A Call to Screen Fossil Fuels

The following is an excerpt of remarks made by the Rev. Sharon Delgado at the General Board of Pension and health Benefits meeting on November 13, 2014.

My name is Sharon Delgado. I’m a retired clergy woman in the California Nevada Annual Conference. I’m here today representing our conference Advocacy and Justice Committee.

I appreciate the work of this Board, which safeguards my pension and does the hard work of determining how our investments can be both ethical and profitable. I appreciate being given this time to share with you about an Investment Screen on fossil fuels.

In June, the California Nevada Annual Conference passed a resolution calling for a consultative process with the General Board of Pensions and several Cal-Nevada boards and agencies. The goal of this process is to work toward an investment screen based on the Natural World section of the Social Principles, and ultimately toward a General Conference resolution.

We hope with this “consultative process” to avoid conflicts with the General Board of Pensions that can result from unilateral calls for divestment. Also, by calling for an investment screen we are hoping to avoid the legal pitfalls that can arise from divestment.

We know the Board of Pensions is concerned about climate change. We want to understand the perspective of Board leaders and hope to find a common strategy to address our shared concerns. We want this legislation to be informed by various stakeholders, even if all stakeholders don’t agree on the content of the legislation that is developed.  

Specific Requests We do have two specific requests. First, we would like a decision by the Board of Pensions about whether the Board is willing to engage in this consultative process. If the Board is willing to go forward with us in a cooperative two-way process, please delegate someone to work with us.  

We also request at least three meetings, in person and/or conference calls that include representatives from Cal-Nevada and from the Board of Pensions--one in early or mid-December, one in mid-January, and one in February. People from Cal Nevada can then ask questions directly, pose suggestions, and get feedback from the Board of Pensions representatives.

Shareholder Advocacy vs. an Investment Screen on Fossil Fuels So far the General Board has established investment screens related to human rights but not the natural world. The Board dealt with environmental concerns through shareholder actions. But this is not adequate in the case of climate change. The threat of climate chaos and the unethical behavior of fossil fuel companies makes a screen for fossil fuels necessary.

Besides, it seems that shareholder actions with fossil fuels companies have had little or no effect in reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). For instance, some fossil fuels companies in our pension portfolios have set internal GHG emission reduction goals, but they do not report their goals or results. These companies have no goals related to lifetime emissions of their products (oil, gas, coal). In fact, just the opposite:  their goal is to sell and have consumers burn as much of their products as possible.

Funding Climate Change Denial and Lobbying against Climate Legislation Many fossil fuel companies fund think tanks that promote climate change denial. This stalls action and increases the risk of runaway climate change. Some of these think tanks, like the Heartland Institute, worked with the tobacco companies to promote denial about the harmful effects of tobacco. They are using the same strategy to cast doubt about the science of climate change. I was told that “this has not yet been part of the conversation” within the Board of Pensions.

Many fossil fuel companies lobby directly and fund organizations that lobby government to block climate change legislation and international treaties. The Board puts this topic into the broader category of shareholder action related to “political spending,” which is done mostly through cooperative action with other groups. But blocking climate legislation is too important and the resulting harm too great for this kind of lobbying to be folded into the general category of “political spending.”

If we invest in companies that fund climate change denial and block climate change legislation, it reflects badly on the church, contributes to environmental and social harm, and increases the risk of runaway climate change.

Climate Change as a Human Rights Issue Climate change is not just an environmental Issue, but also a human rights issue. On an international level, the African continent, island nations, and other vulnerable countries are calling for climate justice. In the wake of Typhoon Haiyan, the lead negotiator for Philippines fasted throughout the climate summit in Warsaw, while pleading for strong climate action.  The Typhoon killed 4,000 and displaced 4 million people.

In North America the treaty rights of Indigenous peoples are being violated, especially in Canada but also in the United States. This is what activated the Idle No More movement. Indigenous leaders are calling for support in their struggles to prevent the pollution of the land, air, and water by dirty new extraction technologies.  All over North American, wherever there are fracking fields, tar sands, wetlands near offshore oil platforms, or mountains with their tops being blown off, there are poor communities and communities of color that serve as “sacrifice zones.”

Creating an investment screen on fossil fuels is one way we can take action on behalf of the poorest and most vulnerable people in our country and in the world.

Thank you for this opportunity to speak with you about these important issues. We look forward to further conversations. I hope we can find a way forward so that we United Methodists are practicing what we preach about climate change.