Bill Mckibben to UU’s: We need you to provide moral leadership

Bill Mckibben: A message to UUs

Last week First Parish Cambridge hung a banner challenging Harvard to divest.   Passers by aren’t the only ones to notice their bold action.  Bill McKibben, founder of, shared it as his photo of the week.  McKibben  was in Cambridge yesterday promoting his new book Honey and Oil.  After I met with Bill and other local activists, he shared this video message to UUs:


This is Bill McKibben.  Look, First Parish Cambridge should be an inspiration to Unitarians everywhere.  Though I’m a Methodist, I got to say I love the UUs.  But one thing I’ve noticed is that Unitarians are really good at talking about things–and talking and talking and talking about them some more.  We’re at the point in climate change where we actually need some serious action.  Thank heaven we’ve got some real leadership from some individual parishes.  Now we need the whole lot of you to do the right thing and help provide the moral leadership that will get us where we need to go.  Divest now!  Thank you.

In this message McKibben challenges us to be moral leaders.  If climate change is the moral issue of our time,  how are you and your congregation called to respond?

Now, I have to tell you that the word on the street is, “Where are the UU’s?”   At least that’s what I heard at a rally in front of the MA  State House last Friday when I mentioned I was a Unitarian Universalist.  There was the Rev. Fred Small, members of First Parish Cambridge, and some other individual UUs, but not the presence I think some expected. At least given that  MA has the largest concentration of Unitarian Universalists in the United States (map by Scott Wells) and being next door to the UUA headquarters.  [Updated]

Okay, we should give the UUA staff a pass.  It probably isn’t comfortable to participate in a rally calling on the state to divest when the UUA hasn’t.   Which brings us back to McKibben’s message: DIVEST NOW!

In his message, McKibben says DIVEST NOW.  Actually, DIVEST NOW, THANK YOU!

Not sure what your take is, but friends,  I agree with him.  Not only would it show moral leadership, but it makes financial sense.

At the Divest Harvard rally we attended, a retired Harvard Business School professor said that divesting is smart because we’re now at the highest value fossil fuel stocks will ever have.  Public opinion is changing.  We have no choice, we have to prevent fossil fuel companies from using more than 1/5 of the fuel they have in reserves.  If we must prevent 4/5 of reserves from being used, that means the fossil fuel industry is a huge bubble waiting to burst.

Though we can talk about the math and we can talk about the science,  for me the rationale for the UUA to divest comes down to one thing:  Unitarian Universalists

We have a history of leading on the moral issues of our time.
We’re revolutionaries.   (At least we should be.)
A growing number of us are working to take down the fossil fuel industry.
That means the very members you are investing for are now at war with the industry you have investments in.
What more do you need to know?

Okay, okay.  We’re Unitarian Universalists.  We have a democratic process.  This is true.  In June the UUA’s General Assembly voted to study divestment.  According to  UU World coverage delegates voted overwhelmingly to adopt an Action of Immediate Witness to “Consider Divestment from the Fossil Fuel Industry,” and to “begin a denomination-wide conversation within their congregations about divesting from fossil fuels or exercising shareholder influence.”

Friends, we’re facing a global urgent moral issue that, if you take a look, transcends business as usual.   The vote to study divestment is exactly the kind of talk, talk, talk and talk some more that McKibben is calling us on.

We need immediate climate action and justice efforts.
We need moral leadership.
We need it now.

What does that look like for you?  Talking with colleagues, climate activists  and listening to Bill McKibben,  maybe  it is something like this:

The UUA President Peter Morales and new Board of Trustees saying, “We can’t wait for a lengthy process.  There is NO TIME.  We need to approve divestment THIS year.”  And getting it done at  General Assembly 2014.

What Kind of Moral Leadership?

I’ve been reminded that shareholder advocacy is a form of moral leadership, and that the UUA has been leading in this way for years.  There is no doubt of this.  The question I ask myself these days is what KIND of leadership is needed today. If you agree with the strategy of making it no longer socially acceptable to own fossil fuel stock, to do everything we can to shape public opinion, then divestment makes sense.  That’s the strategy and McKibben is focusing on.  I can understand those who’ve been doing shareholder advocacy being hurt my McKibben’s call for moral leadership has it doesn’t acknowledge what you’ve done.  But I’d have you look at our situation today.  Is your advocacy dismantling the fossil fuel industry?  That’s the goal.  That’s where we need more leadership, and moral leadership.   What do you think?

Update: One of our readers shared this link to information on the UUA’s socially responsible investing.

More Media

Bill McKibben’s tweet with First Parish Cambridge’s banner:

Close up of banner:

First Parish Divest Harvard Banner


Connect with our growing network of UU climate leaders and tell us what you think and what you’re doing.


2 Comments on “Bill Mckibben to UU’s: We need you to provide moral leadership

  1. Great clip, Peter! Thanks for snagging the interview with Bill, who as always tells it like it is. Don’t know if you were at his Sanders Theater address this afternoon–a tour de force, in my view. When he mentioned the Harvard-tweaking banner on First Parish in Cambridge, the audience responded with a burst of applause (the first, though not the last, during his talk).

    • (Sigh) ’twas ever thus….. Bill McKibben has noticed something that has been discussed for at least thirty years…. Unitarian Universalists talk a lot about the environment. We have nature worshippers, very rational scientists, disciples of Thoreau and Emerson, pantheists and panentheists, and all sorts of other environment-minded folks in our congregations. The UUA’s seventh principle is so popular that it’s seldom examined. It may be the only metaphysical statement that has almost 100% acceptance in our congregations…. Still, the UUA leadership has done surprisingly little with environmental issues…. As far as I know, there has never been a UUA president who has made a major statement about environmental concerns. There has never been a major UUA “summit meeting,” to bring different environmentalists together… Green Sanctuary program? It was a grassroots initiative for about ten years before the UUA took control. Now, the UUA is reducing support….. What’s needed? A “green candidate” for the UUA presidency may do some good.
      Imagine a presidential candidate who can say, “I want the UUA to be a leader in addressing climate change concerns and other environmental topics.”

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