By Lucy Cummings, Executive Director, Faith & the Common Good.

Hosting faith community discussions about fossil fuel divestment has been the main focus of Fossil Free Faith’s work this year. Faith & the Common Good is a founding partner in Fossil Free Faith — a multi-faith, inter-generational consortium made up of passionate volunteers from around Canada supporting and engaging one another and our faith institutions about climate justice, fossil fuel divestment / reinvestment, and the role of bold faith in strengthening our shared future.

Given the recent divestment decision by the United Church of Canada (General Council) and the hundreds of other on-going divestment discussions that we are hearing about across Canada’s faith sector landscape, I thought I would share three points in support of divestment action that I find myself returning to as part of these conversations.

1. Divestment is not hypocritical. One of the questions I am most often asked is: how can I support fossil fuel divestment while at the same time drive a car, heat my home, or even plug in my laptop… doesn’t that make me a hypocrite? My response: This is not a competition for ecological sainthood. We all do the best we can. We all have to learn to walk more gently on this planet.  Just as we all have to examine how we can change the economic and political factors that are causing the climate crisis.  It’s not either or, it’s both.  Finger pointing is a worthless exercise since regardless of where we live or work, we have all benefited from and continue to depend on our fossil fuel energy infrastructure.

So, now that we have put the guilt question aside, how can we change this reality? The fossil fuel divestment movement recognizes that we have to act together to end that dependency. Divestment calls upon us to act not with just words but with our wallets.  Its time to tell our corporate and political leaders that environmentally and socially destructive business as usual is no longer acceptable. Once we stand up and do that together, we have a chance to build a clean energy future where I can plug in my laptop, drive a car, or heat my home and do so knowing I am not contributing to further climate destabilization.

2. Divestment is not an all or nothing choice.  Many feel that divestment is too blunt and unwieldy of a tool to help solve the climate crisis.  I disagree.  I see divestment as one of the many critical tools in a faith community’s response to the climate crisis (lowering the energy footprint of our faith buildings is another!).  It complements responsible investment because it provides clear benchmarks for corporate action on climate.  It sends a strong signal of public support for carbon pricing regimes and global carbon reduction targets.  (In fact, the movement emerged because of lack of political and corporate leadership on this issue.)  It encourages new businesses to step-in to fill a growing demand for “re-investment” opportunities in socially, ecologically and economically sustainable businesses. Moreover, divestment motions in faith communities have taken a wide array of shapes and sizes, from calling upon finance committees to examine investment holdings and their impact on climate, to divesting only from coal or tar sands industries, to immediate divestment from the most powerful publicly listed fossil fuel companies. It is not all or nothing. It’s a process that provides a strong moral bottom line to our actions.

3. Divestment makes a difference.  Some would argue that divestment is just symbolic and saps energy away from more important tasks. I would argue that divestment is deeply empowering. In our work with faith communities on fossil fuel divestment, I have witnessed how conversations about this issue have been transformative for those involved (myself included!).  For social justice activists within our communities, they have had to understand and respond to the challenges faced by trustees who are working hard to balance many competing ethical claims for the use of shared funds. For trustees, instead of being called upon to support moral leadership of others, divestment asks them to demonstrate moral leadership in their own right by calling upon the finance sector to respond to these demands and guiding faith communities through this admittedly complex financial decision making.

All parties have had their eyes open to the limits of traditional investment practices when it comes to the climate crisis, especially in a Canadian context. Jointly exploring potential re-investment vehicles also opens eyes to both the frustrating limits and exciting opportunities of what is possible in investing in businesses who are strengthening local and sustainable economies. As a wise person once said to me, if you want to get people to really focus on core values, then talk about money. Divestment forces us to ask ourselves what is our moral bottom line with regard to climate change. Is it OK to continue to profit from investments in fossil fuel companies when our ecosystem and our children’s future is at risk from our dependency on this product?

If your faith community hasn’t already grappled with this issue, I encourage you to contact one of our amazing Fossil Free Faith (FFF) Youth fellows to set up a Skype call or a webinar to help you get the conversation started within your congregations. Faithful Voices Speakers Bureau fellows come from a wide variety of spiritual traditions, so can help you anchor these conversations in your respective moral tradition.

FFF writes:
Conversations about both faith and climate in Canada need some fresh voices. We’re it.

Through Fossil Free Faith’s BC Fellowship Program, our team of youth voices have been grappling with faith and climate, theology and practice, pluralism and activism, and possibilities for our shared future. And they are ready to help ignite those conversations in your community. 
Interested in having one of them join a panel at an event or conference you are organizing? Or guest-preach in your congregation? Or contribute to your newsletter, magazine or blog?

Read the speaker bios and find out more at: www.fossilfreefaith.ca/speakers
Read about the project in last week’s Vancouver Courier

Contact Christine Boyle to make a request: christine@fossilfreefaith.ca

I can’t tell you where you will end up on this issue at the end of these conversations, but I can promise you that the journey will be transformative.