The leadership of Union Theological Seminary in New York City has decided to divest its entire $108.4 million endowment away from conventional fuels such as oil, coal, and natural gas—the rationale being that conventional fuels are sinful because of the alleged role they play in hastening climate change.
If this is the case, it would seem that most Americans this morning are guilty of “sinning” simply by trying to get to work or by transporting their kids to school.
While Union has every right to make this decision, its reasoning is uninformed and misguided and has costly unintended consequences on society, especially the poor.
Union is the first seminary in the world to take this step for the sake of the planet. Other universities have been joining this divestment movement, but now there seems be a spiritual component amidst the efforts to eschew conventional fuels. Union’s trustees made the unanimous decision based on their understanding that “‘the wages of sin is death,’ and this could not be more literally true than it is in the case of fossil fuels.” Union’s president, Serene Jones, had more to say:
As vulnerable communities have been swallowed by rising shorelines, as potable water has become a commodity of increasing rarity, as hundreds of thousands of people have been killed by violent weather, it is ever clear that humanity’s addiction to fossil fuels is death-dealing.
Strong words, but the rhetoric is filled with bad assumptions and misleading statements. For instance, sea levels are rising, but they’ve been doing that since the close of the last ice age. However, the rate at which the seas were predicted to rise has not come to fruition. It has actually slowed down. Moreover, violent weather induced by climate change has not caused increased numbers of deaths. Violent weather has always existed, but there is broad scientific agreement that such weather isn’t becoming more common.
Conventional fuels are a key to economic growth, prosperity, and human flourishing. Think about the economic explosion that’s taking place in North Dakota. Its economy has doubled in 11 years. This boom found a catalyst in conventional fuels—oil and natural gas. There are billions of people around the world whose quality of life would be greatly improved by just a portion of this economic growth and the reliable, affordable electricity generated from conventional fuels.
One wonders if Jones and Union will also refuse to use electricity generated by conventional fuels, which nationally generates around 80 percent of America’s electricity. But to Jones, the good things that are happening in North Dakota don’t matter. “We have sinned, and we see this divestment as an act of repentance for Union,” she declares. Divestments are probably only the beginning for penance.