to divest our endowments from all fossil fuel stocks because to profit from their returns is to profit from the harm of others and our shared planet, which grossly contradicts our mission.

The Gonzaga University mission statement alone provides sufficient reasoning as to why we should divest our holdings from fossil fuel stocks. The mission statement begins by stating that the university, “Educates students for lives of leadership and service for the common good,” (Gonzaga). While the common good may also mean the financial prosperity of communities, it most often refers to the health and well-being of all people. Catholic Social Teaching maintains that this includes commitment to human rights, option for the poor and vulnerable, solidarity throughout the human family, and care for creation (USCCB). The mission statement goes on to explicitly express commitment to each of these values, as well to the cultivation of ethical discernment and critical thought within students. Finally, this mission is intended to be carried out, “With responsible stewardship of our physical, financial, and human resources,” (Gonzaga). In the past, the university has sought to better uphold this mission and increase its commitment to socially responsible investing (SRI) by divesting funds from companies associated with business in South Africa, in order to dismantle the unethical system of apartheid. Recognizing that this system of racial discrimination did not align with university commitment to equality, human rights, and solidarity, students advocated for immediate divestment and, after much petitioning and debate, their requests were eventually granted. While the issue is different today, myself and many of my fellow students are now asking that the same thing be done again. Climate change may not be as immediately visible as the blatant racism associated with apartheid, but it negatively affects an even broader array of people and species. If we continue along our current trajectory, climate change will result in massive biodiversity loss, as well as increased incidence of drought, flooding, famine, and severe storms, all of which we have already begun to see. Destroying the health of the planet and displacing the most vulnerable members of the human community stands in direct opposition to our commitment to care for creation, and solidarity and social justice.

University commitment to ethical discernment within students provides additional grounds for divestment from fossil fuel companies, as much of the industry’s profits are made from unethical actions. Basic utilitarian ethics dictates that it is unethical to cause harm or suffering to any moral patient without sufficient justifiable cause. The burning of hydrocarbons by fossil fuel corporations has already increased atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) and global surface temperatures enough to cause a rise in sea level, increased severity of storms including flooding, hurricanes and wildfires, all of which displace humans and other species alike, increased social and political unrest due to heightened water scarcity, and species extinction due to changing climate and habitat loss, (Houghton). Each of these outcomes either directly or indirectly causes harm to people across the globe. Additionally, reparations for the harm that results from the pollution caused by fossil fuels companies are rarely, if ever, made as such costs are externalized by the companies in effort to increase their own profit margins. Externalizing costs of pollution, including the costs to human health, means the fossil fuel corporations are able to avoid taking responsibility for their actions and, thus, cannot be held accountable. Author and activist Bill McKibben is often credited with beginning fossil fuel divestment campaign and has, now famously, been quoted saying that,

“If it is wrong to wreak the climate, then it is wrong to profit from the wreckage,” (McKibben, 2013).

This is exactly what fossil fuel corporations do, and by investing in their stocks our university ends up profiting from the wreckage as well. It is absurdly hypocritical to maintain that Gonzaga is cultivating ethical discernment in students while simultaneously supplementing the cost of their education with money gained from investments in corporations that are engaged in unethical actions.

Gonzaga University is further obligated to divest from fossil fuel stocks as it is morally inconsistent to assert that we stand in solidarity with the poor and vulnerable while simultaneously profiting from investments in corporations whose actions cause them a disproportionate amount of harm. While industrialized nations will be able to use technology and wealth to adjust to changing environmental conditions and can afford to rebuild after devastation by natural disasters, developing nations will not have the same luxury. In his Encyclical, Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home, Pope Francis describes how many of the poor throughout the world live in areas that are the most drastically affected by climate change and rely heavily on the natural environment for subsistence through hunting, gathering, and agriculture. As a result, destruction of ecosystems severely impacts the health and livelihood of vulnerable communities within the affected area. Pope Francis elaborates on this by saying,

They have no other financial activities or resources which can enable them to adapt to climate change or to face natural disasters, and their access to social services and protection is very limited. For example, changes in climate, to which animals and plants cannot adapt, lead them to migrate; this in turn affects the livelihood of the poor, who are then forced to leave their homes, with great uncertainty for their future and that of their children. There has been a tragic rise in the number of migrants seeking to flee from the growing poverty caused by environmental degradation.

If racial segregation and discrimination provided enough ground for divestment in the past, surely contributing to the direct physical, social, and economic harm of entire communities across the globe provides enough ground to divest from fossil fuel companies today. Not divesting from institutions that are causing such environmental degradation also says that we are indifferent to the suffering of our human brothers and sisters. It is not enough to simply make charitable contributions. To be truly committed to solidarity with the poor and vulnerable we must work for solutions that will deconstruct the systems that cause them harm in the first place, instead of,

“Masking the problems or concealing their symptoms,” (Francis).

Divesting from fossil fuel stocks is an important step in achieving this goal and shows that Gonzaga is truly committed to the values that it professes.

Finally, and perhaps most obviously, Gonzaga University is morally obligated to divest its endowment from fossil fuel stocks because care for the planet is explicitly included in our mission statement. It is known that the burning of hydrocarbon fuels releases excessive amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere, and it is known that increased atmospheric concentrations of CO2 results in the “greenhouse effect,” causing increased average global surface temperatures.  Failure to uphold this environmental ethic that we have committed ourselves to ultimately places the university in a state of moral inconsistency.  In fact, since the industrial revolution, the burning of fossil fuels has, “Increased the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere by more than one-third, from around 280 ppm in 1700 to more than 400 ppm in 2014,” (Henning).  Additionally, climate scientists estimate that atmospheric concentrations of CO2 would need to remain below 400ppm to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius for this century (Houghton). Beyond two degrees of warming scientists predict that crops will become less productive, the number of people living in severely stressed river basins will double, sea levels will rise by at least 3 ft., coastal wetlands important for flood control will be lost, severity of storms will increase with each additional degree, and roughly 30% of known species will become extinct (Houghton). We have already observed this directly throughout the past year. Abnormally heavy rains and snowfall caused deadly avalanches in Afghanistan, severe flooding in Peru, China, South East Asia and Sri Lanka, landslides in Sierra Leon, Columbia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Unusually warm ocean temperatures created cyclones that battered communities in Zimbabwe and throughout the Southern Hemisphere. They also caused the devastating hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, the latter two being category five storms that caused an estimated $160 billion dollars in damages and 210 fatalities (Duncan). Abnormally dry and hot conditions throughout the western United States has led to an increase in the number of large forest fires, many of which have occurred at the urban interface. This year, to date, there have been 49,032 separate forest fires in the United States and roughly 8,446,055 acres have been burned. Even with unseasonably early snow beginning to fall throughout the west, 23 large fires remain uncontained (NIFC). If we are to have any hope of decreasing the frequency and severity of such natural disasters, we must make serious efforts to reduce our carbon emissions. To keep the average global surface temperature below 2 degrees Celsius of warming, we must keep at least 80% of known fossil fuel reserves in the ground (McKibben, 2016). To continue to invest in fossil fuel corporations is to invest in the exploitation of these reserves and all the negative effects that doing so will inevitably cause. Divesting the university endowment is absolutely necessary to avoid moral inconsistency and uphold our environmental ethic of promoting care for the planet.

Gonzaga University prides itself on community and cultivating a student body that is committed to service for the common good. The university mission statement dictates our commitment to Catholic Social Teachings and is implemented into nearly every aspect of curriculum. However, Gonzaga contradicts its own commitment to said values by investing a portion of its endowment into fossil fuel stock. Fossil fuel corporations cause direct harm to our shared environment, and the people most dependent upon it, by burning hydrocarbon fuels. How can we as a Jesuit institution, which mandates that students take philosophy courses such as critical thinking and ethics, knowingly invest into corporations that are hurting our world in such drastic ways? As long as Gonzaga has funds invested in hydrocarbon stocks the university remains hypocritical. To outwardly express commitment to cultivating certain values within students and simultaneously engage in contradictory behavior is unethical and woefully inconsistent. With that in mind, my fellow students and I implore that members of the Board of Trustees and the ESG task force take immediate action to begin divesting Gonzaga University’s endowment from all fossil fuel stocks, and cease any further investments. Thank you for taking the time to read this letter and I hope and pray that you carefully consider this request.


Johnna C. Coughlin
Class of 2017

Works Cited

Duncan, Scott. “World weatherwatch: hurricanes, wildfires – and early snow.” The Guardian. September 24, 2017. Accessed September 28, 2017.

Francis, Pope. Laudato si: On care for our common home. Our Sunday Visitor, 2015.

“Gonzaga University Mission Statement.” Issuu. Gonzaga University Office of Mission, Feb. 2013. Web. 22 Feb. 2017.

Henning, Brian G. “Understanding the Science of Climate Change.” Riders in the Storm: Ethics in an Age of Climate Change. N.p.: Anselm Academic, 2015. 57. Print.

Houghton, John Theodore. Global Warming: The Complete Briefing. Cambridge: Cambridge U, 2015. Print.

McKibben, Bill. “Bill McKibben’s Speech at the Sophie Prize Awards Ceremony, Oslo, Norway.” Sophie Prize Awards Ceremony. Oslo, Norway. 2013. Speech.

McKibben, Bill. “Why We Need to Keep 80% of Fossil Fuels in the Ground.”, 15 Feb. 2016. Web. 22 Mar. 2017.

National Interagency Fire Center. September 26, 2017. Accessed September 28, 2017.

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