oil divestment ethical energy
Ethics & Morality

The evil of oil: a letter from the Interfaith Council for an Ethical Energy Policy

This is a guest post by Carl Jacobs.


In the name of Ecumenical comity, I have decided to give over my column this week to His Most August Personage, Phineas Tremaine Coxwalloby, Chairman of the Interfaith Council for an Ethical Energy Policy and Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Worste-cheste-shiste-chiste-shuste-cheste-shire. Which is evidently pronounced ‘Wooster’, but please don’t ask me to explain the intricacies of British pronunciation.


Dear Brothers & Friends,

I come before you today on this most august (if moderately heretical) weblog to explain and seek support for the recent decision by several Catholic organizations regarding disinvestment in the Petroleum industry – a decision that both I and the Interfaith Council which I represent most heartily endorse. As you well know, the Council is a gathering of moderate Catholics, Anglicans, Methodists, Muslims, Jews, Druids, Jedi Knights, and the odd Secularist who seek a progressive energy policy for the world.

There is a blight upon the world and it is time that that blight was actively called by its name. I am speaking of the blight of oil. I am speaking of the insidious lucre that greedy men (and it is always men) have removed from the ground where God in His wisdom had hidden it away. It beckons like the forbidden fruit, and the serpent bids us to eat it, or perhaps more accurately to burn it. Will we succumb to temptation as did the legendary Adam and destroy paradise once again? God willing, we will not!

Collectively, the Catholic organizations to which I refer have removed some 7.5 billion pounds from the industry. No doubt some naysayers will claim that this is a small sum in relation to the world economy in general and to the oil industry in particular. They will likewise claim that the money will not be lost to the oil industry because what was sold will be purchased by others. Such is to miss the point. In a technical sense, this may be tokenism. But we hope to be an inspiration to millions who will follow. The Vanguard sells high, when the industry is strong. He is willing to realize his loss for the sake of being an example to those who will come after.

Of course, we should not forget that while 7.5 billion pounds may be a small sum to the oil barons who presently pillage the land at will, it is a significant sum of money for us. Our bona fides is the marginal loss we will suffer as a result of our decision. Our detractors – those with vested interest in oil money or those who selfishly consume it for the sake of their own lusts – may seek to darken our good name by asking why we kept the interest that accrued while we had our money buried in unethical ground. But surely we will now be able to stand when the King comes to ask an account. If we were given five talents, we will be able now to ethically present ten. We will be able to re-invest that money in ethical businesses – organic farms, bicycle manufacturing, sod roofing. It is the wicked servant who would present pots overflowing with money from oil.

It’s time to squarely face what petroleum has done to this world. Some may say it has brought prosperity and health and modern convenience. They claim it has vastly expanded the horizons of man by making transportation over long distance economically viable. They claim it has enabled the centralized production of energy to meet the needs of industry, and to allow for central heating, air conditioning, for clean water and indoor plumbing, for electric lights, for food security due to greatly expanded food production. Their arguments are one long litany of improved living standards. Yet even if it is true that we do not have to deal with tons of animal waste in our cities each year, nor the pestilence that came with it, what have we actually lost as our living standards improved?

We have departed the tenements with their tight communities in the cities for the isolation of private homes in the suburbs. We have abandoned our responsibility to pay taxes in support of the communities we have left behind. We have turned inward in our climate-controlled buildings instead of meeting people in the cool of the street. We have paved over the countryside with roads merely to facilitate the easy transportation of goods. We have poured tons of pollution into the atmosphere and risk our own planet for the sake of secure food, and heat, and clean water. We have selfishly thought of ourselves before others. We have made an idol of our living standards. Global Warming is the sacrifice demanded by this false god. Will we continue to offer it? Is employment worth so much?

It’s time to envision a new world, a new economic organization. It is time to envision a world of full employment and meaningful work without the need for energy based on fossil fuels. It may not be apparent at the moment what energy source could be found to free us from our current dependence. We know many alternatives that have failed. Nuclear energy is a potential nightmare.

Hydroelectric power (consider please the Three Gorges dam) is not uniformly distributed, destroys the environment, injures wildlife, and create hazards for life downstream. Wind power is inherently unreliable, expensive and has caused significant human distress to those who live in its proximity. Solar power has not proved the panacea we all hoped since it suffers from the same unreliability as wind. However, I have faith that with sufficient government investment (funded by new taxes on oil, of course), new technologies will be found that allow for all the good things we associate with oil even as it removes the bad.

However, we must face this one fact. If we do not find such a technology then we will still have to remove oil form our economy. If the choice must be made, then the choice must be that the energy of a man’s right arm is sufficient for his needs. Some may see this as regression. But in fact it is progress in its most original sense.

Yours in Spiritual Unity,

Phineas Tremaine Coxwalloby
On behalf of the Interfaith Council for an Ethical Energy Policy