Our values compel us to move away from fossil fuels

Recently, the board of the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland voted to stop investing our reserve funds in fossil fuels, a Jewish values-aligned step that continues our local Federation’s leadership on climate. 
The Federation Board took this step at the prompting of the Jewish Community Relations Council.  The JCRC Climate Action Committee recommended this change for several reasons. 
First, here in Portland, we are increasingly feeling the impacts of the climate crisis. In the last few years we have faced a more severe and volatile wildfire season, not to mention ice storms and floods. Second, the primary driver of the climate crisis is the burning of fossil fuels - coal, oil and gas. Fossil fuel corporations have known for decades about the harmful impacts of their products, but they have shown little interest in changing their business model. Nevertheless,  a world powered by clean energy is within reach. 
When our climate action committee first considered a recommendation that the Federation screen out fossil fuels, we looked to the Federation’s core values. The Federation’s mission is to protect and enhance the well-being of Jews worldwide through meaningful contributions to community, Israel and civil society.   Taking action on climate change – the existential threat of our time – is an important way we ensure Jewish life and culture can thrive l’dor vador, from generation to generation. 
A second key consideration was impact. The Federation is proud to join a growing list of over 1600 institutions representing over $40 trillion in investments. A full third of those institutions are faith-based. And just last month, our state legislature voted to screen out coal investments from the state pensions. 
Some argue that in order to combat energy poverty, we need to expand access to fossil fuels. But the opposite is true. The International Energy Agency has stated explicitly that we have enough fossil fuels to meet global energy demand without expanding fossil fuel extraction; what we need to do now is rapidly and equitably build out renewable energy. 
We know that pollution from fossil fuels is cutting years of life off of people across the globe, and that unchecked climate change will put hundreds of millions of humans at risk by mid-century, including our friends and neighbors here in Oregon.
Of course, a primary responsibility of the Federation Board is to serve as fiduciary. The Board carefully considered the decision from a financial perspective, including multiple conversations with staff at the Oregon Jewish Community Foundation (which manages our assets) and vetting by the Federation’s finance committee. The energy sector comprised more than 25% of the US Stock Market in the 70’s, but now make up less than 5%. The Federation finance committee determined that screening out fossil fuels was unlikely to negatively impact its long-term financial returns. Indeed, the energy sector has underperformed the rest of the market over the past decade. The sector is also one of the most volatile and risky.  Thus, screening out fossil fuels is both a values-aligned step and a financially prudent decision. 
Finally, the Oregon Jewish Community Foundation has in the last several years added two socially responsible investment funds to its portfolio that screen out fossil fuel investments.  
In light of all this, the JCRC overwhelmingly recommended that the Federation divest from companies engaged in producing fossil fuels. After hearing from the JCRC and its own finance committee, the Federation Board voted unanimously to adopt this recommendation of the JCRC.
The Federation wants to lead by example.  We hope and expect that many more Jewish institutions will soon join the Federation in excluding fossil fuel producers from their investment portfolios.
Brian Romer is chair of the Climate Action Committee of the Jewish Community Relations Council.
Hank Kaplan is a member of the Climate Action Committee, Chair of the JCRC, and member of the Board of Directors of the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland.
Rachel Nelson is Director of Educational Initiatives and Associate Director of Community Relations at the Federation.
To learn more about the Federation’s climate work and get involved, email Nelson at rachel@jewishportland.org. 
If your organization is interested in moving its endowment away from fossil fuels, Dayenu can support you - email Rabbi Jacob Siegel at jacob@dayenu.org. 



Add Comment

Fantastic. I appreciate this so much. Linda Ramirez (former Oregon attorney.)