June 23, 2014

University of Dayton Becomes First Catholic University to Divest from Fossil Fuels

The move by the leading Catholic university and the largest private university in Ohio represents another big win for the growing divestment campaign

Dayton, OH – The University of Dayton, a leading Catholic University and the largest private university in Ohio, announced this morning that it would be divesting its $670 million investment pool from fossil fuels.

“Earlier this year, Pope Francis said ‘if we destroy Creation, Creation will destroy us,’” said Bill McKibben, the co-founder of 350.org, an international climate campaign supporting the divestment movement. “It’s very good news to see Catholic institutions starting to put his wisdom into effective practice, and stand up to the powers that are trying to profit at the expense of all who depend on the proper working of this good earth.”

“This action, which is a significant step in a long-term process, is consistent with Catholic social teachings, our Marianist values, and comprehensive campus wide sustainability initiatives and commitments under the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment,” University of Dayton President Daniel J. Curran said. “We cannot ignore the negative consequences of climate change, which disproportionately impact the world’s most vulnerable people. Our Marianist values of leadership and service to humanity call upon us to act on these principles and serve as a catalyst for civil discussion and positive change that benefits our planet.”

The University of Dayton is the first major Catholic institution to join the divestment campaign and, at $670 million, the largest University investment pool yet to fully divest from the 200 fossil fuel companies that hold the largest coal, oil and gas reserves. Stanford University recently divested its $18.7 billion endowment from coal companies, but is still considering divesting from oil and gas.

The University’s divestment is planned to occur in phases. The University will initially eliminate fossil fuel holdings from its domestic equity accounts. The University then will develop plans to eliminate fossil fuel from international holdings, invest in green and sustainable technologies or holdings, and restrict future investments in private equity or hedge funds whose investments support fossil fuel or significant carbon-producing holdings.

Michael Galligan-Stierle, president of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, affirmed the University’s commitment to being a responsible steward of the earth’s natural resources. “We applaud the University of Dayton for taking this step as perhaps the first U.S. Catholic university to divest from fossil fuels. This is a complex issue, but Catholic higher education was founded to examine culture and find ways to advance the common good. Here is one way to lead as a good steward of God’s creation,” he said.

The announcement comes just days after President Obama endorsed the growing divestment movement in a speech at the University of California, Irvine, where he told the crowd of students, “You need to invest in what helps, and divest from what harms.”

The University of Dayton is the thirteenth university or college to commit to fossil fuel divestment. Over twenty cities, twenty-seven private foundations, and more than thirty churches, congregations, or dioceses have committed to divestment. Active campaigns are underway at over 400 universities and in dozens more cities, states, and nations around the world.

Over the last month, the divestment campaign has picked up a new sense of momentum at religiously affiliated institutions. Just last week, Union Theological Seminary in New York City, one of the most prestigious divinity schools in the country, announced it would be divesting its $110 million endowment.

Major divestment pushes are also underway at the Presbyterian and Unitarian Universalist national meetings this summer. The United Church of Christ has already endorsed the divestment effort, along with dozens of churches and congregations worldwide.

This May, Pope Francis urged Catholics to protect the environment in a speech at the Vatican, saying, “Creation is not a property, which we can rule over at will; or, even less, is the property of only a few: Creation is a gift, it is a wonderful gift that God has given us, so that we care for it and we use it for the benefit of all, always with great respect and gratitude.” The Pope is said to be working on an encyclical, the highest form of papal writing, that will address humanity’s relationship to the natural world.

One of the most vocal supporters of the current divestment campaign has been Nobel Peace Prize winner and former Anglican Archbishop, Desmond Tutu, who likened the current movement to the one that helped end apartheid in South Africa.

“We live in a world dominated by greed. We have allowed the interests of capital to outweigh the interests of human beings and our Earth. It is clear [the companies] are not simply going to give up; they stand to make too much money,” wrote Tutu in an article for the Guardian earlier this year. “People of conscience need to break their ties with corporations financing the injustice of climate change.”

According to an Oxford University study, the current divestment campaign is the “fastest growing” such effort in history and poses a “far reaching threat to the fossil fuel industry’s bottom line.”

Thomas Van Dyck, a senior vice president and financial adviser for the RBC SRI Wealth Management Group with whom the University of Dayton consulted,  said, “The trustees of the University of Dayton are acting as true leaders both from their faith and their financial responsibility in guiding the University. Fossil fuel companies have a valuation that assumes every single drop of oil, everything they have in the ground, will be taken out. More and more people are understanding the financial risk underlying fossil fuels in the stock market and taking the appropriate action. It’s not only values, but valuation risk associated with owning fossil fuel companies.”

This September, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will host a Climate Leadership summit in New York City for world leaders to come together and pledge bold actions to address the climate crisis. 350.org and other groups are planning to turn out tens of thousands of people for a major march the weekend before the summit and will be pushing for divestment commitments in the lead up to the meeting.

“In 2014, divestment has become increasingly mainstream,” said Jenny Marineau, 350.org’s Campus Field Manager. “We hope to see many more commitments before the major Climate Summit this September. The logic is simple: if you’re serious about tackling the climate crisis, you’ve got to stop investing in it.”