Fossil Fuel Divestment As Part of ‘Spiritual Worship’

Wes-Divest-meme-bannerRecently Bill McKibben (350.org) wrote a short note to readers of Tikkun magazine that serves as a good update on the fossil fuel divestment movement as a tool for combating climate change and shifting us toward a renewable energy economy.

Over the past year I’ve met with a number of groups discussing “the divestment strategy,” comparing it to the anti-apartheid divestment movement (see Loosing the Bonds by Robert Massie). In those conversations I’ve seen very good people come out for and against the use of this tool.

I’m avowedly “pro.”

Those who are “con” usually get there because 1) taking on financial industries is outside their area of expertise so it seems impossible or 2) it will divert too much “people energy” away changing federal policies.

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First Christian Denomination Votes to Divest from Fossil Fuel, Hopes to be Model for Others

UCC pastor Jim Antal at White House
UCC pastor Jim Antal at White House

The United Church of Christ, a reformed Protestant denomination of with more than 5,200 congregations and one million members, voted yesterday to divest from fossil fuel companies as a step toward serious action to combat climate change. They are the first church body in the world and the first national body of any kind to call for divestment from fossil fuel companies as a way of addressing climate change.

[This report is compiled from several news sources.]

“This resolution seeks to use movement toward divestment to increase awareness of the damage to our environment and to create public pressure on fossil fuel companies to leave 80 percent of fossil fuel reserves in the ground,” UCC pastor Vicki Kemper said at the annual meeting of the Massachusettes UCC region that sent the resolution to the General Synod. “That’s right – we’re essentially asking them to walk away from $20 trillion in resources.”

Kemper acknowledged that if all religious groups and colleges and universities – where the divestment movement began – divested, only 2 percent of fossil fuel stock would be impacted. But, she said: “The only power we have in this challenge is the moral, spiritual power to revoke the social licenses of these companies to continue to profit from wrecking the earth. The question is – will we exercise that power?”

According to the news report: The resolution, brought by the Massachusetts Conference and backed by 10 other conferences, calls for enhanced shareholder engagement in fossil fuel companies, an intensive search for fossil fuel-free investment vehicles and the identification of “best in class” fossil fuel companies by General Synod 2015.

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Fossil Fuel Companies: To Divest or Not to Divest?

In May, First Church in Boston, a Unitarian Universalist church, held an important conversation. A panel took up the question “What are the Moral and Practical Considerations of a Fossil Fuel Divestment Strategy?”

Bill McKibben of 350.org has called for the divestment of fossil fuel stocks as a key strategy in the fight against climate change. Thoughtful professionals within the socially responsible investment and liberal religious communities have taken reasoned and moral positions both for and against this strategy. The video is a little more than an hour long. It is an key conversation in understanding how we can pressure fossil fuel companies to 1) leave fossil fuels in the ground, 2) let go of their stranglehold on American politics, 3) speed up their transition to renewable energies.

Below are my very rough notes from the video. I found the conversation of such value that I wanted to pass it along.

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Largest Protestant Denomination in Canada Rejects Tar Sands Pipeline

The United Church of Canada voted on Tuesday to “categorically reject” the tar sands pipeline project that would carry highly toxic, climate-killing unconventional tar sands petroleum through pristine First Nation’s land in Alberta to British Columbia where it would be shipped on supertankers to China for processing. The so-called Northern Gateway pipeline is the Canadian end of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline proposed in the U.S.

In the U.S., some have argued that we should accept the tar sands Keystone XL pipeline because if we don’t the toxic petroleum from Alberta will just get shipped to China through a East-West pipeline. But the First Nations people and Canadian Churches are continuing to fight to make sure that pipeline never gets built. There may also be a strategic church divestment strategy to make sure that the United Church of Canada does not have any stockholdings in companies related to TransCanada, Enbridge, or affiliates.

In the U.S., we must do the same. In fact, ranchers and others in Texas are training this summer to nonviolently block with their bodies the pipeline construction bulldozers scheduled to begin clearing land soon.

Again, if we are to have any hope of reversing global warming, we must do these three things:

1. Divest or get active regarding all stockholdings in these six corporations: ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, Chevron, Peabody, Arch, and BP. These are the primary oil, natural gas, and coal companies operating in or through the United States that top the charts as carbon polluters. If Americans focus on U.S. companies, then we can be the tipping point for a transnational shift. If you — or the portfolio you influence — own stock, then get rid of it and tell the company why. If you don’t want to divest, then you need to decide now to become a shareholder activist. If you’re not a stockholder, then pressure your faith institutions, universities, and local governments to get out of “planet-killing” profits. This is the economic part of the plan.

2. Push for carbon “fee-and-dividend” laws on corporate carbon emitters at the local, state, and federal level. No more free rides for oil, gas, and coal companies. You pay taxes to have your garbage hauled away. Why shouldn’t they? The fee is charged at the point of origin or point of import on greenhouse gas emitting energy (oil, gas, and coal). The fee is progressive (increases gradually) over time. The fee is returned directly to the public in monthly dividends to individual taxpayers, with limited-to-no government involvement. Australia initiated this legislation in June. We can learn from them. This is the legislative part of the plan.

3. Take personal responsibility. Everyone can continue to limit energy consumption, use renewable energy sources, and build out a sustainable footprint for our homes and churches. But we also need people to step up and put their bodies on the line to stop the mining of tar sands in Alberta, Canada, and prevent the construction of the Keystone XL and Northern Gateway pipelines that are being built to transport Alberta’s unconventional “tar sands” oil. Scientists around the world say that opening the Alberta tar sands and pumping this non-traditional oil through these pipelines will put the planet on a one-way road to climate disaster. That’s why fighting the Keystone XL Pipeline in the U.S. and the Northern Gateway Pipeline in Canada is critical. This is the direct action and personal responsibility part of the plan.

Read the United Church of Canada’s statement on Enbridge Corporation’s tars sands pipeline. Here’s an excerpt:

The 41st General Council has instructed Nora Sanders, the United Church’s General Secretary, to make a public statement “categorically” rejecting construction of the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline, which has a proposed route stretching from northern Alberta to Kitimat, British Columbia.

Due to the timely nature of the pipeline review hearings, commissioners asked that this be accomplished soon. In addition, Sanders has been asked to communicate this decision to all courts of the church, the governments of Canada, Alberta, and British Columbia, Enbridge, and all Canadians through media outlets. …

Read whole article here.