Pressure on Gonzaga’s Board of Trustees to divest Gonzaga’s endowment of climate changing fossil fuels increased today when the Gonzaga Faculty Senate voted in support of moving toward meaningful divestment. The vote was in favor of the divestment resolution and an amendment supported by its sponsors. The resolution amendment reads:
This statement is an addendum to the Faculty Senate vote on the Fossil Free Gonzaga Divestment Resolution (Resolution hereafter), intended to provide our understanding of both the Resolution and our actions in voting in support of it.
- The Senate concurs with Gonzaga President McCulloh’s September 14, 2017 statement that:
“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).”
The Senate recognizes both the reality and urgency of anthropogenic climate change and affirms the goals of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement that aims to keep global warming below an additional 2°C above industrial levels.
- The Faculty Senate recognizes that investment of the Gonzaga Endowment Fund is ultimately and solely the fiduciary responsibility of the Board of Trustees. Thus, we understand that, like the GSBA vote on the same resolution last May (2017), this vote by the Faculty Senate in support of the Resolution is ultimately advisory to the Board.
- In voting in favor of the Resolution, the Senate wishes to clarify that it does not add itself as a formal signatory of the Resolution. The Senate’s vote indicates only that it supports the Fossil Free Gonzaga campaign’s petition to the Board of Trustees. Thus, the intention of the Senate in supporting this resolution is to encourage the board to embrace a path to meaningful divestment with a responsible mode and tempo. We believe that meaningful divestment could be achieved by divesting from the 200 most carbon-intensive companies, as stated by the Resolution, but recognize that there might be other ways (modes) to put Gonzaga on a path to meaningfully divesting from fossil fuels over an appropriate period of time (tempo).
This vote occurs one year after a vote in favor of divestment by the Gonzaga Student Body Association last Spring 2017. The elected bodies representing both the students and faculty of Gonzaga have expressed their support of divesting our endowment of fossil fuels. The representatives of the students and faculty of Gonzaga are speaking with one voice: investing in fossil fuels is, as our endowment ESG Investment Policy states, fundamentally “inimical to the values the University espouses.”
The votes by Gonzaga’s students and faculty are not rash. On the contrary, they are the culmination of three years of research and discernment on the part of the student body and the faculty. Just as in the 1980s when Gonzaga students fought for divestment from the racist Apartheid regime, they now call on their University to live up to its own mission to:
“foster a mature commitment to dignity of the human person, social justice, diversity, intercultural competence, global engagement, solidarity with the poor and vulnerable, and care for the planet.”
Or will we fail our mission and seek to profit from the sale of the very substances that are rapidly changing our climate, precipitating the sixth mass extinction event of our planet? Will our University continue to seek to profit from the creation of climate change or commit to a responsible, measured path toward meaningful divestment from the most carbon-intensive coal, oil, and natural gas companies?
As Pope Francis forcefully noted in his encyclical,
“It is not enough to balance, in the medium term, the protection of nature with financial gain, or the preservation of the environment with progress. Halfway measures simply delay the inevitable disaster. Put simply, it is a matter of redefining our notion of progress. A technological and economic development which does not leave in its wake a better world and an integrally higher quality of life cannot be considered progress.”
Gonzaga’s students and faculty are unified in their call for fossil fuel divestment. However, in the end, these votes are merely advisory. The decision is left to the Trustees of our great University.
We hope that the Trustees are not persuaded that “half measures” will be sufficient. Impact investing or other positive steps are wonderful ideas, but they don’t obviate the need for divestment. Doing a small good cannot justify causing large harm. Green washing our endowment will not do. Nothing short of a commitment to finding a path to meaningful divestment is consistent with our mission. Is our ESG policy meaningless, or is it in fact possible to enact negative screens? Are we truly committed to the demanding work of social and environmental justice, or are we really only interested in burnishing our reputation with talk of concern for the vulnerable and care for the planet? What the Trustees do next will reveal the answer.
Looking back on the Apartheid era we can be proud that Gonzaga ultimately did the right thing (though initially the Trustees voted against divestment before finally agreeing). Most would agree that we are on the right side of history in having divested from the racist Apartheid regime. As Nobel Peace Prize laureate and honorary Gonzaga degree recipient Archbishop Desmond Tutu has noted, there is a clear moral line to be drawn from Apartheid to fossil fuel divestment.
“Just as we argued in the 1980s that those who conducted business with Apartheid South Africa were aiding and abetting an immoral system, today we say no one should profit from the rising temperatures, seas, and human suffering caused by the burning of fossil fuels. We can no longer continue feeding our addiction to fossil fuels as if there is no tomorrow. For there will be no tomorrow.” —Desmond Tutu
History will surely judge what our Trustees do next with respect to fossil fuel divestment. Will Gonzaga once again have the courage of its convictions or will we seek to continue to profit from the sale of the very substances destroying the planet and harming the most vulnerable among us? As Tutu reminds us: “The destruction of our environment is the human rights challenge of our time. … Time is running out.”