Creation Care

Beyond the Letter of the Law: The Jewish Perspective on Ethical Investing and Fossil Fuel Divestment

Ethical investing is a part of traditional Jewish morality. Image courtesy pau20

Ethical investing is a part of traditional Jewish morality. Image courtesy pau2000/shutterstock.com

Climate change resulting from the use of fossil fuels poses a grave threat to human and non-human life. Because a real national response to climate change has been stymied by political inaction, cultural inertia, and the concerted effort of fossil fuel companies, environmental organizations have encouraged universities, towns and cities, religious communities and other organizations to divest from fossil fuel investments.

In Judaism, ethical investing is part of traditional Jewish morality. Within the sources are two questions that are central to the issue of divestment:

Is it mandatory to divest from products (like tobacco and fossil fuel) that are not illegal but are, clearly, harmful?

To what degree is a minority shareholder morally responsible for the actions of a corporation when they are unable to exercise any significant control?

Several fundamental Jewish theological concepts bear upon these questions. Firstly, since God created the universe only God has absolute ownership over Creation (cf. 1 Chronicles. 29:10-16). Humans do not have unrestricted freedom to misuse Creation as they are tenants, not owners. Since human ownership of Creation is not absolute, the use of even private property cannot be divorced from morality. A product may be legal, but if it is harmful, its use is not ethical.

 

Evangelicals Add Support for EPA Plan to Cut Coal Pollution

The Rev. Mitchell Hescox, pictured here with his family. Photo via Evangelical E

The Rev. Mitchell Hescox, pictured here with his family. Photo via Evangelical Environmental Network / RNS.

Evangelicals are teaming up with environmentalists to support the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan to substantially reduce carbon dioxide emissions from coal-burning power plants.

The Rev. Mitchell Hescox, president and CEO of the Evangelical Environmental Network, submitted comments from more than 100,000 “pro-life Christians” who he said are concerned about children’s health problems that are linked to unclean air and water.

“From acid rain to mercury to carbon, the coal utility industry has never acted as a good neighbor and cleaned up their mess on their own,” Hescox told reporters on Dec. 1. “Instead of acting for the benefit of our children’s lives, they’ve internalized their profits while our kids (have) borne the cost in their brains, lungs and lives.”

Despite recent findings that almost four in 10 evangelicals remain skeptical about climate change, Hescox said the comments he provided to the Environmental Protection Agency reflect a belief that “climate change is the greatest moral challenge of our time.”

We’re Awestruck About Earth, Unsure About Global Warming

A polar bear walks along ice floes in the Arctic Ocean. Photo courtesy of Florid

A polar bear walks along ice floes in the Arctic Ocean. Photo courtesy of FloridaStock/shutterstock.com

Most Americans say they feel a deep connection to the wider world.

But all that spiritual stargazing makes no difference in views about the facts of climate change and global warming, a new survey finds.

Just 5 percent of Americans thought climate change was the most important issue in the U.S. today. And religion was a major dividing point on how much — or how little — they think it’s a matter of concern, according to a new survey by the Public Religion Research Institute.

“We asked about spiritual measures such as being in awe of the universe, and you might think it would correlate with views about the universe. But, in fact, they have very little relationship,” said Robert Jones, CEO of PRRI, which conducted the survey on U.S. adults’ attitudes toward climate change, environmental policy and science.

 

Keystone XL Fails in the Senate: What's Next?

 Rena Schild / Shutterstock.com

Scene from the Forward on Climate march Feb. 17, 2013 in Washington, D.C. Rena Schild / Shutterstock.com

Last night, the Senate voted on the Keystone XL pipeline — and with only 59 votes, the bill failed. (In the current political climate, it takes 60 votes to make a bill filibuster-proof so that it actually passes.)

Right after the announcement, things got loud on the Senate floor. Someone from the gallery broke out into song. Although the C-SPAN cameras didn’t show them, someone was singing loudly in the Dakota/Lakota language from the gallery up above. That someone was Greg Grey Cloud, a member of the Dakota/Lakota Nation from the Rosebud Sioux reservation.

See, in some ways, the Keystone pipeline is a symbol. If President Obama lets the pipeline pass, it shows us that he isn’t actually the president who cares the most about climate change — even if he makes major agreements on climate change pollution with China or releases the Clean Power Plan for the EPA. If he lets the Keystone XL tar sands pipe be built, he’ll be undoing so much good work, cancelling it out with a fuel even dirtier than oil.

Senate to Vote on Keystone Pipeline Tonight

Rena Schild / Shutterstock.com

Marchers in the Forward on Climate Rally, Feb. 17, 2013, in Washington D.C. Rena Schild / Shutterstock.com

Tonight at 6:00, the Senate is holding a vote on the Keystone XL pipeline. I’ve been so excited lately by all the good thing happening in Congress, but this just might spoil my mood.

Here’s what has happened lately: President Obama met with Chinese President Xi Jinping, and the two of them agreed on a climate pollution-curbing deal. It’s a move that many people never thought possible, and it means big things for international climate talks. Also big news in that arena is Obama’s recent commitment of $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund, making us one of very few prosperous nations willing to help the world’s poor and vulnerable countries grapple with the climate impacts they are already facing – stronger storms, droughts that ravage subsistence farmers, rising sea levels that displace island nations. When the U.S. delegates show up at the U.N. climate talks in Lima two weeks from now, people might actually be happy to see us!

This week is an exciting one on the national level too. This afternoon at the EPA, a group of faith representatives will hand over our thousands of comments from people of faith who support the Clean Power Plan (and want to see the rule implemented well in every state).

But just when things were looking up, enter Congress. Here’s the basic scene:

Why A Movement To Disinvest from Fossil Fuels?

pau2000 / Shutterstock.com

pau2000 / Shutterstock.com

If Quaker antislavery activist John Woolman were alive today, he would probably be doing everything in his power to resist the fossil fuel industries destabilizing our climate.

Woolman, who in the mid-1700s refused to cooperate with any aspect of the slave trade, would probably divest any ownership interest he had in big oil, gas, and coal companies. To profit financially from corporations that are destroying the planet would be unconscionable.

The divestment movement received a tremendous boost the day after 400,000 people took to the streets of New York City for the People’s Climate March. In advance of the United Nations Climate Summit on Sept. 22, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund — an $860 million foundation built on the oil fortune of John D. Rockefeller — announced its commitment to divest its holdings of fossil fuels.

This was the latest wave in a series of Divest-Invest announcements including the launch of Divest-Invest Individual, which facilitates a meaningful role for individuals in the divestment and reinvestment movements. More than 700 inaugural investors – with investments totaling $2.6 billion – announced their intention to divest from fossil fuel industries and reinvest in clean, renewable energy. Hundreds of individuals have since taken the pledge to stop new investments in fossil fuels and divest from the top 200 carbon-holding companies within five years.

“The destruction of the earth’s environment is the human rights challenge of our time,” said South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu in a video-taped message to the UN Climate Summit. He called on world leaders to freeze further exploration for new fossil fuel sources. “Divest from fossil fuels and invest in a clean energy future. Move your money out of the problem and into solutions.”

Congress Voting on Keystone XL Pipeline Today

Today the House of Representatives is set to vote, yet again, on the Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline. This pipeline would move bitumen, a tar-like version of oil, from the Alberta tar sands in Canada down to the oil refineries and export areas in Texas. The pipeline is controversial because of the high carbon content of tar sands oil, the sensitive farmland, aquifer, and Native American land it passes through, and the risk of pipeline spills.

The Senate will vote on the Keystone pipeline – which would require President Obama’s signature since it crosses an international border with Canada – on Tuesday, but if it passes the House and the Senate, Obama will be faced with a choice: veto or sign. He has been silent on his final decision, stalling as the State Department goes through the review process (which raised conflict of interest concerns, as a contractor working for the pipeline company also wrote State Department’s Environmental Impact Statement).

You can call your Member of Congress to let them know where you stand on Keystone XL – find their phone number here: http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/

U.S., China Strike Agreement Limiting Greenhouse Gases

This morning, President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping of China made a historic announcement that their countries would limit greenhouse gas emissions.

The United States and China are the world’s two largest consumers of energy and two largest emitters of greenhouse gases. Together, they account for 40 percent of the world’s emissions.

This announcement is a milestone for two reasons. First, this is the first time that China, the world’s No. 1 producer of greenhouse gas pollution, has made any pledge to limit its rapidly growing emissions. Second, this is a major breakthrough in U.S.-China relations that highlights what’s possible when the two superpowers work together on an issue.

Both leaders hope that this statement will inject momentum into global climate negotiations by putting pressure on other major countries to reflect on their own plans for major emissions reductions.

A written statement alone will not alter the course of climate action internationally. However, this announcement has laid a foundation for an international collaborative relationship on climate change. As President Xi told President Obama on Tuesday evening, “A pool begins with many drops of water.” For the sake of God’s creation let’s hope that the drops of climate change collaboration continue to gather.

For more on this story The Hill’s report.

Disinvest/Reinvest: From Fossil Fuels to Hope

Editor’s Note : This is the first post in a new series about fossil fuel divestment and clean energy reinvestment. We’ll look at how and why people of faith might choose to divest from fossil fuels as a response to climate change.

When you really care about something, it’s important not to give up hope.

If one of the things you care about is climate change and the harm we are doing to God’s beautiful world, it’s pretty hard to keep the hope alive.

After all, the world’s leading peer-reviewed scientific authority on climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, just released its most damning report ever, declaring that climate disruption is at this point “irreversible.”

And then let’s look at Congress. The United States has emitted more greenhouse gases than any other country in the world, and yet it’s been five years since Congress came anywhere near passing a major climate law. (And they failed to pass that Cap & Trade law). After the most recent election last week, Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) — who once called global warming “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people” — is set to become the gatekeeper for all climate legislation.

This should come as no surprise. Fossil fuels – the main driver of our nation’s climate culpability – are a big business. We blow up mountains to get more coal, set up dangerous oilrigs in the Gulf of Mexico, pipe tar through the breadbasket of America, and use California’s limited water supply to hydrofrack for gas. When I say “we,” I mean the fossil fuel industry. The industry spends tons of money each year propping up climate deniers, spreading misinformation, and sowing seeds of doubt about what we are doing to God’s earth. They also fund political candidates on both sides of the aisle, buying silence from elected officials whose constituents are suffering from air and water pollution, historic drought, or stronger hurricanes.

In the face of all this, I have hope — for two reasons.

Listening with Radical Ears: The Importance of the 2014 IPCC Climate Report

"As Christians, we must open our ears, minds, and hearts ." Photo via shutterstock.com

“The reason I speak to them in parables is that ‘seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.’ With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says: ‘You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes” (Matthew 13:11-15)

Humans shut their eyes to truth.

This week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the final installment of its three-part synthesis report on climate change. According to Rajendra Pachauri, the chairperson of the IPCC, this report is the “strongest, most robust, and most comprehensive analysis” to come out of the IPCC, which has been tracking climate change since 1988. Yet, there are still some who are hard of hearing.

The data that lies within the report is nothing completely new: climate change is happening, humans are responsible for climate change, and fossil fuels are severely damaging our levels of CO2. So, what is different about the newest installment of the IPCC report?

The emergence of one word: irreversible. 

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