Faith Leaders Converge at Religions for the Earth Conference, Union Theological Seminary Divests From Fossil Fuels

Faith communities across the world are extremely concerned about climate change – in September, more than 200 religious and spiritual leaders from diverse traditions will converge at the  Religions for the Earth conference in New York City. 

Climate organizers and activists will also attend the conference, with the goal of "creating a blueprint for action to drive change at  local, national and global levels."

And that’s after last month’s 5-day summit at the Vatican, Sustainable Humanity, Sustainable Nature: Our Responsibility.

Organized by the Union Theological Seminary, the September conference takes place several days before the UN Climate Summit in NYC. And that’s on purpose: they will join the People’s Climate March on September 20-21.

Solar Church

Union Theological Seminary Divests From Fossil Fuels

The Seminary is also taking another step: it is divesting from fossil fuel companies, voting unanimously to withdraw its entire $108.4 million endowment. 

"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," says Serene Jones, President of Union. "As vulnerable communities have been swallowed by rising shorelines, as potable water has become a commodity of increasing rarity, as hundreds of thousands of people have been killed by violent weather, it is ever clearer that humanity’s addiction to fossil fuels is death-dealing – or as Christians would say, profoundly sinful."

"Climate change is affecting this globe, it’s killing people, and it’s going to destroy what the world looks like as we know it," says Michael Johnston, chair of Union’s investment committee and former Executive Vice President for Capital Group Companies, one of the world’s largest investment management organizations. "As a seminary we have a moral obligation to no longer profit from the production of fossil fuels. I hope that people see our actions as a beacon of hope."  

 Policies the Seminary will implement going forward:

  • We will ask the managers of each of our separately managed accounts to divest of, and not invest in, fossil fuel companies, just as we have for liquor, tobacco and other industries.
  • We will ask managers of our commingled funds if the funds’ portfolios include fossil fuel companies. If so, we will ask for the formation of a fossil fuel-free fund.
  • We will screen those commingled funds which are not central to our portfolio, and, if those funds will not divest of fossil fuel stocks, we will withdraw and find some which will

While this is the first seminary to divest, they join dozens of churches across the world, from Anglicans in New Zealand to Quakers in the UK, from United Church of Christ of Massachusetts and Minnesota to the Maine Council of churches. 

Nearly 100 major religious institutions, universitiescities, counties, foundations, and even a bank, have either divested or started the process. 

Church of England Takes Different Approach

While the Church of England says it will divest as a last resort, it is first trying to influence fossil fuel companies that it holds stock in. At $8.5 billion, the portfolio is pretty significant, and Shell, BP, and mining companies BHB Billiton and Rio Tinto are among their top 10 holdings.

"The threat of climate change is a giant evil, a great demon of our day," says Right Reverend Stephen Croft. "The damage this great demon will do to this beautiful earth if unchecked, is unimaginable."

While it’s tempting to quickly shift stock holdings, that won’t solve this broad, ethical issue, they say. "Pointing the finger at the extractive industries gets us off the hook and avoids the fundamental problem which is our selfishness and our way of life, which has been fuelled by plentiful, cheap energy and more and more people around the world wanting that," says Rev Canon Professor Richard Burridge.

The Church has a strong track record on engaging with corporations, convincing 72% of companies targeted to lower their emissions. 
It is also working with its 44 dioceses in England, helping them reduce their carbon footprint. Check out: Shrinking the Footprint.

And GreenFaith.

In 2001, we wrote the article, World Religions Pledge Action on Conservation, and in 2002, Stewards of the Earth. We can’t help but wonder what’s taking so long to see major changes on the ground! It’s the right-wing, often very religious community that pushes back against regulations on fossil fuels.

Here’s the Religions for the Earth conference website:

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Comments on “Faith Leaders Converge at Religions for the Earth Conference, Union Theological Seminary Divests From Fossil Fuels”

  1. Winthrop Drake Thies

    This misunderstands the nature of the stockholder-corporation relationship. In a general partnership partners co-manage & are thus responsible for what the p’ship does. Not so in a corp.: stockholders have the right to vote for directors & to share in distributions–but NOT to manage. They are thus not responsible for what their corp.s do. Their relationship is a passive property interest only. There is nothing unethical in enjoying good dividends from legal corp. activities which one may deeply disapprove of. The Church of England approach is thus more ethical: keep your stock & seek to influence mngt to act more ethically. – W D T

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