New York Sends Divestment Petition to General Conference

It’s been a thrilling week for those of us in the United Methodist divestment movement! Across the country, United Methodists fighting for climate justice have been bringing fossil free legislation to their annual conferences, to be forwarded to the General Conference in 2016. And in conference after conference, the petition has passed…including in New York!

My copious notes of disagreement around the Board of Pensions' arguments against divestment.

My copious notes of disagreement around the Board of Pensions’ arguments against divestment.

From the beginning, this has not been a simple or easy campaign. The  Board of Pensions is not so keen on the idea of divestment, citing fiduciary duty and hopes for the potential of shareholder advocacy. However, for each point of reticence, there is a compelling, evidence-rich counter-argument for divestment (see here for Fossil Free UMC’s counter-arguments). In fact, as the person responsible for presenting the petition, my greatest challenge was limiting my arguments to just 3 minutes (you can read my statements below).

Ultimately, the decision was a close one. Having barely missed passing in the overwhelmingly progressive legislative section, it came to the general floor, where divestment was a tougher sell. But climate justice advocates spoke eloquently in favor, including SP&SA’s own Rev. K, who shared his testimony of our church’s own divestment.

Addressing the plenary.

Addressing the plenary.

This was my first Annual Conference, and I came away with an enriched spiritual and practical understanding of what it means to be an activist in a faith context. Seeking change isn’t about winning or losing, it’s about creating an opportunity for meaningful, mutually respectful conversation to take place, so that the body of Christ can continue to grow in harmony and abundance.

On the final day, the day of ordination, I felt an overwhelming sense of unity and love. As clergy processed in, filling the arena, we sang “For the Healing of the Nations,” and tears were streaming down my face as I sang the words:

For the healing of the nations,
Lord, we pray with one accord,
for a just and equal sharing
of the things that earth affords.

and

All that kills abundant living,
let it from the earth be banned:

I felt assured that we as United Methodist share that sacred wish for a just and equal sharing, and that we will together ban all that kills abundant living.

Youth and indigenous people led thousands protesting tar sands in St. Paul, the same day that NYAC adjourned.

Youth and indigenous people led thousands protesting tar sands in St. Paul, the same day that NYAC adjourned.

NYAC PRESENTATION ON DIVESTMENT

My name is Rosina Pohlmann. I am a member at St. Paul and St. Andrew, an entering seminary student, and a long time climate justice advocate. As a young adult on the verge of starting a future and a family, I am terrified by climate change.

The reasons for divestment are ethical and practical.

Scientists say that 80% of fossil fuels must stay in the ground in order to avoid catastrophic climate change, but these companies have promised to burn all their reserves. The industry’s entire business model is based on the destruction of our earth, and no amount of shareholder engagement is going to get them to change their business model.

The fossil fuel industry funds climate denial, out-lobbies environmental groups 20 to 1, and spends hundreds of millions of dollars to elect officials who will deny climate change and block green legislation.

Earlier today we made a commitment to heal.* Across North America, oil and gas companies are polluting indigenous land. First Nations people have said you do not have our consent to poison our sacred land. We have legal rights to his land.” The industry has rolled right over them and is poisoning that land as I speak, because they know they have the political power to do so.

It is wrong to profit from wrecking the planet, and it’s wrong to support an industry that undermines our democracy and oppresses our brothers and sisters.

Financially, there is a growing body of research that divestment does not have negative returns and can even effect a portfolio positively. The threat of stranded assets – which will happen if world leaders and put a cap on carbon – becomes more likely every day. Just earlier this week, leaders at the G7 summit agreed to cap climate change at 2 degrees. The carbon bubble could burst at any time and the finance world is taking note.

Last fall the Rockefeller Fund divested 50 billion in oil and gas stocks, saying that if John D. Rockefeller were alive today he would move his money out of fossil fuels and into renewable energy.

In just two years, over 200 religious institutions have divested from fossil fuels, including World Council of Churches, which represents half a billion Christians worldwide. More are joining every week. If they can do it, we can do it too.

I know that divestment makes people uncomfortable. But our faith calls us to be uncomfortable when it is the right thing to do. Divestment is the right and prudent thing to do.

Ultimately, we will have to answer the next generation when the ask, What did you do? What did you do to protect me?”

* The entire morning had been devoted to acknowledging past sins against indigenous people, and beginning a time of healing, of trust, and of no empty words.” I felt moved to include the atrocious way that the oil and gas industry is treating indigenous people. First Nations are acting as the first line of defense against oil & gas in much of the country and world, and until recently have been largely alone in this fight. I think this is an aspect of climate justice that should be explored and brought to United Methodists’ attention in light of this new, celebrated commitment.