Can the UUA Divest from Fossil Fuels?


Last week Harvard President Drew Faust made it clear that Harvard won’t be divesting its endowment from the fossil fuel industry. Faust’s statement on divestment runs several paragraphs long but it can probably be summarized in one sentence: Harvard, and society as a whole, is too reliant on the fossil fuel industry to divest. Environmental activist and Unitarian Universalist seminarian Tim DeChristopher, who attends Harvard Divinity School, issued a rebuttal to President Faust that took her to task for remaining neutral during one of humanity’s greatest crises. DeChristopher’s statement is a reminder that President Faust’s refusal to divest doesn’t end the discussion. Environmental activists at Harvard will continue to increase the pressure on her for years to come. The anti-Apartheid divestment campaign took almost two decades to accomplish its goal. Despite the urgency of climate change, the fossil fuel divestment campaign will probably unfold over a similar timespan.

President Faust’s disappointing statement about divestment has had me thinking about divestment within Unitarian Universalism. My home congregation, First Parish in Cambridge, divested from fossil fuels last spring (we currently have a banner up reading “We divested from fossil fuels! Your turn, Harvard.”). The General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations (UUA) passed an Action of Immediate Witness (AIW) this year calling congregations to “Consider Divestment from the Fossil Fuel Industry.” While the AIW was a good first step it lacks teeth. It doesn’t require the UUA to do anything with its own funds or set any guidelines for the $150,000,000 UUA Common Endowment Fund.

I think it is time for the UUA to take a bolder step. The United Church of Christ has already divested from fossil fuels and the Massachusetts Episcopal Diocese is considering divesting. Under the current working rules of the General Assembly, I believe that at the 2014 Assembly delegates could strongly encourage, but not direct, the UUA administration to divest via a responsive resolution (in response to the UUA’s Financial Advisor’s report). The UUA Board could use the responsive resolution to set policy.

It would be a small step. The UUA doesn’t control that much money but it would be an important moral gesture. It would make it harder for people like President Faust, who run organizations with multibillion dollar endowments, to dimiss the campaign for divestment. In doing so it would help move the divestment campaign a little bit farther along.

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