PITTSFIELD, Maine – The Council of the First Universalist Church of Pittsfield, Maine, voted Sunday to sell its more than 1,600 shares of Exxon Mobil stock and pledged to make its entire portfolio free of fossil fuel stock within five years.
Among a growing number of city governments, colleges, institutions, and churches across the United States, the First Universalist Church of Pittsfield has embarked on a five-year pledge to divest its investment portfolio of the largest 200 coal, oil, and gas companies worldwide.
The church said in a press release that according to the investment professionals that manage their portfolio, the Exxon Mobil stock – generously bequeathed to the church years ago – represents too large a percentage of the church’s overall portfolio. The lack of investment diversity constitutes financial risk.
“But fossil-free investing is not about diversifying one’s portfolio to prevent financial risk,” said Council Member Holly Zadra who led the effort. The grassroots divestment strategy heralded by student activists, writer Bill McKibben, and http://www.350.org focuses on “a different kind of risk – the risk that burning too many fossil fuels in an already overburdened system endangers everything – people, plants, animals, food, water and the relatively predictable climate in which those things have flourished.”
First Universalist Church of Pittsfield the Rev. Margaret Beckman said in the press release, “We concluded that we wanted to move toward values-based investing and away from financial return-only considerations. Our vote is a true reflection of our Unitarian Universalist values and the way that we, as a congregation, want to be in the world.”
Zadra said, “Divestment is partly symbolic, partly strategic. The movement aims to revoke the social license extended to the companies who continue to wreak havoc on the planet while spending billions lobbying governments and buying legislators that keep renewable and locally-generated energy out of the equation.”
A list of the 200 largest fossil fuel companies on which the fossil-free campaign focuses can be found at http://www.carbontracker.
org/wp-content/uploads/ downloads/2012/08/Unburnable- Carbon-Full1.pdf
But not everyone on the council agrees with the move. Council Treasurer Priscilla Jones cast the lone vote against divestment. She said, “I believe this divestment movement is based on a false premise. Fossil fuels improve the quality of peoples lives and will for many years to come.”
Within the Church Council the democratic process reigns, and a 10-to-1 vote means the motions passed.
In a church that includes among its Seven Principles “respect for the interdependent web of all existence,” investment is both a moral and financial decision. Finance Chairman John Burgess said it was important that the church invest in ways “that more closely reflect our values and ethics.”
He said, “This is a big step for us to take, and I am proud of the church council for acting boldly on this matter.”
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