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Salt Lake City congregation opts to divest endowment's fossil fuel assets

Published May 22, 2013 6:54 pm

'We did the math' • Minister says unanimous vote reflects concern for climate change's impact on the future.
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The First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City, inspired by the fossil-fuel divestment movement underway at the nation's universities, has voted to scrap any assets in oil, gas, coal, tar sands and oil shale from its endowment.

In doing so, it became the first Unitarian congregation in the nation to take such a step, said the Rev. Tom Goldsmith.

"We did the math," he said, "and we realized that the difference between green investments and fossil fuels is miniscule."

The move follows a nationwide campaign being led by author and climate activist Bill McKibben, who visited Salt Lake City in December as part of his "Do the Math" tour.

The idea: Rally public support for getting colleges, universities and other groups to divest around $400 billion in fossil-fuel companies that produce the products blamed for the pollution linked to climate change.

It's a concept promoted in an Earth Day sermon by Tim DeChristopher, a climate activist who spent nearly two years in prison for interfering with a federal energy-lease sale in Utah.

DeChristopher, who plans to attend Harvard Divinty School, is also a member of Goldsmith's Salt Lake City congregation.

Sunday's vote was unanimous, said Goldsmith. And even though First Unitarian's $700,000-plus endowment might see lower gains, the move seemed obvious for his "socially conscious" congregation.

"Since our congregation fits that description and most members and friends are acutely aware of climate change and the environmental destruction caused by the burning of fossil fuels," the proposal said, "it represents an opportunity to do our part in an effort to preserve a livable planet for ourselves, our children and grandchildren."

Goldsmith noted that the church already has invested in solar panels to demonstrate that it is doing its part to reduce its greenhouse-gas emissions.

"We'll take somewhat of a hit," he said, "but that's OK with everybody."

Joan Gregory, who leads the congregation's environmental ministry, said some church members met this past weekend to explore the question: "What would Jesus divest?" And, while the vote might not single-handedly change the course of climate change, it is seen as a meaningful step that might become part of a broad, effective movement, along the lines of the anti-apartheid divestment effort of more than two decades ago.

"It is one piece of the puzzle," Gregory said. "It is a way to walk our talk."


Twitter: @judyfutah






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