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Divest from fossil fuels – what is that to do with us ?

Justice, Paix, Intégrité de la Création et Solidarité

We are all already being affected by Climate chaos, all parts of the world are suffering unusual floods, cyclones hurricanes, forest fires, and droughts. We have been told by the IPPC that we have 12 years to stabilise atmospheric warming at under 2 degrees ; this is optimistic lacking accountability for feedback loops such as the albedo effect(reflectivity) caused by 70% loss of arctic ice) release of methane previously frozen in the soil and ocean beds in the arctic and Siberian tundra : in January 2019 it was discovered there was 40% more heat stored in the oceans than had been estimated before, and so on……..and those who had contributed least to this were suffering most.

In 2015 Pope Francis had written in his well known encyclical `Laudato Si’ No 26. ,`There is an URGENT need to develop policies so that the emissions of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced…. replacing fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy.’

There is real scientific evidence that we need to change the upward trajectory of fossil fuel emissions as early as 2020. The huge publicly traded companies with vast reserves of coal, oil, and gas will need to keep 2/3 of them in the ground if we are to avoid the worst, run away irreversible climate catastrophy triggering formidable feed back mechanisms, amplifying an already disastrous situation.

This touches everyone alive today and generations still to come. Are we talking about this, are we too afraid to speak, do we not care ? As Assumption what more could we do, other than our small efforts such as trying to avoid plastic, recycling and cutting down as far as possible on energy use ? What we can do personally is important. But what we can do as an institution is also important. How coherent is our desire to do good personally and as communities when our institutional investments are contributing to global heating where the poor suffer most, and increasingly people need to migrate if they are to remain alive ? What are we teaching ? How coherent are we ?

Inspired by Laudato Si `Catholic institutions uniting for Fossil Fuel Divestment’ was started by 4 religious orders in June 2016 ; they divested for coal, oil and gas. Since then the movement has grown. Currently the estimate of divestment from fossil fuels stands at about $6 trillion, cities, universities churches, Quakers, NGOs and even countries have joined in. More than 1,000 Catholic organisations round the world including Caritas, and in the UK both the Passionists and the Columbans, have joined in. The effort for the Catholic Church is being co-ordinated by the Global Catholic Climate Movement. (GCCM) USIG have a campaign 2018-2020 `Sowing Hope for the Planet’ ; they said ` a key element is promoting divestment from Fossil fuels by religious orders.

In the UK there was a recent meeting of 20 religious orders sponsored by GCCM, Conference of Religious, the Association of Provincial Bursars, Cafod and others. It asked us as religious, parishes and churches, to demonstrate that leadership that is largely missing in the political sphere, to commit to complete divestment within a 5 year period, and to proclaim to the world that this is what we are doing. Last October, St Francis day, 40 Catholic institutions made that commitment.

We need to be coherent and to prevent catastrophic changes to the climate system on which all life depends. As Pope Francis said to the oil executives, `with each month the challenge of energy transition becomes more pressing. He added `what is really worrying is the continual search for new fossil fuel reserves whereas the Paris agreement clearly urged keeping most fossil fuels in the ground.’ Over 80% of known fossil fuels need to be kept underground, it is `morally wrong’ to do anything else said Pope Francis. So let us do what we can as soon as possible !

Sr Jess, March 2019


Incidentally during the last three years ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron, BP and Total invested $110 billion in new fossil fuel production while they are projected to spend only $3.6 billion on climate friendly alternatives such as renewable energy. Meanwhile, they spent $195 million a year to market themselves as green leaders and $200 million a year to lobby on climate policy. Those lobbying efforts included the spending blitz by BP and Chevron that helped defeat a carbon tax in Washington State during the 2018 midterm elections.


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