Villanova’s Catholic Values Warrant Environmental Progress


Gabi Frank/Villanovan Photography

Students have enjoyed spring weather ahead of finals and the end of the semester as they prepare for summer break.

Majo James, Staff Writer

In his encyclical Laudato Si (Our Common Home) Pope Francis proclaimed, “Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it.” And yet, despite being a Catholic institution, Villanova is not doing enough to combat humanity’s greatest natural existential threats. 

In response to the University’s inaction, a group of students called Fossil Free Villanova led a demonstration on Friday, April 21st. Students of the organization enthusiastically responded to a request for comment.

“We are demanding that Villanova University commit to creating a Sustainable Endowment Plan and establish a policy of transparency with the campus community regarding Villanova’s investment practices,” a member explained.

In accordance with the wishes of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the University’s own values, the administration has divested from industries it deems immoral, including birth control, abortion, contraceptives, stem cell research, tobacco, gambling and recreational cannabis. Despite this, Villanova continues to have 4% of its $1.2 billion endowment (which should come out to around $48 million) in the fossil fuel industry. 

Granted, the Catholic Church has publicly taken stances against the sectors that Villanova has divested from. However, the Church has also championed action against climate change. As I discussed earlier in the article, Pope Francis even published an encyclical urging action and supporting the scientific consensus. So, why is it that the fossil fuel industry is deemed less of an evil than any of these other ones? 

This being an opinion piece, I am empowered to say that in my eyes, divesting from those other industries but not the one that has the potential of bringing about the extinction of humanity is absolutely ridiculous. 

The students of Fossil Free Villanova reported that when they confronted the Investment Office regarding this, the CIO said, “it is not our responsibility to create a world in which we do not have to use fossil fuels in our day-to-day lives…How are we expected to find sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels when the developing world isn’t?” 

It is our responsibility. As an Augustinian Catholic University, are we not called to be stewards of the Earth? This lack of personal responsibility is the reason climate change has gotten so bad in the first place. Corporations are the primary drivers in emissions and several other environmental catastrophes around the globe, and yet individual responsibility is heralded as the means to save the planet. Carpooling and turning off the lights when you leave the room only goes so far. It is only by pushing restrictions on corporations that climate change can be slowed, and hopefully its effects reversed. 

As to the second statement, is Villanova really so reactionary that we will only take initiatives once it is popular to do so? If anything, we should be leading by example. It is through our firm commitment to our values that we show the world that it is possible and necessary to take action even when it goes against the status quo. 

Shifting toward renewable energy sources is difficult at first, no one denies that. However, the benefits it provides far exceed the trouble institutions must initially go through. Shedding dependence on oil would end American reliance on foreign oil, as well as the most obvious benefit: a lasting and healthy solution to the energy crisis. 

This is not to say that Villanova is doing everything wrong. The Climate Commitment that University President Rev. Peter M. Donohue, OSA, Ph.D. signed in 2007 set 2050 as a deadline for achieving carbon neutrality. The University’s website states, “Villanova will invest in improving campus infrastructure efficiency, as well as purchase carbon offsets and renewable energy for the energy required to run campus operations.” The University’s emissions continue to fall every year as more and more renewable options are pursued. 

More work must be done in order for us to properly live up to our values of Veritas, Unitas and Caritas. Villanova must completely divest from the fossil fuel industry and properly empower student organizations who raise their voices against injustices on campus. It is only through cooperation and action that we can inspire others to do the same.