Unitarians launch talks on divesting from fossil fuels

Unitarian Universalists voted overwhelmingly on Sunday to launch a dialogue on whether congregations should pull their investments entirely from fossil-fuel corporations or use shareholder influence to steer them toward renewable energies.

The vote — citing the growing alarm by scientists over carbon emissions’ effect of increasing the earth’s temperatures — came on the final day of the national General Assembly of the denomination, meeting in Louisville.

According to the assembly blog, those in favor saw it as giving congregations a toolkit of options such as divesting or maintaining enough investments to try to exert influence as shareholders. Opponents questioned what effect such efforts would have.

Some individual congregations and regional religious jurisdictions have voted to pull their fossil-fuel investments, but this is the biggest step I’m aware of taken by a national religious body. A half-dozen colleges have also divested, as have some local governments.

It comes as no surprise that one of the most liberal religious denominations in the country would take the first step — particularly after its clean-energy rally last week on the Belvedere – but it would also come as no surprise if others followed closely behind. Already there are rumblings of a similar move among Presbyterians. Other religious groups where climate-change skepticism is rampant are less likely to follow.

Here’s the link to the full measure (a few pages down), and below are some excerpts:

BECAUSE the Sources of Unitarian Universalism counsel us to heed the guidance of reason 2 and the results of science….

WHEREAS we understand our lives are tied up in the consumption of energy;

WHEREAS the fossil fuel industry currently controls fossil fuel reserves that, if burned, will produce more than five times the amount of greenhouse gas emissions required to raise global temperatures beyond 2°C, the level that leaders of 167 countries including the United States have agreed represents a threshold beyond which civilization cannot survive without enormous suffering;

… THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the 2013 General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association calls upon delegates to begin a denomination-wide conversation within their congregations about divesting from fossil fuels or exercising shareholder influence. Congregations might discuss the following.

1. Stopping any new direct investments in fossil fuel companies as listed in Carbon Tracker’s reports;

2. Divesting of all direct securities holdings in fossil fuel companies within the next 5 years;

3. Investing in diversified, socially responsible, and climate-friendly securities, and securities in the renewable energy and efficiency sector;

4. Investing in making their own facilities more energy efficient, make widespread use of renewable energy, adopt conservation and efficiency measures;

5. Evaluating the effectiveness of shareholder advocacy; and

6. Retaining the option for owning the minimum number of shares to be an activist shareholder. These shares are to be “influence payments” and not “investments.”