CLIMATE CHANGE: Final report and call to action from Jesuit Universities’ Climate Change Conference

Jim Hugby Jim Hug, S.J.

FINAL REPORT: Loyola University’s Second Annual Climate Change Conference did not so much end at lunch on March 21st as transition into a new action phase.

climate-changeThe Saturday morning session featured the sharing of curricular ideas and resources, an effort to contribute to the use of best educational practices across the upper Midwest Jesuit universities and to the development of collaborative projects and research.  Many of these materials should be valuable for Pax Christi groups and other justice organizations.  The website for the Loyola University Chicago Institute of Environmental Sustainability has posted conference materials on its webpage at www.luc.edu/climate.  It will expand in the very near future to feature shared curricula, summer courses, online courses, and proven resources.  The relationships among faculty, students, alumni/ae, discussion and action groups that will grow through future collaboration will help to build a stronger force for sustainability in the years ahead.

Still, much more is needed now to address our climate crisis – and much more is possible.  In this phase, your action is essential and can have significant and lasting impact.  This is how.

As the sustainability work shifted back to local campuses, the participants from the six upper Midwest Jesuit universities made another important commitment.  Dr. Nancy Tuchman, host of the Loyola Conference, announced that they would collectively, as Jesuit institutions that are part of a larger network “develop a statement that gives a common voice to Jesuit concern for the planet with a call to action.”  Such a statement would be submitted to the Presidents of the Jesuit Schools for ratification and publication.  Action possibilities could include such things as a pledge to require an Environmental Issues course for all students, a commitment to work toward carbon neutral campuses, and either divestment from fossil fuels or sustained ethical dialogue with fossil fuel corporations.

Global Implications

That “larger network” that these universities participate in could indeed become a powerful force for sustainability and for the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.  There are 28 Jesuit universities and approximately 200 Catholic colleges and universities in the U.S.  Globally there are around 200 Jesuit-sponsored institutions of higher education.

If a significant number of them were to stand together, motivated by their educators’ understanding of and respect for climate science and their common faith-grounded mission to care for creation, they could capture the world’s attention in this time of planetary climate crisis and provide leadership to the emerging global movement.

A wonderful opportunity for this type of global action commitment is shaping up in Melbourne, Australia in July this year, almost certainly within days or weeks of the publication of the eagerly anticipated encyclical on ecology from Pope Francis.

Several international meetings of Catholic Higher Education institutions will be taking place back-to-back and focusing on issues of social justice, ecology, and Catholic social tradition.

Jesuit Higher Education

From July 7-10, the presidents of Jesuit Higher Education institutions and the directors of other Jesuit institutions from around the world will be meeting under the banner, “Expanding the Jesuit Higher Education Network: Collaborations for Social Justice.”  The major organizer of the meeting is Rev. Michael Garanzini, S.J., the outgoing president of Loyola University Chicago, a longtime supporter of its ecological leadership, and current Secretary for Higher Education for the Society of Jesus worldwide.  One of the organizing partners for the meeting is the Secretary of the Social Justice and Ecology Secretariat for Jesuits globally, Rev. Patxi Alvarez, S.J.  Approximately 300 of the top leaders of Jesuit institutions globally will be participating and the conference will open with a video address by the Superior General of the Jesuits, Rev. Adolfo Nicolás, S.J., entitled “Social Justice and the Jesuit University.” Finally, the agenda will address ecology and climate change prominently among its justice issues.  More information is available at http://www.luc.edu/melbourne/.

Preceding the global Jesuit Higher Education meeting, the General Assembly of the Association of Universities Entrusted to the Society of Jesus in Latin America [AUSJAL] will meet July 6-7, 2015 at the same venue.  It will certainly feed into the global Jesuit meeting and help shape its outcomes.

These two meetings seem to provide a perfect opportunity for “a statement that gives a common voice to Jesuit concern for the planet with a call to action” accompanied by a commitment to coordinated education, communication, and action globally.

With these meetings on the horizon, more immediate opportunities open up for student groups, faculty organizations, alumni/ae and Communications and Development Offices at Jesuit universities across the U.S. and around the world.  Concerned advocates will want to meet with their presidents before the July meeting to encourage them to propose and/or support such a statement and action.  Campus media will want to interview their local presidents before they leave for the meeting to find out and report on their approach and commitment to the crucial issues involved.  Communications and Development Offices will certainly want to alert local public media to raise awareness in the larger community of the meeting, the important issues it is addressing, and the university’s place in the international network of Jesuit and Catholic higher education.  Alums, whose interests and ideas are always of importance to University Development offices, could drop them notes expressing their concern and hopes for Jesuit institutional leadership in addressing global climate crises.  All of these will prepare the ground for post-Melbourne publicity and public education activities.

Student and faculty groups at several U.S. Jesuit universities have already been active in calling their schools to divest from fossil fuels and reinvest in alternative clean energy sources.  At Loyola University Chicago, 202 faculty members called for divestment in a six-page letter to the Faculty Senate, a letter that responded carefully to all the usual objections to such action.  “In sum,” it concluded, “we believe that divestment from fossil fuels is in accord with the mission and values of Loyola University Chicago, that it is urgent, that it can have an impact on current efforts to encourage lower-carbon forms of energy, and that it is in keeping with the best financial interests of our institution.”

The letter resulted in a resolution that passed 15-1 stating:

The Senate recommends to the President that Loyola University Chicago immediately freeze any new investment in fossil fuel companies, divest from direct ownership in 18 months, and divest from any commingled funds that include fossil fuel public equities and corporate bonds within 5 years.  In addition, we recommend that future investments, shareholder advocacy, and sustainable reinvestment include renewable energy technology…. (20 Feb 2015)

The proposal is now in the hands of the President and the Board of Directors.

Activities such as these could serve as models for students, faculty, staff, and alumni/ae associations, Pax Christi and other organizations from or near Jesuit mission-driven campuses everywhere.

Still, the world of Jesuit Higher Education does not exhaust the potential of the July 2015 Melbourne meetings to have a global impact.

Associated International Higher Education Meetings

From July 13-17 the 25th General Assembly of the International Federation of Catholic Universities [IFCU] will take place at the same venue as the Jesuit meetings, on the campus of the Australian Catholic University.

On July 11-12, the weekend following the Jesuit meetings and preceding the IFCU Assembly, the President and Vice-Chancellor of the Australian Catholic University, as part of its 25th Anniversary Celebration, will host a Presidents’ Roundtable “by invitation only.” The Roundtable will feature themed discussions of international models of collaboration in curricula and research, networking opportunities with Australian and international universities, and opportunities for presentation of international mission related initiatives.

The IFCU Assembly itself, the concluding gathering of this intensive two-week educational summit, will focus on the theme ‘Times Change. Values Endure.’   A summary of its agenda can be found at http://www.accunet.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageID=3962.

With climate change among the most prominent components of these changing times and the expected papal encyclical addressing it from the Catholic social values tradition, the stage seems clearly and carefully set for serious discussion and planning for Catholic educational leadership in addressing these important ecological concerns through the critical years ahead for planet Earth.

Rev. Michael Garanzini, S.J., organizer and host of the Jesuit international Higher Education Meeting will keynote the IFCU gathering with an address entitled “Contribution of Catholic Higher Education in a Changing World.”  Garanzini, thus, is the lynchpin linking these four gatherings.

His role suggests the immense potential of these two weeks in Melbourne: potential for a careful integration of the pervasive major themes of the four meetings, a renewed sense of global mission for Catholic Higher Education, and a major commitment to significant global leadership and collaboration for a more just and sustainable planetary future.

Pax Christi members and local groups can surely come up with ideas for encouraging and promoting this kind of leadership from Catholic Higher Education – and connections to help get things moving.  As I indicated in my last report, climate change is ultimately one of the greatest current threats to national and global security and peace.

Can anything significant happen as a result of the Melbourne meetings?  Will something significant happen?  Will you take some action to let one or more of the participants know your hopes and concerns? Could the message to the world emerging from these key meetings “go viral” providing effective leadership from Catholic Higher Education at a critical time in planetary history?

We pray in support.  We wait in hope.

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