GU Fossil Free at Georgetown
A Close Look at a College Campus Group's Efforts to Push their Administration from Divesting in Fossil Fuel Companies
“Think globally, act locally” is the perfect mantra to describe the Georgetown campaign group, GU Fossil Free, and their approach toward tackling the problem of climate change.
GU Fossil Free is a student run organization at Georgetown University, which is currently campaigning for Georgetown’s endowment to divest entirely from fossil fuel companies. It is just one group among hundreds on college campuses across the world encouraging their administrations to divest from fossil fuels and positively impact climate change.
The movement was spurred by environmentalist Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, a website which is building a grassroots movement to combat the climate crisis. In November 2012, McKibben and 350.org began a tour of the United States called “Do the Math,” which revealed the arithmetic arithmetic that defines the climate crisis. McKibben spread the word that the world’s problem is not that we will run out of fossil fuels to burn, but, rather, we have far more fossil fuels in the ground than we can afford to burn environmentally.
This push to divest from fossil fuels is reminiscent of previous behavior by endowments and pension funds. Divestment was first used to spur social change in the 1980s in South Africa because of its apartheid policies and again in the 1990s with tobacco and cigarette companies because of their adverse health affects. Divesting would be a way for universities to make a powerful individual statement regarding their stance on the climate crisis. Also, on a much broader scale, if hundreds of universities and institutions eventually choose to divest, then the fossil fuel companies would truly notice the difference and even greater progress could be made.
Students at Georgetown University started GU Fossil Free in January 2013 with the ultimate goal of putting enough pressure on the Board of Directors that it would have no choice but to divest from fossil fuels and reinvest in socially responsible investments. The group’s members have written a proposal to the Board that is currently in its revision stage. They are also focusing on raising awareness across campus as well as communicating with alumni, seeking additional support that will bolster their campaign.
While GU Fossil Free has increased its presence on campus over the last year or so, it has not been easy. Not only does the group not qualify to receive any resources from the university, but getting student’s attention is another difficulty it faces. GU Fossil Free core member, Caroline James ’16 says, “it can be hard to be loud, especially because there are so many people on this campus who are working on excellent campaigns.”
The group has a non-hierarchical core leadership team of seven students and then a base of volunteers who help with tasks that require more bodies, such as handing out flyers, tabling and “dorm-storming.” The group is trying to demonstrate that divestment is actually in the greatest interest for all, but nonetheless they have received quite a bit of pushback from members of the Georgetown community at all levels, from members of the administration to the student body. James also mentioned that part of the struggle includes the desire to have a dialogue with people, especially those in opposition to the cause, not an argument.
GU Fossil Free, along with all the other groups across the country who have begun campaigns at their respective universities, does not want this fight to be a long one. As of now, according to James, the goal is for Georgetown’s campaign to be wrapped up within the next three to five years. So far, only a handful of schools have made the commitment to divest, along with some cities and other institutions. Schools have made various amounts of progress and, overall, this is certainly one of the largest student movements going on across the country.
Through the scaffolding established by McKibben’s overarching Fossil Free Campaign, groups on campuses nationlly are in contact not only with one another but also with people who have professional activism experience. The groups are able to trade ideas and learn what worked and what did not. The Fossil Free Campaign represents a movement that has begun at a local level at universities and institutions such as Georgetown and is slowly gaining momentum James commented, “what I find so appealing about this particular movement is that this is something that is specific to Georgetown, but is also a nationwide movement…I feel very connected to the big picture.”
This article represents the sole opinion of the author, and does not necessarily reflect the policy or position of Change-Magazine.