Catholic groups announce massive divestment from fossil fuels

Churches get it.

Filipino Catholic nuns join the Climate Solidarity Prayer March in Manila last year. CREDIT: AP Photo/Aaron Favila
Filipino Catholic nuns join the Climate Solidarity Prayer March in Manila last year. CREDIT: AP Photo/Aaron Favila

If you care deeply about humanity and its role on this planet, climate change represents a significant, existential threat.

The victims of climate change include people who live near the ocean, people who live in forests, people who live in deserts, and people who live in the mountains. Young people. Old people. Poor people and rich people: If they aren’t already feeling the impacts of a changing climate, they will someday.

And human-caused climate change is threatening and destroying many, many species of plants and animals.

It’s with this view that faith groups have become leaders in the climate change movement. Churches were some of the earliest adopters of fossil fuel divestment — the practice of pulling funds from companies for a range of reasons, including mining for coal, selling oil and gas, or financing tar sands development.

A new cadre of Catholic groups joined the movement Tuesday, announcing a coordinated, global divestment push.

“Climate change is already affecting poor and marginalized communities globally, through drought, rising sea levels, famine and extreme weather, and we are called to take a stand,” said Father Peter Bisson, head of the Jesuits in English Canada Province.

Italian, Canadian, Australian, U.S., Brazilian, and international Catholic groups announced a range of measures distancing themselves from fossil fuels. Some goals are relatively modest: For instance, SSM, a U.S. hospital group, will divest from coal companies. But the Brazilian Diocese of Umuarama will become the first diocese and the first Latin American institution to commit to divest from fossil fuels, according to 350.org. The diocese is also reducing its carbon footprint and has joined an anti-fracking coalition in Latin America.

“We can not accommodate and continue allowing economic interests that seek exorbitant profits before the well being of people, to destroy biodiversity and ecosystems, nor continue dictating our energy model based on fossil fuels,” said Bishop João Mamede Filho. “We know that Brazil has abundant sources of clean and renewable energy that do not harm our common home. Therefore, I believe that the proposal to turn the Diocese of Umuarama into low-carbon is a practical way to achieve what Laudato Si’ calls for.”

Laudato Si’ is an encyclical, issued by Pope Francis last year, that emphasizes the need to be responsible guardians of the environment, particularly in the face of climate change and carbon pollution.

“Every community may take from the bounty of the earth that which it needs for its own survival, but it also has the duty to protect it and ensure the continuity of its fertility for future generations,” the encyclical, an official, high-level teaching for Catholics, says.

Indeed, Catholicism has become closely linked with climate action since the ordainment of Pope Francis.

He followed up the publication of the encyclical with a speech to Congress in which he emphasized the importance of addressing climate change. A group of Republican representatives — largely Catholic — signed a resolution in advance of the speech, urging Congress to address climate change.

Divestment is commonly seen as a powerful tool to reduce access to financing for fossil fuel companies. It also allows individuals and groups to take ownership of their role in the fossil fuel industrial complex, which, in turn, helps raise awareness.