Socially Responsible Investment, Climate Change, and Environmental Justice

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By investing in positive climate solutions and ensuring environmental safeguards, we foster hope for a just and sustainable future for all beings and our planet.  

     The 2006 Statement of Conscience on the Threat of Global Warming/Climate Change issued a call “to join with others to halt practices that fuel global warming/climate change, to instigate sustainable alternatives, and to mitigate the impending effects of global warming/climate change with just and ethical responses.” The many practices and actions pledged to then include the use of personal, congregational and denominational financial resources in ways that encourage corporate social responsibility and positively address the global warming/climate change crisis.

     The statement also suggested personal practices and congregational actions such as reducing consumption through energy efficiencies and commitment to lives of simplicity, and using alternative energy in order to encourage the development of such sources. Advocacy goals included funding for research and development of renewable energy resources and energy-efficient technologies that includes a shift of federal subsidies from fossil fuel industries to renewable energy technologies and improved energy efficiency; safe and responsible development of power sources with low greenhouse gas emissions; and policies and practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including setting national GHG emissions targets and supporting legislation at the local and state levels.

     That’s a tall order! What, then, are the best strategies and tactics for faith-based socially responsible investors to use in tackling such a major issue as climate change? Given that the largest contributors to climate change are the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, and methane release, these would be among the areas ethical investors might use their collective power productively. Investors might consider investment purchases and shareholder advocacy that focus on reducing levels of fossil fuel extraction and burning, reducing rates of deforestation connected to timber, soybean and palm plantations, and cattle ranching, and reducing methane emissions connected to oil and gas development and industrialized feedlots. Reducing the contributions these industrial practices make to ongoing climate change is a part of the solution.

At the same time, casting a vision for a sustainable, low carbon economy is an imperative. We would do well to remember these words from Wendell Berry’s address at General Assembly 2013,

Wendell Berry Speaking at GA 2013         “We must understand that fossil-fuel energy must be replaced not just by clean energy, but also by less energy. The unlimited use of any energy would be as destructive as unlimited economic growth or any other unlimited force. If we had a limitless supply of free non-polluting energy, we would use the world up even faster than we're using it up now.

         If we're not in favor of limiting the use of energy, starting with our own use of it, we're not serious. If we're not in favor of rationing energy, starting with the fossil fuels, we're not serious.

         If we have the money and we're not willing to pay $2 to keep the polluting industries from getting $1, we're not serious.”

     Investing in a clean energy economy, and in energy efficient and sustainable practices in industry, forestry, agriculture, and other areas may move us towards the world we envision. Well-chosen community investments allow those of all incomes in all communities to be a part of these solutions, and trade their disproportionate share of negative environmental impacts for a better future.

     Shareholder advocacy, while criticized at times for not being “enough” or “not working” in critical times, does play an important role in encouraging change in industry and corporate practices and policies. Until such time as energy companies produce only clean energy, our shareholder advocates may be among our best allies for corporate accountability and improved behaviors. Shareholder activists also help shape public awareness and perception of the challenges and solutions.

     Investors new to socially responsible investing or shareholder advocacy, including individual and smaller investors, can add their voices and votes by holding SRI mutual funds and/or affiliating with SRI investment managers or firms. UU congregations, of course, can opt to use the UU Common Endowment Fund.

     Together, by embracing the major tenets of socially responsible investing, and combining our resources with our energies and commitment to a just and equitable society and planet, we can move forward in a positive direction.

The generosity of individual donors and members make the work of UU Ministry for Earth possible. Please consider making a donation today to help us continue this important endeavor. Thank you.