Activists support fossil fuel divestment in front of the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Bascom Hall on April 5, 2014. Fossil fuel divestment has gained support from a growing number of religious organizations, including Union Theological Seminary, World Council of Churches, the Unitarian Universalists and the United Church of Christ.

Faith communities are dumping their fossil fuel investments

(RNS) Worried about global warming, a growing number of churches and other faith groups are divesting their holdings in fossil fuel companies, which release large amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Activists support fossil fuel divestment in front of the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Bascom Hall on April 5, 2014. Fossil fuel divestment has gained support from a growing number of religious organizations, including Union Theological Seminary, World Council of Churches, the Unitarian Universalists and the United Church of Christ.

Activists support fossil fuel divestment in front of the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Bascom Hall on April 5, 2014. Fossil fuel divestment has gained support from a growing number of religious organizations, including Union Theological Seminary, World Council of Churches, the Unitarian Universalists and the United Church of Christ.

“The warning in Scripture that 'the wages of sin is death’ could not be more literally true than it is in the case of fossil fuels,” said Serene Jones, president of New York's Union Theological Seminary, whose board voted in June to divest its $108.4 million endowment from fossil fuel companies.

“While we realize that our endowment alone will hardly cause the fossil fuel giants to miss even half a heartbeat, 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.”

Other religious institutions that have recently voted to divest from fossil fuels include: the World Council of Churches (July 10), the Unitarian Universalists (June 28) and the United Church of Christ (July 2013). Many smaller and regional groups -- such as the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, the Shalom Center and the Oregon Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America -- have also approved fossil fuel divestment.

And the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) last month voted to study the possibility.

Motivating these moves among the faithful is the concern that their investments ally them with companies identified as among the most damaging to the environment.

Many religious supporters of fossil fuel divestment were further spurred by the National Climate Assessment, a federal report released in May -- written with the help of 300 experts and the National Academy of Sciences -- that concluded that climate change is proceeding at a faster pace than previously thought. It also lay blame at the feet of the fossil fuels.

"While scientists continue to refine projections of the future, observations unequivocally show that climate is changing and that the warming of the past 50 years is primarily due to human-induced emissions of heat-trapping gases," the report reads. "These emissions come mainly from burning coal, oil, and gas, with additional contributions from forest clearing and some agricultural practices."

The American Petroleum Institute offers a more sanguine view at odds with the Obama administration and the scientific community.

“The oil and natural gas industry is leading the way in lowering carbon emissions," said American Petroleum Institute spokesman Carlton Carroll. "Government experts say that because of plentiful and clean burning natural gas brought by technological advances, the amount of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere in the U.S. has fallen dramatically and is near 20-year lows."

Many divestment advocates say that only Congress (the U.S. is one of the largest producers of greenhouse gases) and the international community can enact the limitations needed to stave off the worst environmental disasters that climate change promises, including extreme weather and the eradication of species.

But momentum is still building for smaller scale action in churches and other religious institutions, said Susan Stephenson, executive director of Interfaith Power & Light, a multifaith group fighting global warming.

"People are starting to hear and read about it and they are getting inspired," Stephenson said of the movement, which has also been embraced by colleges and universities, including Stanford University, which divested from coal companies in May. "They see that this is a way that they can express their values, and really put their money where their hearts are."

That Unitarian Universalist investment in fossil fuels -- less than three percent of its $175 million endowment -- is typical of religious institutions that have or are considering fossil fuel divestment in that the sum divested is relatively small and unlikely to hurt energy companies' bottom lines.

Jones talks about her seminary's fossil fuel divestment as an act of repentance that may resonate well beyond the school.

"It is on moral grounds that we pursue divestment, and on theological grounds that we trust it matters," she said. "The Christian term for this reckless hope in the power of God to use our decisions of conscience to transform the world is resurrection, and I have faith in the power of resurrection."

But critics of fossil fuel divestment, including coal state politicians who have charged the Obama administration with waging a "war on coal," call it a blunt tool that will damage the economy and hurt the job market.

Worries about the economic impact of their divestment vote don't seem to dissuade many congregants presented with a fossil fuel divestment option. Stephenson said those calling for fossil fuel divestment are mindful that the industry is a big employer, and are encouraging investment in so-called clean energy, such as solar and wind power.

"These are jobs that are going to be changing the economy, that are on the economy's leading edge," she said. "And it’s very important to help folks who are working in fossil fuel industries to get retrained."



  1. Don’t look now, but a lot of low-income people are relying on (watch out now) FOSSIL FUELS to keep their older cars running and their apartments warm in winter.

    The global warming cultists — and this includes Obama — are driving up energy prices in the name of their religion. (They’re also practicing bullying and censorship against scientists who dissent from the global warming religion, but that’s another story).

    Green energy only works if you can pay for it. Limited-income and fixed-income people can pay for Fossil Fuel Energy because it’s cheaper. But NOT the more expensive Green Energy.

    It’s too late to vote Obama out of office. But you CAN insist that if your church is going to jump into the global warming debate, that it hear from ALL sides of the story, not just the cult zealot inquisition Global Warmers.

  2. And the central banks of the world are glad you are selling. They are buying. Everything.

  3. Please change the name of this story to “Left wing Faith communities dumping Fossil Fuel Investments”

    Thank you

  4. Good to hear that at least some religious communities accept the science and take action.

  5. “97 percent of top climate scientists and every major National Academy of Science agree that man-made carbon pollution is warming our climate.”

  6. Faith communities?
    Is this the faith that hyperventalates about fantasies such as GW; but hardly raises a peep about the murderous reality of antinatalism decimating societies and destroying families? Maybe its the faith that is mute in the face of the attack on the family and ever increasing scourge of serial monogamy, cohabitation and divorce. What planet are these people on?
    The last sentence is right. Alternate energies like wind power will certainly change the economy; for worse. The cost of power will go thro’ the roof; not to mention its variability and unreliabity.
    Dream on.

  7. Humanity’s systemic reliance on fossil fuels is irrelevant to the consideration of divestment; the real issue is that regardless of our current reliance, we need to transition to a low-carbon economy as soon as possible to prevent catastrophic climate change, which will hurt low-income communities even more so than the status quo. This is scientific fact. Divestment is both the explicit recognition of that fact and the application of that path in the portfolio.

    Also, the true costs of fossil fuels are borne by society, and are not factored into their market price. That, alongside inefficient government subsidies that encourage wasteful production and consumption, is why fossil fuels are so “cheap.”

    I praise the religious and faith communities for acknowledging these considerations and divesting from companies whose assets are incompatible with the future energy system that we need to continue the human race.

  8. So the GREEN Religion is replacing the Gospel among some so-called “Christians”?
    What’s new about “Christians” following the ways of the world?

  9. Every American who falls prey to the fraud of “global warming” or “climate change” is an American whose attention has been diverted from focusing on REAL PROBLEMS–tyranny, debt, government malfeasance, war, etc–which sorely need fixing to a FICTITIOUS PROBLEM which can never be fixed because it does not exist.

  10. In my blog piece “Why Unitarian Universalists Voted to Divest From Fossil Fuels,”
    I explain how our General Assembly came to vote overwhelmingly for the resolution on fossil fuels.

    The reason why is that our UU resolution allows us to BOTH divest AND do shareholder activism at the fossil fuel companies with the goal of ending climate change.

    Read the full inside story here:

  11. If you gather the facts, you’ll learn that utilities are increasingly replacing expensive coal with cheaper renewables, such as solar.

    Check out this article about the Texas utility El Paso Electric:

    Thanks to new investments in natural gas and utility-scale solar energy, El Paso Electric, a Texas utility with nearly 400,000 customers, announced on Monday that its electricity mix will be free from coal by 2016.

    Thanks to successive investments in large solar projects, EPE has doubled its utility-scale solar portfolio in less than one year. “Our west Texas and southern New Mexico region has the right kind of sun for optimal solar energy production, making this region the ‘goldilocks’ in terms of climate, humidity and heat characteristics that allow us to expand our renewable portfolio with cost-effective technologies and reliable energy resources,” said Tom Shockley, Chief Executive Officer at El Paso Electric, said in a statement.

    The utility signed a 20-year power purchase agreement with the massive Macho Springs solar plant in New Mexico, a 50 megawatt (MW) facility with the capacity to power more than 18,000 homes. According to the agreement, signed last year, EPE would buy solar power from Macho Springs for 5.79 cents a kilowatt-hour — less than half the 12.8 cents per kilowatt-hour average price for electricity from new coal plants, according to Bloomberg.

  12. Did anyone stop to think about the origin of the Global Warming Accusations? Here is an article from: Vancouver Sun Times-“The Rationale for Carbon Tax is Failing, Which is Good News for B.C. June 5, 2012 by Frank Hilliard


    “The provincial Government’s rationale for imposing a carbon tax on the province is based on one 2007 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Cimate Change (IPCC) which said that “Earth’s climate is changing because of human activities.”

    “This report of the IPCC was largely based on the work of a small group of scientists in the United States and Britain, notably Michael E. Mann of Pennsylvania State University, and on one set of observations of tree rings in Russia. The findings presented in 2001 as chart resembling a hockey stick.”

    “Two mining consultants challenged the report. Canadians Steve McIntyre and Canadian economist Ross McKitrick analyzed the same date Mann analyzed and found much of it extremely dubious. The correlation of temperature and tree rings were too inconclusive a number and were ridiculously small. The report did no take into account eh Medieval Warm Period (MWP). This period has already been established beyond dispute by French social historian Emmanuel Le Roy. The MWP was even warmer than the world today despite the fact the Industrial Revolution hadn’t even started. ”

    “A Toronto Canadian researcher named Donna Laframboise began a lengthy study not of climate, but of the IPCC itself. She found that many of the authors of the report were graduate students, environmental activists and gender appointees, most of whom had a large axe to grind and very little interest in scientific method.”

    Danish researcher Henrik Svensmark showed cosmic rays could be responsible for climate change when they ionized the earth’s atmosphere, causing clouds. Sin the number of rays hitting the earth is controlled by the sun’s magnetic activity, the sun ultimately is responsible for global warming. ”

    Recently, a group of 16 noted scientist and engineers delivered a signed letter to the Wall Street Journal saying to politicians around the world, “Candidates should understand that oft repeated claim that nearly all scientists demand that something dramatic be done about global warming is not true. In fact a large and growing number of scientists and engineers do not agree that drastic action globe warming are needed.” (Wall Street Journal, January 12, 2012, “No Need to Panic About Global Warming.”)

    An Excerpt from Wall Street Journal article:

    Alarmism over climate is of great benefit to many, providing government funding for academic research and a reason for government bureaucracies to grow. Alarmism also offers an excuse for governments to raise taxes, taxpayer-funded subsidies for businesses that understand how to work the political system, and a lure for big donations to charitable foundations promising to save the planet. Lysenko and his team lived very well, and they fiercely defended their dogma and the privileges it brought them.

    Speaking for many scientists and engineers who have looked carefully and independently at the science of climate, we have a message to any candidate for public office: There is no compelling scientific argument for drastic action to “decarbonize” the world’s economy. Even if one accepts the inflated climate forecasts of the IPCC, aggressive greenhouse-gas control policies are not justified economically.

  13. Nope. Wrong. This is all right-wing propaganda.

    1. The IPCC is an intergovernmental scientific body under the auspices of the United Nations. It does no original research, instead publishing reports based on existing scientific literature. And what does the scientific literature say? Out of 12,000 peer-reviewed climate science papers, 97% agree that human-caused global warming is happening, and 98% of scientists endorsed this consensus.

    2. Actually, a major peer-reviewed paper representing 60 scientific institutions found that we have exceeded the temperatures of the MWP. The only reason that period faced warmth was due to higher solar output and lower volcanic activity. It should also be noted that much of the warming in that period was concentrated in several regions only; the tropical Pacific region, for example, was much colder then than it was now. Citing the MWP does not disprove man-made climate change, as you are trying to do.

    3. The IPCC is made up of 209 lead authors, 50 reviewers, and 600 contributing authors, of which Donna Laframboise only criticized 0.58 percent for alleged biases. Her use of recycled attacks have been decried by the scientific community, and she has no credibility whatsoever.

    4. Henrik Svensmark’s is a physicist, first of all, which means that he is not even qualified to make judgments on the work of climate scientists. Also, scientists have debunked his flawed and wrong theories hundreds of times that I cannot even begin to explain.

    4. Again, any claim saying that “x number of scientists, economists, political scientists and engineers” delivered a letter stating their disbelief of climate change is besides the point, given that they do not have the expertise to even make a comment on climate science in the first place. You will also find that many of these people are funded by special interests, such as fossil fuel companies and extremist right-wing neoliberal ideologues.

    5. This warrants its own point: the Wall Street Journal is a biased and illegitimate source for anything having to do with science and climate change.

    6. Here’s a better way to frame your last point: climate skepticism has been of great benefit to many, including special interests such as fossil fuel companies and those who benefit from their extraction activities, and who fall in line with a racial libertarian ideology propagated by right-wing think-tanks that government should not be involved in any facet of the economy.

    7. For over a decade, it has been established that acting now on climate change would be less expansive than waiting for all the damage to happen. A huge bipartisan report called “Risky Business” recently came out justifying action on climate change to the business community, and who were the sponsors of the report? Michael Bloomberg (Former Mayor of NYC, Independent), Tom Steyer (Hedge Fund Manager, Democrat), and Henry Paulson (Former Secretary of the Treasury, Republican).

    8. “Inflated climate forecasts”? The IPCC is extremely conservative and is not at all alarmist, especially given that their projections have actually understated the problem (which they have admitted in present reports).

    People like you should be in jail for propagating disinformation.

  14. All the groups of people–including religious people- who fell for or promoted the global cooling hysteria–hoax of about 3 decades ago seem to be the same “with it” crowd falling for today’s global warming fad–that includes scientists lusting after government grants.
    Needless to say they are ridiculing and reviling those raising questions like they ridiculed and reviled decades ago. But who turned out to be correct????

  15. Is this the same 97% who stoked the global cooling hysteria of 3 decades or so ago???? Who says scientists can’t have as closed minds as any religious fanatic???

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