The time is now to divest from fossil fuel investments

Climate change is real, it is caused by human activity and it will have an increasingly and very negative impact on all life including human life.

God created and called creation very good. All of Creation derives its high value primarily because of our understanding of this gift we have from God the Creator.

Our climate and atmosphere has been very stable since before the emergence of human civilization about 10,000 years ago. The ocean levels and polar ice caps haven’t changed much in this time. But with the advent of the industrial revolution, when people started burning fossil fuels in earnest, the situation changed.

Extracting, transporting and burning fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) puts greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere. Cumulative addition of these gasses is like putting another blanket on when the temperature is already just about right.

Among the many disruptions caused by climate change is melting ice and sea rise. The world’s coastal cities and low lying countries (Baltimore to Bangladesh) would flood, an epic disaster. With over seven billion people on the planet and hundreds of millions flooded out, population migration would be highly problematic. Mass migrations would dwarf the current Syria tragedy.

"The gospel injunction is to love our neighbor, not drown them, not sicken them, not make it impossible for them to grow their crops, but to love them." - Bill McKibben

I honor the work of the coal miners, geologists, oil workers and others in giving us the electrical and mechanical power that has benefited humans for these past few centuries, but now it is clear that we cannot release all of the carbon still in the ground. If we did, it would be catastrophic to all living things.

We did not know before what we know now. What we have no excuse for ignoring now, however, is at odds with the fossil fuel company’s core business plan: business as usual. They are not equipped or motivated to build the technology needed for sustainable energy. In fact, the leaders of these companies through proxies continue to spread doubt about what their own scientists know to be true. These business people are profit savvy. They know that every day they can delay the rapid transition to renewable energy is another big payday for them. They are doing great harm to all of us.

Workers in these fossil industries, who through no fault of their own, are being displaced, need to be made whole. Job training in the new renewable energy industries ought to be provided and unemployment benefits extended. There are credible plans and visions of transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy for all purposes by 2050. A tremendous number of operations and construction jobs will be created in the new industries. (Google “Solutions Project 50 states/50 plans.”)

The Baltimore-Washington Conference has considered Fossil Fuel Divestment for the last two years and the General Conference will consider divestment in May 2016 when it meets in Portland, Ore. Resolutions are being brought forward by 11 annual conferences and the General Board of Global Ministries. United Methodists believe and practice socially responsible investing (SRI). We align our investments with our values. We have provisions in our Book of Discipline and Book of Resolutions that prohibit investment in, among others, tobacco, alcoholic beverages, gambling and nuclear armaments. It’s wrong to profit (or collect dividends) from companies in these activities.

It is also wrong to profit from wrecking the planet. Sometimes shareholder advocacy is a SRI response and sometimes divestment is a SRI response. If the core business of the company we consider investing in is not in alignment with our values then the SRI response is divestment.

Fossil fuel divestment has sprung up as a grass roots movement in Annual Conferences around the country. Lay and clergy advocates found each other and have coordinated efforts going into the 2016 Annual Conference season. Although the General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits has taken steps to divest from some coal companies, they have argued against the resolutions coming forward.

We at Fossil Free UMC have information responding to their arguments and more. Check out our FAQ document and download the pamphlet Calling The United Methodist Church to Bold Leadership in Financial and Environmental Stewardship.


*Mike Koob is a Lay Member of Annual Conference from Middletown UMC, and Chair of the Environment Justice Group.

Originally printed in the December 2015 issue of the Baltimore-Washington Conference UMConnection. Reposted with permission.

Photo by mark byzewski licensed under CC BY 2.0