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Johnny Townsend: Mormons, Utahns must divest from fossil fuels

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Representatives from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are introduced on Wed. Dec. 4, 2019, before giving individualized insights into plans for extensive temple renovations set to close the temple Dec. 29, 2019, through 2024. Parts of the Temple Square Plaza are also set to be renovated.

Of the 1,145 organizations around the world that have already divested from fossil fuels, 28% of them are religious institutions. But The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints isn’t one of them.

Another 15% are educational institutions. But neither the University of Utah nor Brigham Young University are among them. And 14% are governmental entities. But neither Salt Lake City nor the state of Utah are among them.

As an essential part of addressing the climate crisis, the LDS Church and every other entity in Utah must divest from fossil fuels.

To ensure a climate in which humans can thrive, we must cut off financing for all new fossil fuel projects, things like storage facilities, pipelines, new wells — any type of infrastructure that would support new or additional fossil fuel extraction and promotion. Many institutions invest funds in fossil fuel corporations, but we must encourage those in our communities to invest their funds in other projects that don’t directly exacerbate global warming.

Trinity College in Dublin, the University of Glasgow in Scotland and the University of Hawaii here in the U.S. are just a few of the educational institutions around the world that believe ensuring a habitable world for their graduates is as important as teaching them career skills. We must encourage leaders at the University of Utah and Brigham Young University that a crucial part of their responsibility toward their students is to stop funding corporations and projects that intensify our climate disaster.

Worldwide, organizations have already divested over $11.5 trillion from fossil fuels.

We need to pressure businesses and local governments to transition both quickly and justly to 100% renewable energy, which includes retraining of displaced workers.

The British Medical Association, Canadian Medical Association, Chicago Medical Society, and New Zealand Nurses Organisation have divested. All of Ireland has divested. The cities of Amherst, Mass.; Ann Arbor, Mich.; Boulder, Colo; Ithaca, N.Y.; San Francisco; Santa Fe, N.M.; Madison, Wis.; Minneapolis, Minn.; Kansas City, Mo.; Portland, Ore.; and New York City are just some of the city governments that have divested. The cities of Copenhagen, Oslo, Paris, Sydney, Oxford, Stockholm, Cape Town and Montreal are some others. Can we encourage Salt Lake City to join the list of world leaders?

Thirteen banks in the U.S., Sweden, Germany, France, Austria, Switzerland and Australia have divested. And a 14th bank, the European Investment Bank — the world’s largest development bank — has just committed to divestment over the next two years.

Can we get some local banks, perhaps Zions Bank, to join the growing number of financial institutions whose leaders understand transitioning to renewables is a sound financial decision?

Organizations like Go Fossil Free (part of 350.org), Oil Change, and many others can direct us in our efforts to campaign, pressure and encourage powerful institutions to divest. If we don’t have the time or temperament to conduct such campaigns ourselves, we can at least donate so that others can.

The Mormon church insists it will never weigh in on political issues. But it will intervene in moral ones. And the climate crisis is a moral issue affecting virtually every life form on the planet. Of course, climate action is unfortunately a political issue, as well. And it’s a scientific issue, a health issue, an issue of self-preservation.

Climate change is an issue of life and death for people around the world, including Mormons.

Many organizations don’t like being told what to do. And no organization wants to disturb its traditional sources of income. Successfully pressuring our local governments, religions and businesses to divest may take some time. But we can immediately start divesting personally on our own.

Mormon scriptures encourage us to always be “anxiously engaged in a good cause.” We’re told that only a slothful and unwise servant must be commanded in all things. We can each make the decision to divest without a commandment from either Church leaders or government officials.

More than 58,000 individuals have already divested $5.2 billion. We can make a difference.

We are not Amish. God has not forbidden us from moving past coal or kerosene.

We must let our solar-powered LED shine before the world. Or watch the desert blossom as the tar pit. Let’s divest personally and demand that our employers, our religious institutions, our universities, our city and our state divest as well.

Johnny Townsend

Johnny Townsend, Seattle, is the author of “Invasion of the Spirit Snatchers,” “The Washing of Brains,” and “Human Compassion for Beginners.” johnnytownsend.com

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