by rev. abby mohaupt and Rev. Colleen Earp, Fossil Free PC(USA)
On January 19, 2022, the Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) voted to recommend divestment from five fossil fuel companies: Chevron, ExxonMobil, Marathon Petroleum, Phillips 66 and Valero Energy. The vote came after many years of shareholder engagement with these companies; in the last 6 years, that engagement has been in the context of criteria they drafted in consultation with frontline and local communities, as well as Fossil Free PCUSA. The Presbyterian Mission Agency board has approved this recommendation.
In 2014, PCUSA first took up the question of investment in the fossil fuel industry. Back then, we could still reasonably argue that many people in our North American pews hadn’t yet experienced the climate crisis firsthand. We who advocated for divestment as a bold and faithful strategy acknowledged that many of us had racial and economic privilege that would prevent us from feeling the brunt of climate change: rising temperatures, more frequent and less predictable storms, hotter summers, and destabilized winter weather, all with the social and infrastructural implications of our broken world.
That first call to divest from companies engaging in fossil fuel extraction, production, and distribution was sent to MRTI, a committee tasked primarily with shareholder engagement, not climate justice or divestment. Not only has MRTI done the engagement it’s tasked with doing, they have done the additional legwork to learn more about the climate crisis. We are grateful for that work. Now it’s time for different and more comprehensive work.
Shareholder engagement is a slow and methodical process by design. Meanwhile, millions of people around the world participated in the Climate Strikes in 2019, demanding real and fast action to respond to climate change. Meanwhile, trillions of dollars have been divested from the fossil fuel industry by over a thousand religious, municipal, and educational institutions, and reinvested in a just climate transition. Meanwhile, more fossil free options have emerged for individual and institutional investments. There are now other processes with which the PCUSA must engage.
Governments worldwide have missed critical benchmarks outlined in the Paris Accord to help limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C. United Nations summits have failed to adequately center the needs of communities that have faced the brunt of climate change. People around the world are feeling the effects of this crisis, regardless of social privilege. We are all already facing climate chaos, and all the while we continue to fall short of God’s call to care for creation and love our neighbors.
The Fossil Free PC(USA) steering committee remains committed to providing resources and support to General Assembly commissioners and observers as they engage in the work of climate justice policies in our denomination. With this recommendation to divest from five fossil fuel companies, the PCUSA also has the opportunity to support a wide array of climate and environmental justice overtures and recommendations in our General Assembly. We must be willing as a denomination to boldly support these endeavors from a place of faith, remembering the gospel teaching, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will also be” (Matthew 6:21). It’s time to take on all the things possible to respond to climate change: to reduce our carbon footprint; to invest in reforestation and a green future; to affirm and uphold international conventions on cooperative efforts; to support divestment from fossil fuels. In faith, let us do all the things.