The Catholic Church has recognized for many centuries the call to care for people on the margins of society as key to living out our Mission as followers of Christ. The “preferential option for the poor” is a key driving principle within Catholic Social Teaching, and the desired goal is social and economic justice.
Over the last century, a body of teaching has also emerged which reminds us of our responsibility to care for the diversity of life on Earth including the ecological systems that support life as a fundamental concern for Catholics.
These recent teachings inform considerations about how people ought to invest their money. In his encyclical, Laudato Si’: on care for our common home, released in June 2015, Pope Francis explains in much more detail how ecological destruction is linked to the pursuit for justice.
“Laudato Si’: on care for our common home” is clearly of landmark significance. Laudato Si’ explores the many dimensions of environmental destruction in our world but, as with all Catholic Social Teaching, the central concern is for justice.
His Holiness is quite explicit in Laudato Si’ about the burning of fossil fuels being a major contributor to the climate crisis, and that it is therefore our responsibility to transition to renewable sources of energy as quickly as possible: “We know that technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels – especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas – needs to be progressively replaced without delay. …. Politics and business have been slow to react in a way commensurate with the urgency of the challenges facing our world.” (LS 165). The 2023 apostolic exhortation Laudate Deum reiterates the Vatican’s long-standing call for a “transition towards clean energy sources such as wind and solar energy, and the abandonment of fossil fuels” (LD 55), pointing out that it “is not progressing at the necessary speed.”
Pope Francis praises citizens groups and non-government organizations who advocate for environmental care. He affirms consumer boycotts which “prove successful in changing the way businesses operate, forcing them to consider their environmental footprint and their patterns of production. When social pressure affects their earnings, businesses clearly have to find ways to produce differently…. ‘Purchasing is always a moral – and not simply an economic – act’” (LS 206).
On the question of alternative and ethical investment, “Efforts to promote a sustainable use of natural resources are not a waste of money, but rather an investment capable of providing other economic benefits in the medium term” (LS 191).
Since the publication of Laudato Si’, every living person on the planet has been urged to consider how we choose to engage in the world we see unfolding under the threat of the ecological and social crises. Many faithful Catholics are commendably responding by moderating their consumption and embracing sustainable lifestyles including renewable energy technology.
However, without careful attention to the way money is being invested, there is a strong possibility of unwittingly supporting the very practices that are degrading our planet.
Renewable returns tripled versus fossil fuels in the last decade. Annual renewable power investment will need to double to more than $600 billion a year by 2030 to meet the temperature-limiting goals of the Paris climate agreement.
TAKE ACTION: Commit to divestment today
As the International Energy Agency (IEA) Net Zero by 2050 Roadmap states, no new investments in fossil fuels should be made further by fossil fuel companies but these companies constantly look for a new fossil fuel exploration and continue their destructive impact on climate, biodiversity and human rights of local communities in Africa, Latin America, Asia.
There also should not be any new oil and gas fields approved for development and no new coal mines or mine extensions are required. We need to accelerate this process and divest from fossil fuels. The era of fossil fuels is irreversibly ending.
Already, 1,600 institutions in the world have divested from fossil fuels and this number is growing. The renewable energy transition is affordable and achievable.
The Fossil Fuel Exit Strategy finds that existing coal, oil and gas production puts the world on course to overshoot Paris climate targets. Every region on Earth, the report stated, can replace fossil fuels with renewable energy to keep warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius and provide reliable energy access to all.
We need to see very clearly that fossil fuels are not only bad for our planet and our frontline communities, they are a bad investment. And we need to act.
For a Catholic institution, fossil fuel divestment is first of all a choice of moral consistency, it is about putting Laudato Si’ in practice and hearing “both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor,” taking a prophetic stand and caring for our common home and the poorest of our brothers and sisters who are suffering the worst impacts of the climate crisis.
At the same time, divestment, and the process and public engagement it involves, is a way to redefine society’s moral code. From this perspective, divestment isn’t just for religious institutions to maintain their own integrity or respond to intractable resistance.
It is to delegitimize and de-normalize the target industry, creating a moral turning point within society and emboldening or pressuring political leaders to address issues they had previously avoided.
Fossil fuel divestment is a way of implementing the ecological conversion from “the technocratic paradigm tends to dominate economic and political life” (LS 109) and that causes “the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor” (LS 49).
Fossil fuel divestment is for Catholic institutions to implement “the ecological conversion and an educational program, a lifestyle and a spirituality which together generate resistance to the assault of the technocratic paradigm” (LS 111). Divestment is also a prophetic act because “the demands that rise up from below throughout the world […] can end up pressuring the sources of power” (LD 38).
We all use fossil fuels every day and we are not arguing for an overnight end to all fossil fuel use. Many community-living prophetic economies are inspired by the values of first Christian communities, and these witnesses show the path of a social and economic system centered on the human being.
Fossil fuel divestment is part of these choices with which Catholic institutions can give a strong prophetic witness to speed up the urgent energy transition.