It’s time to divest

April 23, 2014 | Editorial | Volume 18 Issue 9
Dick Benner | Editor/Publisher

It’s been called the greatest human rights issue of our time. Or if that sounds too secular for Anabaptist Mennonites, let’s translate it to say it is the most pressing justice issue of our time.

We’re talking warming of the planet (an increase of 3 degrees Celsius predicted by 2050) that is not only bringing extreme weather to Canada, but, more importantly, to the developing world, where drought and flooding are bringing untold suffering to the poor and underprivileged, ruining much-needed crops for food and destroying homes at a rate unknown in the past.

This is not a political left versus right issue, not a secular versus religious issue, not an elitist issue that divides the haves from the have-nots. This is a profoundly serious matter that is affecting all living beings regardless of race, creed or location on the economic or educational scale. To deny it is happening, or to ignore the proven findings of science on the matter, is to be living in fantasy. Living through the extremes of this past winter is only some of the evidence that we are living in a more dangerous time.

But what specifically to do about it? Rather than wringing our hands and waiting for the next catastrophic weather event, we can take action—right now. It goes without saying that we are far too dependent on fossil fuels for our daily living: electricity for our homes, fuel for our vehicles, airplanes, trucks and other modes of transportation that criss-cross the country to meet our ever-growing demand for products and services.

There is a growing outcry against our fossil fuel industry which, charges environmentalist Bill McKibben, is the “richest and most arrogant industry the world has ever seen. The five largest oil companies alone made $137 billion in profits in 2012.”

This is a delicate issue. Much of Canada’s economy is based on extracting our rich deposits of crude oil, especially in Alberta. Many of our families earn their living, put bread on the table and give to their congregational church budgets from income derived from this system.

We don’t want to be flippant or arcane about the implications of our recommendations. This has to be addressed carefully and with sensitivity to our sisters and brothers, who should not be demonized for deriving their livelihood from the fossil fuel industry.

But there is a growing conviction among some of us that we must go beyond rhetoric and carefully-worded statements. We must take some action.

A small group of our sisters and brothers has drafted an open letter  to the leadership of Mennonite Church Canada that calls for fossil fuel divestment, joining an action taken by numerous schools and religious bodies across the continent. “Refusing to invest in the companies at the core of the fossil-fuel industry is an important way to address the climate crisis,” the letter states.

The group acknowledges the significant steps already taken. It praises MC Canada executive director Willard Metzger for his participation in the 2011 United Nations climate conference in Durban, South Africa, and for his work as a commissioner of the 2013 Saskatchewan Citizens’ Hearing on Climate Change that claimed global warming as a church priority.

FossilFreeMenno is calling on MC Canada leaders to commission a study that would provide specific options—based in part on what others have done—for fossil-fuel divestment. These options are for MC Canada itself, as well as other investing entities within the MC Canada family, including schools, non-governmental organizations and individual church members.

McKibben sees in us a supportive community of faith: “Mennonites are known in the Christian community for their peace witness. We need the Mennonite church to step up and engage the greatest issue of violence that humanity has ever faced—the destruction of the earth through human-induced climate change. The time has come to both speak and live for peace with costly action."

High-profile names have joined the movement. Archbishop Desmond Tutu added his voice in support of the growing divestment movement and called for an anti-apartheid style campaign against fossil fuel companies, which he blames for the “injustice” of climate change.

We join others in signing the open letter and others in this specific action to stop global warming. Will you?

See also:

Will you sign up to be a ‘FossilFreeMenno’?
Peace walk focuses on the impact of oil (story and video)

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Congratulations on taking the lead to jumpstart this important discussion. Mennonite congregations in the Faith & the Common Good / Greening Sacred Spaces network have always been leaders in interfaith collaboration around actions to heal our planet. I am delighted to see that the same is proving true with regard to climate change!

Thank you for your faith, hope, and effort in creating a greener, healthier future for us all.

-- Dr. Lucy Cummings / Faith & the Common Good

How wonderful that Mennonites are carefully showing leadership on this issue! My own organization (Citizens for Public Justice) would appreciate knowing if there is, in the tremendous tradition of Mennonite ethical investment work, an institution where funds could be placed with the assurance that the 200 largest GHG emitters are not included in the asset mix.

I can't express how good it feels to read Dick Benner"s It's Time to Divest. Working in the world of Science, these words of warning have been going out for years. Yet I have seen only small voices shouting out this warning within the church. These voices have been doing a good job, but they are hardly mainstream within the Mennonite community. So what will it take for us to change? George Monbiot recently condemns North Americans for not wanting to stray from our consumptive lifestyles.

Benner starts his editorial saying this is a justice issue. An issue Mennonites feel closely aligned to. Could that finally be the hook that gets Mennonites to respond?
Henry J Rempel- Winnipeg

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