Last Saturday, I was proud to speak in favor the fossil fuel divestment resolution at the General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA).
An overwhelming majority of the General Assembly voted in favor of the resolution. Following the vote, UUA issued a press release in which UUA President Peter Morales said:
The UUA has a long-standing history of fighting for our environment. I am proud that we are going to put our money where our values are on this issue.
This victory was the result of the hard work of many Unitarian Universalists. As a member of the UUA Committee on Socially Responsible Investment (CSRI), I have spent almost a year working with UU Divest, the group originally promoting the divestment resolution, my fellow committee members, and UUA staff including the Treasurer and CFO, Tim Brennan. What we accomplished is unique and worthy of consideration by other religious investors.
The resolution concerns the Unitarian Universalist Common Endowment Fund, a $173 million fund that includes the investments of the Unitarian Universalist Association, affiliated UU organizations, and approximately 300 member congregations.
When the issue of fossil fuel divestment was promoted at last year’s General Assembly, I was largely opposed to it. The UUA is a leader in shareholder activism to halt climate change. I felt strongly it made no sense to simply sell our fossil fuel company to another investor that likely did not care about this critical problem.
Over the course of a year of careful negotiation with the divestment proponents, I began to change my position. Key to the success of negotiation was each side’s recognition that we were all part of the movement to halt climate change. Everyone began to realize that this was a discussion between friends and allies and the only real differences were over tactics to reach the common goal of halting climate change.
There was a key shift in the framing of the discussion. When we started the debate, the question was framed as: should the UUA EITHER divest OR continue its shareholder activism against the fossil fuel companies? The turning point came when we changed the frame of the discussion to: how should the UUA BOTH divest AND do shareholder activism?
That brought us to the consensus resolution language in which the UUA both joins the movement to divest from the fossil fuel companies while also retaining a limited, specific, and decreasing number of holdings for the purpose of shareholder activism. Even more crucial was that the resolution passed UUA legal review through the inclusion of language ensuring that the UU Common Endowment Fund divest stock according the UUA’s fiduciary duty and using sound investment practices.
The UUA resolution should be viewed as model language for other religious institutions that also use shareholder activism on help halt climate change. This resolution safeguards the UUA’s critical shareholder activism while adding another powerful voice to the fossil fuel divestment movement.
When I spoke in support of the resolution, I remarked how our process in crafting an effective resolution represented the best in the values and democratic practices of Unitarian Universalism. I have never been more proud of my denomination and fellow UU members.