The Episcopal Diocese of Newark, “in obedience to God’s call to be stewards of earth’s diverse community of life,” recently passed a resolution at its annual convention calling upon the Church Pension Fund, the Investment Committee of the Executive Council, and the Episcopal Church Foundation to divest from the world’s leading 200 fossil fuel companies, and to reinvest in stages in “impact investments” in the clean energy sector. The resolution states,
God calls us to be good stewards of God’s good Creation (Gen. 1:31, 2:15). Jesus commands us to care for those who are vulnerable as if we were caring for Him (Mt. 25:40). The Fifth Mark of Mission of the Anglican Communion is “To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.” The Episcopal Church has long been on record calling for action to address climate change, and environmental justice, most recently with resolutions in 2006 and 2009. The Episcopal Church, by its mission, is pledged to the protection and care of God’s people and God’s Creation.
Climate change represents a titanic threat to all life, and especially to the poor. The biblical mandate and our church’s teachings could not be clearer that we must respond with faithful, prophetic action. For over two decades, the Episcopal Church and the wider faith community has utilized shareholder and legislative advocacy on climate change, to very little effect…
The fossil fuel industry’s value and future depend on burning these fuels. This industry has used its financial power to prevent legislation to reduce carbon emissions, spending over $400,000 per day to lobby the US government alone. It secures unthinkably large government subsidies – $1.5 billion globally per day, according to the International Energy Agency. In 2013, the industry spent over $600 billion exploring for new fossil fuel reserves, far beyond the $244 billion invested globally in renewable energy. This level of spending dwarfs the resources that can be mobilized by advocates for a sustainable future.
Given this reality, four factors require the church to address the issue of fossil fuel divestment and clean energy reinvestment. Two of these are moral factors, and two financial.
First, a growing number of religious and educational institutions are committing to divest from fossil fuel holdings, having concluded that it is immoral to profit from an industry whose core business creates climate change and whose financial and political influence has prevented climate change legislation. In the past, under circumstances of grave harm combined with intransigent resistance to change by the offending industry or regime, the church has debated and/or divested from certain industries (tobacco) or from certain companies which support repugnant regimes (apartheid South Africa). Such a time has arrived with the fossil fuel industry. Within the past two years, the United Church of Christ and the Unitarian Universalist Association have both voted to divest. The Presbyterian Church USA is studying divestment. The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, in May 2014, became the first Anglican body in the world to divest from fossil fuels. Union Theological Seminary and the University of Dayton, a Catholic University, voted to divest in June 2014. The Diocese of Massachusetts has adopted a divestment resolution, and study of divestment is underway in the Dioceses of Oregon, Western Massachusetts, and in hundreds of churches nationwide. The time has arrived for the Episcopal Church to take a leading role in the pre-eminent moral issue of our time.
Second, analyses have shown that eliminating fossil fuel industries from an investment portfolio over the past twenty-five years would have resulted in no reduction in returns. This suggests that concerns about the risk to church investments posed by divestment may well be overblown.
Third, a growing number of investment professionals are now warning about the inevitability of a “carbon bubble,” a term referring to the over-valuation of fossil fuel companies which currently depend on fossil fuel reserves as a substantial part of their market value. In the view of an overwhelming majority of scientists and policymakers, approximately two thirds of these reserves will not be able to be burned if the climate is to remain below two degrees Celsius. This creates the inevitability of the devaluation of these holdings; church investment managers and trustees are duty-bound to respond.
Fourth, the growing number of renewable energy and clean technology investment opportunities (with some of these referred to as “impact investments”) combined with the desperate need of the developing world for clean energy establishes a moral obligation for the Episcopal Church to seek to utilize its investment resources in a manner that meets its investment objectives while supporting the emergence of clean energy systems in the developing world. According to the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN): “Impact investments are investments made into companies, organizations, and funds with the intention to generate a measurable, beneficial social and environmental impact alongside a financial return. Impact investments can be made in both emerging and developed markets, and target a range of returns from below-market to above-market rates, depending upon the circumstances.”
The time has come to bear our witness in this new, faithful, courageous manner. For the sake of life and of justice, the time has come for the church to divest, and reinvest.
As more Episcopal dioceses and individual investors in the church, citing scripture, tradition, and science, put pressure on Episcopal institutions to “divest and reinvest,” citizens across the world continue to ramp up pressure on universities, religious bodies, and municipalities in order to break the social license of fossil fuel producing corporations. This afternoon more than 35 students occupied Massachusetts Hall at Harvard University ahead of tomorrow’s Global Divestment Day. A press release from Divest Harvard states,
“It’s immoral for Harvard not to do everything in its power to address climate change,” said Rory Stewart, a Harvard graduate student and sit-in participant. “By not divesting, it’s showing that the interest in the University endowment is strictly for financial gain and not for its own future, the future of its students, and the future of our planet.”
Harvard currently holds $79.5 million in the top 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies. Supporters of the Divest Harvard Campaign, both inside and outside of Massachusetts Hall, ask that Harvard reduce those holdings to zero.
“We will be disruptive. We will disrupt university operations just as the act of not divesting is disrupting our future,” said Annie Schugart, a Harvard undergraduate student and sit-in participant. “We feel obligated to be disruptive for as long as it takes to achieve divestment, for the sake of our future.”