URJ Leads the Way on Fossil Fuel

April 1, 2024Barbara Weinstein

"See my works, how fine and excellent they are! Now all that I created, for you I created. Think upon this, and do not corrupt and desolate my world; for if you corrupt it, there is no one to set it right after you" (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:28).

For decades, humanity has been corrupting and desolating the world through the burning of fossil fuels. The impact is clear: each year is warmer than the last, extreme weather events are happening with greater frequency, droughts and floods are devastating crops, and famine is becoming more widespread. We can and must do more to heed God's words and stop the damage we are doing to the earth. Last week, the URJ North American Board took meaningful action by voting overwhelmingly in favor of a resolution on Addressing the Climate Crisis Through Investment Strategies.

Proposed by the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism after more than a year of study, consultation, and discussion, the resolution seeks to address the worsening effects of climate change by calling upon all Reform Jewish Movement entities and congregations with financial investments to implement a targeted combination of divestment, shareholder engagement, and adjustment/redirection of holdings related to fossil fuels and related industries.

As with all URJ resolutions, no Reform congregation is bound to follow its recommendations. But the resolution makes it clear that together, we can positively impact the climate by leveraging our economic and moral power as the largest denomination in North American Jewish life. Indeed, the resolution was crafted with input from all Movement affiliates and partners including the Reform Pension Board, Central Conference of American Rabbis, American Conference of Cantors, and HUC-JIR. It was also guided by the expert advice of other faith-based institutions that have used their financial power to impact climate issues, including Laudato S i (Catholic,) Everence (Mennonite), The Pension Boards - United Church of Christ, Union Theological Seminary, the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, Dayenu, and JLens, among others.

The new resolution follows decades of URJ statements on climate change, as well as socially responsible investing. We have also engaged in related efforts to address the worsening climate, including last year's Power for Purpose Campaign led by our Religious Action Center which successfully urged the EPA to strengthen soot pollution standards.

With this new resolution, we aim to join the vanguard of those in the Jewish community using the power of their investments to "till and tend the earth," as Adam and Eve were placed by God to do for the Garden of Eden. And while we cannot provide investment advice, there is compelling evidence that fossil-free portfolios over time perform equal to or slightly better than those holding fossil fuels (recognizing that there are many studies and at any moment in time, that may not be the case).

As congregations and other movement entities learn more about this resolution, we will support their efforts to engage on climate issues, recognizing that this is the beginning of an education and action process. Together, we can heed the words of the midrash: "be mindful then that you do not spoil and destroy My world - for if you spoil it, there is no one after you to repair it" (Midrash Kohelet Rabbah 7:13).

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