Environmental activists have something to cheer about after the United Church of Canada, the country's second-largest Christian denomination, voted to divest its shares in any and all fossil fuel companies. The church has also decided to "commit financially to transitioning to an economy based on renewable energy."
The church-wide vote took place after conferences in Manitou, Toronto, and Alberta put forward proposals regarding the church's involvement with fossil fuels. From the church's press release:
During the debate on the issue, commissioners voiced concern for people in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and elsewhere who will need support to transition away from economies that are presently so dependent on fossil fuels.
The General Council Executive will now chart the path for the Treasury to sell its holdings of the world's 200 largest fossil fuel companies, and to take active steps to re-invest those assets in green renewable energy co-operatives. Currently these holdings constitute $5.9 million, or 4.7 percent of the United Church of Canada Treasury.
Divesting from problematic companies and industries is a protest tactic with a long history, although it is arguably best-known as being one-third of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaign that played an important role in bringing an end to the apartheid government of South Africa. There is a growing BDS movement intended to end the Israeli occupation of Palestine (which is supported by many, though not all, veterans of the South African apartheid struggle).
The call to divest from fossil fuels to promote a more sustainable economic system has also been gaining attention around the world recently, with several universities approving motions similar to the one the United Church voted on this week.
The United Church is a Canada-specific denomination and has, from its inception in the 1920s, supported social justice–related causes. It was formed by members of the Presbyterian, Methodist, and Congregational churches in the prairies, and follows a rather loose doctrine just a degree or two more conventional than Unitarianism. When the Great Depression hit Canada, the prairie farmers who made up a large portion of United Church members were hit hard, and many in the church advocated for a radical Christian socialist approach to both religion and community.
With that history, this latest move is perhaps unsurprising. Still, while the divestment movement has won a number of coups in recent years, it's a fledgling movement at best. The United Church has moved to the vanguard of climate justice with this motion.
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