At October 2013 Quarterly Meeting, Tom Jackson speaks on Divestment and Climate Change

report by Paula Kline of Westtown MM

At the October Concord Quarterly Meeting held at Westtown Monthly Meeting, our program focused on climate change and the question of Quaker investments. We hosted Friend Tom Jackson from Dover Meeting in New Hampshire. A letter of introduction was read from his Meeting.

He shared with us the journey taken by Dover Meeting in light of their concern for God's creation. In the context of a short series of workshops, members of the Meeting were given the chance to learn more about Meeting's finances. During these workshops, a number of Friends expressed their concern over making sure that Meeting's investments were consistent with Quaker values. Specifically, they expressed concern for climate change and the Friends testimonies on economic stewardship and stewardship of the natural world. Members of Dover Friends expressed an interest in divesting from any significant holdings in the fossil fuel industry. Tom reviewed the investments that most Friends have already divested from, including tobacco, weapons, gambling, alcohol and for profit prisons. Through divestment or exclusion Friends have withdrawn their consent from businesses that do great harm. In the case of fossil fuels,  their current business model that puts all of life in jeopardy.  Friends are encouraged to contribute to the creation of a nonviolent movement that aims to shift away from complete dependence on fossil fuels and towards a low carbon future.

Tom shared that the Meeting learned  Dover Friends Meeting's holdings in a Vanguard fund did have significant amounts of fossil fuel stock. The Meeting reached unity that it was not consistent with their values and they divested of the shares, putting the money into a fund that has no fossil fuel holdings. Dover Monthly Meeting wishes to share with other Monthly Meetings, their belief that it is time for Quakers to take a similar step toward a a more ecologically balanced future.

Tom discussed his own personal journey of being confused by whether or not climate change was real. His inquiry led him to undertake a series of interviews with climate scientists which led to the production of a documentary entitled Out of Balance:Exxon Mobil's Impact on Climate Change. His research indicated that Exxon and other fossil fuel companies funded campaigns to intentionally create public confusion, as the tobacco companies had done regarding the dangers of smoking.

Tom then reported that since Dover's Minute, Friends Fiduciary has divested from coal and coal dependent utilities, from Exxon Mobil and a number of the other large oil companies. They are also creating a fossil free fund which will be available in January. The Cambridge (Mass) Meeting has also passed a divestment minute. Quaker Earthcare Witness (QEW) will have a page dedicated to Quaker investing on their website. The November/December issue of BeFriending Creation focuses on divestment. Britain Yearly Meeting has also recommended disinvestment.

 Tom's ministry was followed by a question and answer period.

Paula Kline, of Westtown Meeting's Peace and Justice Committee gave a summary of the most most recent climate information and its relation to investments. A summary follows:

Carbon Budget

“If the world is to limit global warming to 2C, it must keep greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to under 450 parts per million. We are currently at 392, and rising fast. To have a good (80%) chance of staying within the 2C limit, that means the world can emit only another 565 gigatons of carbon dioxide. But global fossil fuel reserves are much bigger than that, equivalent to 2,795 gigatons, or five times the safe amount. In other words, we can only avoid devastating climate change if we keep most of the world's fossil fuels, including almost all of its coal, in the ground.”If fossil fuel companies simply carry out their stated mission of  burning  these reserves before the end of the century, CO2 will reach 866ppm (we are now at 400), and global temperature will rise over 5° Celsius.  

Carbon Bubble

Fossil fuel companies  are currently spending $674 billion each year to find and develop yet more reserves. The “easy” or virtually free oil and gas is gone and finding new reserves requires extreme measures – like mountaintop removal, deep sea and arctic dilling, tar sands and fracking. All these unconventional fuels also have higher carbon dioxide emissions rates.

 Fossil fuel companies raise money from pension funds, lenders, and other investors and use the capital to develop more reserves. When we invest, we do so assuming that the fuel will be extracted leading to sales of gas, oil and coal sales and generating revenues, but the financial analysts began putting two and two together and understood that carbon limits must be introduced to maintain any hope/possibility of a stable climate. When these carbon limits are introduced, to keep the temperature below 2C, that will require that less fuel be consumed and reserves will become what are called stranded or toxic assets that no longer provide returns. Carbon Tracker Initiative concluded that if companies keep spending at the same level over the next decades, listed companies alone would own more carbon than the budget for the whole century and that 6.74 trillion dollars of capital expenditure could be wasted developing unburnable reserves So the second new message: Investors need to know they are being exposed to this carbon bubble so that their capital can diverted to low carbon growth.

Each Meeting in Concord Quarter has (or will) receive a copy of Out of Balance. They will also receive a series of possible queries, more background on the divestment movement and answers to frequently asked questions.

Westtown Monthly Meeting will work with Quarter Clerks to discuss a response to Dover Meeting.

For more information on Tom Jackson's films on environmental and peace issues go to:


Posted on November 10, 2013 .