BC Fossil Free Meets with Fr. Leahy on Divestment:
Click here to read a personal account of the meeting.
In the spirit of openness and transparency, this is a recap of our meeting with Leahy. We want to be clear, this is a summary from BCFF members in the meeting. We will be delivering a letter to Fr. Leahy on Monday in order to clarify where we have shared agreement and how we can move forward to address the closing window on our future. If and when we hear back from Fr. Leahy, we will report that on our website.
February 7, 2014
Yesterday, February 6, 2014, two BCFF members (Sissi Liu and Bobby Wengronowitz) visited Fr. Leahy and his chief of staff, Kevin Shea. We present here a summary of the meeting, for all to see.
The meeting began with Fr. Leahy asking how divestment works. He repeatedly came back to two problems he sees with divestment. First, he doesn’t understand how it would be effective. We explained that it is a proven strategy—citing Nelson Mandela thanking University of California students after his release from prison. Divestment targets the central barrier to movement on climate—the fossil fuel companies. Fr. Leahy agreed that Washington is broken, that nothing is happening there. We reiterated our position that the fossil fuel industry has congress and the executive captured. We cited the recent environmental impact review of the Keystone XL Pipeline by a firm, Environmental Resources Management, that is a dues paying member of the American Petroleum Institute, and has worked with Transcanada, the company trying to build KXL. We offered that divestment weakens the political power of the fossil fuel industry through the same mechanism used against tobacco—we remove their social license, and let our elected representatives know that citizens support strong leadership in the face of the fossil fuel lobby.
Fr. Leahy’s second issue with divestment deals with his view (the exact same as Harvard’s Drew Faust) that it would be contradictory to withdraw investments from fossil fuels while we use them in the regular operations of the university. Fr. Leahy asked, we weren’t sure if the question was asked sarcastically, if we are supposed to stop using fossil fuels tomorrow. We explained it would be impossible to stop using fossil fuels immediately, but that we need to begin our rapid transition away from fossil fuels. Turning the contradiction on its head, we asked how BC could be attempting to reduce its footprint to fight climate change (we have been told this by many, but quantified goals and progress meeting those goals has not been forthcoming) while at the same time profiting from companies who knowingly destabilize our climate. Is it not inconsistent to know the reality of the deepening climate crisis, and yet continue profiting from companies who have funded climate change denial campaigns, and who have lobbied at every turn to halt state and federal action on the existential threat facing young people around the globe?
In an interesting part of the conversation, Fr. Leahy asked if he understood BC Fossil Free as a group, asking why we weren’t a registered student organization (RSO). We said we applied in the fall (2013) and were rejected for 1) appearing to try to push the administration in a certain direction (yes, we are, we did not know that was reason to reject a group), and 2) there are already environmental groups on campus, so go join Ecopledge. These were peculiar reasons for Fr. Leahy, as they are for us. Fr. Leahy asked, but didn’t the UGBC (BC’s undergraduate student government) vote in favor of divestment? Yes, they did. Fr. Leahy said, but isn’t that a contradiction, for them to support divestment and then to reject a student group pushing for divestment. Yes, it is. We offered that it appeared a personal and/or politically motivated move against BCFF. We have asked Ricky Knapp, the UGBC student involved with rejected BCFF, repeatedly for answers to these questions, but continue to be met with silence.
Fr. Leahy did seem to understand how urgent the climate threat is. Sissi explained how her friends in Beijing couldn’t breathe the air outdoors, how lung cancer and asthma are increasing concerns. Bobby talked about Super Typhoon Haiyan killing thousands and displacing hundreds of thousands in the Philippines, and how he and students from some 100 campuses around the nation joined with Yeb Saño to “stop the madness.” We celebrated the work BC has done on campus, including purchasing more hydroelectricity and on-campus conservation measures. But we also asked if those efforts approach the scale of the crisis. Fr. Leahy did seem to understand these efforts do not go far enough. However, he told us straightforwardly that BC would not lead on divestment; that no large-endowment universities are moving on this; that our efforts were praise-worthy, but we should find something more realistic. We mentioned that 17 foundations with combined assets of nearly $2 billion (the same amount as BC’s endowment) decided to divest from fossil fuels, citing moral and financial concerns.
We asked Fr. Leahy, on many occasions, how we can work with the administration to take bold action on the climate crisis, to have BC lead on this dire threat; we were met with incredulity that we can transition from away from fossil fuels, that BC can do much besides reduce footprint on campus. We ask Fr. Leahy, and all of the BC community: If we won’t lead, who will? And if not now, then when? When will we stop this madness?