September 18, 2015

Fossil Fuel Divestment Activists Look Forward to Pope’s U.S. Visit

Faith leaders are confident the Pope’s visit will lead to divestment wins at more Catholic institutions, including the biggest of all–the Vatican

Washington, DC — Fossil fuel divestment campaigners are looking forward to Pope Francis’ visit to the United States next week, expecting it to add momentum to the rapidly growing effort, especially at faith institutions and Catholic universities. They’re also hoping that the Pope’s continued leadership on the issue will translate into a divestment commitment at his own institution: the Vatican.

“Pope Francis’ positions on climate change are perfectly aligned with the logic of divestment, that if it’s wrong to wreck the planet, it’s wrong to profit from that wreckage,” said May Boeve, Executive Director of 350.org. “Since the release of the encyclical, we’ve seen a marked increase in the number of faith communities who are joining the effort. The Pope’s visit is going to electrify the movement, not just for Catholics, but for all of us who see climate action as a moral imperative.”

In his climate encyclical released last May, Pope Francis didn’t mention divestment by name, but made a direct connection between the climate crisis and an economic system that rewards environmental destruction and ignores the true cost of burning fossil fuels. Activists clearly got the message.

“Regardless of whether he says ‘divestment,’ I think it puts enormous pressure on Catholic universities,” Richard W. Miller, an associate professor of theology at Creighton University, a Jesuit school in Omaha, told the New York Times at the time. “I think it puts pressure on all universities.”

Since the divestment campaign began, dozens of religious institutions have joined the effort, including the World Council of Churches representing half a billion Christians in 150 countries. This May, the Church of England announced it had sold £12m in thermal coal and tar sands. In August, Islamic leaders endorsed divestment and called for a rapid phase out of fossil fuels in a declaration on climate change.

“Divestment is spreading fast in faith communities worldwide and the moral verdict is in  – profiting from the fossil fuel industry is wrong,” said the Rev. Fletcher Harper, Executive Director of GreenFaith.  “We hope and pray that the Vatican will join this global movement and highlight the need for clean energy – especially for the world’s poor.”

Catholic universities have also joined the movement. In 2014, the University of Dayton became the first Catholic school to divest, dropping fossil fuels from its $670 million investment pool. This June, Georgetown University committed to ditched their stocks in coal companies; students are now pushing the school to go further and divest from all fossil fuels. Active divestment campaigns are underway at other major Catholic institutions like Boston College and Notre Dame. In total, more than 400 institutions have made some form of divestment commitment, with faith institutions representing 23% of all commitments.

“Jesuit values permeate life at Boston College, and are always cited from the classroom to extracurriculars, but Climate Justice at BC has brought attention to a gap between what BC preaches and what it actually does,” said Erin Sutton, a member of Climate Justice at Boston College (CJBC), an organization on campus working on fossil fuel divestment. “The power that CJBC has built on campus, in conjunction to the growing power of the international divestment movement, and now the legitimization that comes from Pope Francis’ call to action, are together increasing the pressure on our leaders to do the right thing. The dialogue on fossil fuel divestment is very different from even a couple years ago, and there is every reason for BC to do the right thing and cut our ties with this extractive, destructive industry.”

Divestment supporters have also set their sites on the largest Catholic institution of all: the Church itself. In an initiative led by a number of Catholic leaders across the Global South, divestment activists are calling on the Vatican Bank to divest its estimated $64 billion of holdings from fossil fuels.

“Investing in fossil fuel companies and in eco-destructive projects is synonymous with supporting the destruction of our future,” wrote the Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, a largely Catholic country that has felt the direct impacts of climate change. “Divestment provides the means to change this status quo – to shift towards a system that will prioritize the welfare of the people and of nature over the relentless pursuit of profit.”

When the Pope visits New York and Washington, DC, next week divestment supporters will turn out to encourage him to push the Vatican to take action. Over 40,000 people around the world have signed onto a petition urging the church to divest.

“We’re confident that Pope Francis supports the divestment movement,” said Boeve, 350.org’s Executive Director. “We understand the Vatican isn’t an easy ship to turn in a new direction, but if there’s anyone who can do it, it’s this Pope. Divesting the Vatican from fossil fuels would send a powerful signal that this Church cares more about the needs of vulnerable communities than the profits of the fossil fuel industry.”

“We look to Pope Francis to break the political impasse preventing real action on climate change. Twenty years of climate negotiations have left the world at the mercy of political and economic circles looking to protect their vested interests at the expense of mankind and the planet,” added Yeb Saño, Director of the People’s Pilgrimage with OurVoices, a campaign of GreenFaith and the Conservation Foundation. “The climate change crisis is a reflection of a profound global moral crisis, and as such Church organizations play an important role in untangling us from this mess. One way this can be done is for the Church to examine not just the purity of its vestments but where it puts its investments.”

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NOTES TO EDITORS

Faith divestment commitments to date:

Anglican Diocese of Canberra and Goulburn, Australia

Anglican Diocese of Melbourne, Australia

Anglican Diocese of Perth, Australia

Anglican National Super, Australia

Brighthelm Church, Brighton, UK

Church of Sweden

Colorado Ratnashri Sangha, USA

Earthsong, Australia

Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, USA

Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts, MA, USA

Evangelical Lutheran Church of Oregon, OR, USA

First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church in Cambridge, MA, USA

First Presbyterian of Palo Alto, CA, USA

First Religious Society of Newburyport, MA, USA

First Unitarian Church of Pittsfield, ME, USA

First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City, UT, USA

First Unitarian Congregation of Ottawa, ON, Canada

First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee, WI, USA

Franciscan Sisters of Mary, MO, USA

Friends Fiduciary Corporation, USA

Jamaica Plain Unitarian Universalist, NY, USA

Maine Council of Churches, ME, USA

Melbourne Unitarian Church, Australia

Portsmouth South Church Unitarian Universalist, NH, USA

Presentation Sisters, Queensland, Australia

Quakers in Britain, UK

Quakers Religious Society of Friends, Australia

Quaker Community Friends, OH, USA

Society for Community Work, CA, USA

The United Methodist Church, USA

Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church, VA, USA

Trinity St. Paul’s United Church, Toronto, ON, Canada

Union Theological Seminary, NY, USA

Unitarian Society of Northampton & Florence, MA, USA

Unitarian Universalist Area Church at First Parish in Sherborn, MA, USA

Unitarian Universalist Association, USA

Unitarian Universalist Society of Amherst, MA, USA

United Reformed Church Synod of Scotland, UK

Uniting Church in Australia

Uniting Church of ACT & NSW, Australia

United Church of Christ, MA, USA

United Church of Christ, MN, USA

Universalist Congregation of South County, RI, USA

UU Fellowship of Corvallis, OR, USA

World Council of Churches

 

[3] For a full list of divestment commitments, see http://gofossilfree.org/commitments

 

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