Faith leaders march for climate, call for fossil fuel divestment

Last Sunday, I joined more than 300,000 people in New York City for possibly the largest demonstration for environmental causes in history, the People’s Climate March.

In addition to bringing together people from across classes, across races and across the globe, the event served as a great interfaith rallying point. Christian clergy, rabbis, imams and a variety of lay folks from many faith traditions boarded and walked beside a large replica of Noah’s Ark, which featured the words: “We are all Noah now.”

Just before the People’s Climate March, one of its leading faith organizers, the interfaith GreenFaith, released a significant statement from 86 religious leaders and professors -- including several prominent Catholics -- calling on institutions and individuals to divest from fossil fuel stocks. 

The justification for this call was expressed in these words:

“Because of the grave threat of climate change and the fossil fuel sector’s unyielding refusal to change, it is no longer right for religious groups to profit from companies that, with certainty, are creating ecological destruction and human suffering on such a titanic scale.”

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[Read the full statement]

Divestment is not a new strategy. It was central to the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, and the quest to delegitimize the use of tobacco.

Several religious groups have already moved to divest, among them the United Church of Christ, the Unitarian Universalists, the Quakers and the World Council of Churches. In Catholic circles, the University of Dayton in Ohio announced in June it would divest from fossil fuels, and students on several other Catholic campuses have launched divestment campaigns.

[Related: “Scholars explore Catholic path to fossil fuel divestment”]

In the secular world, the most spectacular divestment announcement came this week from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. The Rockefellers, of course, made their millions on oil, but their foundation is divesting because of the grave dangers to our planet.

“We see this as having both a moral and economic dimension,” Steven Rockefeller, one of Nelson Rockefeller’s sons, told The New York Times.

I may have missed a few Catholic names, but easily recognizable Catholic signers to the GreenFaith statement include: 

  • Six professors from Creighton University, in Omaha, Neb.;
  • John F. Haught, professor emeritus of theology, Georgetown University;
  • Dennis Patrick O’Hara, associate professor ecotheology and ethics/director of the Elliott Allen Institute for Theology & Ecology, University of St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto;
  • Rosemary Radford Ruether, Professor, feminist theology, Claremont School of Theology and Graduate University;
  • Sandra M. Schneiders, professor emerita of New Testament studies and Christian spirituality, Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University;
  • Mary Evelyn Tucker, Forum on Religion and Ecology, Yale University;
  • Erin Lothes, assistant professor of theology, College of St. Elizabeth

One can only hope that their message -- and that of the People’s Climate March generally -- spreads far and wide.  


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