By Janelle Harb
With the election of a Jesuit pope, fellow Jesuit colleges across the nation have taken on various initiatives regarding Pope Francis’ concerns about our world; one of these is climate change.
Clayton Shanahan, junior senator and Chair of the Undergraduate Student Association’s Sustainability Committee, along with the rest of USA, has spearheaded a campaign to pass a resolution asking our administration to divest from fossil fuels. Divestment is getting rid of stocks, bonds, or investment funds that are unethical or morally ambiguous. Most notably, there have been divestment campaigns regarding apartheid, in which there was a successful federal initiative encouraging businesses and schools to take their money out of South Africa in an effort to dismantle the apartheid system.
“Our institution has an endowment that’s several millions of dollars, and it’s invested in a variety of portfolios and funds, and so we want to ensure that what our campus is invested in are [socially] responsible investments, [and] we’re starting with fossil fuels… given the evidence of how [they] relate to climate change,” Shanahan stated. “Ultimately, we want our College to first commit to divestment, and then draw out a reasonable timeline. I know for many campuses, five to eight years is kind of the average it takes for divestment to happen due to financial complications…. At this point, we don’t even know what our College is invested in.”
The resolution that USA has passed calls for administration to inform the students as to what they are investing in, incorporate USA into these decisions, create a more transparent dialogue regarding finances, and commit to a policy of divestment. In addition to this, they must follow through with their promise to, as stated in the College’s Strategic Plan, “design and initiate a comprehensive plan for just practices and policies across the institution that steward the Earth’s natural resources” and “continue our commitment to institutional improvement through robust planning, assessment, and growth in resources in support of our mission and a vibrant, sustainable campus.”
This resolution also brought about Pedro Arrupe’s, of the Society of Jesus, argument that Jesuit colleges should support “men and women for others” by “avoid[ing] any unjust profit, emphasizing a firm determination to draw no profit whatever from clearly unjust sources to diminish progressively our share in the benefit of an economic and social system in which the cost of production lies heavily on the poor and marginalized.” In addition to this, the resolution harkened to Pope Francis and his previous encyclicals, “calling for the awareness of humanity’s impact on the environment and placing this responsibility upon all to be socially and environmentally conscious.”
“I’d hope that we can divest from a variety of social injustices,” Shanahan explained, “but [fossil fuel] is a starting point in that process.” The burning of fossils fuels produces a carbon dioxide gas that becomes trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere, resulting in global climate change and causing devastation to the environment.
“[The basis of our movement] is that climate change is real and that solutions also exist to this problem,” said Shanahan.
In addition to this resolution, the Sustainability Committee has created a student-faculty coalition, as well as reached out to other organizations in the Canisius community, including Project Conservation, in an effort to gain support and raise awareness. Several members of the Committee also attended a divestment conference at SUNY ESF (State University of New York, College of Environmental Science and Forestry), as this institution has already fully divested.
“Through this process, we’re trying to be as diplomatic as possible. We understand the financial responsibilities that this institution has to itself,” Shanahan said. He also plans to bring this student resolution to the Faculty Senate in hopes of gaining their support and furthering the process of involving administration and attaining permanent change. If this resolution succeeds, Canisius would be the first Jesuit institution to commit to divestment.
“We recognize this is in our roots,” Shanahan explained. “Pope Francis has named climate change as one of the principal challenges facing humanity, and the very Jesuits who developed our campus are now speaking out about this.”
In closing, Shanahan stated, “If we’re not doing something about the problem, then we’re part of the problem, and that’s not what our College’s Jesuit mission [of ‘men and women for others’] is about.”