By Rev. Christopher De La Cruz
How much longer do we have to wait?
With the existential crisis of climate change looming over our world, a global movement of over 1,000 institutions have made commitments (https://gofossilfree.org/divestment/commitments/) of over $11 trillion to divest funds from fossil fuel companies. Many major religious institutions have shown radical leadership, including the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, and the World Council of Churches. In fact religious institutions make up the largest share of those divesting. Mainstream institutions as diverse as the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the University of Glasgow, New York City (yes, the government of one of the biggest cities in the world), and the country of Ireland have all committed to divestment.
But when Fossil Free PCUSA and representatives from 12 presbyteries - a group that has since then grown to at least 40 supporting presbyteries - called on the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to join this worldwide moral movement to take a stand for God’s world and the future for our children, they were given a message.
Wait for the Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) - for Presbyterians, there’s always a committee - to tell the fossil fuel companies to behave. We will sit down with them, we will have a seat at the table, and we will push them toward responsible behavior.
Well, after a directive at the 222nd General Assembly (2016) to establish standards to evaluate companies’ environmental, social and governance (ESG) issue, we now have the report card (https://www.presbyterianmission.org/story/mrti-shares-first-round-of-general-assembly-environmental-compliance-scores/?utm_source=ActiveCampaign&utm_medium=email&utm_content=Presbyterian+Church+USA+Weekly+News&utm_campaign=Presbyterian+Church+USA+Weekly+News+%7C+Sep+04-10+2019) for nine companies - energy companies Chevron, Conoco Phillips, Duke Energy, ExxonMobil, Marathon Petroleum, Phillips 66, and Valero Energy and automotive manufacturers Ford and General Motors.
So how is waiting for a seat at the table going?
Marathon Petroleum, Phillips 66, and Valero Energy, scored the lowest tier of “Red,” meaning “overall, company may have poor record of shareholder engagement, poor record on environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues. Company may or may not acknowledge importance of ESG issues.” Chevron and Exxon are in the next highest, “Orange.”
No company scored “Green,” the highest tier. And the only companies that scored the next highest, “Blue,” were the auto companies - that is, none of the energy companies.
“We’ve communicated in writing to all nine companies and have had conversations with a few about the first-year scoring,” Joseph Kinard, chair of MRTI, said. “The companies are appreciative of our transparency.”
That’s great they’re appreciative. Meanwhile, the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported that countries would have to cut their carbon dioxide emissions to net zero by around 2050 in order to keep global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. Basically, we have to be on a path to fall by about 45 percent by around 2030 to reverse the worse case scenarios. Even then, we are still looking at unsustainable migration, hurricanes, flooding, droughts, food shortages, unprecedented ecosystem disruption and animal extinction, and of course a level of human suffering that we have yet to see, and yet we have at least some control to act against.
How much longer do we have to wait?
“By the end of this campaign in 2023 we will have a clear idea which of these companies are moving towards a low-carbon future and which are not,” Rob Fohr, Director of Faith-Based Investing and Corporate Engagement for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), said.
So, 2023 until we can have an idea? People dealing with so-called environmental issues - the vast majority of which affect humanity the most - are often labeled utopian and idealists. But is there anything less practical and more idealist than truly believing we have all this time to write letters to multinational corporations hoping they may someday budge without a major incentive?
If you want to talk about the world as it is, the best way to move fossil fuel companies is a real show of denominational force as part of a global mainstream movement that includes major world cities and multiple educational and religious institutions.
We have waited long enough. Our children have waited long enough. Rarely in life does the clearly moral answer and clearly practical answer align like this. Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), divest funds from fossil fuels.
At this point, divesting from fossil fuel companies is not even an overly outlier or idealist position, judging from the $11 trillion - and counting - already committed. Frankly, we can’t claim the mantle of radical leadership as much as simply getting onboard a moving train. Of course, when it comes to a moral movement with our world in the balance, better late than never!
But not too late. Time is ticking.
Rev. Christopher De La Cruz is the Associate Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Jamaica, Queens.
you've found the blog for www.fossilfreepcusa.org