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Divest from Fossil Fuels with Fossil Free Faith

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by Miriam Katawazi

With the help of a nation-wide organization called Fossil Free Faith, numerous faith communities across the country are choosing to embrace fossil fuel divestment. 

Fossil Free Faith provides resources and support to faith communities that are interested in divestment, the idea of no longer offering financial support to fossil fuel companies. The project began in 2014 to accommodate the growing fossil fuel divestment movement in Canada, and Fossil Free Faith plans to continue providing resources and support to faith communities that are interested in divestment. 
A study by Oxford University states that fossil fuel divestment is the fastest growing divestment movement yet. 

In 2014, Trinity-St. Paul's United Church was the first Canadian faith institution to divest from fossil fuels. The same year, First Unitarian Church of Ottawa also voted to divest. 

In 2015, the Church of England's governing body also approved divestment from tar sands and coal companies. 
Currently, Fossil Free Faith is reaching out to a diverse range of faith communities through its British Columbia Youth Fellowship Program. Fellows from a broad multi-faith spectrum are working to spark conversations in their own diverse communities. 

"There has been success in challenging the power and social license of the fossil fuel industry in Canada," said Fossil Free Faith Director, Chris Boyle. 

She added, "[i]t's hopeful to see people are joining and starting to have this conversation."
 
However, Boyle states that her experience working with faith institutions had also been challenging. A lot of resistance comes from many faith institutions, she explained: "they do not want to do anything that feels like it's rocking the boat too much." 
 
"Within a lot of faith institutions in Canada there [are] decreasing numbers and tightening of budgets and it's making institutions that were once bold and willing [to take action] to become cautious," she said. 
 
There is some concern, Boyle said, that a decision to divestment would impact parts of the country dependent on oil and gas jobs. The impact could lead to loss in members. 
 
On an individual level, Boyle explained, people are hesitant to support divestment because of their daily lifestyle choices that involve the use of fossil fuels. She added that people assume that because they do not fit the "perfect activist model" it would be hypocritical of them to advocate for divestment.
 
"This idea is paralyzing because everyone relies on fossil fuels...that is the way the system is set up [and] we're not going to change it by making a few individual life style choice...we need to all challenge the larger systems regardless."

"It's a moral crisis, it's not [a] question of lacking technological solutions and whether we can afford it or not, but rather it is a question of what we value and what we are willing to risk to solve the challenge," said Boyle. 
 
In June, Boyle travelled to the Vatican for Pope Francis' encyclical on climate change. While at an event, Boyle heard from youth living in regions that are deeply affected by the current impacts of climate change. 
 
According to the World Health Organization, between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year. 

"It's a question of our human dignity and our willingness to step up to the challenge and it's hard because it is so intertwined with our economic security. I think that we need spiritual and moral leadership to get us through it," said Boyle. 
 
Boyle explained that faith communities should be involved in divestment because it is also an important tool for reconciliation in Canada. 

Proposed fossil fuel expansion projects on Indigenous lands are often resisted very strongly by Indigenous communities, said Boyle.
 
Divesting from those projects and reinvesting in Indigenous-run clean energy projects could be a means of reconciliation. 
 
"Christian communities in Canada have a huge role to play in reconciliation because of their role in colonization and specifically their role in running residential schools," said Boyle.
 
"There is a big role to play in rebuilding that trust and those relationships and I think that climate action and supporting aboriginal communities that are defending their land is one way of making that real."

Miriam Katawazi was the summer journalist at the Peace and Environment Resource Centre.
 

In this issue..

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