The following statement comes to us via the UU Young Adults for Climate Justice and was co-authored by a number of Young Adults across the North American continent, including Elizabeth Mount, a member of UUCA. It is endorsed by a broad selection of continental UU Young Adults.
We understand that the issue of divestment is one which has not yet been decided on a denominational level, and the Earth and Social Justice Ministries of UUCA encourage you to do research, comment on our blog, and use this writing among others in helping you to draw your own conclusions on the issue. Our UUCA delegates will be called to vote on this issue at General Assembly in June in Providence, RI.
“Religious liberalism affirms the moral obligation to direct one’s effort toward the establishment of a just and loving community.” -James Luther Adams
Opponents of divestment claim it is hypocritical to divest from fossil fuels when we are so utterly dependent on them in almost all areas of our lives. Rather than undermining the need for divestment, this points to precisely why divestment matters: it is a way of loosening the grip fossil fuels have on our economy, our political systems, and our imagination. It will move us forward towards carbon-restrictive legislation, one of the few tools able to affect the level of systemic change needed to prevent the most catastrophic consequences of climate change. In almost every divestment campaign to date, from Darfur to tobacco to South Africa, divestment campaigns successfully lobbied for restrictive legislation of stigmatized firms. Environmental groups have unsuccessfully lobbied for carbon restrictive legislation for years. We believe divestment will help create the political space for such legislation to pass.
The systems that are destroying our planet are large and pervasive. Sometimes we feel overwhelmed in the face of powerful vested interests, and confused and guilty about our own complicity with those interests. It is easy to dismiss any single action as inadequate. On its own, fossil fuel divestment is certainly inadequate as a response to climate change, but it is one important strategy within a larger movement with an end-game. We can be part of that movement towards a liveable future for all people.
Yes, we may be profiting from fossil fuels, and yes, we could continue to profit from them in the near future. But we have to ask ourselves what it means to invest in an industry like this. What does it mean to profit from–not just participate in, but profit from–unjust social and ecological relationships? When we invest in something, we are saying — in a material and meaningful way — “We want this to grow. We want there to be more of this in the world.” But our fossil fuel use needs to begin shrinking immediately in order to minimize the already-occurring effects of climate change.
Further, because of the movement for legislative restrictions and the increasingly evident unfolding effects of climate change, fossil fuels are a decreasingly sound investment. Stock prices may be affected by stigmatization, and will be affected by carbon restrictive legislation. Financial advisors are realizing fossil fuel companies with large reserves may be significantly overvalued. Financial circles call this phenomenon “the carbon bubble,” and compare it to the overvaluation of mortgages prior to the 2008 financial crisis. Morgan Stanley Capital International’s number one 2014 trend for investors to watch is divestment and options to reduce fossil fuel exposure.
If we want to honor our UU Sources, including: “Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science,” then the choice for divestment is clear. To choose to continue profiting from this industry is to fall victim to the idolatry of money and economic growth which is poisoning our world and our bodies, and doing particular violence to indigenous peoples and other frontline communities. And that false idol is fickle.
This is a question of faith. Do we place our faith in the market, believing we can ensure our future by maximizing the performance of our endowment fund? Or do we place our faith in each other, believing that it is our moral obligation to act with integrity in the present to create a more just and sustainable community together?
Why are we speaking to this issue as young adults? For one thing, younger people will live with the effects of ecological instability to a greater extent, both in terms of time and intensity, than our elders. Young adults are also less likely to see continued economic growth as an inevitable feature of our world, since we understand that a finite world cannot sustain infinite development. Our material resources have limits, yet there are no limits upon the creative power of intergenerational community committed to working for a more just and sustainable world.
Unitarian Universalists have long been leaders in social and environmental justice movements, and our decision to divest from fossil fuels will build on this legacy. As Young Adults we pledge to live out our vision of just and loving communities. In Providence, where Love Reaches Out, we will consider the impact of our choices on the world around us. See you there!