A Call for an Investment Screen on Fossil Fuels

Peoples Climate March in rural Nevada City, California, suffering from drought and  wildfires.  Photograph by Guarionex Delgado

Peoples Climate March in rural Nevada City, California, suffering from drought and wildfires. Photograph by Guarionex Delgado

A Call for an Investment Screen on Fossil Fuels

A Presentation to the United Methodist General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits by the Reverend Sharon Delgado, November 13, 2014

My name is Sharon Delgado.  I’m a retired clergy woman in the California Nevada Annual Conference.  I’m here today representing our conference Advocacy and Justice Committee.

I appreciate the work of this Board, which safeguards my pension and does the hard work of determining how our investments can be both ethical and profitable.  I appreciate being given this time to share with you about an Investment Screen on fossil fuels.

Thank you, Jenny Phillips, for your presentation on The Last Beneficiary, which gave an overview of this topic and of the Fossil Free UMC movement.

In June, the California Nevada Annual Conference passed a resolution calling for a consultative process with the General Board of Pensions and several Cal-Nevada boards and agencies.  The goal of this process is to work toward an investment screen based on the Natural World section of the Social Principles, and ultimately toward a General Conference resolution.

We hope with this “consultative process” to avoid conflicts with the General Board of Pensions that can result from unilateral calls for divestment.  Also, by calling for an investment screen we are hoping to avoid the legal pitfalls that can arise from divestment.

We know that the Board of Pensions is concerned about climate change.  We want to understand the perspective of Board leaders and hope to find a common strategy to address our shared concerns.  We want this legislation to be informed by various stakeholders, even if all stakeholders don’t agree on the content of the legislation that is developed.

So far, we have been in touch with Anita Green, the Board’s Manager for Sustainable Investment Strategies.  She has been frank and thorough in answering our questions.  We trust that that relationship will continue.

 Specific Requests

We do have two specific requests.  First, we would like a decision by the Board of Pensions about whether the Board is willing to engage in this consultative process.   Ms. Green said that she has gone about as far as she can with us and that we will need to bring in others for a more substantive conversation.   If the Board is willing to go forward with us in a cooperative two-way process, please delegate someone to work with us.

We also request at least three meetings, in person and/or conference calls that include representatives from Cal-Nevada and from the Board of Pensions–one in early or mid-December, one in mid-January, and one in February.  People from Cal Nevada can then ask questions directly, pose suggestions, and get feedback from the Board of Pensions representatives.

Shareholder Advocacy vs. an Investment Screen on Fossil Fuels

 So far the General Board has established investment screens related to human rights but not the natural world.  The Board dealt with environmental concerns through shareholder actions.  But this is not adequate in the case of climate change.  The threat of climate chaos and the unethical behavior of fossil fuel companies makes a screen for fossil fuels necessary.

Besides, it seems that shareholder actions with fossil fuels companies have had little or no effect in reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG).  For instance, some fossil fuels companies in our pension portfolios have set internal GHG emission reduction goals, but they do not report their goals or results.  These companies have no goals related to lifetime emissions of their products (oil, gas, coal).  In fact, just the opposite:  their goal is to sell and have consumers burn as much of their products as possible.

Funding Climate Change Denial and Lobbying against Climate Legislation

Many fossil fuel companies fund think tanks that promote climate change denial.  This stalls action and increases the risk of runaway climate change.  Some of these think tanks, like the Heartland Institute, worked with the tobacco companies to promote denial about the harmful effects of tobacco.  They are using the same strategy to cast doubt about the science of climate change.  I was told that “this has not yet been part of the conversation” within the Board of Pensions.

Many fossil fuel companies lobby directly and fund organizations that lobby government to block climate change legislation and international treaties.  The Board puts this topic into the broader category of shareholder action related to “political spending,” which is done mostly through cooperative action with other groups.  But blocking climate legislation is too important and the resulting harm too great for this kind of lobbying to be folded into the general category of “political spending.”

If we invest in companies that fund climate change denial and block climate change legislation, it reflects badly on the church, contributes to environmental and social harm, and increases the risk of runaway climate change.

Climate Change as a Human Rights Issue

Climate Change is not just an environmental Issue, but also a human rights issue.  On an international level, the African continent, island nations, and other vulnerable countries are calling for climate justice.  In the wake of Typhoon Haiyan, the lead negotiator for Philippines fasted throughout the climate summit in Warsaw, while pleading for strong climate action.   The Typhoon killed 4,000 and displaced 4 million people.

In North America the treaty rights of Indigenous peoples are being violated, especially in Canada but also in the United States. This is what activated the Idle No More movement.  Indigenous leaders are calling for support in their struggles to prevent the pollution of the land, air, and water by dirty new extraction technologies.   All over North American, wherever there are fracking fields, tar sands, wetlands near offshore oil platforms, or mountains with their tops being blown off, there are poor communities and communities of color that serve as “sacrifice zones.”

Creating an investment screen on fossil fuels is one way we can take action on behalf of the poorest and most vulnerable people in our country and in the world.

Thank you for this opportunity to speak with you about these important issues.  We look forward to further conversations.  I hope we can find a way forward so that we United Methodists are practicing what we preach about climate change.

Stay informed and updated. Go to the Fossil Free UMC website or the Fossil Free UMC Facebook page.    For more general information about the movement to divest from fossil fuels, go to the Go Fossil Free website or the  Fossil Free Facebook page.   Follow Sharon’s blog by clicking the “Follow Sharon Delgado” button at the right or by “liking” the Shaking the Gates of Hell FaceBook page.

 

Arrested While Dancing at Beale

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On Tuesday morning I was arrested again at Beale Air Force Base while dancing at the main gate.  Eight others were arrested with me, while demonstrating peace through the Dances of Universal Peace. We were cited and released.

Two other demonstrators had been arrested the day before, on Monday:  John Auer, another ordained United Methodist minister, and my husband Guari.   Guari had pushed John’s wheelchair one mile onto the base to the guard booth at the Wheatland Gate, where John delivered a letter for the base commander related to a resolution passed by the California-Nevada Annual Conference supporting “A Call to Stop Drone Killings,” a statement signed by many religious leaders around the country.  The two were arrested, cited, and released.

Both of these actions were coordinated with Campaign Nonviolence, through which over 230 nonviolent actions took place around the country at the end of September.  The focus of the Campaign Nonviolence actions was to call for an end to war, poverty, and climate change.

Why did I risk being arrested again at Beale?  I answered that question in Why I Crossed the Line at Beale,  when I crossed the line at Beale the first time, almost two years ago.

This time, however, we have just begun another war, this time against ISIS, as if bombing and killing people could somehow lead us to security and peace.  We are told that we are targeting terrorists, but we are also killing innocent civilians, including children, in Iraq and Syria.  Have we learned nothing from our endless pursuit of endless war?  Have we forgotten the roots of the current crisis, and the U.S. role in it?  We are sowing ill will and creating future terrorists by terrorizing people through war.  Meanwhile we are spending billions on weapons of destruction, billions that could be used to meet human need and to heal the natural systems of the earth.

Insanity has been described as doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results.  As a nation and as a culture, our priorities are wrong.  It is time to repent, to change direction, to turn around.  It is time to focus on peacemaking, on feeding the hungry and welcoming the stranger, on healing the earth.  This will take a major shift in values, in investments, and in systems of power.  It will take a great awakening of the earth’s people, sustained resistance, and ongoing demonstrations of peace.

This transformation is already taking place, and I am certain that God is with us in this struggle.  This is a struggle worth living and dying for.  We need you.  Wherever you are, there are kindred spirits nearby.  I invite you to join us.

 

I wrote more about the Monday (September 29) action with Rev. John Auer and Guari in my previous post, Campaign Nonviolence Arrests at Beale.

 I wrote about the three interrelated evils of war, poverty, and climate change in Campaign Nonviolence:  A Call to Transformation.

Stay informed and updated.  Follow Sharon’s blog by clicking the “Follow Sharon Delgado” button at the right or by “liking” the Shaking the Gates of Hell FaceBook page.  Go to the Occupy Beale Air Force Base Facebook page or Occupy Beale website for updates on this court case, background information, and announcements about upcoming Beale demonstrations and direct actions.

Do We Have the Wisdom to Survive?

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Fires are burning week after week again this year here in the West.   The smoky skies aggravate asthma, give people headaches, burn people’s eyes, and make people grouchy.  We are warned to stay indoors due to unsafe levels of particulates.  As climate change continues to accelerate, other people in other places are also experiencing record-setting fires, heat waves, droughts,  floods, and other extreme weather events.

Do we have the wisdom to survive?  Will humanity rise to the challenge presented by climate change?  Will we change our ways of thinking and acting, will we transform our institutions and systems, in time to prevent climate chaos?  This question is always with me, even as I gather my grandchildren close to me and play and laugh and learn with them.  What will this overheating planet be like for them in twenty or forty or sixty years?

I do have hope.  I am grateful to be part of a world-wide community of people who are aware of what is at stake with the earth’s changing climate and who are willing to take action.  Tomorrow, the largest People’s Climate March in history will be held in New York, as world leaders gather in New York to discuss the climate crisis.  There will be solidarity demonstrations around the world, including here in Nevada City (meet at the Nevada City Vets Hall, 415 N. Pine, at 4 p.m.).  I hope that everyone who can come out will come out.  The time is now.

Or, if you aren’t convinced about climate change or have given up because you don’t think there is anything you can do, come tomorrow night to see the film “Wisdom to Survive” at 7 p.m. at the Nevada City United Methodist Church.  Here is the blurb I wrote for Old Dog Documentaries to help get the word out about the film:

Wisdom to Survive:  Climate Change, Capitalism, and Community is an exquisitely filmed documentary that presents an overview of the climate crisis, including its causes, effects, and directions of hope.  Poignant scenes illustrate the sacred beauty of the natural world, the tragedy of its diminishment, and our human interconnectedness with the rest of creation.

“The film unflinchingly names global free-market capitalism as the system that underlies the current plunder, with scenes of massive technological resource extraction causing industrial devastation.  Indigenous leaders, people from poor and vulnerable nations, scientists, scholars, religious leaders, activists, farmers, and poets make the case for “climate justice” and point in the direction of hope.

“Do we have the wisdom to survive?  The answer is related to community.   We are connected by our shared grief at what is happening to the earth and by our shared hope and commitment to the future.”

I hope you will join us here in Nevada City or at a Peoples’ Climate Rally near you.  This is not the time to give up, but the time to rise up and recommit ourselves to the earth and to the future.  Surely God is with us in this struggle.

One day our children and grandchildren will ask us what we were doing when there was still time to prevent the worst of climate change.  What will your answer be?

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Campaign Nonviolence:  A Call to Transformation

Beale with crosses

Why do I engage in nonviolent direct action?  Why will I go back to Beale later this month to demonstrate, even as all the charges against me and other anti-drone demonstrators have been dropped?  Because I believe that through nonviolent action we can be transformed and can contribute to the transformation of the world.

Our September 29 and 30 demonstrations at Beale will be one of over 160 nonviolent actions taking place later this month around the country and around the world.  These locally-organized actions are being coordinated with Campaign Nonviolence, and are focused on calling for an end to war, poverty, and climate change.  Linking of these three critical issues helps to reveal the systemic causes of the grave dangers of our age.

These three evils are intertwined in so many ways, in both cause and effects.  For example, war unleashes blood lust and creates carnage while consuming resources that could be invested in education, health care, renewable energy, job creation, and services that could create a strong society and lift the poor out of poverty.  Modern warfare, dependent on fossil fuels for high-tech weaponry, is also a big contributor to climate change.

Meanwhile, the poor and vulnerable are generally hit first and worst by both war and climate change. They not only suffer the immediate effects of war and extreme weather events caused by climate change, they also lack the resources and political power to escape these crises.

The most obvious way that war, poverty, and climate change are related is that they are exacerbated by a global free market capitalist system that is destroying both human life and the natural systems of the earth.  Economic globalization, dominated by global corporations, is based on the concept of unlimited growth.  Such growth creates extremes of wealth and poverty and depends upon the increasing use of fossil fuels which cause climate change.  Climate change is high on the Pentagon and CIA’s lists of threats to national security, and resource wars are already being waged.  “No blood for oil” has been a refrain of peace activists for decades.  As climate change continues to accelerate, “water wars” will also increase.

Modern high-tech warfare, poverty, and climate change are not the outcome of a natural social evolution, but the predictable result of a global system of domination built upon the values of profit, prestige, and power over others, a system designed to harness human energy and exploit the gifts of the earth for the sake of the few.  This system is created by human beings and is sustained by our common consent.  When we the people withdraw our consent, the system will not be able to stand, and transformation will happen.

As Joanna Macy said, “Action is the antidote to despair.”  One of the personal benefits of nonviolent action is the knowledge that at least you are doing what you can to help turn things around.  Such action also plugs you in to a global community of people who are taking action for a peaceful, just, and ecologically sustainable world and helping to bring it about.  Through coordinated nonviolent action we can be transformed and we can be agents of transformation in the world.

 

Find out more about our planned September actions at Beale.

Stay informed and updated.  Follow Sharon’s blog by clicking the “Follow Sharon Delgado” button at the right or by “liking” the Shaking the Gates of Hell FaceBook page.  Go to the Occupy Beale Air Force Base Facebook page or Occupy Beale website for updates on this court case, background information, and announcements about upcoming Beale demonstrations and direct actions.

 

 

Resolution on Natural World Investment Screen

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Resolution in support of an investment screen expressing United Methodist Social Principles on The Natural World.

Passed by the 2014 California-Nevada Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church

Whereas unintended consequences deriving from attempted directives to divest from certain industries for social purposes include the possibility of legal liability for the violation of trust agreements, and

Whereas the United Methodist Church has had a strong and historic positive experience guiding investment decisions by adopting screens within its investment policy that state principled objectives rather than “picking stocks”, and

Whereas the Social Principles are organized into sections (The Natural World (160), The Nurturing Community (161), The Social Community (162), The Economic Community (163), The Political Community (164), The World Community (165)) and the first of them, The Natural Community has heretofore not been represented within the United Methodist system of investment screens, and

Whereas the desire to reflect our social principles in investment applies not only to General Agency funds, but also to Annual Conference Foundations and other endowments, United Methodist institutions and local churches,

Therefore Be it Resolved that the California Nevada Annual Conference Committee on Advocacy and Justice, Conference Board of Pensions, and Council on Finance and Administration convene a consultative process with the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits to explore an investment screen which would guide United Methodists’ investment decisions specifically related to The Natural World (¶160) section of the Social Principles, and

Be It Further Resolved that the goal of the consultative process be a progress report at the 2015 California Nevada Annual Conference Session and the timely submission of General Conference legislation for the denomination as a whole.

 

Find out more about  efforts by United Methodists around the country to divest from fossil fuels at the Fossil Free UMC website or Fossil Free UMC FaceBook Page.