Boston College students have begun to push against the administration on University investment in fossil fuel companies. On Mar. 18, BC Fossil Free, a coalition of Boston College undergraduate and graduate students, sent out a press release asserting that the University is contradicting Boston College’s Jesuit, Catholic values by hosting Peter Voser, the CEO of the Royal Dutch Shell company, at today’s CEO Club of Boston luncheon.
“The Catholic Church has explicitly and repeatedly identified climate change as a moral issue due to the fact that the consequences of climate change … are compromising key commitments of the Christian, Catholic faith,” the press release read. “The Catholic Church has explicitly called on people of faith and goodwill to meaningfully address climate change through reduced fossil fuel consumption, increased energy efficiency, and the development and implementation of clean energy technologies.”
The BC Fossil Free coalition is a relatively new presence on campus. “BC Fossil Free comes out of years of underground activism at Boston College, in the sense that … there isn’t much in the way of activism at Boston College, there isn’t much mobilization about issues, period, let alone sustainability,” said Joseph Manning, a founding member of BC Fossil Free and A&S ’14.
Last November, a national movement was launched around divesting from fossil fuels companies, defined as the 200 publicly traded companies with the largest coal, oil, and gas reserves, as listed in the “Unburnable Carbon” report of the Carbon Tracker Initiative, a project funded by the non-profit company Investor Watch. Royal Dutch Shell ranks at No. 8 of the 100 oil and gas companies listed.
On over 250 campuses around the country, including Harvard, Tufts, Georgetown, and Fordham, students are asking their schools’ boards of trustees to cease investing in these large fossil fuel companies. BC Fossil Free currently has a core team of 23 members, and almost 100 students who have volunteered their time to support the cause. Manning himself has prior experience with the issues of energy and climate change-he has represented the Sierra Club’s student coalition at the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change four times, most recently last November in Doha, Qatar.
“Our goal is to promote climate action here at BC-it’s much broader than just divestment,” Manning said. “When we learned that the Boston College Executive Club would be hosting the CEO of Shell-we don’t believe that that’s in line with the mission of a Jesuit, Catholic University, we don’t believe that it’s in line with promoting sustainability, and … he has not shown the climate leadership that his company claims to show.” For this reason, as the press release stated, Voser’s talk is seen as contradictory to the University’s mission.
“The CEO Club of Boston is a speakers forum that allows the world’s business leaders to share their perspectives with Greater Boston’s CEOs,” said University Spokesman Jack Dunn in a statement. “The appearance at the CEO Club does not constitute an endorsement by the Carroll School of Management or Boston College, but rather reflects the University’s role in fostering the free expression of ideas on issues of societal importance.”
Manning concurred with Dunn about the expression of ideas, but argued that Voser’s work should not be celebrated. “A university requires great conversations,” Manning said. “Of course we need to have individuals that challenge our views come here, because that’s the only way we can grow. We want to foster a conversation that encourages a number of opinions and thoughts-but when it comes to issues of people’s livelihood and health, we do not believe that it’s within the best interests of Boston College to not just bring someone to campus to talk about this, but to honor that individual as the paragon of appropriate behavior as an executive. Shell doesn’t have a good track record, in our view, of ethics around climate change.”
These ethical charges deal in large part with what Manning and the press release term “greenwashing,” asserting that Shell has actively attempted to appear more environmentally friendly than it is. “Royal Dutch Shell remains unequivocally committed to facilitating-and profiting from-global climate change,” the BC Fossil Fuel release reads. “Royal Dutch Shell stopped investing in wind, solar, and hydro energy technologies in 2009 because they were not as profitable as fossil fuels, worked to undermine climate change legislation in both the E.U. and U.S., and has been named the world’s ‘most carbon-intensive oil company.'”
This indictment of Royal Dutch Shell comes on the heels of BC Fossil Fuel’s recent work with the Undergraduate Government of Boston College (UGBC). After preliminary discussions last semester, students began to coalesce around the proposal of divestment as a tangible solution. This past February BC Fossil Free sent a letter to University President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J., requesting a meeting in order to discuss climate change and what divestment at BC would look like. According to Manning, despite multiple attempts to contact Leahy in order to set up an informational meeting, the group’s requests were met with silence. After a month with no response, the group took the issue of divestment to the UGBC. Following discussions with BC Fossil Free, UGBC’s Senate recently passed a resolution calling for the University to divest all investments in fossil fuels from its endowment. The resolution, which was sponsored by Matthew Hugo, A&S ’16, and co-sponsored by Matthew Alonsozana, A&S ’14, passed at a vote of 17 to 1.
The first goal with respect to divestment, Manning said, is to have a conversation with the University administration and the Board of Trustees in order to figure how much of the University’s endowment-which is not available to the public-is invested in fossil fuels. Should the University commit to divestment, Manning said, the goal of BC Fossil Free is to see BC immediately cease investing in fossil fuel companies, and then transition out over a five-year period. “We think that’s reasonable, and doable,” Manning said. “It gives plenty of time to judge how markets are changing, for the Board to move things around appropriately-we know that you can’t just shift things overnight, and we never would ask them to do that, and jeopardize perhaps the finances of the University. We think this is an acceptable timeline.”
Dunn stated that divestment in the near future was unlikely. “Boston College’s endowment exists to generate long-term investment returns to support the academic, research and student formation initiatives of the University,” he said. “Placing restrictions on investments is rare and requires a clear and compelling case that a company is engaged in practices opposed to the moral and ethical principles guiding Boston College. It is difficult to make this case against energy companies, which is why so many colleges and universities have rejected calls for divestment. As a University, our focus has been on finding ways to reduce our carbon footprint through extensive energy conservation programs and sustainability measures that have been embraced by students, faculty and administrators. That is how we can best make a difference.”