This article was originally published by The Mennonite World Review

MEA: too little, too late on climate change?

As recent alumni of Goshen College who were involved in fossil fuel divestment conversations during our college years, we would like to share a response to Mennonite Education Agency’s announcement regarding its energy-related investment practices.

MEA announced five new “stewardship commitments” on climate change and the divestment of its U.S. public equity from companies in the energy sector (read: fossil fuels).

In light of the dismal future of the fossil fuel industry and the more than $7 trillion divested from fossil fuel corporations worldwide, we offer a few reflections on MEA’s statements:

— One of the primary demands of recent intercollegiate divestment campaigns at Go­shen College and Eastern Mennonite University is increased transparency regarding MEA’s investment practices. Beyond transparency, students also urged the MEA Investment Fund’s board to embrace a public role in promoting their socially responsible investment practices regarding climate and other social issues. We are glad to see small steps in that direction as evidenced by their 2017 climate change position paper and recent press release, and hope to see more of these publications in the future.

— It’s unclear how much of the endowment’s total portfolio has been divested from fossil fuel reserves (and the change seems to skirt companies engaged in the production and distribution of fossil fuels). MEA’s “U.S. Public Equity allocation” comprises about 22 percent to 33 percent of the portfolio at any given time (according to the MEA policy, available on their website), so the role of energy sector investments in the portfolio’s remainder remains unclear.

— The reasons the committee gave for making these portfolio changes have little to do with protecting vulnerable communities. Ascribing our inspiration for climate action to Greta Thurnberg rather than highlighting voices from the countless communities on the front lines of climate change serves to whitewash and make more palatable the realities of climate catastrophe.

When black and indigenous communities are facing daily attacks, our predominantly white Mennonite institutions must recognize and address these harms head-on. Climate justice is a journey in which voices and leadership of the most threatened communities must be perpetually upheld. In the same vein, we urge MEA to explore strategies for reinvesting in these communities directly, within their quest for socially responsible investing.

— The press release’s final paragraph offers a reference to students that reads more as a benevolent nod to student consciousness than a recognition of the real impact of sustained divestment movements on campus. Student-led groups such as GC Divest and DivestEMU were organized in recognizable, legitimate ways around divestment for years, and the committee’s statement gives no acknowledgement of their impact on MEA’s recent decisions. A direct acknowledgment of the ways student campaigns have influenced committee practices would not only be warranted but also serve to invite future constructive engagement between the two bodies.

— Are MEA’s actions too little, too late? The sense of urgency undergirding MEA’s recent statement was notably lacking from our previous interactions four years ago. In order to truly serve their holistic fiduciary duty, the fund’s board must be committed to continuously assessing and revising their policies and practices to respond to — and to influence — the economic, social and environmental landscapes of the time.

We hope MEA will continue to proactively walk the path it has set forth with its new stewardship commitments, and we trust that students and MEA stakeholders will continue to find ways to leverage the power their endowment holds.

Cecilia Lapp Stoltzfus
Mount Rainier, Md.
Hannah Yoder
Akron, Pa.

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