The 101 on Divestment

Saturday, April 11, 2020

The 101 on Divestment
By: Robyn De Leon

This year, along with the candidates for student government, students were given the option to vote on a resolution put forth by DivestLMU, a grassroots student movement that has been pressuring the University to divest from fossil fuel companies. The resolution passed by an overwhelming 93%.  

“The passage of this resolution, and the overwhelming [percentage] of students that voted in support, will strengthen our divestment proposal and upcoming negotiations with university administrators and the Board of Trustees, ” Divest LMU wrote in an Instagram post celebrating the win.

What is Divestment and why does it matter?

Divestment is the opposite of investment. It refers to the abdication from unethical or morally ambiguous investments, in this case, fossil fuels. 

Institutions like universities get their endowments from major gifts and alumni donations which they then invest in stocks, bonds, and companies to grow the University’s funds.  

The LMU community sees a disconnect from our Jesuit morals and how our economics are managed, which is why many people in the community are calling for divestment from fossil fuels.  

Of the 28 Jesuit Universities, only two have agreed to divest or have completely divested from fossil fuels (Seattle University and Georgetown University). Most recently, Creighton University has agreed to partially divest its half a billion-dollar endowment from fossil fuels, lowering its 8.9% investment in fossil fuels to 5.7%.

Many in favor of divestment believe that pressuring LMU to successfully and completely divest would encourage other institutions to do the same. 

Fundamentally, the purpose of divesting lies in the fact that divesting from fossil fuels would reduce and perhaps even revert the severe climate crisis that's affecting the world.

What are fossil fuels and why should we divest from them? 

Fossil fuel is plants and animals that have been buried and fossilized over time to create coal, crude oil, and natural gases. This is the primary energy source for cars and other mechanical utilities. According to the NRDC, “oil, coal, and gas provide for about 80 percent of our energy needs.”

Though fossil fuels provide a lot of energy, the problem lies in the fact that they are extremely harmful to the environment, both the process of unearthing them and burning them. 

Because of fossil fuels, the Earth's land, water and air suffer. Land degradation is inevitable because of the fracking required to access fossil fuels. Forests, mountain tops, whole ecosystems, and most oftentimes then not, marginalized communities are compromised because of fracking. Natural water sources and marine life are also at risk, due to acid runoffs and oil spills. Fracking also requires the use of large amounts of water. Air quality suffers due to emissions from cars and other mechanical equipment that require oil and gas. 

As a whole, fossil fuels expedite the global warming crisis. Fossil fuel corporations have 2,795 gigatons in their reserves, which is five times the safe amount to maintain under 2°C warming. Any more of a temperature increase would put the world at extreme risk.  

If LMU wants to do its part to prevent rising sea levels, extreme weather, negative impacts on agriculture and general ecological catastrophe, we must divest. 

How is LMU involved?

We don’t know how much of LMU’s endowment is invested in fossil fuels, but the point is that LMU is a Jesuit institution with a moral obligation to practice and enact social change and justice. Investing in fossil fuels does not align with the Jesuit values that brand our campus and community.

In his 2015 encyclical Laudato Si, Pope Francis himself said, “prove successful in changing the way businesses operate, forcing them to consider their environmental footprint and their patterns of production,” (Francis, 2015, section 206).

In order to practice what we preach, the institution needs to put its money where its mouth is.   

What are the implications of divesting?  

Not only is the planet being affected by these issues, but those that inhabit it are likewise affected. People on the margins are the most likely to be directly affected, and they are also those who have spearheaded the movement and historically advocated for environmental change.

It’s also important to recognize that environmental toxins from the fossil fuel industry like coal-fired power plants have historically been disproportionately placed in communities of color. A 2014 Just Energy Policy & Practices Report by NAACP showed that “68% of African Americans and 39% of Latinos live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant.” 

If we care about people and the disproportionate struggles marginalized people face, we will divest from fossil fuels. 

What are we doing about it?

College campuses have always been a center for social change, and environmentalism has consistently been a topic apart from that narrative. LMU students started their divestment movement in 2013 when the Fossil Free LMU club was founded. Since then, smaller movements have paved the way for ECO Students and the current ASLMU office, which has come together with other groups and individuals to create the Divest LMU Coalition.
Since Divest LMU’s creation, there has been teach-in, conversations with the board of trustees, weekly committee meetings, demonstrations, and, most recently, a resolution has passed in the ASLMU 2020-2021 elections with a 93 percent ‘yes’ vote in favor of the Divest LMU resolution. To learn more about what the resolution entails, watch this IGTV video from Divest LMU.

If you are interested in keeping up or getting involved with the movement, check out @DivestLMU on Instagram and Facebook.

This is the opinion of Robyn De Leon.

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