This is a cross-post from Catherine Skopic. Catherine is an Artist and Art Educator, having taught at Long Island University, C.W.Post Campus and in public school. She is the Chair of The Environmental Task Force of The Congregation of Saint Saviour, a Founding Member of RenewNEWYORK and an active member of NYU Divest (NYU class of 1971)

We’re faced with the warming of the planet, presently hotter than any of the past 600,000 years, according to records of temperature and CO2 atmospheric content left in the ice and discovered by scientists from the ice cores extracted in Greenland and Iceland.

We have left the Holocene Epoch and are now in the Anthropocene Epoch, meaning  man or person-made. Our activity has changed and interfered with the way this planet was designed to operate; and, whereas change is part of the natural order, unnatural order – extreme change – goes beyond what the planet can tolerate and still support life as it is now. We don’t know exactly where we are in this process; but we DO know we have disrupted earth’s natural system of protective atmospheric layers by putting excessive amounts of carbon dioxide – fossil fuels – and methane into the atmosphere causing a greenhouse effect, or, global warming, more gently referred to as “climate change.”.

Although this fact has been known for decades, it is only recently that over 95% of all scientists globally agree that this earth warming is due to the burning of fossil fuels.

This being the case, it behooves each and every person, organization, corporation and government to do what can be done to remedy this situation by reducing or eliminating their use of fossil fuels. We have already seen warning signs of earth’s having reached its limit to absorb carbon dioxide: melting polar ice, rising sea levels, ocean acidification, dying coral reefs, flooding, drought, extreme weather events, fires, food, water shortages.

Although millions of people world-wide are actively working on this problem, what is it that prevents everyone and even more immediate, wide-spread, definitive precautionary action to prevent “the climate cliff”? I can’t answer for each person; but we do know that although there is greater acceptance of global warming, not everyone believes it is due to the use of fossil fuels. The connection between scientific data to this effect and earth’s own signs of extreme weather events with resultant loss of life are being seen by most but not understood by everyone. Some people – understandably – feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the problem, as in, “What can I, one person do to fix this massive problem?” or, “There are so many problems in the world; this is just one more – I’ll ‘tune out’ to messages of global warming.” Perhaps the most dangerous is the doubt the fossil fuel companies have strategically generated and continually place in the media, especially in   TV ads, news and talk shows, in newspapers. Our culture’s people are susceptible to such “misconceptions.” It’s easier to believe fossil fuels aren’t causing global warming, as then  “I don’t have to do anything to stop fossil fuels.” A misguided, false belief exists that “gas is the clean, plentiful fuel that will provide our energy needs.” Read the scientific study of Robert Howarth of Cornell University that examined this very question and found that from extraction to delivery, gas is more greenhouse gas producing than is coal.

Lack of knowledge causes barriers that must be overcome to prevent the climate cliff. Divesting from fossil fuels, we can have a positive impact on the situation, particularly if we reinvest divested monies in companies that are sustainable – better yet, if we invest in renewable energy!. Some people believe it is entirely possible – if we act intelligently and quickly enough – that, as we have gotten ourselves into this mess, we can get ourselves out of it; and, divestment is one of many tools we can use to help us do so. But here, there are barriers, as well. I will discuss some of these shortly.

“Why divest from fossil fuels to address climate change?” one may ask. Being an entirely new situation, we don’t have precise examples to draw upon for solutions; but we do have similar situations that can give us inspiration. One of these is the dismantling of the racist, discriminatory process of apartheid in South Africa, that Episcopalian Bishop Tutu has said came about for two reasons: 1) protests within the country and 2) divestment outside the country – divestment from corporations in South Africa. These two together broke the back of apartheid. One example of this latter would be what may have been the largest divestment action by any single parish in the United States when, in February of 1986, Trinity’s vestry voted to divest holdings of about $100 million.

An acquaintance of mine, in response to this comparison, said, “Yes, but dismantling apartheid and halting climate change cannot be compared – they are like apples and oranges.” He is right – they are not the same in many ways, especially in one – apartheid’s racist, oppressive, discriminatory process affected one race of people in one part of the world – climate change affects all races of people in all parts of the world – it affects life as we know it on this planet – even if some people aren’t aware of or willing to accept it. .

When one looks at the statistics of people who have suffered and/or died around the world from the affects of global warming, it is clear that this problem is serious enough to address with equal, even greater seriousness and urgency. For readers here in northeastern USA, for example, over 200 people lost their lives due to the super storm Sandy this past October 29th. People have died in Europe and here during heat waves. Many have lost their lives in floods. Global warming has globally caused normally wet areas to be wetter than usual and dry areas to be drier than usual; and the differences are becoming ever more extreme, causing famine, death, and people to become environmental refugees.

Quite a while ago, my Father, who helped instill in me my love of earth, gave me some Exxon stock. I was taken aback. I did not want to offend him by not accepting his gift but, as an environmentalist, did not see how I could, in all good conscience, own such stock. I thanked him, told him so and delayed the decision for a few years by acting on the possibility of affecting positive change from within the company. I could vote “Yes” on environmental resolutions. After a time, I felt as though this was doing no good. I was not affecting any positive change that I could see; and so, let go of the stock. Despite the loss of dividend checks, it was as if a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I wished I had gotten rid of the Exxon stock sooner.

Where possible, I would like to help others experience this “lifting of weight from their shoulders.” I would like to inspire others to divest from fossil fuel stocks in their portfolios. The tiniest shred of moral responsibility/conscience, can lead to bringing about a sense of freedom. After all, it’s easy enough to do. Stocks are traded continually every day on the stock exchange. One’s investments – personal,  institutional or corporate – can easily be rearranged. And wouldn’t it  be more wise, given our situation, to reinvest in the future of our planet by investing in sustainable companies and/or renewable energy?

There are, however, barriers to investing in renewable energy. Solutions are possible. The

CPI – Climate Policy Initiative – has several suggestions that would help surmount these barriers and make investing in renewable energy more desirable and practical, quote:

1. Fix policy barriers that discourage institutional investors from contributing to renewable energy projects.

2. Improve investment practices, including the building of direct investment teams and improving evaluation of investor tolerance for illiquid investments. However, such changes can run counter to the culture of the organizations and require careful consideration.

3. Identify and improve any regulatory constraints to renewable investment that can be modified without negatively impacting the financial security, solvency or operating costs of the pension funds or insurance companies.

4. Develop better pooled investment vehicles that can create liquidity, increase diversification and reduce transaction costs while maintaining the link to underlying cash flows from renewable energy projects.

5. If the concern is raising enough finance rather than its cost, regulators and policymakers could shift from a project finance model to a corporate model for building renewable energy. Institutional investors could then increase investment in renewable energy through investment in utility and corporate stocks and bonds.

I include these here as total institution investment manages assets over $70 trillion that could provide a handsome – but not total – amount needed to convert to renewable energy.

Other barriers include policy uncertainty, investors not being used to construction risk so make this more workable, adequate funding for early-stage development such as off-shore wind. Here, I might add a glaring discrepancy in present US law that makes funding available to the fossil fuel industry for early-stage development that is not available to the renewable energy industry. This law could be changed to level the playing field. In some countries, there are differing tax incentives for generation and transmission, often giving tax breaks to pipeline construction. Funding for Green Banks could be increased.

These are technical, economic issues affecting reinvestment from fossil fuels. But there are other questions. Is divestment a moral, political or economic issue? It may be all 3.

For me, personally, it is a moral issue. The other two follow. The large amounts of money divested from companies operating in racist South Africa brought so much economic and financial pressure that apartheid finally collapsed. Could we collectively have such an affect on fossil fuel companies? Is this a goal of such action? Divestment is certainly an offensive action, causing, at the least, disruption and change in public opinion.. Or, does one divest from personal and organizational fossil fuel stocks for moral reasons – “Why invest in companies that are destroying life?” “Why are we paying for climate adaptation and investing in the companies that caused the problem in the first place?” Dysfunctional!

While colleges and universities throughout the United States are in the process of divestment, several having done so already, is not this something for the faith community to be exploring? As moral issues are, perhaps, closer to what the faith community is about, would not these groups be among the first to divest, as many of them were in South Africa? Could they, should they not be leading the way? The Unitarian Church has come to this conclusion and decided to divest from fossil fuels. Could more faith groups do this and/or at least support our college youth who are working so diligently to preserve their future, all future, our planet? Could we not work together on this urgent issue?

Divestment from fossil fuels is a relatively new idea, inspired by Bill McKibben, founder of, with his article in Rolling Stone magazine August 2012 and with his subsequent “Do the Math” tour across the US. James Hansen, our top US scientist who just retired from NASA, discovered that 350 parts per million of CO2 is the number we can safely have in our atmosphere to prevent the climate cliff, thus the name of the organization – We’re now dangerously at about 395 ppm CO2 and rising.

In addition to the long list of things we do to reduce use of fossil fuels –  walk or bike; use public transportation; make our homes, offices, places of worship and all buildings more energy efficient; use smart power strips; unplug electronics and small appliances when not in use; use energy saving light bulbs such as LEDs; create and observe our own low or no fossil fuel usage times/days weekly; eat less or no meat; buy locally with few miles on the produce/products; start your own gardens for herbs, vegetables, flowers – if only in containers; use airplanes only if and when absolutely necessary; if you must own a car or other vehicle, make sure it is a high MPG vehicle, such as a hybrid; support legislation that creates sustainability, protects us and our environments, creates green economies, supports development of renewable energy, bans pollution in all forms, supports local, clean development, creates permanent, green jobs – in addition to all these and the many more things we do to reduce use of fossil fuels, HUGE DIFFERENCES in the amount of CO2 we are putting into the atmosphere are needed urgently, if we are to avoid the climate cliff. Everyone‘s help is tantamount to the success of this major undertaking.

Divest from fossil fuels personally, organizationally, following a modest, 5-year program: Year 1 – purchase no more fossil fuel stock; Years 2-5 – gradually let go of  your fossil fuel stock and reinvest in sustainable and renewable energy where possible.

You’ll be glad you did – future generations will be glad you did!

Respectfully and in PEACE,

Catherine Skopic