Going Fossil Free and Investing Green
On the of the biggest campaigns of 350.org is its Fossil Free campaign (http://gofossilfree.org/) which seeks to have many institutions including religious one divest their holdings from 200 publically held companies that hold 200 publicly-traded companies hold the largest amount of the world’s carbon-based energy reserves. The campaign, which has become quite successful in organizing on college campuses, is demanding that those companies stop any further exploration for new carbon-based energy reserves, cease from political lobbying on the state and national level to preserve their tax breaks and subsidies (and which take away government funds from renewal energy sources), and pledge to keep 80% of their current reserves in the ground indefinitely. It has also been shown that many of these companies are funding the disinformation campaigns about climate change by science deniers.
There are many in the Jewish environmental movement who rightly say that Jewish institutions should be part of this campaign because of Jewish economic and environmental ethics. Since we believe that the Torah allows us to use Creation only in a careful and responsible way, then we should be investing in green energy and not energy that is undoing Creation.
There is also ample material in Jewish business and economic ethics that could be explored to deal with the issues of investing in a company that is creating and selling a product that is harmful to human health in both its manufacture and use. Since in Jewish ethics we are responsible for the harm we do others in both direct and indirect ways, we might conclude that investing in such companies makes us partners in the harm they perpetrate. I admit, however, that this is a very complex issue and to my knowledge there has not been much work done on the intersection of Jewish environmental ethics with Jewish economic and business ethics. Also, there is a strong case here that the production of carbon-based energy has created many situations of environmental injustice. This may be, in fact, a whole new area of Jewish environmental ethics. I am presently at work on this myself but I think that many other Jewish environmentalists should produce materials.
One of the biggest problems in getting involved in the 350.org campaign is the terminology. In the Jewish community today, many are very uncomfortable with the use of the term “divestment” because of its association with the BDS movement (Boycott, Divest and Sanctions of Israel). Even though Jewish organizations were in the forefront of previous divestment campaigns against South Africa for apartheid, Sudan for Darfur and even against companies that cut down old growth forests, today divestment is such a divisive word that its use in any environmental campaign would likely doom it from the start.
Thus we must seek other language in being part of one the most active and important environmental campaigns in the USA at the present time. We should perhaps instead emphasize the positive and talk about “green investing.” I think that it is time that Jewish environmentalism steps up and gets serious about challenging the way the Jewish community does business.