The Fossil Free UMC legislation calls the church to add fossil fuels to add coal, petroleum and natural gas the the denomination’s socially responsible investing guidelines, and calls the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits to screen petroleum and natural gas from its investments. (The board began screening some coal from its investments in January 2015.) It was developed by a team of United Methodist creation care advocates from around the country who want the church to join the global movement to call institutions to stop profiting from the fossil fuel industry. Leaders from that group have been in conversation for more than a year with staff from the General Board of Global Ministries, the General Board of Church and Society, the United Methodist Women, and the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits.
As a global denomination, The United Methodist Church has a heightened responsibility to Christians around the world to bear witness to the devastation that climate change is wreaking on the most vulnerable people and places. We also have a heightened responsibility to take meaningful action to address the systemic evil wrought by fossil fuel companies.
The world’s fossil fuel companies have four times as much carbon in their reserves as what scientists say is safe to burn. If they carry out their business plan successfully, God’s creation will wither. It is wrong for the church to profit from these companies.
The General Board of Pension and Health Benefits argues that shareholder advocacy can change fossil fuel companies’ business plans. But fossil fuel companies have no incentive to stop selling the reserves that they’ve worked so hard to find. This isn’t like asking Nike to stop making shoes in sweatshops. It’s like asking Nike to stop making shoes.
What’s more, the board is only engaged in advocacy with seven fossil fuel companies. But it is invested in 80 of the top 100 oil and gas companies (as of 9/30/15). Even the new Equities Social Values Plus fund that the board promotes as an environmentally-friendly fund contains more than $1 million in 27 of the top 200 coal, oil, and gas companies (as of 9/30/15).
Screening fossil fuel companies from investments delegitimizes the business models of the fossil fuel companies that continue to search for more coal, oil and gas that can’t safely be burned. Like our denomination’s screen for nuclear weapons, it expresses the church’s moral voice in stigmatizing companies whose products have the power to destroy life on earth as we know it.
The United Methodist Church support churches and communities that are living on the front lines of climate change. It doesn’tmake sense for the church to work to mitigate the impacts of climate change while funding retirement accounts of church leaders with profits from the companies that are causing it. It’s time for the church to take a stand against energy systems that oppress rather than empower.