Over the last few weeks, we’ve watched the fossil fuel divestment movement take off in religious communities across the country. Last week, the First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City and more than a hundred Evangelical Lutheran churches in Oregon announced that they supported fossil fuel divestment. Today, we got the news that the Unitarian Universalist South Church in Portsmouth, NH is taking up the cause as well! Here’s the news from Seacoast Online

City’s South Church divests from fossil fuel stocks

PORTSMOUTH — Following unanimous votes by its endowment committee, its « green sanctuary » committee and its social justice associates, the Board of Trustees of the Unitarian Universalist South Church last week voted to divest its holdings in fossil fuel stocks over the next five years.

South Church, which is believed to be the first church in the Portsmouth area to take this action, has joined a network of churches, colleges and universities and governments that are working to remove oil company stocks from their portfolios.

The nationwide and worldwide actions are led by the organization 350.org, which advocates for action on climate change issues. The concept is to create the same kind of systemic change that divestment in South African companies did for apartheid.

Locally, students at the University of New Hampshire and Phillips Exeter Academy are seeking their institution’s divestment. Dover Friends Meeting, the Quaker meetinghouse in Dover, is working on divestment as well, said Judy Miller, the chairwoman of the South Church green sanctuary and a member of a Portsmouth-area interfaith sustainability group.

Miller and her fellow green sanctuary member Hilary Clark, the York, Maine, area coordinator for 350.org, said the decision to approach their church came easily. Divestment of the church endowment fund « makes a moral statement that it is wrong to profit from the climate disruption of our planet. This is the strongest effort I know about for a global climate change movement, like the civil rights movement, » Miller said.

In fact, divestment is expected to be fairly easily accomplished with minimal financial consequences, said Irene Bush, endowment committee member. Endowment committees have a fiduciary responsibility to ensure there is a good rate of return on investment, so that funds are growing. That was certainly the case with the modest church endowment, Bush said.

« We had to do due diligence about whether we were being responsible to our endowment, » she said.

The committee’s investment adviser investigated the effects on their returns and « is convinced there is very little cost associated with the divestment of fossil fuels, » the committee wrote in its report to the Board of Trustees.

Carl Gerke of HeadInvest in Portland, Maine, cited a study indicating the expected return penalty of divestment is 0.003 percent. His approach is to spread the money over the committee’s remaining investments, giving consideration to maintaining the current portfolio yield.

« We’re pretty diversified, » Bush said. « I think there are some funds we have to look at closely in the next few years if we want to be totally pure. But, most of what we have is pretty clear. We’ve invested in a lot of different categories of stocks and one is fossil fuels. We’ll just change our investment strategy. »

She said the endowment committee enthusiastically endorsed the concept of divestment and said it was reassured by Gerke’s assessment. In the final analysis, the vote « came easily and unanimously. »