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Fossil Fuels: Divestment vs Engagement April 13th, 2015
Trying to shift the global economy away from polluting, dangerous fossil fuels that we use very day – to clean, renewable fuel sources that can power our economy well into the future, is a complicated task. While the rate of growth of renewable energy sources is increasing rapidly, it is still far behind what we need to avoid pushing past a 2degree limit on temperature increase. The climate change movement, 350.org, has spearheaded a movement to pressure institutions, from charitable Foundations to universities, to divest from stocks of fossil fuel companies. While there are good financial arguments for doing so, based on concern about stranded assets, there is also an argument to be made for continued engagement with oil and gas companies on climate change issues. Laura Berry, Executive Director of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), makes the case for engagement in a letter to the UK-based Guardian newspaper, in response to a recent article.
Here is her response:
“Members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, a coalition of more than 300 faith-based institutions representing more than $100bn in invested capital, have been engaging the fossil fuel industry to address climate change since before the term was coined. You could say they are gnarled veterans of shareholder engagement with an industry, like tobacco, that is “on the ropes” due to a product offering that continues to be in high demand yet is widely known to present clear public health risks. The conundrum responsible owners of these companies face is not new; it is a tension that they have faced for decades. The divest/engage debate fuelled by your article (Climate campaigners losing faith in value of engaging with fossil fuel firms, theguardian.com, 7 April), which seeks to oversimplify the issue and to divide climate activists, only underscores the complexities of the problem and the genuinely difficult tasks we all face in shifting the energy industry, and our economy, on to a more sustainable path. Is shareholder engagement difficult and slow? Most definitely. Is it enough? Of course not. But do we still believe engagement is a powerful tool for social change? We do.”
“Responsible investors are deploying all their tools – divestment, engagement and everything between – to advance green energy solutions because we believe multiple and collective, inside and outside strategies are needed for what is a herculean task. Is the cause best served by discrediting the methodologies of our allies or leveraging the complementarities? Should we focus on our tactical differences or concentrate our collective energies on our common climate change enemies: investor apathy and policy inertia? We propose the latter.”
Executive Director, Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility
Citing a papal directive to take decisive action on climate change, the Global Catholic Climate Movement has started a petition which seeks to display “a strong Catholic voice” of concern on climate change ahead of international negotiations set for Paris in December.
“Climate change affects everyone, but especially the poor and most vulnerable people. Impelled by our Catholic faith, we call on you to drastically cut carbon emissions to keep the global temperature rise below the dangerous threshold of 1.5°C, and to aid the world’s poorest in coping with climate change impacts,” reads the petition, accessible on the movement’s recently revamped website.
In a message delivered toward the end of the last climate negotiations in Lima, Peru, the pope said that decisive climate action “is a grave ethical and moral responsibility,” and warned that there exists “a clear, definitive and unpostponable ethical imperative to act.”
Faith-based investors applauded the decision by PNC Financial Services to stop financing coal company mountaintop removal operations in Appalachia.
The recent announcement by the Pittsburgh-based bank comes after a multi-year effort by members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) to convince bank officials that financing such environmentally damaging operations poses significant financial risks and hastens climate change.
Mountaintop removal mining involves dynamiting the tops of mountains to expose rich coal seams hundreds of feet below ground. The resulting debris is then pushed into adjacent valleys, often blocking important headwater streams.
Lauren Compere, managing director of Boston Common Asset Management, an ICCR partner which led the PNC effort, said conversations with bank officials took place over a four-year period and focused on the role banks can play in transitioning to a low-carbon economy. “When looking at our portfolio, coal mining is one of the red flags. One of the things we talk about with companies more generally is how are we supporting the transition to more sustainable energy sources,” explained Compere, a member of ICCR’s board of directors.
The ICCR effort has focused on the importance of managing risk because financing the coal industry is seen as risky, explained Oblate Father Seamus Finn, Chief of Faith Consistent Investing for the OIP Investment Trust, and ICCR Board Chair, who has been actively engaged with major banks on a variety of issues.
ICCR’s engagement on mountaintop removal mining is part of a broader effort by 80 international institutional investors managing $540 billion in assets to urge 63 banks to disclose their policies and practices related to climate change.
NAACP Releases Environmental Justice Classroom Resource Guide March 10th, 2015
Given the results of the latest report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the NAACP says we must ask ourselves some critical questions about how we prepare our children to face the world they will be inheriting, and the harsh truth of today’s conditions and dynamics. How do we ensure that our youth emerge from their studies with an understanding of the intersection between our social, economic, cultural, political, and environmental status in society? How do we teach them their role as influencers of what’s happening in their environment, now and in the future?
The reality of being a youth of color and/or a youth living in a low income community means that, due to socio-political marginalization, already one is more likely to be located next to a polluting facility and/or living in a county whose air quality is in violation of already lax federal standards. And, mnority youth are more likely to have the very building that houses their institution of learning built on toxic, contaminated land. We see how this plays out in high rates of asthma, attention deficit disorder, learning problems, and even violence, all of which are tied to exposure to toxins. We also see this result in missed days of school for children, missed days of work for parents who are sick themselves and/or caring for sick children, etc. We also see lower property values because of proximity to toxic facilities, which means under-resourced schools and compromised education. These youth are caught in a cycle of pollution, illness, poor education, negative interactions with the criminal justice system, and economic blight, which detracts from youth’s ability to achieve and their families’ capacity to thrive.
Ecospirituality Resources March 10th, 2015
We would like to share a resource that you may find useful in your worship planning and personal refection. Ecospirituality Resources is a website that offers material that connects concern for creation with growing faith in the Mystery within it, integrates new scientific discoveries with beliefs and lifestyles, and deepens understanding of threats to Earth’s life systems and our call to respond. Written by Terri MacKenzie, SHCJ, the materials are free, downloadable, and broadly interfaith, or at least, ecumenical.
Visit Ecospirituality Resources to check out Sr. Terri’s blog, worship materials for the Advent and Lenten seasons, and suggested books, videos and websites on ecospirituality. Concerned about fracking? Watch Sr. Terri’s video, Time for an Energy Change
Faith Leaders Speak out on Climate March 5th, 2015
The comments below are from a talk given by Archbishop Thomas Wenski in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 20. Archbishop Wenski was one of several religious leaders taking part on a briefing on religion and climate change sponsored by the National Religious Partnership for the Environment. The briefing — aimed at Congress — took place at the Capitol Hill Visitors Center and was open to Congressional staffers, members of Congress, and representatives from the faith community. OMI JPIC staff attended the briefing. For a more complete version of the Archbishop’s remarks, please visit our partner organization, Catholic Rural Life.
“While the precise details of how climate change will affect the world are not known, the projections shared by scientists have been alarming. We can no longer ignore the visible signs that changes are occurring in our environment that will affect all life, especially human life. In many poorer nations, years of relief and development work are being undone by prolonged droughts, more intense storms and other extreme weather conditions associated with climate change.”
“Bishops are not scientists but we are pastors — and in so far as climate change affects concrete human beings, it is a moral issue; and pastors, in exercising their care of their flocks, do weigh in — and appropriately so — on moral issues. Also, as Catholics, we firmly believe that the poor have a first claim on our consciences in matters pertaining to the common good. As the U.S. Catholic bishops said in our 2001 climate change statement, “Action to mitigate global climate change must be built upon a foundation of social and economic justice.”
“This past July, on behalf of the U.S. bishops, I wrote a letter supporting “the EPA proposal for a national standard to reduce significantly carbon pollution.” And while the devil may be in the details, I said: ‘These standards should protect the health and welfare of all people, especially children, the elderly, as well as poor and vulnerable communities, from harmful pollution emitted from power plants and from the impacts of climate change.’ ”