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Essay: Why people of faith are saying no to fossil fuels

Australia Parramatta prayer service

THEA ORMEROD, chair of the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change, looks at why faith-based organisations are moving their money out of fossil fuel investments and into “climate solutions”…

Sydney, Australia

Jesus referred to money as “that filthy thing” and seemed more interested in His followers giving it away, but the ethics around money are quite complex in our time. Christians and others interested in living ethically are becoming increasingly interested in ensuring that the money we entrust to financial institutions is doing good and not doing harm. 

Faith-based organisations have thus instructed those managing their finances to avoid investments in gambling, abortifacients, armaments manufacture and the like. In the last 10 years, concern to avoid investments in fossil fuel-intensive industries has grown.

Australia Parramatta prayer service

Students from Our Lady of Mercy College in Parramatta and Catherine McAuley Westmead attend a multi-faith prayer service held at St Patrick’s Catholic Cathedral, Parramatta, Sydney, on 9th March .PICTURE: Michael O’Farrell

Why fossil fuel divestment?
After decades of predictions, humanity is now experiencing the impacts of global heating in the form of rising sea levels, super-storms, heatwaves, droughts and floods. The human cost is incalculable.

Christians and people of goodwill are moved by accounts such as that offered recently by Cardinal Soane Petita Paina Mafi in this Eureka Street article about the suffering of people in the Pacific.

“Faith-based organisations have historically led the charge on fossil fuel divestment. In Australia, it was a decision by the Uniting Church Synod NSW/ACT to move its money out of fossil fuels which first drew national attention to the issue in 2013.” 

Clearly the current level of warming is not safe, and this is only the beginning. The injustice is that most of those who are hit hardest are the already vulnerable and least able to rebuild after climate-related disasters. Coming generations will be left with an unthinkable future.

Yet financial institutions continue to provide eye-watering amounts of finance for the very coal, oil and gas mining which is the main driver of climate heating and destabilisation.

Scientists tell us that most of our reserves must stay in the ground if we want to stay under the guardrail 1.5 degrees Celsius temperature rise. The ethical case for avoiding investment in fossil fuels becomes compelling.

Hence an accelerating number of institutions and individuals are moving their money out of fossil fuels and into climate solutions. The total assets guided by some form of divestment policy in 2022 was $US9.2 trillion, 12 times more than in 2015.

Faith-based organisations have historically led the charge on fossil fuel divestment. In Australia, it was a decision by the Uniting Church Synod NSW/ACT to move its money out of fossil fuels which first drew national attention to the issue in 2013. World-wide, of all organisations to have committed to divestment, those that are faith-based are the largest in number.

Global Divestment Week of Action
Australian people of faith and their organisations were recently challenged to join those refusing to invest in fossil fuels during a recent world-wide Divestment Week of Action initiated by the Catholic Laudato Si’ movement.

A multi-faith prayer service was held at St Patrick’s Catholic Cathedral, Parramatta, on Thursday, 9th March, as part of the Week of Action. It was organised by the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change.

Leaders from several faiths participated in the event, including the Catholic Bishop Vincent Long, Ven Bhante Sujato, Rev Meredith Williams, Ahmet Ozturk, Rev Dr Shenouda Mansour and Rabbi George Mordecai.

Held during the Christian season of Lent, the event highlighted that people of faith and faith-based organisations should “repent” of unwittingly allowing their savings to finance coal, oil and gas mining.

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Bishop Vincent Long of Parramatta said in his homily, “The time has come for us to act decisively to reduce our carbon footprint, to invest in renewable energy, to divest from fossil fuels, to consume less and waste less…”

“So ‘now is the time for new courage in abandoning fossil fuels, to accelerate the development of zero-or positive-impact sources of energy,’ Pope Francis said recently. “The Vatican Bank itself does not invest in fossil fuels and it is hoped that this example is followed, not just by Catholics but others as well.”

Theravada Buddhist monk, Venerable Bhante Sujato says: “Escalating climate chaos unfolds before us every day, in every nation, in cold and heat, in flood and fire. We fear for ourselves and for our children, yet sometimes we do not even know that our own money is funding the madness. The big banks and financial institutions are too often deeply dependent on fossil fuel investments, profiting while the world burns. Divesting from fossil fuels breaks this cycle. When consumers refuse to participate in destructive fossil fuel profiteering, it sends an unmistakable signal.”

Making a start
For those willing to take up the challenge, the first step is to make a decision. That’s less simple than it sounds. It means breaking with convenience and making divestment a priority over the many pressing demands on our limited time. For a faith-based organisation, it means agreeing to exclude fossil fuels as part of any ethical investment policy.

For further resources, head to

Thea Ormerod is chair of the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change


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