Why support divestment? Because our neighbours are counting on us


by Ben Kurzman, youth activist

I’m representing a group of teenage Christians who recently took first steps into the climate movement. We are so concerned by climate change that we are taking on the fossil fuel companies. And this is why we are calling for the Church of Scotland to divest from the fossil fuel industry.

Climate change is having a real and devastating human impact right now. This June I was a delegate at the Global Power Shift Youth Climate Conference in Istanbul. I had the good fortune to make friends with Starling Konainao of the Solomon Islands and his stories put climate change in perspective.

This year’s spring tides have been a very difficult time for the people of the low lying Pacific Islands. The rise in sea levels has greatly increased the height of the spring tide resulting in an inundation, destroying homes business and livelihoods. The salt water is contaminating drinking water causing sickness and damaging agriculture. Vegetation and trees are being washed away leaving the coastal population vulnerable to erosion. And all the while the waves are getting higher and islands homes washed away. Very soon whole nations in the Pacific may be forced into being climate change refugees.

I considered these troubling human consequences and I thought about it terms of my Christian faith and it reminded me of an important part of the bible. The commandment of Jesus to ‘Love your neighbour as you would yourself’.

Who is our neighbour? The man in the Pacific losing his country to sea level rise caused by climate change; the woman in Pakistan being forced from her home by more frequent and severe floods; and the child in the Horn of Africa that lose its life to famine triggered by drought due to changing weather patterns. They are your neighbours.

 Ben speaking at the Fossil Free Tour.

Ben speaking at the Fossil Free Tour. Photo: Ric Lander (Creative Commons)

The question is, do we in the Church of Scotland love our neighbour enough to take a moral stand on climate change and divest from fossil fuel companies?

That is the question that inspired a group of young Christians to start this campaign. We did some research and despite not being able to access all the data and we found that in 2012, according to the Church’s own investment review, the Church of Scotland had £7 million worth of investments in Shell, over £4 million in BP and over £4 million in BHP Billiton. Consider the effect these companies are having on our sisters and brothers across the planet and then consider the fact that we in the Church of Scotland are profiting from this. That’s just not neighbourly! It’s certainly not loving.

So we decided to hold an awareness raising event in our local church and we successfully encouraged ministers, elders and members of the congregation to support us.

With that support it was time to engage with Church officials. We decided unanimously, as a symbol of our intent, to walk into the Church HQ to voice our concerns. We were sent away with nothing but the main telephone number. This was disheartening but we had to remember what we were fighting for. Yes, we were campaigning for climate justice but we were also fighting for an open Church Administration, sensitive to the wishes of the youth. Perseverance brought progress and over time we found some very helpful people who listened and worked with us.

After months of building support through our divestment petition, we are now entering a new stage in the campaign. A couple of days ago, after much consideration, we presented our three demands to the investment committee and we intend for these to be debated and voted upon at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, here in this very hall in only a few months.

Our demands are:

1. Publishing a list of the Church’s investments in full, including those held by investment funds to ensure transparency and an open church.
2. The divestment of the Church from fossil fuel companies in line with the Church’s own ban on tobacco and arms companies.
3. A solid ethical oversight of the investments to ensure accountability.

We have gone to the heart of the powerful establishment and we have challenged them to do the right thing. But, friends, massive action is going to be needed if we are to win. We need many people to sign the petition, send emails to the trustees, and build support across Scotland and implement new creative tactics.

And we are not alone. We will be working in together with churches across the UK through Operation Noah, a Christian environmental organisation. They have recently launched a common divestment campaign called Bright Now.
Through our universities, our pension funds, local councils, places of worship and personal investments, we can make the ultimate vote to show our discontent with the fossil fuel industry by divesting. And why should we support this moral divestment campaign? Because our neighbours are counting on us.

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Ben Kurzman

After attending a youth climate change conference and meeting youth from across the globe, Ben decided it was time to take a moral stand on climate change. Along with a group of teenage Christians he is campaigning to get the Church of Scotland to divest its £15 million plus investments from the fossil fuel industry. He believes Churches should be at the forefront of fighting climate change. This blog post is an edited version of the speech he gave at the Fossil Free Tour in Edinburgh on 30th October 2013.