Archbishop of Glasgow William Nolan urged all Catholic institutions to divest from fossil fuels as a way to live out their faith and work against the climate emergency and biodiversity crisis. Eventually, Archbishop Nolan said, “It will be an embarrassment for any Catholic institution that hasn’t divested.”
Last November, in his prior role as Bishop of Galloway (Scotland), he was instrumental in leading the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Scotland to divest from fossil fuels ahead of the United Nations 26th Climate Change Conference in Glasgow.
The bishops’ conference participated in the largest-ever joint divestment announcement from faith-based institutions. All told, 72 faith institutions from six continents with more than $4.2 billion of combined assets under management announced their commitment to divest from fossil fuels last November.
The next global divestment announcement from faith-based institutions will take place on July 5. Join the more than 300 Catholic institutions and commit to divestment.
In a conversation that took place before his Archbishop appointment by Pope Francis, Archbishop Nolan shared details about the divestment journey of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Scotland, why divestment is not purely a symbolic gesture, and how Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’ has transformed the Catholic Church.
Editor’s note: The conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.
On the global movement to divest from fossil fuels
Archbishop Nolan: “A few years ago, when I first heard of the global movement of divestment, the feeling was, this is really just a purely symbolic thing. What difference would that make to the oil companies with their vast riches? But the movement has been growing.
“And it’s always much more than something symbolic. But even then there are various arguments that are used against divesting. For instance, we do still need fossil fuels. We do need oil and gas. They keep our cars moving, and they keep our homes heated. So we are in a period of transition, so while we’re in a period of transition, we do still need these oil companies to continue as before. But it’s not acceptable to just continue the status quo.
“There are also arguments against the economic argument. In Scotland, for instance, up to 20 percent of our economy is based around the oil and gas industry. So people said, ‘Well, it’s irresponsible. What about all those jobs, and all those people?’ So that was another argument that we kind of kept coming up against.
“But eventually, we realized, well, we still need oil and gas just now, we do have to transition. We do have to push towards that direction. If you’re investing in these companies, then you’re profiting from their activity, and it wasn’t really right to be profiting from oil and gas, when we knew these things were causing such pollution to the whole environment of the Earth.”
On why all Catholic institutions need to commit to divest from fossil fuels
Archbishop Nolan: “I think it’s going to get to the stage, it will be an embarrassment for any Catholic institution that hasn’t divested. This has gone from a purely symbolic gesture to something much, much more than that. Because we’re now advocating, and Pope Francis is advocating as well, (for) a complete change of lifestyle. We have to change our lifestyle. So we have to dig deep… It’s just a small step, is divestment. That’s where we start, but we have to make that small step.”
On how much Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’ influenced the world
Archbishop Nolan: “Laudato Si’ is an amazing document. For many years, the Church was fairly silent on this environmental issue, this environmental crisis, and so Laudato Si’ has come in and has put it all together and ensured everything is integrated. And this is very much a part of a religious issue, not just a climate issue. It’s a question of God’s creation, and our worship of God and God’s creation…
“The document itself, I think it was a game changer for the Catholic Church and a game changer for the environmental movement, and its effects are still growing.”