By Daniel Macmillen, Rob Abrams and Sam Alston on behalf of the campaign, Oil Vay – The Jewish Climate Change Action Newtork
Not a week goes by in which there is not a reference in the Jewish community to a looming existential threat. But rarely do we envision that threat being what many recognise as the greatest challenge posed to the continual survival of all peoples: climate change.
Although an array of Jewish initiatives work to encourage sustainable consumer habits, plant swathes of forest, educate around ecology, and advocate for more robust government policies, very few are joining the dots and directly confronting the central culprit of our climate crisis: the fossil fuel industry.
In April 2013, a number of financial and energy experts from the Carbon Tracker Initiative issued a stark warning to the world. In a report, they calculated the potential carbon emissions that the world’s top 200 fossil fuel companies could release and compared them to the amount of carbon that would be safe to release into the atmosphere over the next 50 years.
Their conclusions, seconded by a number of established institutions such as the International Energy Agency, were staggering: the fossil fuel industry has five times more carbon in its reserves than scientists say it is safe to burn. If we want to avoid drastic temperature rises and catastrophic impacts on our ecosystems, we need to keep 80 percent of all known fossil fuel reserves in the ground. In starker terms, this means that the business plan of the fossil fuel industry, if followed through, will extinguish the only liveable planet we know of.
Fossil fuel companies have recklessly refused to heed the warnings and initiate an immediate transition away from oil, coal, and gas. Instead, they have actively delayed a meaningful response to climate change, selling off their renewable assets, investing in even dirtier fossil fuels (like fracking gas or tar sands oil), and spending millions to lobby politicians and obfuscate climate science.
But their entrenched power is being challenged by an emergent international divestment movement, determined to keep the oil in the soil and move money towards localised renewable energy projects. The movement has already driven large-scale change, with dozens of city councils, foundations and universities committing to shed their stock holdings in the fossil fuel industry. Even the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, whose vast wealth originates in the oil industry, resolved to rid its portfolio of fossil fuel assets in September.
A growing number of religious groups and denominations, from the World Council of Churches to the Church of Sweden, have also decided to pull their money away from fossil fuels.
Yet in the Jewish world, progress has been limited. Although organisations like the Shalom Center have taken steps in the direction of divestment, and over one hundred rabbis and cantors have called upon Jewish institutions “to review investment portfolios and redirect funds to sustainable energy investment”, no single Jewish group has fully committed to sever its financial links to fossil fuels.
We must urgently ignite conversations in our communities about the morality of our money, starting with a simple question: is it compatible for our temples, congregations, schools and representative bodies to sustain themselves on the profits of an industry currently underwriting the destruction of our planet?
Justice for future generations and environmental stewardship are fundamental principles in Jewish liturgy and tradition, but they mean little if not imbued into the very fabric of our institutions.
As global momentum builds, we can no longer drag our feet. It’s time to divest.