Catholic youth say “we are standing on the precipice of climate catastrophe” and ask Vatican to divest from fossil fuels

January 16, 2016

Last fall, students from 83 universities asked the Vatican to divest from fossil fuels.  Here is their letter.

Most Holy Father,

We write to you as young people, as constituents of Jesuit institutions, other Catholic, Christian, and religious institutions, and non-religious institutions as people of goodwill, on behalf of an entire generation. We are standing on the precipice of climate catastrophe. Since the release of your encyclical “Laudato Si” in June, we have been inspired by your call for climate justice and the awakening of the Catholic and global community to the systemic causes of the climate crisis.

We have resonated with your criticism of the lack of response from our politicians and leaders in addressing climate change. St. Ignatius of Loyola urged us to see God in all things. Regrettably, many of our leaders are overlooking this important lesson.  It is remarkable how weak international political responses have been. The message that we are getting out to the world through our fossil fuel divestment work echoes your observation that “The failure of global summits on the environment make it plain that our politics are subject to technology and finance. There are too many special interests, and economic interests easily end up trumping the common good and manipulating information so that their own plans will not be affected.” We wholeheartedly agree with your analysis, Holy Father, and we see divestment as a means to strip fossil fuel special interests of their political power, which thus far has helped in blocking meaningful climate legislation to come to fruition. As you have taught, highly polluting fossil fuels must be replaced without delay, and that cannot happen while these interests have control of our political processes.

Additionally, fossil fuel divestment proclaims, as you did at the Second World Meeting of Popular Movements, that “there is an invisible thread joining every one of [the many forms of exclusion and injustice].” You asked: “Can we recognize it? These are not isolated issues. I wonder whether we can see that these destructive realities are part of a system which has become global. Do we realize that that system has imposed the mentality of profit at any price, with no concern for social exclusion or the destruction of nature?”

We answer yes. All around us, we see the frightening consequences of an extractive capitalist economy, colonialism, systemic racism, and other forms of injustice. Divestment as a tactic is pivotal to the climate justice movement in that it forces us to think of issues with intersectionality on a global scale. One can not truly address the climate crisis and environmental injustice issues without dismantling the larger system which allows these things to continue. By calling on our institutions to divest their endowments from fossil fuel companies, and reinvest those funds into renewable technology and into those communities which have been marginalized, we force dialogue on climate change in terms of a global system urgently in need of an overhaul.

Despite the colossal challenges that face our young generation, we have hope in the future and are fighting to secure a world for ourselves in which a just and stable future is possible. We have been inspired and invigorated by your witness to the Gospel, and your calls for real, structural change. We highly anticipate your September visit to the United States and the furthering of the conversation surrounding the changes that we urgently need. During your visit, we ask that you call on our universities, along with other institutions, to divest from fossil fuels. Some of America’s largest Catholic organizations still have millions of dollars invested in heavily polluting fossil fuel companies. Within a few years, this remarkably fast-growing movement has reached some incredible milestones, but unfortunately many of our own educational institutions, which cite Christian values, are ignoring your call for climate justice by refusing to divest. Additionally, we ask that you continue efforts to divest your own “campus,” as The Vatican has an equal responsibility as our universities and institutions to cut ties with the fossil fuel industry. We wholeheartedly believe in the Catholic values of stewardship for the Earth and for oppressed people, and we are offering our institutions the chance to live out these values as well. We are doing all that we can, but we need your help so that together we can take part in the “globalization of hope.”

We thank you again for your love and your leadership, Holy Father.

As young people for a just world,

Climate Justice at Boston College

Boston College Alumni for Divestment

Fossil Free LMU, Loyola Marymount University

Tufts Climate Action, Tufts University

Saint Mary’s College Sustainability Committee

Swarthmore Mountain Justice

Bowdoin Climate Action

Maine Students for Climate Justice

University of New Hampshire’s Student Environmental Action Coalition

Divest Central Michigan University

Student Environmental Alliance at Central Michigan University

Take Back the Tap at Central Michigan University

Divest Chico State

Fossil Free Caltech (Teachers for a Sustainable Future)

Fossil Free UCLA at University of California, Los Angeles

Fossil Free University of Tasmania, Australia

Fossil Free Monash University, Australia

Fossil Free RMIT, Melbourne, Australia

Boston University Students for a Just and Stable Future

Fossil Free San Francisco State University

Fossil Free MIT, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

DivestNOW! Cornell, Cornell University

Fossil Free NAU, Northern Arizona University

Fossil Free Lesley, Lesley University

Divest Carleton, Carleton College

Southwest Divestment Network, Divestment Student Network

DivestNU, Northeastern University

Fossil Free AppState, Appalachian State University

Fossil Free Reed College Alumni

People and Planet, Fossil Free UK, United Kingdom

Go Fossil Free Washington State University

Colorado College Student Divestment Committee

Go Fossil Free Ball State

Divest Barnard from Fossil Fuels

Divest Dartmouth, Dartmouth College

Fossil Free Lakehead, Lakehead University

Divest University of Washington

Fossil Free ND, University of Notre Dame

Fossil Free Warwick University, UK

Pacific University: Go Fossil Free

Fossil Free Cal, UC Berkeley

Fossil Free UC, University of California

DivestPBurgh, State University of New York at Plattsburgh

Go Fossil Free SBCC, Santa Barbara City College, California

Divest DU, University of Denver, Colorado

Green Jays at Creighton University

Fossil Free NU, Northwestern University

Columbia Divest for Climate Justice, Columbia University

Sierra Student Coalition, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Fossil Free UCSC, University of California Santa Cruz

Divest Stonehill, Stonehill College

Stonehill College, Students for Environmental Action

New Progressive Alliance

University of Southern Maine: Go Fossil Free!

Fossil Free Yale

Divest VicSuper, Melbourne, Australia

Divest JC, Juniata College

Go Fossil Free, Penn State

Fossil Free University of Queensland

Divest James Cook University

Divest WNEU, Western New England University

Oxford University Fossil Free, UK

Brandeis Climate Justice

Hamilton Divests, Hamilton College

Fossil Free MU, University of Melbourne Australia

Fossil Free WashU, Washington University in St. Louis

Fossil Free Griffith University

Divest Tulane

Fossil Free ANU, Australian National University

Operation Noah

Climate Action 350-UW (University of Wisconsin-Madison)

350 Madison Climate Action Team

University of Iowa: Go Fossil Free

Oberlin Students for Divestment

Fossil Free Queensland University of Technology

Clarkson University Sustainable Synergy

Students United for Socioeconomic Justice, University of Texas at San Antonio
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Beyond Coal

Climate Action Society at the University of Virginia

Student Environmental Alliance at Loyola University Chicago

Divest JMU, James Madison University