Divesting from Fossil Fuel Companies and Shareholder Activism
- Divestment and Shareholder Activism
- Why divest?
- How do we divest?
- What good will divestment do?
- What good will shareholder activism do?
At General Synod 29 in 2013, the United Church of Christ became the first denomination to pass a resolution endorsing both divestment from fossil fuel companies and other strategies such as shareholder activism. These strategies may seem incompatible: get rid of shares, or participate in shareholder actions. In fact, the point of both actions is to send a clear message to fossil fuel companies: we are doing our part to decrease our carbon footprints, and we need them to shift with all due haste away from their “business as usual” practices, which are destroying our planet.
Scientists are clear that our planet is changing because of the amount of fossil fuels we have emitted over the past 200 years. The global temperature has already risen nearly 1˚ Celsius. As a result, extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and more intense, species are going extinct at alarming rates, the ocean has become 30% more acidic, wildfires and droughts are covering vast territories, and more.
As people of faith, we are called to be good stewards of creation, to care for it and heal it, and to live in harmony with it. While we can admit our role in using fossil fuels and work to reduce our carbon footprints as individuals, we must also work collectively to change the system. Scientists and many world leaders have agreed that a rise in global temperature of 2˚C is the maximum that the planet can take and still host life more or less as we know it; some scientists say 2˚C is already too much warming. We are already well on our way to that 2˚ limit. In 2012, scientists estimated that we could emit another 565 gigatons of carbon dioxide by midcentury before we reached that level of temperature rise. However, fossil fuel companies have an estimated 2,795 gigatons of carbon in oil, gas, and coal reserves still in the ground, and the companies indicate that they intend to continue with “business as usual” until all of it is gone. In order to keep making money, they are willing to emit five times more gigatons of carbon emissions than the amount that takes us past the point of no return with our climate.*
Our goal, therefore, is to do nothing less than revoke the social license of fossil fuel companies to continue with “business as usual.”
The UCC has two investment organizations: The United Church Funds, which handles church investments such as endowments; and the UCC Pension Boards, which handles pension plans for clergy and some church staff. In July 2014, the United Church Funds announced the creation of such a fossil-fuel-free investment option, giving all who wish to divest their church endowment funds an easy means to do so. Both the United Church Funds and the UCC Pension Boards are also already involved in shareholder activism with the top fossil fuel companies.
Many congregations manage their own funds, and we as individuals have our own investments and retirement funds as well. We have options. Read on!
Here are four reasons to divest:
- Climate change is real and urgent: it could end life as we know it. A draft UN report warns that another 15 years of delay on significant action would exacerbate the problem beyond our current technological abilities to solve it. Which means we still have time to address it if we act now. Divestment is one way to send a clear message to fossil fuel companies that we are serious about changing our carbon footprints and they need to be as well.
- Many political leaders in the U.S. and worldwide seem incapable of taking meaningful action on climate change. The fossil fuel companies strongly lobby politicians to maintain the status quo. Divestment sends a clear message to both the fossil fuel companies and our political leaders.
- As people of faith, we know that Jesus taught and modeled nonviolent strategies for social change. Divestment is a nonviolent strategy.
- Divestment aligns our investments with our values.
People of faith must act to mitigate climate change. The earth is God’s, and we are called to be good stewards of God’s creation, including every living creature. When we are called to love our neighbor, we must recognize that “neighbor” includes future generations. It is a sin to destroy the planet and then to profit from its destruction.
There are three basic steps to divesting:
- Learn what you own.
- Decide what you want to exclude, and sell your fossil-fuel assets.
- Identify and invest in fossil-fuel-free investments. Report your divestment here and here.
Churches exploring divestment should learn about United Church Funds’ Beyond Fossil Fuels funds. These funds are invested in a way that is consistent with the teachings of the United Church of Christ, and they are also free of the largest domestic oil, gas, and coal companies. Visit United Church Funds for details on how to update your congregation’s portfolio.
In addition to the Beyond Fossil Fuels funds, all United Church Funds clients – in all possible funds – will no longer be invested in coal companies and companies that extract a significant amount of tar sands, one of the most environmentally degrading processes for extracting fossil fuels.
For details on divestment for your personal portfolio, download the pdf documents “Extracting Fossil Fuels from Your Portfolio: A Guide to Personal Divestment and Reinvestment” and/or “Investing to Curb Climate Change.”
Another helpful link: Clean Energy Victory Bonds
We do not expect to affect the bottom line of the fossil fuel industry by moving our funds elsewhere. Someone else will just buy the funds that we sell. The point of divestment is to send a strong message that it is time to leave fossil fuels in the ground and explore cleaner alternatives instead. We must revoke the social license of the fossil fuel companies to continue with “business as usual” when that means complete destruction of life as we know it.
Shareholder activism puts pressure on fossil fuel companies to do the right thing. If you hold shares in a fossil fuel company, ask for a meeting. Ask fossil fuel companies to provide information about what will happen to their assets still in the ground if/when they are not allowed to extract them. What is their plan to diversify from fossil fuel energy? How transparent are they about where their lobbying money goes (e.g., does it go to promote the fossil fuel industry?)? If they do not provide satisfactory answers, shareholders can bring up these topics at shareholder meetings.
We can do better. There is no time to lose!
- Here is what has been happening at United Church Funds since the resolution passed in July 2013.
- Divesting? Tell us about it! Fill out this online form and update us on what your congregation is doing.
Here are congregations that have divested:
All Pilgrims Christian Church UCC, Seattle, Washington
Altadena Community Church UCC, Altadena, California
Apples UCC, Thurmont, Maryland
Bethany UCC, Oshkosh, Wisconsin
Bethany UCC, Seattle, Washington
Bethesda UCC, Bethesda, Maryland
Blue Point Congregational UCC, Scarborough, Maine
Brea Congregational UCC, Brea, California
Carversville Christian Church UCC, Carversville, Pennsylvania
Central Congregational Church UCC, Chelmsford, Massachusetts
Christ Church United UCC, Lowell, Massachusetts
Christ Congregational UCC, Fort Morgan, Colorado
Christ Congregational UCC, Pueblo, Colorado
Church of the Covenant, Boston, Massachusetts
Church of the Nativity UCC, Buffalo, New York
Cleveland Park Congregational UCC, Washington, DC
Community Congregational Church UCC, Benicia, California
Community Congregational UCC, Lynnfield, Massachusetts
Community Protestant UCC, Mundelein, Illinois
Community UCC, Boulder, Colorado
Community UCC, Red Lodge, Montana
Community UCC, Fresno, California
Congregational Church of Grafton, UCC, Grafton, Massachusetts
Congregational UCC, Brea, California
Congregational UCC of Ogden, Ogden, Utah
Congregational UCC, Punta Gorda, Florida
Elon Community Church UCC, Elon, North Carolina
Eliot United Church of Christ, Newton, Massachusetts
Fairmount United Church of Christ, Wichita, Kansas
Faith United Church of Christ, Hazleton, Pennsylvania
First Church in Cambridge, Cambridge, Massachusetts
First Church in Marlborough Congregational UCC, Marlborough, Massachusetts
First Congregational Church, Amherst, Massachusetts
First Congregational Church, Downers Grove, Illinois
First Congregational Church, Long Beach, California
First Congregational Church, Montclair, New Jersey
First Congregational Church, Natick, Massachusetts
First Congregational Church, Redwood City, California
First Congregational Church, San Jose, California
First Congregational Church, Shrewsbury, Massachusetts
First Congregational Church, Thetford, Vermont
First Congregational Church, Westborough, Massachusetts
First Congregational Church, Williamstown, Massachusetts
First Congregational Church of Benzonia UCC, Benzonia, Michigan
First Congregational Church of Canterbury, UCC, Canterbury, Conneciticut
First Congregational Church of Dunbarton UCC, Dunbarton, New Hampshire
First Congregational Church of Lyme UCC, Lyme, Connecticut
First Congregational Church UCC, Sonoma, California
First Congregational Church UCC, South Hadley, Massachusetts
First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Garrison, North Dakota
First Congregational UCC, Mankato, Minnesota
First Congregational UCC, Indianapolis, Indiana
First Congregational UCC, West Tisbury, Massachusetts
First Congregational UCC, Brimfield, Massachusetts
First Congregational UCC, Naperville, Illinois,
First Congregational UCC, Southampton, Massachusetts
First Congregational UCC, Charlotte, Michigan
First Congregational UCC, Longmont, Colorado
First Congregational UCC, Waterville, Maine
First Congregational UCC, Dubuque, Iowa
First Congregational United Church of Christ, Downers Grove, Illinois
First Parish Congregational Church UCC, Newbury, Massachusetts
First United Church of Christ, Northfield, Minnesota
Grace Christian Fellowship United Church of Christ, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Grace Congregational Church, Rutland, Vermont
Grace United Church of Christ, Wausau, Wisconsin
Hadwen Park Congregational UCC, Worcester, Massachusetts
Hanapepe Hawaiian Congregational Church UCC, Hanapepe, Hawaii
Hancock United Church of Christ, Lexington, Massachusetts
Holladay UCC, Salt Lake City, Utah
Hope UCC, Alexandria, Virginia
Hope United Church of Christ, Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin
Keystone UCC, Seattle, Washington
Lakewood United Church of Christ, Lakewood, Colorado
Lummi Island Congregational Church UCC, Lummi Island, Washington
Lyndale Congregational UCC, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Mayflower UCC, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Medford Congregational UCC, Medford, Oregon
Mission Hills UCC, San Diego, California
Mount Vernon Zwingli UCC, Verona, Wisconsin
Mt. Sinai Congregational Church UCC, Mount Sinai, New York
North Stonington Congregational Church, North Stonington, Connecticut
Northshore UCC, Woodinville, Washington
Old First Church, Middletown, New Jersey
Park Congregational UCC, Norwich, Connecticut
Park Hill UCC, Denver, Colorado
Pilgrim Congregational UCC, Chattanooga, Tennessee
Plymouth Congregational, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Plymouth Congregational Church, UCC, Seattle, Washington
Prairie Community Church UCC, Lester Prairie, Minnesota
Prospect United Church of Christ, Seattle, Washington
Quentin UCC, Quentin, Pennsylvania
Richmond Beach Congregational UCC, Shoreline, Washington
Riverside Community Church, Hood River, Oregon
Saint John UCC, Arlington Heights, Illinois
Saint John’s UCC, Lansdale, Pennsylvania
Saint John’s UCC, Jonestown, Pennsylvania
Saint Nicolai UCC, Chicago, Illinois
Saint Peter’s UCC, Frankfort, Illinois
Saint Peter’s UCC, Inman, Kansas
Sanbornton Congregational UCC, Sanbornton, New Hampshire
Scarsdale Congregational Church UCC, Scarsdale, New York
Second Church in Newton, UCC, Massachusetts
Second Congregational Church of Bennington, Bennington, Vermont
Shadow Rock Congregational UCC, Phoenix, Arizona
Somers Community UCC, Kenosha, Wisconsin
South Church in Andover, Massachusetts
South Congregational Church Amherst, Massachusetts
Southwood UCC, Raytown, Missouri
Spirit of Peace UCC, Sammamish, Washington
Squaw Valley Chapel UCC, Olympic Valley, California
Stratham Community Church UCC, Stratham, New Hampshire
Skyline UCC, Oakland, California
Tabernacle United Church, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
The Congregational Church of Boothbay Harbor, Boothbay Harbor, Maine
The Congregational Church of Westborough, UCC, Westborough, Massachusetts
The First Congregational Church of Guilford, Guilford, Connecticut
The New Church, dba New Church – Chiesa Nuova, UCC, Dallas, Texas
The Second Church in Newton UCC, Newton, Massachusetts
Trinitarian Congregational UCC, Warwick, Massachusetts
Trinity Congregational Church in Gloucester, Massachusetts
UCC at the Villages, Oxford, Florida
United Church of Christ, Beavercreek, Oregon
United Church of Christ, Forest Grove, Oregon
United Church of Christ, Elcho, Wisconsin
United Church of Granville, Granville, Ohio
United Church of New Cambria, New Cambria, Missouri
United Church of Santa Fe UCC, Santa Fe, New Mexico
United Congregational Church of Westerly, Pawcatuck, Connecticut
United Faith Community, Buffalo, Minnesota
University Congregational Church, Missoula, Montana
University Congregational UCC, Seattle, Washington
Waquoit Congregational Church UCC, East Falmouth, Massachusetts
Wayside UCC, Federal Way, Washington
Wellspring UCC, Centreville, Virginia
West Parish Congregational UCC, Bethel, Maine
Weybridge Congregational UCC, Weybridge, Vermont