What do the University of Maryland, New York City’s pension funds and the country of Ireland have in common? They’ve all chosen to pull their money from fossil fuel companies. Despite the choices of many other faith-based groups, Jewish communal institutions are notably absent from the long list of major organizations that have taken this critical step, with the lone exception of Congregation Kolot Chayeinu in Brooklyn, New York.
One of the most popular stories we teach our children is the story of Nachshon. When the Jews took their belongings and fled Egypt in the middle of the night, they stopped at the edge of the Sea of Reeds. God told them that when we entered the sea, God would split the sea for them. But nobody wanted to go first. Finally, Nachshon bravely volunteered; after he stepped in, then all the others had the courage to follow.
Today, however, when it comes to climate change, we are still awaiting our Nachshon. Aside from one small synagogue, the Jewish community has taken no action on this existential threat to our planet, standing back while other communities have forged ahead. The time for us to join them is now.
Collectively, the US Jewish community has invested considerable resources, upwards of several billion dollars, to support its institutions. Our federations, synagogues, schools and other agencies all have accounts and endowments designed to ensure that our community thrives in the present and is secure in the future. We act with foresight, both personally and jointly, when it comes to financial health.
But when it comes to the health of our planet and the future of life, we are falling short of acting with the same resolve and initiative.
The situation is extremely urgent. Ice caps are melting, raising the water level, increasing flooding and threatening the viability of island nations and coastal cities. Oceans, absorbing excess carbon dioxide, are becoming more acidic, threatening the future of all marine life. Worldwide, millions of species of birds, animals and insects are facing extinction. Hurricanes and forest fires are increasing in number and vehemence, displacing whole regions. The list of consequences is long and grim. According to the latest report of the IPCC, the international scientific body tasked with measuring climate change, we have a short window of time in which to take drastic action. If not, catastrophic effects can kick in as early as 2040.
Climate change is the greatest threat the human race has ever faced. Nevertheless, just as people have caused this crisis, we have the responsibility to address it. Our tradition teaches us to take responsibility for ourselves, our neighbors and our society. We are taught to spare the feelings of a mother bird by shooing her away when we take her egg; how, then, can we not be concerned about the infinitely greater devastation in store? Climate change is a moral imperative that no one can evade.
The moral claims on transitioning our investments are overwhelming, but the transition will bring good not only to our planet but to our bank accounts as well. Reallocating funds from fossil-fuel companies to firms that uphold superior environmental, social and governance practices will benefit our bottom line. This is well supported historically by comparing the performance of the S&P 500 with that of the MSCI KLD 400 Index, which measures the performance of firms in accord with socially responsible investing (SRI), from 1990 through the present. While past performance is no guarantee of future returns, indications reflect the development of the low carbon economy will ultimately render the remaining fossil fuel reserves worthless stranded assets.
We have the opportunity and obligation to move forward. Who will be our Nachshons?
This story "Jewish Organizations Should Divest From Fossil Fuels" was written by David Schreiber.