Divestment

Franklin Graham’s Boycott Points Us Toward an Enclave Society

Photo via REUTERS / Jim Young / RNS

A Wells Fargo branch is seen in the Chicago suburb of Evanston, Illinois, 2015. Photo via REUTERS / Jim Young / RNS

Boycotts are most likely to work when the boycott is very carefully planned; when the boycotters clearly have the moral high ground; when they can convince the broader public that the boycott is a last resort; when they can build a critical mass of public support; and when there is some chance that a boycott can make a meaningful difference.

Graham’s effort to boycott Wells Fargo failed on all five counts. 

Divest!

This is an introduction to five-part series in Sojourner's June 2015 issue about divestment; to read the rest, click here.

IT WASN'T A HUGE surprise last year when Union Seminary announced that it would become the first seminary in the world to divest from fossil fuels. Union, after all, has long been a leader in progressive causes, and President Serene Jones said that “divestment of our endowment from fossil-fuel companies is one small step” toward stopping the catastrophic threat—the “sin”—of climate change.

But a few months later, the divestment movement reached an altogether different level when the Rockefeller Brothers Fund announced that it was moving its money from fossil fuels, starting with the worst carbon polluters, coal and tar sands. The Rockefeller money, of course, came from oil—patriarch John D. Rockefeller was the co-founder of Standard Oil—and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund controls $860 million in assets. All in all, 180 institutions have pledged to divest more than $50 billion to defund climate change—and, as they say, with billions in assets moved, pretty soon you’re talking real money.

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Open Letter to Christian Investment Companies: Give Members the Option to Opt Out of Fossil Fuels

An option to divest. Image courtesy pichetw/shutterstock.com

An option to divest. Image courtesy pichetw/shutterstock.com

By now, you may have heard that Jim Wallis and Sojourners have stopped funding climate change by divesting from fossil fuels. Unfortunately, for millions of Christians who invest at faith-based financial institutions, fossil-free investing just isn’t an option.

We’ve done our research. Of the 13 major Christian investment companies we studied, not a single one offers a way for their members to opt out of fossil fuels. We think Christian investment companies should be the FIRST to stop funding climate change! Read our open letter and sign below.

Every Time I Look Into the Holy Book

I HAVE SOMETIMES been dismayed by the lack of speed that some churches and denominations have shown when it came to tackling environmental issues. On the question of divestment from fossil fuels, for instance, the Unitarians have been forthrightly in favor, and the United Church of Christ as well (and the Rockefellers!). But the Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Anglicans are, by and large, dragging their feet as usual.

Sometimes I confess to imagining that God herself might be getting a bit impatient, too—how else to explain the name of the site for the next great fossil-fuel battle?

It will happen in Australia’s Galilee Valley, a remote basin many hours from the continent’s cities. At the moment it’s basically untouched, but plans call for it to become The Biggest Coal Mine on Earth. There is enough coal beneath its soil to provide 6 percent of the carbon that would take us past the two-degree rise in temperature scientists have given as the ultimate red line. That is to say, one valley in one nation (a nation with one-third of 1 percent of the planet’s population) can do 6 percent of the job of wrecking the planet. One valley!

One valley that happens to carry one of the most sacred names in Christendom. I remember my church high school youth group days, when Loretta Lynn exploded in song: “Put Your Hand in the Hand (of the Man from Galilee).” It was actually a great lyric, one that went straight to the radicalism of the gospel (“Every time I look into the Holy Book I wanna tremble / when I read about the part where the carpenter cleared the temple”). In this case, the “buyers and sellers” are all billionaires—people such as Gautam Adani, on whose corporate jet Narendra Modi flew last year in his successful campaign to run India, or Gina Rinehart, the Aussie mining heiress and fourth richest woman in the world who once lauded Africans for being willing to work for two dollars a day.

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Divesting from Fossil Fuels: We're Putting Our Money Where Our Faith Is

Photo via Kokhanchikov / Shutterstock / RNS

Two working oil pumps are silhouetted against the sky. Photo via Kokhanchikov / Shutterstock / RNS

We’re a few weeks into 2015, which means many of us are striving to keep our New Year’s resolutions while others have already seen their best intentions collapse under the pressure of daily routines. Every year, we make promises to be better — we’ll go to the gym, save more money, slow down. But for Christians, every day is an opportunity to make resolutions. We call that repentance.

And this year — today — I am repenting of my dependence on fossil fuels.

While many associate repentance with sorrow or guilt, the biblical meaning of the word is to stop, turn around and go in a whole new direction. Repentance means changing our course and embarking on a new path.

For Christians, humanity’s failure to care for God’s creation warrants our repentance. This is not just a theological claim but a practical moral imperative when it comes to fossil fuel consumption. American Christians need to repent — and quickly!

Our society’s addiction to fossil fuels has had an unconscionable impact on the state of our Earth and on future generations. Coal-fired power plants are giving people cancer and asthma. Oil pipelines are spilling and destroying sacred lands. Natural gas fracking waste is leaking underground, threatening water sources. Through our consumption of coal, oil, and gas, we have enabled this toxic activity.

An End to the Fossil-Fuel Era?

THE MOOD ALONG Central Park West couldn’t have been sweeter: As block after block after block of scientists and students and clerics strolled by on the People’s Climate March, everyone was smiling. Serious, yes—but calm. Determined, but hopeful. It was a coming out party, and everyone was reassured to see how big and broad this movement actually was.

And everyone was relieved, I think, not to have to listen to speeches. Without politicians explaining what the day was all about, the march was able to speak for itself, with a mix of anger and inspiration exemplified by the front- line communities and Indigenous nations that filled out the first ranks of the procession.

That night, though, there were a couple of speeches worth listening to. They came further up the West Side, at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, where religious leaders had gathered for a series of meetings and services. At the reception following those talks, Stephen Heintz, the head of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, cued up a video address from Desmond Tutu, calling for “an end to the fossil-fuel era.” Dressed in his scarlet robes, Tutu saluted activists, saying “the destruction of the Earth’s environment is the human rights challenge of our time,” and demanded that institutions around the planet end their investments in fossil-fuel companies.

That was pretty good: One of our planet’s most revered church leaders speaking truth to power. And then power spoke back. Representing the Rockefeller family, Heintz said their various charitable trusts would now divest their holdings in fossil-fuel companies, arguing that it was both financially imprudent and immoral to continue trying to make money off the planet’s destruction.

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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.

Faith Communities Are Dumping Their Fossil Fuel Investments

Activists support fossil fuel divestment at Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison on April 5, 2014. Creative Commons image: Light Brigading

Worried about global warming, a growing number of churches and other faith groups are divesting their holdings in fossil fuel companies, which release large amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

“The warning in Scripture that ‘the wages of sin is death’ could not be more literally true than it is in the case of fossil fuels,” said Serene Jones, president of New York’s Union Theological Seminary, whose board voted in June to divest its $108.4 million endowment from fossil fuel companies.

“While we realize that our endowment alone will hardly cause the fossil fuel giants to miss even half a heartbeat, as a seminary dedicated to social justice we have a critical call to live out our values in the world. Climate change poses a catastrophic threat, and as stewards of God’s creation we simply must act.”

Presbyterians Narrowly Vote to Divest from 3 Companies Involved in Israeli/Palestinian Conflict

Presbyterian Church (USA) voted June 20 to divest from 3 American companies. RNS photo courtesy Danny Bolin via PC(USA)

The Presbyterian Church (USA) voted Friday to divest church funds from three American companies it cited for profiting from the oppression of Palestinians within Israel’s occupied territories.

The 310-303 vote of the church’s General Assembly in Detroit marks a victory for divestment supporters both within and without the 1.8 million-member PCUSA, now the largest American church to embrace divestment as a strategy to pressure Israel to return its illegally held lands.

The divestment resolution targets companies that divestment supporters say supply electronic and earth-moving equipment that help Israel violate Palestinian rights. Presbyterians in support of the resolution described it as a long overdue stand on behalf of Palestinians suffering under the occupation, which began in 1967 when Israel pushed back attacks from neighboring countries.

The issue has roiled the church for the last decade, and during a more than three-hour debate, many lamented the divisiveness and noted how many around the world — in the U.S., Israel, and the Palestinian territories – would be watching.

Why Union’s Decision to Divest from Fossil Fuels Matters

Union Theological Seminary, by David Merrett / Flickr.com

Union Theological Seminary, by David Merrett / Flickr.com

Last week, Serene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary, announced that the school is divesting its endowment of fossil fuels. It is the first seminary in the world to do so, marking Union’s latest action in a long legacy of social justice commitments.

So what? Well, it helps to look at this news in context.

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