As reported over at the National Observer, the United Church of Canada—the country's largest group of Protestant churches—just voted to divest from fossil fuels. In total, the organization will be selling fossil fuel assets worth $5.9 million and, crucially, reinvesting those assets in clean energy companies instead.
True, given the unfathomable economic scale of our fossil fuel addiction, $5.9 million is not an awful lot of money. But this move should not be underestimated.
Here's why it matters:
1) The United Church of Canada is not alone. From the Church of England to the Rockefellers, a growing group of investors are reconsidering their exposure to fossil fuels
2) This sends a moral message. Now I am an atheist, but our culture still gets an awful lot of moral and ethical guidance from religious authorities. So when The Pope speaks out on climate change and religious institutions divest from fossil fuels, it inevitably erodes polluters' political and cultural standing to carry on with business-as-usual.
3) Divesting and investing are being coordinated together. True, if "ethical" investors simply remove their money from fossil fuels, the chances are that many other investors will be willing to take their place. But by putting that money into clean energy schemes instead, they are pushing a much more fundamental shift. $5.9 million means a lot more to (relatively) small solar and wind operations than it does to the likes of the tar sands giants.
4) This is not just an issue of ethics. Yes, the United Church of Canada rightly framed their decision in terms of a moral and religious responsibility to act on climate change. Still, with an increasing number of economists warning of fossil fuel investments becoming "stranded assets", there's a sound economic case to be made for divestment.
5) This is Canada. And Canada's leaders' reliance on tar sands to drive the economy may be one of the biggest economic miscalculations of our time, as Canadian tar sands operations are being hammered by plummeting oil prices. United Church of Canada can help drive that message home.
Something tells me this will not be the last divestment announcement we see.