Changing the World from Here with Fossil Fuel Divestment

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A. Ruga
Ashlyn Ruga graduated in spring 2013 with a double major in philosophy and international studies.

To recapture the attention of USF’s CFO and VP of Business and Finance, Charlie Cross, members and supporters of Fossil Free USF—the fossil fuel divestment campaign—recently garnered over 200 online petition signatures from the USF community in 48 hours. Each endorsement went to Cross’ inbox, which proved galling enough to achieve the response we sought. Despite maintaining regular communication following the campaign’s launch last semester, Cross had severed contact once summer arrived. It was necessary to demonstrate the increasing support we have been receiving.

We are asking USF to divest its endowment from the fossil fuel industry. Although we do not live on the front lines of the communities directly affected by it, we stand in solidarity with these “sacrifice zones” by calling on USF to divest. People living in those areas suffer extremely elevated rates of cancer, birth defects, and rare diseases that were absent prior to the industry’s development. Given USF’s commitment to social justice, continuing to profit from these destructive companies is in patent conflict with its Jesuit values.

In addition, the climate crisis, caused by humans burning fossil fuels, only continues to exacerbate pending, devastating natural disasters. It is unconscionable to pay for our education with investments that contribute to climate catastrophe. Divestment is an act in defense of USF’s current and future graduating classes, who deserve “to graduate with a future not defined by climate chaos” (gofossilfree.org).

As the situation worsens, we organize within a burgeoning fossil fuel divestment movement that has spread to over 300 college campuses. We need a fundamental shift in our energy paradigm, and installing a few solar panels is not going to get us far before our carbon emissions condemn us to utter calamity. This crisis is urgent. We must confront the perpetrating industry directly, and that is precisely what the fossil fuel divestment movement seeks to do.

It is easy to delude ourselves into thinking that we are doing enough by recycling, for example. This presumption is perpetuated, because we are not yet experiencing immediate impacts of the pollution and climate change caused by fossil fuel operations: Our tap water is not brown and noxious; we do not breathe black fog that permeates our communities. Our food still grows, and our houses are not underwater. Instead, we are in immensely privileged positions — positions that oblige us to act. If we do not, we are sending a message of acquiescence to the fossil fuel industry, which has subverted our democracy and exploits the marginalized to no end.

USF is a Jesuit institution that ubiquitously advertises its moral standards, so is it not critical that we act boldly in opposition to such flagrantly underhanded and destructive practices?

If our motivations are ethical, the decision to divest is required. As one of my heroes, Tim DeChristopher, stated: “At this point of unimaginable threats on the horizon, this is what hope looks like. In these times of a morally bankrupt government that has sold out its principles, this is what patriotism looks like. With countless lives on the line, this is what love looks like, and it will only grow. The choice you are making today is what side are you on.”

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