In May, delegates from around the world at the United Methodist Church’s General Conference, meeting in Portland, will vote on whether to respond to climate change by establishing an investment screen against fossil fuels. Fossil Free UMC, a network of United Methodists organizing across annual conferences, is organizing this effort. This is part of the Go Fossil Free, the global movement to divest from fossil fuels.
This movement challenges the economic system that perpetuates climate change. The worldwide system of unrestrained free-market capitalism, dominated by global corporations and fueled by money, is based on the view that market forces will sort everything out.
Those of us who are working to get our churches, colleges, and other institutions to divest from fossil fuels are challenging this system by saying, “Money is not the highest value.” There are good financial reasons to divest from fossil fuels, but even if there weren’t, “If it’s wrong to wreck the planet, then it’s wrong to profit from that wreckage.” There are values in life that are more important than money.
It is true that the global economic system is working well for the largest corporate players, those who benefit from subsidies, tax breaks, and preferential treatment. Coal, oil, and gas corporations are among the most privileged beneficiaries. But the system certainly isn’t working for the majority of people or for the natural world. It’s not supposed to. This system is not designed to preserve the creation, protect communities, or create equity and harmony among human beings. It’s designed to turn human life and labor and the gifts of the earth into commodities to be bought and sold, and to deliver this wealth upward, to those who design and control the system. As I say in my book on this subject, Shaking the Gates of Hell: Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization: “If we follow the money, we will see that the system is designed for the results it is getting. The architects, rule makers, and enforcers of the global economy are reaping the benefits of what they have designed.”
But as the movement to abandon these fossil fuel producers grows, they lose moral standing. They are revealed as being not as all-powerful as they would like us to believe. It becomes clear that their stock prices are based on extracting and burning all the reserves in their portfolios which, as we now know, would destroy the planet. Political leaders, corporate CEOs, and others at the top will not lead the way to keeping the majority of fossil fuels in the ground, as is required for us to mitigate the harm caused by climate change. They are driven and constrained by institutional realities.
But (thank you, God) a global movement for climate justice has emerged, led by people in developing nations most vulnerable to climate chaos, by Indigenous people in “sacrifice zones” where extraction is destroying the land, by women who live and struggle to care for children on the front lines of climate change, and by youth who know they have everything to lose by keeping silent. This is one of the most hopeful movements of our time.
Order Sharon Delgado’s CD or download a free MP3 version: Climate Change: What Do We Know? What Can We Do?