Thea Ormerod, the president of the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change, has been working with our Provincial Council to look at our investments and how green they are. I wrote to her recently asking if she would be prepared to offer an article for out JPIC blog, and she generously responded with the article below.
Like many of you reading this, I have been active in creating a more sustainable lifestyle for myself and my community, or advocating for public policies that reflect a greater caring for the Earth. That’s why it’s been a bit of a rude awakening to realise that I was unwittingly implicated in the very practices I oppose, through the way my Bank and Super Fund was using my money. Despite a certain dismay, this was good news because I could do something about it and actually get results!
The insight came via Methodist and US author, Bill McKibben, and the organization 350.org which he co-founded. He notes there are around five times the reserves of oil, coal and gas than could be burnt without going over the accepted limit of 2 degrees Celsius global warming and putting the world at risk of a climate catastrophe. If we continue with business as usual, in just 15 years the world will reach that limit. The compelling conclusion he draws is that it is immoral to continue burning fossil fuels. If this is immoral, then it is also immoral to profit from it. See 350.org’s inspirational film clip: http://act.350.org/signup/math-movie/
There is also a strong economic case to be made for divestment. Numerous studies show that screening out fossil fuels carries almost no risk of reduced returns. Furthermore, at some point the world must act to limit global warming to 2 degrees, at which time fossil fuel assets will face significant value destruction which is likely to precipitate a financial crisis. Warnings of a “carbon bubble” have come from such respected sources as Lord Stern, HSBC and the International Energy Agency.
Nonetheless, fossil fuel companies are not heeding this message and Governments have not had the political will to challenge them. The companies are not just intending to dig up and burn the fossil fuel reserves they already have, but they are in process of exploring for more coal, gas and oil.
In this graph, the blue bar represents how much carbon has been burnt since 1750, the pink bar is the global carbon “budget” before sending the world past 2 degrees Celsius, and the purple bar at the top represents the amount that fossil fuel companies are banking on exploiting.
In response to this problem, 350.org have started a fossil fuel divestment movement called Go Fossil Free. This movement calls on universities, local governments, churches, and other organisations to sell their financial holdings in fossil fuel companies and publically declare that their investments portfolios are “fossil fuel free”. A number of Church bodies in the USA have divested from fossil fuels, as have 16 cities and 6 universities. Already there are Australasian examples such as the Uniting Church Synod NSW/ACT, the Anglican Diocese of Aukland and by the Melbourne Unitarian Church.
Divestment has a proven record of helping to bring about political change. A well-known example is the divestment campaign targeting South African companies in the 1980s, which is credited with having played a role in the downfall of apartheid. Hear Archbishop Desmond Tutu talk about the importance of divestment: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SR-xBzs09D8
I encourage readers to look into how they might disentangle themselves from fossil fuel investments. As individuals we can act, or as communities. Whole religious orders could consider it. Ideally, an organization would go public with such a decision, although this isn’t a necessary part of the action. I’ve had to be brief here, but I’d welcome any more in-depth conversations about this.
President, Australian Religious Response to Climate Change