Divestment at Georgetown University: An Interview With GU Fossil Free

Divestment at Georgetown University: An Interview With GU Fossil Free

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Brandon Greenblatt // 20 October 2015 // #Experts #GoingGreen 

One of my recent posts on this blog included an interview with Aaron Silberman, the student director of Georgetown Environmental Leaders (GEL), a sustainability and environmentalist advocacy group at Georgetown University in Washington, DC.  Aaron spoke with me about the value of divestment as a tool for college students to advocate for greener energy resources.  To follow up on the topic of divestment, I spoke with Grady Willard, a fellow student at Georgetown University and a member of GU Fossil Free, Georgetown’s divestment organization. 

Hi Grady, thank you for letting us peek into your work.

During the Spring 2015 semester, GU Fossil Free began petitioning the Georgetown University administration to divest from fossil fuels. What exactly is divestment?  Moreover, what are the ethical and moral principles that guide individuals advocating for divestment, and what environmental studies substantiate your mission?

From gofossilfree.org, divestment is the opposite of an investment - it simply means getting rid of stocks, bonds, or investment funds that are unethical or morally ambiguous. Fossil fuel investments are clearly unethical - when you invest in fossil fuels, you are perpetuating a system that leads to global climate change, human rights abuses, health problems, and poverty that disproportionately affects politically disenfranchised communities.  New research also shows that investing in the fossil fuel industry is also not financially sustainable.

Please describe GU Fossil Free's divestment campaign at Georgetown.  More specifically, what are your ultimate goals and what has been achieved thus far?  

GU Fossil Free’s goal is that Georgetown University will divest from the top 200 coal, oil, and gas companies (in terms of proven carbon reserves.) So far, we have received a commitment from the university administration to divest from direct investments in coal ONLY. Yet, as far as I know, the actual divestment process has not begun.

What are some of the biggest benefits in working with a university administration to achieve divestment on such a large scale, and what are some of the struggles you have faced?

One of the hardest parts of the campaign has been trying to get the university to listen to students and to be more transparent about who is making decisions and where our money is going. One of the best parts of working with the administration has been the fact that many administrators are excited about how they can make Georgetown more environmentally friendly.

Georgetown University was founded in 1789 as the first Jesuit university in the United States. How do Georgetown University's Jesuit values and/or its position as a prominent university in Washington, DC influence your campaign for divestment?

Jesuit values teach that we should not be harming others - think "Faith and Justice" and "Women and Men for Others." GU Fossil Free argues that we should align our investments with our morals and not be complicit in a system of oppression.

What do collegiate divestment campaigns look like around the country?  Are other university students petitioning their administrations to divest, or do most hope to promote environmental awareness through different mechanisms?  

Some schools have declined to consider any divestment, while others have divested from all fossil fuels entirely.  Additionally, other universities have done a "half measure" like Georgetown has. And still, other schools have yet to consider the issue of divestment entirely. You can find a full list of commitments here.

Unrelated to university-level divestment, what advice would you have for high school students, in the US and Germany, to reduce their carbon footprint and help protect the environment?

Don't just try to reduce your own carbon impact, try to make an impact on a larger scale - whether in your community, at your university, at your workplace or at your state level.

If you would like to learn more about GU Fossil Free, please visit their website.  In particular, I would encourage students interested in collegiate divestment campaigns to read the full divestment proposal released by GU Fossil Free in August 2014.

Brandon Greenblatt is a student majoring in International Affairs and studying German at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. and originally from Matthews, North Carolina. Brandon is no stranger to writing and publishing as the editor of the Western Europe section of The Caravel, Georgetown's international affairs newspaper.