The Heights calls on Boston College to divest from fossil fuel companies. Divestment is an opportunity for BC to be an ethical leader among Jesuit and top-40 institutions, and investing in fossil fuels betrays BC’s Jesuit, Catholic roots and ethics.
The University has maintained that its investments are not designed to promote social or political change. The University currently has nearly $2.5 billion in the endowment, and what it does with those $2.5 billion has a social and political impact, whether the University intends it to or not.
Continuing to invest in fossil fuels also puts the University at odds with calls from Pope Francis. Francis’ encyclical, Laudato si’, lays out the perils of climate change and the Catholic moral imperative to fight it. Francis stated that Catholic social teaching now includes the environment, as the poor are disproportionately affected by climate change. Laudato si’ also outlines how a blind pursuit of money harms the environment. “Where profits alone count, there can be no thinking about the rhythms of nature, its phases of decay and regeneration, or the complexity of ecosystems which may be gravely upset by human intervention,” writes Francis in no. 190.
Heeding the Pope’s call will help BC become a stronger leader among Jesuit institutions. Just last week, Georgetown University, also a Jesuit university, announced it will divest from fossil fuels within the next 10 years. Georgetown has shown leadership and initiative, and by not following Georgetown’s lead, the University is set to fall behind a competitor Jesuit institution. If BC wants to be the top Jesuit university in the United States, it must become a beacon of ethical leadership. If BC divests, it could also influence fellow Catholic universities such as the University of Notre Dame and Loyola Marymount University to divest from fossil fuel companies.
BC has said that it needs returns from fossil fuel investments to fund programs such as financial aid and research. Although this is true, there is no reason why these returns must come from fossil fuels. Georgetown plans to invest in renewable energy following its divestment from fossil fuels. There are many situations in which investments in renewable energy are more competitive than ones in fossil fuels. Currently, renewable energy makes up 26 percent of the world’s total electricity. That number is projected to become 30 percent by 2024.
BC said in a statement to The Heights that because the University relies upon fossil fuels to power itself, it would be contradictory to divest from fossil fuels companies. BC should reconsider this all-or-nothing argument. BC is able to determine for itself what it invests in, and as such, has an ethical duty to ensure that those investments do not support fossil fuel companies that damage the planet.
The University said in a statement to The Heights that the best way for it to respond to climate change is for “all members of the University—along with corporations, organizations, and individuals—to reduce energy consumption and promote sustainability.” There is only so much that individuals can do to combat climate change alone. Because of the massive size of BC’s endowment, divestment will do much more to protect the planet than students switching to metal straws or using less water.
Boston College has taken great strides to be environmentally friendly. Building LEED-certified buildings and committing to a litany of sustainable dining initiatives are just a few of the significant initiatives that are overseen by the Office of Sustainability. This commitment to on-campus initiatives are useful and necessary, but they do not preclude the University from taking further, potentially more impactful steps to combat climate change.
An editorial from The Heights in 2013 stated that calls for the University to divest were an “overly simple response to a complex issue.” In light of the environmental developments of the last seven years, we now believe divestment is one of many important steps to combat climate change. Human-caused climate change is the biggest threat of the 21st century. There is no reason that BC must profit off fossil fuels, especially given the moral cost.
In 1978, the editorial board called for BC to divest from corporations that had holdings in South Africa because of apartheid in the country. Today, we stand with the sentiment of that board’s call: “All we expect from Boston College, stockholder, is a small amount of courage and Christianity.”