Student Spotlight: A Fossil Free Future for Notre Dame

Armed with facts about the consequences of climate change, a major in psychology and a minor in sustainability, Katie Otterbeck (’15) co-founded the We Are 9 movement for a fossil free campus last fall. It began after a GreeND meeting with a conversation about the possibility of a carbon neutral Notre Dame. Katie wrote, “The We Are 9 movement is unique in that it pulls together the passions and efforts of people across the entire Notre Dame community. Notre Dame has never had a sustainability movement before, never had a force for action on emission reductions, for the limb of Catholic social teaching that urges us to protect God’s creation.” Read below to learn more about the movement and to hear how you can get involved!

“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

Notre Dame, are you listening to this?

It is projected that 9 billion people will inhabit the earth and share its resources by the year 2050. Climate change is caused and consistently accelerated by the emission of greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere through the combustion of materials like coal. Environmental degradation is causing grave injustices for poor and vulnerable populations by increasing the likelihood of food shortages, respiratory and waterborne chronic illness, water contamination and scarcity, power shortages, and more. Furthermore, burning coal on Notre Dame’s campus degrades the quality of air for students and all members of the community.

Despite the accessibility of alternative fuel options, the ability of the Notre Dame power plant to burn more sustainable fuel options, the research done by esteemed faculty and the above truths, Notre Dame continues to burn 15-50% coal annually. As a Catholic university, a community of people dedicated to social justice, and a competitive institution, Notre Dame has a responsibility to acknowledge the urgency and injustices of climate change.


We are a student body of the 21st century, one that is aware of the enormity of climate change and will not accept complacency on emission standards and environmental justice. We are ND. We understand that climate change is a human rights issue, and that sustainability means solidarity. We stand in solidarity with the 9 billion, working to ensure a just and stable future for us all. We Are 9.

Our approach to support, therefore, is three-fold, calling to mind human rights and social justice, Catholic social teaching, and the fact that ND is a competitive university that should not be content to fall behind other leading universities in emission standards and reduction goals. We are asking Notre Dame to be a healing force for a world deeply in need, to plan for a fossil-free future, and work to ensure a just and stable planet for all. Join us.

With the growing support across the Notre Dame community, we are looking to meet with University President Father Jenkins by the end of the semester to start a conversation about signing the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, an initiative that has been signed by over 650 presidents which aims at carbon neutrality. Signing the commitment would require that the university take strategic steps toward planning for carbon neutrality. Our goals are outlined in our petition for solidarity, which can be signed here. Join us in asking Notre Dame to plan for a fossil free future.

For information on events and updates on our progress, like our Facebook page.


  • Donohoe, M. (2003). Causes and health consequences of environmental degradation and social injustice. Social Science & Medicine, 56(3), 573-587

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