Catholics care about creation. The command to be actively involved in and concerned for our environment has a divine origination. To care for creation is to care for the God we can encounter through nature. With these statements in mind, I feel the need to draw attention to the inspiring and encouraging behaviors some Catholics have engaged in to take action upon these fundamental Catholic beliefs.
This week the University of Dayton, “a leading Catholic University and the largest private university in Ohio” announced it would “be divesting its $670 million endowment from fossil fuels.” Dayton is the first large Catholic institution to put its money where its heart is (though it is neither the first institution of learning, nor the first religiously affiliated organization to do so).
Dayton will now be standing alongside Stanford University and Union Theological Seminary, two organizations that have partially or fully divested from the 200 largest coal, oil, and gas fossil fuel companies. But the divestment campaigns don’t stop there. There are major campaigns underway “at over 400 universities and in dozens more cities, states, and nations across the world.”
Catholics constitute roughly 24% of the American population, a large enough percentage to make a real change in the economic landscape of America. Catholic spending counts, both on an individual and institutional level. The divestment movement is picking up momentum and it’s time for Catholics to join in. As Michael Galligan-Stirle, president of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, recently said:
“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.”
Rev. Martin Solma, S.M., provincial for the Marianist Province of the U.S. and a member of the board’s investment committee had this to say: “We believe it is possible and necessary to be both responsible stewards of our planet and fiduciaries…The tremendous moral imperative to act in accordance with our mission far outweighed any other considerations for divestment.”
As monumental as divestment from fossil fuels is, keep in mind, not all Catholic actions of stewardship must be this generous. You may be asking: “What else is there for Catholics to do?” Here are some possible resources and ways to get involved:
1. Familiarize yourself: Watch and share this video on divestment and read about why and how divesting can make a difference.
2. Learn about fuel: Understand what’s “so bad” about fossil fuels. There are all sorts of alternatives out there to learn about.
3. Learn about next steps: Understand reinvestment and how relocating money can make a difference. Here are some sources for renewable energy, and here’s one reason why divestment campaigns aren’t “just” about the money (hint: it has something to do with values, respect, esteem, and social attitudes).
4. Find out: Does your university or alma mater invest in fossil fuels? Write to the university or organization of your choice and encourage them to “freeze any new investments in fossil fuels, divest from the fossil fuel industry’s top 200 carbon-emitting companies, and reinvest in clean energy and socially responsible alternatives.”
5. Consider: Encouraging others to divest from fossil fuels. Check this out to locate an institution or government near you and see what they invest in. You can also download this campus guide if you are a student looking to make a change on your campus. If you’re not a student, there are still plenty of ways to support the divestment campaigns around the country.
6. Also consider: Divesting your own personal funds from fossil fuels.
7. Speak out! You will not be alone. There are plenty of resources to help you support divestment campaigns and entire organizations devoted to the interfaith efforts on divesting and reinvesting.
8. Remember: This is a religious issue, not just a social one! Try hosting a Catholic bible study, or listening to Catholic theologians Erin Lothes and Richard Miller speak about divestment and reinvestment.
Catholic teaching calls for stewardship over creation, for “sustainable pattern[s] of economic and social development,” for opening our eyes to “the value of all that surrounds us.” When faced with the destruction of what God saw as “good and beautiful,” Catholicism makes no room for complacency and inaction.
“I would like to ask all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of goodwill: let us be ‘protectors’ of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment.”
Pope Francis, Inauguration, 3/19/13
On October 26th, 2013 Pope Francis (@Pontifex) tweeted: “Too often we participate in the globalization of indifference. May we strive instead to live global solidarity.” Don’t become a part of the problem. As the National Catholic Reporter wrote, “God can always be found in the natural world.” God is paying attention to how we treat the earth. So send “a thank-you note to God.” Take action.
There are guided, enlightened Catholics all around us who have chosen to live out their beliefs—it’s time to encourage and join them.
Lindsey Bergholz is an intern for Eleison Group, a consulting firm that seeks “to align what is right with what works politically and economically.” She is a graduate of the University of Miami, a law student at George Washington, and a bookworm who occasionally takes a break from geeking-out to volunteer with animals.