Fossil fuel divestment and living Laudato Si’
This article gives readers, particularly Catholic readers, the case for divesting from fossil fuels. For members of either Catholic Super or ACSRF, if you want to urge your Funds to divest, go to: http://www.arrcc.org.au/divest_catholic_super
Since the publication of Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si’, there has been a growing awareness in the Church of the call to care for Creation. The extraordinary number of extreme weather records set in the last year surely reminds us of the gravity of the encyclical’s message. 2015 was the warmest year on record. Cyclone Winston which battered Fiji in February was the fiercest Pacific storm system ever to hit landfall.
Pope Francis made it clear that this call to care for creation is as much a fulfilment of our Mission as caring for the rights of the marginalised. And it calls for the same kinds of sacrifices.
The earth’s destabilised climate is bearing down most heavily on vulnerable communities such as those in Bangladesh, the Philippines, Haiti and the Carteret Islands. It bears down most heavily on the young today, many of whom look to their future with fear instead of hope. As Pope Francis wrote, “Doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony and disdain.” (Para. 161)
Let me put this clearly: decisive action taken now, when it really matters, is needed if we are to prevent the world as we know it from disappearing at an accelerating speed. One effective line of action is to question your superannuation fund about their investments in coal, oil and gas extraction and/or to switch to a fossil free fund. ARRCC has set up avenues for doing this through emails that can be sent to Catholic Super and to the Australian Superannuation and retirement Fund, or ACSRF.
Catholic organisations are indeed taking action, for example, many Catholic schools have embraced energy efficiency and solar power. Some significant media was recently given to four Australian Religious Orders who jointly announced that they are divesting from fossil fuels, joining over one hundred faith-based organisations worldwide which have done the same.
The joint announcement was part of the launch of a new initiative of the Global Catholic Climate Movement to encourage Catholics to divest, as a way of living the values in Laudato Si’.
Apart from advocating for good climate policy, arguably the most effective form of action available to us today is to move our money out of investments in fossil fuel extraction. World-wide, the divestment movement is not only a major challenge to the social license of fossil fuel industries, but it is beginning to move significant sums out of fossil fuel extraction. At last count in December 2015, a total of $3.4 trillion had been marked for some form of divestment.
Moving Catholic institutions onto a more ethical footing is complex but it has been done, to a greater or lesser degree, by dozens of faith-based and secular Australian entities. As renewable energy becomes increasingly price-competitive, whether your priority is ethics or maximising returns, the reasons to divest from fossil fuels are multiplying by the month.
A common objection from Finance Managers is that it seems more Christian to “stay at the table” with fossil fuel companies to urge them to improve their environmental performance. But decades of faith-based shareholder advocacy has borne little fruit. This is largely because the problem isn’t that companies need to adjust their practises but that their entire business model is a problem. As US-based United Methodist Rev. Jenny Phillips writes, “the advocacy needed isn’t like convincing Nike to stop making shoes in sweatshops. It’s like convincing Nike to stop making shoes.”
It is also argued that people in developing countries need fossil fuels to lift them out of energy poverty. This argument was devised by marketing companies at the behest of fossil fuel industries. The truth is that developing nations can skip building coal power stations and grids and go straight to easy-to-install energy solutions like solar and wind energy, in much the same way that they skipped installing landlines in favour of cell phones. People in the developing world don’t need dirty fossil fuels to achieve energy access. They need ethical investors to support efforts to bring them clean, decentralised, sustainable energy solutions.
It’s time to break with the easy choices and make the hard ones, as people of faith have so often been called on to do. It’s time Catholic organisations take the time and energy required to break with existing financial arrangements and start aligning their money with their real, faith-based values.
Catholic Super and Australian Catholic Superannuation and Retirement Fund (ACSRF) are no less complicit in extractive industries than any other super fund, and it’s time we do better. Currently my organisation is encouraging members of either Catholic Super or ACSRF to urge their Funds to divest, and those readers interested could go to our website: http://www.arrcc.org.au/divest_catholic_super
Readers with their superannuation in other funds may want to look at the Market Forces’ Super Switch page: http://www.marketforces.org.au/campaigns/super/
author: Thea Ormerod