Mid-April brings us two noteworthy dates: tax day and Earth Day. Although seemingly unrelated, they can be a prompt to consider how we can use our financial resources for the well-being of “this fragile Earth, our island home.” (BCP, p. 370) Donating to charities is one well-known way. A lesser known alternative is divestment. Certain economic activities harm the planet more than others, particularly the development and use of fossil fuels (primarily oil, gas, and coal). If firms that produce fossil fuels have less access to funds, the logic goes, development projects can become uneconomical and potentially abandoned.
The Anglican and Episcopal tradition provides ethical grounds to justify such divestment. This position derives from the Anglican perspective on creation, mission, the church and society, and the church and secular powers. Briefly:
- Creation is good and it is God who owns it. We are merely tenants and are required to uphold and honor creation’s value.
- The mission of the church is to all the world. It requires the church to be involved in all areas of concern to God’s people.
- The church should work to repair anything that damages our relationship with God and each other. As British abolitionist William Wilberforce said, “no calling is proscribed, no pursuit is forbidden…which is reconcilable” with the love of Christ.
- The church has a legitimate interest in holding secular powers to account for their behavior. The church has a right to “speak truth to power.”
The Episcopal Church thus considers divestment to be an appropriate form of action. With regard to its own institutional investments, the Episcopal Church will not hold shares in companies that derive more than 10% of their revenue from fossil fuels. The church also aims to redirect its divested funds into renewable energy by 2025.
Granted, divestment isn’t a panacea. It doesn’t reduce the need for fossil fuels, so companies will continue to produce as long as there is demand. Another consideration is that even clean energy can have negative environmental impacts, albeit of other kinds (such as land degradation caused by the mining of ores for batteries).
Divestment does still have impact. It raises public awareness, signals to companies that their performance is under scrutiny, and frees up funds for investment in renewable energy. For individuals—us—divestment can also help counter the feeling of helplessness in the face of climate change. It’s one way we can put our faith into action.
The Episcopal Church has resources available that provide more guidance from a faith perspective:
- “A Catechism of Creation: An Episcopal Understanding,” June 2005
- “Companies Subject to No-buy Portfolio Restrictions,” Feb. 2020
- “Investing as Doing Theology,” 2021.
(The report begins some way down from the top of the web page.)
This post was written by our Deacon in Training, Mary Cushing