Katie McCloskey featured in ClimateWire article

January 30, 2014

Katie McCloskey has had a busy week! ClimateWire is the latest publication to discuss the fossil fuels resolution with her. Read the following article by Nathanael Massey — 

Resolution in place, United Church of Christ mulls climate action from the congregation up (Tuesday, January 28, 2014)

Nathanael Massey, E&E reporter

By the time the Rev. Jim Antal’s resolution to divest from fossil fuels reached the General Synod of the United Church of Christ (UCC) last summer, it was a far cry from the motion he’d help pass in his home state of Massachusetts eight months earlier.

The original resolution, modeled closely on a pledge put forward by climate action group 350.org, called for full divestment from fossil fuels within five months. The resolution put to the Synod ­­ which would eventually pass with 72 percent of the vote in favor ­­ set out a multipronged approach to climate action involving shareholder engagement, an optional fossil­fuel free investment fund and a call for action on the individual level.

By June 2018, the church’s financial branches plan to divest from all but “best in class” fossil fuel companies with a track record of better­than­average environmental stewardship.

The alterations, which were added to the original resolution by an investment arm of the church in participation with Antal, reflect many of the themes and arguments that have tailed the divestment movement, launched by 350.org in 2012, as it has gained traction in universities, churches and other institutions around the country.

While a host of student groups and many congregations have pushed the institutions above and around them to shed ties to fossil fuels, the size of the resources in question ­­ university endowments, church assets and even some pension funds ­­ means that other voices, some of which question the utility of divestment, the role of shareholder advocacy or the movement’s possible conflict with the fiduciary duties of institutions, have been amply represented (ClimateWire, Aug. 9, 2013).

In the UCC, congregations “are all over the place in terms of both the actions they’re taking and the actions they’re contemplating,” said Antal, who is president of the Massachusetts Conference of the UCC. Some may elect to divest entirely, or partially. Others may take advantage of the other options detailed in the Synod resolution.

The Congregationalist nature of the church, in which individual congregations own their own buildings and investments and participate with the larger church community through regional and national councils, means that recommendations from the upper echelons of the church have little traction unless they are accepted by the members and congregations that make up the church’s base, he said.

Tools that fit all hands

Katie McCloskey, director of social responsibility for the United Church Funds (UCF), an investment arm of the UCC, echoed the sentiment. “The Congregationalist history of the UCC really does create multivariate ways of acting,” she said. “We have some churches that care deeply about the issue [of climate change], and others that are more ambivalent.

“Our job is to provide congregations with tools they can use, no matter where they sit on the issue,” she added.

While bodies like regional conferences have some limited funds of their own, the majority of the church’s wealth is spread out among individual congregations, many of which manage their own investments. About a fifth of congregations elect to have their assets managed by UCF.

“If [congregations] want to work through us, that’s certainly an option,” said McCloskey. The UCF will be adding a fossil fuel­free option for its investors as part of its climate action program, she said.

None of that plurality runs particularly counter to the goals of the divestment movement, said Anatal.

“The point of the movement was never purity ­­ it’s about witness. It’s about revoking the social license of fossil fuel companies,” he said. That the 5,200 congregations that make up the UCC nationwide could begin talking about climate change and weighing their options to deal with it is itself a kind of victory, he said.

For his own part, Anatal still argues that divestment is the most accurate response to fossil fuel companies.

“The problem with these companies isn’t that they’re doing something wrong, and we’re trying to pressure them to get it right,” he said. “The problem is that their business plan is fundamentally flawed. They’re making profits by digging carbon out of the ground, and that’s just not compatible with life on the planet.”

Reprinted from ClimateWire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net. 202/628-6500

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