Fossil Fuel Divestment Organizing at General Assembly 2013

Climate activists in the UU denomination and others continue to promote the divestment of fossil fuel stocks from institutional and personal investment portfolios as an urgent and sound strategy to address climate change. Supporting and dissenting views surfaced in May’s “Divestment Forum” held in Boston (see next section) and in published position statements in the Summer 2013 issue of UU World by Rev. Fred Small and UUA Treasurer Tim Brennan. The topic continues to generate much discussion, including amongst panelists, organizers, and delegates who attended General Assembly 2013 this past June.

At GA, the Socially Responsible Investing Committee held a workshop, “The Climate Change Challenge to Faithful Investing.” Committee chair Rev. Glenn Farley (now former chair), Rev. Jim Sherblom, UUA treasurer Tim Brennan, and UUMFE Board member Cindy Davidson served on the panel and shared philosophical viewpoints of the value of shareholder engagement/advocacy, details of recent accomplishments, and concerns about divesting the Common Endowment Fund. Conversations in response to questions from the floor rounded out the session. Read blogger Sonja Cohen’s coverage of the workshop and the SRIC Committee’s annual report at the plenary and listen to the audio recording of the workshop.

Speakers Wendell Berry and Tim De Christopher, in their addresses preceding the GA’s Public Witness Event (a clean-energy rally), both endorsed the call for divestment in their own words. Berry urged listeners to “understand that fossil-fuel energy must be replaced not just by clean energy, but also by less energy.” He admonishes us to consider that “If we’re not in favor of limiting the use of energy, starting with our own use of it, we’re not serious. If we’re not in favor of rationing energy, starting with the fossil fuels, we’re not serious. If we have the money and we’re not willing to pay $2 to keep the polluting industries from getting $1, we’re not serious. If, on the contrary, we become determined to keep the industries of poison, explosion, and fire from determining our lives and the world’s fate, then we will steadfastly reduce our dependence on them and our payments of money to them. We will cease to invest our health, our lives, and our money in them.”

Meanwhile, an Action of Immediate Witness (AIW) titled “Consider Divestment from the Fossil Fuel Industry” was one of three proposed AIWs admitted to the plenary floor. The proposed AIW, crafted under the leadership of former UUMFE Board member Terry Wiggins, was then amended during a mini-assembly, and later presented for vote, where it was passed nearly unanimously. Watch the debate and vote on the UUA website (start at 1:21). The AIW calls upon delegates “to begin a denomination-wide conversation within their congregations about divesting from fossil fuels or exercising shareholder influence” and suggests actions for discussion.

Looking ahead, UU divestment proponents are organizing to present a Business Resolution at GA 2014 to divest the UUA’s Common Endowment Fund, with an allowance for minimal direct holdings for shareholder advocacy purposes and increased investments supporting a transition to clean energy. The proposed resolution is in the final draft stage, and organizers will be collecting required signatures this fall to meet the filing deadline. For more information, join the uudivestment yahoo group by emailing Wes Ernsberger (wesernsberger@gmail.com) or Nick Laiacona (nicklaiacona@gmail.com).

UUMFE has assembled resources on socially responsible investing and the fossil fuel divestment campaign – see section following Forum video. We encourage readers and congregations to make use of them to guide your discussions and actions in these important areas this coming year.

Please help us offer the best resources possible by contributing resources you might have developed or found useful, your best practices and success stories. If you have a specific request, please let us know! Contact Cindy Davidson at cynthiadavidson@verizon.net.

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