Our seven principles help ground and guide us as we attempt to live well and enact justice. The 7th principle: respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part, is most commonly cited when we think about environmental issues, but increasingly we are realizing that climate change spans many principles. Rising oceans and extreme weather events disproportionately affect those with the least means to handle the devastation. Droughts, heatwaves, and floods cause food shortages and forced migrations. Thus, our 6th principle: the goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all, is starting to emerge as foundational for our work toward climate justice.
Living Our Values:
It is important that our church lives by its values. When it comes to climate action, we have been on the leading edge thanks to our highly effective Climate Action Ministry team. In the past 7 years we have become an official, UUA certified Green Sanctuary. While many of our accomplishments are not readily visible, our large roof-top solar panel array speaks volumes. Building on these successes, we realized it was important to put our money where our mouth was, or in this case, to take our money away from what we stand against.
The Proposed Action:
In late 2012, climate activist Bill McKibben went on a cross country “Do the Math” tour to kick off a movement to divest from the Carbon Underground 200 (the 200 publicly traded companies with the largest proven fossil fuel reserves).
The History of How Divestment Works:
The most famous example of how it can work is the 1980’s movement to divest from companies doing business in South Africa. During the 1970’s the United Nations and many countries publicly condemned apartheid in South Africa. Even so, nothing changed. In the early 1980’s a movement began, designed to convince endowment funds to divest from companies doing business in South Africa in an effort to protest against apartheid. This movement raised societal awareness to the point that it raised political awareness. Finally, by the late 1980’s, there was enough political will for the United States congress to pass economic sanctions against South Africa. These sanctions were powerful enough to cause South Africa to change, ending apartheid by 1994, when Nelson Mandela was elected president of South Africa. While there were multiple factors that contributed to the ultimate fall of apartheid, the divestment movement is given significant credit. Bill McKibben pointed out that, “when Nelson Mandela got out of prison, the first place he came was not the White House – it was California to thank University of California students who had helped get their system to divest $3 billion in holdings in South Africa.”
We Committed To It:
During 2014 and 2015, a sub team from Climate Action Ministry worked with the Board of Trustees and the Endowment Committee to draft a Divestment Resolution. On April 7th, 2015, our Board of Trustees approved the Divestment Resolution which stated that, “we, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Boulder, hereby resolve to divest from…funds that contain Carbon Underground 200 companies. our goal is to be fully divested by June 2019.” A few months later, we overwhelmingly voted to support this resolution at our Annual Congregation Meeting in June of 2015.
We Did It:
Because all of the church’s investments are managed by the Endowment Committee, they were tasked with achieving the divestment goal. Over the past 4 years, they worked carefully and prudently within their fiduciary mandate to reduce holdings in the Carbon Underground 200. With special attention to diversification and cross-sector correlations, the Endowment Committee was ultimately able to achieve complete divestment as of March 1st, 2019, without taking on extra risk, nor detracting from returns. In fact, our Endowment Fund has actually outperformed the national Unitarian Universalist Common Endowment Fund in the past 1, 3, 5, and 10 year time periods.
The power of the divestment movement comes not from the dollars that are moved, but from the minds that are motivated. Like the South African divestment movement, the ultimate change will come from a societal call to action which will create the political will to pass meaningful legislation to reduce CO2 emissions. Go tell your friends and family that your church divested from fossil fuel stocks. Tell them that we are taking a moral stand against an industry that is polluting our environment, causing climate change, and endangering future generations. Learn about the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act. This bipartisan climate solution is one of the most significant and promising pieces of legislation ever introduced to reduce CO2 emissions. Spread the word: Divestment is complete, now it’s your turn!