Global Divestment Day seeks financial break-up with fossil fuels

As hearts aflutter with romance ahead of Valentine’s Day, climate advocates have breaking up on the mind.

With fossil fuels, that is.

The climate group and its Fossil Free project have set aside Friday and Saturday (Valentine’s Day) for its latest round of international demonstrations, this time targeting the finances of fossil fuel companies as part of Global Divestment Day. So far, more than 450 events in 58 countries are planned across the two days. They include rallies on Wall Street in New York and at London’s City Hall, a bike parade in Amsterdam and a “light brigade” of hundreds at the Vatican.

Organizers are encouraging participants to close accounts with banks and pension funds heavily invested in fossil fuels, in addition to holding public rallies and demonstrations to demand institutions divest their endowments, as well. They have also asked people to wear an orange square to symbolize the movement.

Launched in 2012, Fossil Free has pushed communities, cities, countries, universities and organizations of all types to divest their financial holdings from coal, oil and natural gas companies, specifically by freezing any new investments in them, and to pull out of fossil fuel public equities and corporate bonds within five years. The group has drawn inspiration from a similar campaign around ending apartheid in South Africa. 

Fossil Free and its supporters have argued that such corporations profit off the destruction of the planet through the continued emission of greenhouse gases, a primary source of global warming. The campaign has touted divestment not only a smart economic move -- frequently highlighting financial risks associated with fossil fuels and the potential of wind and solar energy -- but also as a moral one.

The interfaith group GreenFaith has backed the divestment movement and provided Global Divestment Day resources on its website, such as Biblical teachings related to divestment and sermon tips.

Rev. Fletcher Harper, GreenFaith executive director, was part of a recent paper from Bright Now, a divestment campaign aimed at churches in the United Kingdom, examining the ethical dimensions of fossil fuel investment.

“Because of the grave threat of climate change and the fossil fuel sector’s refusal to change, it is no longer right for religious groups to profit from companies that are creating ecological destruction and human suffering on a titanic scale. As a matter of life, and because we believe in a just and loving Creator, faith communities must disinvest from fossil fuels and reinvest in a clean energy future” the paper concluded.

Related: "Scholars explore Catholic path to fossil fuel divestment"

Catholic Religious Australia, which represents more than 180 congregations of sisters, brothers and priests in the subcontinent, has also promoted Global Divestment Day, including a lecture series on the economics of developing a just and clean energy economy.

So far, the University of Dayton, in Ohio, is the only U.S. Catholic school to commit to fossil fuel divestment. But efforts have been ongoing among several other campuses, and have extended all the way to Rome.

Ahead of his January visit to typhoon-ravaged Tacloban in the Philippines, Fossil Free urged Pope Francis to lead the way by divesting the Vatican as a means of protecting climate-vulnerable countries.

“The climate change crisis is a reflection of a profound global moral crisis, and as such Church organizations play an important role in untangling us from this mess. One way this can be done is for the Church to examine not just the purity of its vestments but where it puts its investments,” said Yeb Saño, Philippine Climate Change Commissioner, in the statement.

On Friday in Washington D.C., the Georgetown University-based GU Fossil Free will join five other advocacy groups at a rally in Dupont Circle, where they plan to collect signatures from commuters in support of divestment. In addition, they will carry large checks -- representing the financial investment of each of their affiliated institutions -- and inflate a large “carbon bubble” to symbolize the financial risks they believe fossil fuels investments hold.

In late January, a Georgetown committee on responsible investment declined to support the student group’s request for full divestment, instead recommending partial divestment from the largest 200 fossil fuel companies. GU Fossil Free met with the university’s board of directors Wednesday.  

[Brian Roewe is an NCR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter: @BrianRoewe.]

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