Margaret speaks on the radio about the Episcopal Church’s divestment from fossil fuels, for Bill Newman’s morning show, “The Rev. and the Rabbi” (WHMP, FM 96.9), on July 9, 2015. Listen to an MP3.
The Episcopal Church voted to divest from fossil fuels.
I write that sentence and lean back in my chair, beaming in amazement. I’ve been working toward this moment for a long time, and lo, it is here. I can hardly believe it.
The Episcopal Church now becomes the third national faith group in the United States to divest from the fossil fuel industry, joining the United Church of Christ, which divested in 2013, and the Unitarian Universalist Association, which divested in 2014.
Other faith groups are also moving forward on divestment. To cite some examples, last year the World Council of Churches, which represents half a billion Christians worldwide, decided to divest from fossil fuel companies. In January, the United Methodist Church announced that its $21 billion pension fund would divest from coal. The Church of England is divesting from coal, and Anglican churches and dioceses in New Zealand, Australia, and the United Kingdom have divested from fossil fuels.
So far the Episcopal Church is the largest denomination in the U.S. to divest from all fossil fuels, and surely it won’t be the last.
The decision made by the Episcopal Church’s 78th General Convention on July 2, 2015, came as a surprise even to the most ardent supporters of the divestment resolution. Several members of our grassroots network of activists, Episcopalians for Fossil Fuel Divestment and Clean Energy Reinvestment, attended the convention, which was held in Salt Lake City. A friend tells me that shortly before the House of Deputies took the vote that sealed the deal, she and another activist exchanged a look of amazement and confessed to each other their tentative hope: Maybe the resolution will actually pass!
Not only did the resolution pass – it passed by an overwhelming margin of 3-1.
I had the sweet responsibility of informing Bill McKibben. It turns out that one of the greatest satisfactions in the life of a climate activist is to be able to give Bill McKibben some good news.
Bill called the Episcopal Church’s decision “unbelievably important.” He added: “The Episcopal Church is putting into practice what the Pope so memorably put into words. It’s an enormous boost to have communities of faith united on the most crucial question facing the planet.”
Why is this decision such good news? Because the Episcopal Church is sending a powerful message to the world: it makes no financial or moral sense to invest in companies that are ruining the planet.
Divesting from fossil fuels and investing in clean energy will accelerate the transition to a just, healthy, and low‐carbon future. Engaging in stockholder activism isn’t good enough – not when an industry’s core business model needs to change. Changing light bulbs isn’t good enough – not when an entire social and economic system needs to be transformed. Waiting, watching, and wringing our hands isn’t good enough – not when the Earth cries out for healing, and when the poor, who are affected first and hardest by climate change, cry out for justice and mercy.
Averting climate catastrophe requires that at least 80% of known fossil fuel reserves remain where they are, in the ground. The only way to keep them there will probably be some combination of carbon pricing, governmental regulation, and strong international treaties. How can we build the spiritual, moral, and political pressure to accomplish that? We can divest from fossil fuels. We can align our money with our values. We can make it clear that fossil fuels have no place in a healthy portfolio if you’re hoping for healthy kids or a healthy planet.
I don’t know to what extent the release of the Pope Francis’ encyclical several weeks ago affected the divestment decision that was made by the Episcopal Church, but I do know that countless people the world over have been inspired the Pope’s bracing reminder that the climate crisis is not just a scientific, political, or economic concern, but also an issue that raises fundamental moral and spiritual questions.
What kind of world do we want to leave our children? What does it mean to live with reverence for the living, intricate, beautiful biosphere into which you and I were born? What responsibility do we have for ensuring that the web of life continues intact for generations yet to come? What responsibility do we have for the poor? How can we possibly love God and our neighbor if we scorch and desecrate the world that God entrusted to our care, and dislocate, drown, and starve our neighbors, beginning with the poorest?
The Episcopal Church resolution commits more than $350 million for divestment, and it urges all parishes and dioceses in the Church to engage the topic of divestment and reinvestment within the coming year, potentially unlocking an additional $4 billion in assets. The pension fund, which manages $9 billion, was not included in the final version of the resolution. Episcopalians for Fossil Fuel Divestment and Clean Energy Reinvestment looks forward to ongoing conversations with the pension board, recognizing that all of the Church’s assets are called to serve God’s mission and that the Episcopal Church is now on record in recognizing that restoring Creation is at the center of God’s mission today. (For more discussion of the resolution, here is an interview I gave to our local newspaper.)
Sometimes it seems that human beings are determined to careen toward catastrophe. Oddly enough, it gives me hope when I consider that no one knows whether or how we will save ourselves from disaster. I keep thinking of a piece of wisdom that has been attributed to Mahatma Gandhi: “Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.” Not knowing what, if anything, will make humanity change course gives me energy to be persistent and creative, even if my efforts seem insignificant. Maybe this letter to urge divestment, this phone call, this lobbying for carbon pricing, this climate rally, this campaign to stop new pipelines, this vegetable garden, this decision to walk rather than drive, this willingness to borrow rather than to buy – maybe each small effort will combine mysteriously with other people’s efforts and suddenly we will surprise ourselves and society will shift to a life-sustaining path. I can’t argue with a remark that country music singer-songwriter Naomi Judd once made: “A dead end street is a good place to turn around.”
Unexpected changes, shifts, and transformations happen. Call it chaos theory. Call it an expression of “punctuated equilibrium,” Stephen Jay Gould’s term for the way that a system can look completely stable even though an unseen tension or energy is secretly building up. Suddenly it bursts forth, producing a new species, moving tectonic plates apart, or generating abrupt, rapid, and unforeseen changes in society. (For a wonderful essay that develops these ideas, see David Roberts’ “For a Future to Be Possible: Hope & Fellowship.”)
History is like that: non-linear and full of surprises. So, too, is the Holy Spirit. She blows where she wills, opening minds and touching hearts, making all things new.
The prophet Isaiah was right. Awakened to the presence of a merciful, dynamic, and ever-living God, Isaiah heard God say: “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:18-19).
We just saw it happen: the Episcopal Church voted to divest from fossil fuels.
Want to know what will happen next in the ever-expanding, unpredictable, and non-linear movement to save the planet? Find out. Jump in and join the struggle. Do what you can, even if it seems insignificant. And get ready to be surprised.
The Pope’s encyclical on the environment was officially released today, and I am relishing the response from both the secular and the religious climate movement. Surges of enthusiasm are rolling across the Internet like waves across the sea, and rivulets stream into my email inbox. Pope Francis’ landmark encyclical was addressed not only to Roman Catholics, nor only to Christians, but also to “every person living on this planet.” And all sorts of groups far and near are responding with invitations to Stand With the Pope. Hands down, the best invitation was extended by Forecast the Facts: name your identity and take your stand beside the Pope on climate. I’m a Mormon and I stand with the Pope on climate! I’m Buddhist and I stand with the Pope on climate! I’m a Republican… a pagan… an atheist… a Sikh… a Jew… a non-church-going Catholic… a Humanist… a parent… an Earthling… and I stand with the Pope on climate!
Guess what? It turns out that preserving a habitable world, caring for the forgotten and the poor, and honoring the Earth and its inhabitants, human and other-than-human, are values that resonate deeply with the human spirit, whatever our faith tradition may be and despite the lies that are peddled to us daily by the fossil fuel industry and by an extractive, exploitative, and consumerist culture. Climate change presents humanity with a decisive spiritual and moral crisis, and the papal encyclical has added precious momentum to messages that cut through the fog of inertia, denial, and political impasse and rouse the human family to unite in tackling the crisis before it’s too late.
Rabbi Michael Lerner describes Pope Francis a “the first international spiritual progressive voice who can go beyond the ‘common sense’ of global capitalism and articulate a different worldview,” and he urges an interfaith effort to support the Pope’s direction. Rabbi Lawrence Troster calls the Pope “a spiritual guide for everyone – believer and non-believer alike – and… perhaps the only person in the world with the potential to unite humanity to save itself and our increasingly fragile planet.” Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians around the world, expresses his deep appreciation for Pope Francis’ encyclical in a powerful essay in this week’s TIME magazine, noting that “We are not faced with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather one complex crisis which is both social and environmental.”
It will take some time to absorb the comprehensive thinking that went into the encyclical, and I am grateful for the excellent analysis that some writers have already provided, such as James Martin, S.J.’s helpful essay on “Top Ten Takeaways from ‘Laudato Si.’”
Meanwhile the urgent work to build a sustainable, just and peaceful world goes on. Last night I sat with a group of Springfield, Mass. residents who are acutely aware of the health impacts of climate change on their struggling city, and the particular burden that is carried by the poor. Across boundaries of race, class, and religious and ethnic background, this growing band of men and women is organizing to resist environmental injustice and to promote sustainability, resiliency and equality for all Springfield residents. Last night none of us in the Springfield Climate Justice Coalition had read the Pope’s encyclical, but tonight we can all take heart from the Pope’s understanding of the “immense dignity of the poor” (158).
On Sunday I will travel to Washington, D.C., and will join about 900 other citizen volunteers – including a host of faith leaders – to lobby Congress for action on climate change. Our goal is to advance carbon fee and dividend as a solution acceptable to Democrats and Republicans alike. The Citizens Climate Lobby has made 3200 assignments, which means that every member of the House and Senate should receive a visit. How will it go? I have no idea. I’ve been assigned to meet with Republican politicians from Florida, Texas, Kentucky, and Illinois. It’s no secret that many conservative Republicans are staunchly opposed to regulating carbon emissions, and some of them began objecting to the papal encyclical even before it was released (I am grateful for the strong witness of my bishop, Doug Fisher of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Mass., who takes issue with their stance and speaks cogently about how Christians connect care for the Earth with care for the poor).
To prepare myself for lobbying on Capitol Hill, I inhale deeply, and breathe in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. I ground myself in the love of God. I am strengthened when I recall the Pope’s thoughtful critique of unfettered capitalism, especially when it harms the poor. “Profit,” says the Pope, “cannot be the sole criterion” of our decisions (187). Christianity has a long tradition of advocating for economic justice, and I intend to carry that message forward.
Today the Pope released a groundbreaking document that urges reverence for all Creation, and justice and mercy for all its residents. Tomorrow men and women around the world will get out of bed with a renewed commitment to fight the good fight – to divest from coal, gas, and oil, to keep fossil fuels in the ground, to build a society based on fairness and generosity, and to provide a habitable world for our children, grandchildren, and generations yet unborn. I hope that one day we will look back and remember the Pope’s encyclical as the electrifying moment when humanity finally grasped that we have the power to bear witness to love, and the responsibility to protect the Earth upon which all life depends.
“Here am I; send me!”“Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who shall go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I; send me!’” (Isaiah 6:8)
It is a pleasure to be with you this morning, and I want to thank Deacon Dave Woessner for inviting me to preach and celebrate. I am the Missioner for Creation Care in this diocese, so I travel from church to church, preaching the Gospel and speaking about our call as Christians to protect the Earth. And what a wonderful day to proclaim God’s love for Creation: Trinity Sunday! Every year, on Trinity Sunday we focus our thoughts on God, that sacred Mystery that creates and redeems and sustains all things and whom we traditionally name as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, or as Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.It took a long time, and many years of controversy, for the Church to develop its understanding of the Holy Trinity. After Jesus lived, died and rose again, his followers searched the Scriptures for clues about the nature of God. They examined their own life of prayer, and they reflected on the experience of prophets and mystics like Isaiah, who, as we heard in this morning’s first reading, was given a vision of God that surely changed his life. In Isaiah’s vision, he sees “the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty” (Isaiah 6:1). God’s glory so surpasses and overflows the sacred space that just the “hem” of God’s robe fills the entire temple. Then Isaiah sees winged seraphs, and he hears them singing back and forth to each other in words that we’ve included in our Eucharist down through the ages, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isaiah 6:3). Isaiah is overcome with awe. He feels small and unworthy in the face of such majesty. “Woe is me!” he cries. “I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5). We can imagine his amazement. When our eyes are opened to the presence of the Divine, we feel humbled, awe-struck, mortal, and small. We experience our complete dependence on a power greater than ourselves. Yet at the very same time, by the mercy of God we also find ourselves beloved, forgiven, lifted up, set free. That’s what Isaiah experiences: a seraph plucks a burning coal from the altar and touches it to Isaiah’s mouth, as if burning away Isaiah’s guilt and melting away everything in him that is less than love. After that holy encounter Isaiah hears God speaking in his depths. “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Isaiah replies without hesitation or reserve, without holding back. “Here am I,” he answers. “Send me!” (Isaiah 6:8). Being touched by God’s presence evokes in Isaiah a wholehearted and joyful response. Count me in! I’m yours! I want to give myself to you just as you have given yourself to me. Biblical accounts of this sort of encounter contributed to the thinking of the scholars and bishops who pondered the mystery of God’s nature. I am grateful for their careful analysis as they gradually shaped the doctrine of the Trinity. It matters how we think about God. But there are limits to what our intellects can do. We will never “figure out” God, as if God were an object that we can separate from other objects and then dissect and probe, as we might study a distant star or a close-up specimen in a laboratory. God is not an object at all, but a mysterious Presence that abides within and beyond all things; not another being alongside many beings, but the very Ground of being; not a big, omnipotent Man in the Sky but a dynamic communion of relationship marked by self-giving love. We will never understand the Trinity from the outside, by thinking about it, but only from the inside, by experiencing it. As St. Augustine put it long ago, “We come to God by love, not by navigation.” And he describes the Trinity very simply as the Lover, the Beloved, and the love that flows between. Step into that flow of love, as Isaiah did, and we are caught up in a love affair that has been going on since before time began. The divine Mystery that we call “God” is an ongoing exchange of love between God the Father – the Lover, the Creator – and God the Son, the Beloved. Flowing between them is the never-ending love of the Holy Spirit. God is one, and yet God is also three, a dynamic relationship, a giving and receiving of love. When the early Councils of the Church debated the nature of God, they came up with an image of the Trinity as a dance. The word in Greek is perichoresis and it means a “dance-around” of love. Imagine that! At the center of reality, a dance of love is in full swing! And we, too, are a perichoresis because we are created in the image and likeness of the Trinity. Jesus came to invite us to join the dance. He was completely caught up in a love affair with God, his beloved abba, which is the Aramaic word for Father. Through the Holy Spirit, our counselor and comforter, our advocate and guide who leads us into all truth (John 16:13), we, too, are drawn into the flow of love between God the Father (or Mother) of our souls, and God the Son. As we heard in the reading from Romans, when we turn to God and cry “Abba! Father!” it is God’s own Spirit that is praying within us, “bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:15-16). God is not just “out there” but also “in here,” not just beyond us but also within us and among us, weaving us together in love. Trinity Sunday reminds us that we live in the midst of a great love affair going on between God and God’s Creation. Divine love has no limit. It embraces not only human beings but also all beings (Genesis 9:12). And the love of God being poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5) gives us strength to protect an imperiled world and to work for its healing and transformation. Being rooted in the love of God gives us a foundation from which to address the urgent issues of our day. Of all the challenges we face, climate change is the one that wakes me up in the middle of the night. I know that some people are very concerned about climate change, and some people less so. As I see it, climate change is the moral issue of our time. 97% of climate scientists worldwide are telling us with increasing alarm that climate change is real, it is happening now, and for the most part it is caused by us human beings. Of course there has always been some natural variability in the planet’s average temperature, but ever since the Industrial Revolution we’ve been forcing the climate to change in a way that human beings have never experienced before. In just two centuries – only a blink in geologic time – we have burned so much coal, gas, and oil and released so much heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are at a level that Homo sapiens has never experienced before. This month the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that for the first time in human history the global level of carbon dioxide has topped 400 parts per million, reaching a level that hasn’t been seen in about 2 million years. For now the air is still breathable, and for now your life and mine will go on. But what’s so worrisome to scientists is that this process is happening so fast. Already we’ve shot well past 350 parts per million, the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and the amount of carbon dioxide pouring into the atmosphere is accelerating at a record pace, one hundred times faster than natural rises in the past. Already oceans are heating and becoming more acidic; tundra is thawing; ice caps are melting; sea levels are rising; coral reefs are dying; massive droughts are spreading in some places and heavy rains intensifying in others. Last spring we learned that the huge West Antarctic ice sheet is starting to collapse and slide into the sea in a way that scientists call “unstoppable.” Here in New England, extreme weather events have increased over 70% in recent years. So when it comes to the climate crisis, it’s not just about polar bears anymore. It’s about saving a habitable world for our children and our children’s children. It’s about finding our moral compass and deciding what kind of world we want to inhabit. The average worldwide temperature is rising, and if we simply stick to business as usual and keep to our present course – if we simply keep carrying out our usual daily activities in our usual carbon-intensive way – then within two, three, four generations we could raise average global temperatures to a level that would make the world very difficult for humans and other creatures to inhabit. How does the Holy Spirit call us to respond as the web of life unravels before our eyes? In a situation that speaks so much of death and despair, it is deeply reassuring, even necessary, to ground our selves again in the dynamic, living presence of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The melting of the West Antarctic ice sheet may be unstoppable, but so, too, is the love of God. We take heart from that unstoppable love. We know that God is with us. We know that when we rise up to heal God’s Creation, we are becoming the people that God created us to be: people who bless and heal the Earth, people who refuse to settle for business as usual. Scientists have done their work. Now it’s up to us to bear witness to the love of God. And that’s just what’s happening in religious communities around the world, especially now, as we look ahead to the crucial U.N. climate talks that will take place in Paris this December. This spring our Presiding Bishop declared that denying the reality of human-caused climate change is immoral. This summer Pope Francis will release a much-anticipated encyclical on climate change, an important teaching about the moral urgency of tackling this crisis. Meanwhile, one by one religious groups are starting to divest – that is, to sell off their holdings of stocks and bonds – from fossil fuels, arguing that if it is immoral to burn up the planet, surely it is immoral to profit from that burning. A wave of religious activism, including, in some cases, civil disobedience, is beginning to sweep the country, as religious leaders and institutions start to speak out that climate change is not just a scientific issue, not just economic issue, not just a political issue, but also a moral issue. For I ask you – is it ethical to ruin the world for our children and grandchildren, and for generations yet unborn? Do we have no moral responsibility for the cascade of extinctions now underway among our brother and sister species, in large part because of climate change? Are we willing to stand idly by and devastate the lives of the poor, who suffer first and hardest from the effects of climate change? Are we willing to thumb our noses at our Creator, who entrusted the Earth to our care and to whom the Creation ultimately belongs (Psalm 24:1)? Will we refuse to bear witness in our lives that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16)? For more and more of us, the answer, thank God, is No. We want to be faithful to Jesus. We want the love of God that is pouring into our hearts to be expressed in how we treat each other and how we treat the Earth. And there is so much we can do. As individuals, we can recycle more, drive less, be sparing in our use of water, and quit using bottled water. We can turn off lights when we leave a room, maybe eat local, organic, and less meat-centered foods, and support local farms and land trusts. I hope that you will form a “green team” in this parish, and I’ve put a signup sheet in the back of church for anyone who would like to help form one. I hope that some of you will sign up to receive emails from our local grassroots climate action group, 350Mass.org. I hope that some of you will sign up to join a network of people across the diocese who care about Creation. I’d be glad to support you in any way I can. With the blessing of God the Father, in the presence and power of the risen Christ, and inspired by the Holy Spirit, our churches can become centers of prayer and action for a more sustainable, just and prosperous world. God is murmuring in our hearts, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” and God yearns for our reply, “Here am I; send me!” (Isaiah 6:8).
Next month, leaders in the Episcopal Church will gather in Salt Lake City for our triennial General Convention. Among the significant decisions that will be made is a decision about whether to divest from fossil fuels – that is, whether to sell off holdings of stocks and bonds from the world’s leading 200 fossil fuel companies as identified by the Carbon Underground and to re-invest in the clean energy sector.
In many respects the Episcopal Church has a history of leadership in addressing the climate crisis (for a summary of that history, you can download here a pdf of my article, “The Episcopal Church and Climate Change: The First Twenty-Five Years,” The Anglican Theological Review, Fall 2013). As a community of faith, the Episcopal Church cherishes the study of science and accepts the consensus of climate scientists that climate change is real and is largely caused by human activity. In fact, our Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori (who was an oceanographer before she began studying for ordination) told a reporter a couple of months ago that it is “immoral” to deny the conclusions of climate science. Yet in the same public remarks Bishop Schori also stated that she opposes divesting from fossil fuels.
She is not alone. In speaking with Episcopalians in person, by mail, and on the phone, in small groups and one-on-one, I’ve discovered that although some of us are ardent advocates of fossil fuel divestment, others are moderately or strongly opposed.
Some Church leaders are uncertain, actively wrestling with their conscience, trying to sort out what faithfulness to the Gospel requires. The most poignant conversation I have had so far was with a man who spoke about divestment in terms of religious conversion. His deepest intention is to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. As a person charged with investment responsibilities in the Church he believes that divestment from fossil fuels is the right thing to do, but he does not feel ready to advocate for it. Very candidly he tells me that where he is as a follower of Jesus is different from where he is in carrying out his financial responsibilities. He is aware of the incongruity, and it troubles him. I sense that he lives in an in-between place, not at peace with his conscience. I sense his discomfort. I honor his desire for conversion.
I want to dedicate this blog post to him, and to all people of good will who want our behavior to line up with our conscience, so that the choices we make around money (and everything else) increasingly express our deepest values.
Here are some arguments against divestment that I’ve heard from several leaders in the Episcopal Church, and how I respond.
1) The Episcopal Church has a considered theological belief that encourages positive engagement when change is desired. We do not believe that shunning or cutting off conversation is an effective way to encourage conversion or transformation.
Conversation – including stockholders being in dialogue with corporate management – is indeed an essential aspect of positive engagement, but conversation is not the only or necessarily the best way to engage constructively or to encourage conversion or transformation. Jesus had many conversations that transformed lives, but he did not rely only on words to express his message. He also communicated God’s presence by touch, gesture, silence, and action.
Divesting from fossil fuels does not cut off conversation with the fossil fuel industry. Quite the contrary – it clarifies the message that we need to convey: 80% of fossil fuels must stay in the ground.
There are times when conversation by itself has no power to encourage conversion or transformation, but must be accompanied by action. A personal story may illustrate the point: my father was alcoholic. I spent many years reasoning and arguing with him, until at last I realized that talking with a drunk about his addiction would never change a thing. It was only when I helped organize a family intervention – a disciplined conversation that includes real consequences – that he became willing, however briefly, to address his addiction.
Words by themselves are not enough when it comes to transforming deep patterns of addiction and sin. Divestment, or the threat of divestment, raises the ante, builds social and political pressure, and increases the likelihood that fossil fuel companies will have to listen and change.
2) Stockholder engagement has the potential to shift energy companies’ focus to alternative, renewable, and less polluting sources.
Stockholder engagement makes sense when we want a company to change aspects of how it carries out its business. It does not make sense when we want a company to stop carrying out its core business.
When it comes to fossil fuels, we need to shut down an entire industry, not to fine-tune its operations. Fossil fuel companies now hold five times the amount of fuel that, if burned, would catapult the world into catastrophic climate disruption. Nevertheless these companies continue to aggressively explore for more oil, and they have every intention of burning it. If fossil fuel companies are successful in carrying out their business plans, which require unlimited expansion of markets and ever-increasing extraction and burning of fossil fuels, they will destroy life as it has evolved on this planet, along with human civilization. Their core business is destroying life on Earth.
Fossil fuel companies like to present themselves as being “energy” companies, as if they were equally involved in developing solar and wind power alongside power from fossil fuels (for a while BP tried to persuade the public to call the company “Beyond Petroleum”). In fact, developing power from sun and wind is a miniscule part of what fossil fuel companies do. Meanwhile the industry blocks regulations that would promote clean, safe, renewable energy; funds climate deniers and think-tanks that deny climate science; confuses the public by spreading misinformation; and pours billions of dollars into the effort to persuade the public that fossil fuels are the answer to our energy needs.
I know of no example of shareholder engagement persuading a company to replace its core business with a different business.
3) Pragmatically, an immediate end to fossil fuel use is unmanageable. The world is going to have to continue to utilize fossil sources like gas as a bridge to a sustainable future.
In calling for divestment from fossil fuels, we recognize that we continue to depend on fossil fuels in just about every aspect of modern life. We see divestment as expressing our intention to break society’s dependence on fossil fuels and to create a path to a sustainable future. The goal of divestment is to propel a shift to clean, safe, renewable energy.
So-called “natural” gas has been touted as a bridge to a sustainable future, though that claim is increasingly in doubt, given the methane leaks that result from extracting and distributing this fuel. Methane is an even more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and fracking is associated with contamination of groundwater and aquifers, and with earthquakes.
Pragmatically, all of us depend on a fossil-fuel-based economy, but we know enough about the effects of burning fossil fuels to know that we must create a new clean-energy economy as quickly as possible. As individuals, we must reduce our carbon footprint as much as we can. As citizens, we must push for policies and regulations that keep fossil fuels in the ground and enable a swift transition to clean renewables.
Back in the days of slavery, everyone depended on slaves. Slave-holding was considered essential to a healthy economy. Yet people who depended on slaves – people who wore clothes made by slaves, people who ate food produced by slaves – had a moral awakening, rose up to say that slavery was wrong, and actively engaged in the struggle to bring slavery to an end.
We can do the same thing. The shift to clean, safe, renewable energy won’t happen overnight, but it needs to start right now. Thanks to the political and economic clout of the fossil fuel industry, most of us depend on fossil fuels because we have no other choice. Generally speaking, fossil fuel is the only source of energy that is available or affordable. So using fossil fuels by no means removes our responsibility to push for societal change. Even while recognizing that we ourselves remain embedded in an economy based on fossil fuels, we can and must do everything in our power to change that economy, to hold fossil companies accountable for their actions, and to withdraw their social license to keep wrecking the planet. (For an excellent essay on this subject, read KC Golden’s “We have met the wrong enemy”).
4) We don’t want to make a political statement with our investments. Our endowment (or pension fund) is a resource, not an instrument to promote social or political change.
What we do with our money – how we spend it, how we save it, how we give it away, how we invest it – always has political ramifications. Money is always an expression of our values. Jesus had more to say about money than about any other topic.
If it is immoral to destroy life on this planet, then it is equally immoral to profit from that destruction. This is one reason that Archbishop Desmond Tutu – who knows first-hand the powerful role that was played by divestment in bringing down apartheid in South Africa – urges divestment from fossil fuels. Tutu affirms that “people of conscience need to break their ties with corporations financing the injustice of climate change.”
5) Our number one priority as responsible investors is to make money. Our fiduciary responsibility requires ongoing investment in fossil fuels.
Regarding financial risk, a strong case can be made that divesting from fossil fuels is a responsible financial decision. Financial analysts have shown that the short-term financial impact of divestment is negligible (see, for instance, “Extracting Fossil Fuels from Your Portfolio”). The long-term financial impact of divestment may actually strengthen a portfolio, because the so-called “carbon bubble” could burst as climate disruption forces governments to limit the burning of fossil fuels and to put a steep price on carbon. Continuing to invest in fossil fuels could lead to financial loss as fossil fuel reserves lose value and become stranded assets.
That said, of all the arguments against divestment, the argument that earning top dollar takes precedence over any other value is the argument – especially when voiced by Christians – that most breaks my heart.
Define “fiduciary responsibility” as being faithful to the future and it makes no sense to invest in fossil fuels. Burning fossil fuels undermines any hope of a livable, healthy future for future generations, including our children and grandchildren.
I imagine a dystopian vision: a scorched and desolate Earth, devoid of myriad species that have long-since gone extinct; billions of refugees on the move, searching for food and fresh water; extreme storms and waves of heat; local, regional, and national conflicts erupting over scarce resources; authoritarian governments crushing democracy in the name of national security. In such a world blighted by runaway climate change, will anybody who profited from fossil fuels look back with satisfaction on their investments? Will the people who managed pension funds and endowments and kept investing in fossil fuels congratulate themselves on their fiduciary responsibility to their clients? We wrecked the Earth, but hey, no problem, we did the right thing – we made a few bucks!
I imagine a life-sustaining vision: one after another, organizations of all kinds – educational institutions, non-profit groups, communities of faith – rise up to say yes to life. In a wave of moral clarity, they divest from fossil fuels. By divesting, they open up a space for a new future and build momentum for deep societal change. By divesting, they make it easier to pass laws that limit carbon pollution. By divesting, they break the mental grip that the fossil fuel industry has on our collective consciousness. By divesting, they make it crystal clear that if business as usual is wrecking the planet, then business as usual must stop.
A wave of religious activism, including, in some cases, civil disobedience, is beginning to sweep the globe, as religious leaders and institutions increasingly proclaim that climate disruption is not just a scientific or economic or political issue, but also a moral issue. I ask you – is it ethical to ruin the world for our children and grandchildren and for generations yet unborn? Do we have no moral responsibility for the cascade of extinctions now underway among our brother and sister species, in large part because of climate change? Are we willing to stand idly by and devastate the lives of the poor, who suffer first and hardest from the effects of climate change? Are we willing to thumb our noses at our Creator, who entrusted the Earth to our care and to whom the Creation ultimately belongs (Psalm 24:1)? Will we refuse to bear witness to the Risen Christ, whose redemptive love embraces the whole Creation?
For more and more of us, thank God, the answer is No. We want to abide in God’s love. We want to be faithful to Jesus. We want the love that is pouring into our hearts through the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5) to be manifest in how we treat each other and how we treat the Earth.
Recently the Church of England announced that it is divesting from two of the most polluting fuels, coal and tar sands. The World Council of Churches, the Unitarian Universalist Association, and the United Church of Christ have already announced that they are divesting from fossil fuels, as have a number of dioceses in the Anglican Communion and several dioceses in the Episcopal Church, including my own, the Diocese of Western Massachusetts.
Fossil fuel divestment by the Episcopal Church at this summer’s General Convention would send a powerful message that climate change is a moral issue. Divestment would also enlarge our capacity to make positive investments in renewable energy, such as sun and wind, and to help build a new, carbon-free economy.
In these perilous times, I pray that the Holy Spirit will transform every member of the Episcopal Church by the renewing of our mind, and will help us to discern what is the will of God (Romans 12:2).
Facing the climate crisis and abiding in love
It’s a pleasure to be with you this morning and to reconnect with some dear clergy friends whom I’ve known for many years. Thank you for inviting me to preach. I work as the Missioner for Creation Care in the Diocese of Western Massachusetts, and I travel to different churches, preaching the Gospel and speaking about our call as Christians to honor the holiness of God’s Creation. I know that caring for Creation is a topic that many of you are already concerned about here at St. Paul’s, and I hope to give you a word of encouragement and support.Today’s Gospel reading makes a fine starting-point for reflection on why Christians feel called to protect God’s Creation. When I was in seminary many years ago, someone told me that a preacher should never mention the word ‘love’ in a sermon unless the readings assigned for the day clearly justified it. It turns out that I’ve managed to ignore that advice for nearly 30 years in just about every sermon I’ve ever preached. But hey – today I need no excuse! I did the count: the word “love” shows up nine times in today’s Gospel: Jesus says to his disciples, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love… This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:9-10, 12). And so on. The reading from the First Letter of John mentions the word ‘love’ five times. So today I get to proclaim it, no excuses, no hand on the parking brake, and no holds barred: it’s all about love and it’s always been about love. We live in the midst of the great love affair going on between God and God’s Creation. From start to finish, the whole Christian story is a story about a divine love that creates and sustains, that heals and forgives, that brings forth new life and makes all things new. There is a divine Presence within us and among us that is always luring us to connect and to be gentle with each other, always inviting us to be compassionate, always challenging us to confront injustice and to overcome division until at last we create the Beloved Community for which God yearns. Divine love has no limit. It embraces not only human beings but also all beings (Genesis 9:12). And the love of God being poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5) gives us strength to protect an imperiled world and to work for its healing and transformation. Today is Mother’s Day, and I give thanks for the mothers who brought each of us into the world, for those in this room who are mothers, for those trying to become mothers and those wishing they had been mothers, and for everyone, men and women alike, who know what it’s like to love with a mother’s love and to pour ourselves out – sleepless nights and all! – in the effort to help another being thrive. We sometimes describe our planet as Mother Earth, so today is a good day to honor her, too – this all-embracing Earth that offers us nourishment, shelter, and life. Today we also acknowledge our planet’s vulnerability and the assault now being waged on our planet’s life-systems. Of all the environmental challenges that we face, it is climate change that wakes me up in the middle of the night. I know that some people are very concerned about climate change, and some people less so. As I see it, climate change is the moral issue of our time. 97% of climate scientists worldwide are telling us with increasing alarm that climate change is real, it is happening now, and for the most part it is caused by us human beings. Of course there has always been some natural variability in the planet’s average temperature, but ever since the Industrial Revolution we’ve been forcing the climate to change in a way that human beings have never experienced before. In just two centuries – only a blink in geologic time – we have burned so much coal, gas, and oil and released so much heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are at a level that Homo sapiens has never experienced before. A few days ago, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration made an expected, though long-dreaded, announcement that for the first time in human history the global level of carbon dioxide has topped 400 parts per million, reaching a level that hasn’t been seen in about 2 million years. For now the air is still breathable, and for now your life and mine will go on. But what’s so worrisome to scientists is that this process is happening so fast. Already we’ve shot well past 350 parts per million, the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and the amount of carbon dioxide pouring into the atmosphere is accelerating at a record pace, one hundred times faster than natural rises in the past. Already oceans are heating and becoming more acidic; tundra is thawing; ice caps are melting; sea levels are rising; coral reefs are dying; massive droughts are spreading in some places and heavy rains intensifying in others. Last spring we learned that the huge West Antarctic ice sheet is starting to collapse and slide into the sea in a way that scientists call “unstoppable.” Here in New England, extreme weather events have increased over 70% in recent years, and you know first-hand about Hurricane Sandy. So when it comes to the climate crisis, it’s not just about polar bears anymore. It’s about saving a habitable world for our children and our children’s children. It’s about finding our moral compass and deciding what kind of world we want to inhabit. The average worldwide temperature is rising, and if we simply stick to business as usual and keep to our present course – if we simply keep carrying out our usual daily activities in our usual carbon-intensive way – then within two, three, four generations we could raise average global temperatures to a level that would make the world very difficult for humans and other creatures to inhabit. So how does the Holy Spirit call us to respond as the web of life unravels before our eyes? In a situation that speaks so much of death and despair, it is deeply reassuring to hear Jesus call us to abide in his love. The melting of the West Antarctic ice sheet may be unstoppable, but so, too, is the love of God. We take heart from that unstoppable love. We know that God is with us. We know that when we rise up to heal God’s Creation, we are becoming the people that God created us to be: people who bless and heal the Earth, people who refuse to settle for business as usual. Scientists have done their work. Now it’s up to us to bear witness to the love of God. And that’s just what’s happening in religious communities around the world, especially now, as we look ahead to the crucial U.N. climate talks that will take place in Paris this December. In March, the Episcopal Church organized a webinar on the climate crisis and our Presiding Bishop declared that denying the reality of human-caused climate change is immoral. Last week Pope Francis and top Vatican officials met with the head of the U.N. and with leading climate scientists to frame climate change as a moral issue, and around the world people are waiting with great anticipation for the release this summer of a papal encyclical on climate change. The Church of England announced last week that it is divesting – that is, selling off its holdings of stocks and bonds – from two of the most polluting fuels, coal and tar sands, for it is immoral to burn up the planet, surely it is immoral to profit from that burning. The World Council of Churches, the Unitarian Universalist Association, and the United Church of Christ have already announced that they are divesting from fossil fuels, as have a number of dioceses in the Anglican Communion and several dioceses in the Episcopal Church. I hope that the Episcopal Church as a whole will decide at General Convention this summer to follow suit; the Rev. Stephanie Johnson1 and I are part of a small group of people pushing to make that happen. A wave of religious activism, including, in some cases, civil disobedience, is beginning to sweep the country, as religious leaders and institutions start to speak out that climate change is not just a scientific issue, not just economic issue, not just a political issue, but also a moral issue. For I ask you – is it ethical to ruin the world for our children and grandchildren, and for generations yet unborn? Do we have no moral responsibility for the cascade of extinctions now underway among our brother and sister species, in large part because of climate change? Are we willing to stand idly by and devastate the lives of the poor, who suffer first and hardest from the effects of climate change? Are we willing to thumb our noses at our Creator, who entrusted the Earth to our care and to whom the Creation ultimately belongs (Psalm 24:1)? Will we refuse to bear witness in our lives that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16)? For more and more of us, the answer, thank God, is No. We want to abide in God’s love. We want to be faithful to Jesus. We want the love that is pouring through us to be expressed in how we treat each other and how we treat the Earth. And there is so much we can do. As individuals, we can recycle more, drive less, be sparing in our use of water, and quit using bottled water. We can turn off lights when we leave a room, maybe eat local, organic, and less meat-centered foods, and support local farms and land trusts. As a congregation you can form a “green team,” and if you visit my Website, RevivingCreation.org, you can download a short piece that explains how to do that. Above all, by sounding the moral call we can join the climate movement and push to make it politically possible to do what is scientifically necessary. We need to make a swift transition to clean, safe, renewable sources of energy, such as sun and wind. Interfaith initiatives to address the climate crisis are being organized right here in the Fairfield area, and I hope that you will join me for a conversation about that after the service. I hope that some of you will join me on September 20 in Washington, D.C., where people will converge for the Moral March for Climate Action. I hope that this march will be as powerful and as decisive as the March on Washington in 1963. The love of God will guide us. Churches can lead the way. With the blessing of God the Father, in the presence and power of the risen Christ, and inspired by the Holy Spirit, our churches can become centers of prayer and action for a more sustainable, just and prosperous world. Thank you, good people of St. Paul’s, for everything you are already doing and for what you will decide to do in the weeks and months ahead. ______________________________________________________________________________________________________ 1. Assistant Priest for Children and Youth Formation at St. Paul’s, the Rev. Stephanie Johnson is also convener of New England Regional Environmental Ministries.
Anyone with a major addiction knows what it’s like to feel imprisoned: you can’t think straight; you can’t face reality; you can’t stop doing what you’re doing, however destructive it is to yourself and others. Because recovery from addiction is such a difficult process, addicts need the tough love of allies and friends in order to make the journey to freedom.
From April 12-17, 2015, members of the Harvard community will come together on campus to speak out for climate justice and to urge the university to divest its holdings in the fossil fuel industry.
Harvard Heat Week is an act of tough love.
For me, it’s personal. All my life I have been affiliated with Harvard. My father, John M. Bullitt, was a Harvard professor, specializing in 18th century English literature. When I was seven years old, he was appointed the first Master of Quincy House, and that’s where I grew up. Years later I returned to Harvard to earn a Ph.D. (‘84) in comparative literature.
Harvard was the place where I learned first-hand about addiction. As a graduate student, I confronted my father’s life-long alcoholism and helped to organize an intervention into his drinking. A few months later, I confessed my own addiction, which is to food. On April 13, 1982, I admitted that I was powerless and needed help. On that decisive day I began a journey to freedom, assisted by a community of friends who helped me stay the course. Recovery from addiction changed everything. Now abstinent, I finished my doctorate, left Harvard, and headed to divinity school to learn about the God who had just saved my life. I was ordained in the Episcopal Church and have served as a priest ever since.
On April 13, 2015 – thirty-three years to the day since I began my recovery from addiction – I will head back to Harvard to urge my alma mater to divest from fossil fuels.
Call it an intervention. Call it an act of hope. Call it a plea from one addict to another: liberation is possible. Together we can set a course to a more just and sustainable future. Together we can turn from death to life.
The juggernaut of our economic system is devouring the earth, relentlessly seeking to extract every drop of oil, every ounce of coal, and every trace of so-called “natural” gas. An addictive system is insatiable. It knows no limits. It rejects any regulation and restraint as it strains forward to grab the next dollar and franc and rupee and yen.
Like every addict, an addictive system can’t think clearly. It hides behind excuses and denial, distraction and delay. It prefers to talk about the problem rather than to take meaningful action. It insists, sometimes in all sincerity, that no other way of life is possible. It’s too late to change. We can’t stop – not yet, anyway. Not now. First let’s drill more oil wells, build more pipelines, suck out more tar sands, and blow off more mountaintops. Let’s find out how much more petroleum we can burn, how much more carbon pollution we can pour into the atmosphere, and how much more money we can make before we propel the world into climate chaos.
Divesting from fossil fuels is an act of recovery and liberation. It is a way of saying no: no to the fantasy that corporations can gobble up the earth with impunity, and the devil take the hindmost; no to the lie that where we invest our money doesn’t matter, as long we make more; no to the illusion that you can argue with an addict – by, say, engaging in shareholder activism – and provoke any fundamental change in the addict’s behavior.
Divesting from fossil fuels is a way to say no to a death-dealing, addictive system. Investing instead in clean renewables, such as wind, water, and sun, is a way of saying yes: yes to aligning our money with our mission and values; yes to safeguarding life as it has evolved on this planet; yes to making the rapid personal and societal changes we need to make if we’re going to prevent the web of life from unraveling.
As many addicts know, sometimes only a power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity. In the end, the most abundant and most powerful source of energy is the power of love. I put my trust in that power, in the divine Spirit that longs to “renew the face of the earth” (Psalm 104:31).
During Harvard Heat Week I will return to campus and risk arrest in an act of peaceful civil disobedience. I will do this for all kinds of reasons: because I love my son, because I love my grandchildren, because I love the holy Mystery that creates and sustains life. Above all, I will do it because, speaking as one addict to another, I understand how hard it is to change. Sometimes only love can stop a person, group, or society from self-destruction – the kind of tough love that stands fast, holds the addict accountable, and refuses to settle for a catastrophic status quo.
This guide will help you set up a Green Team at your church and will equip your congregation to become more effective in caring for God’s Creation. Green Teams expand environmental activities in our churches and help congregations to connect their faith with sustainable living. This guide offers a variety of specific activities from which you can select the ones that best match your church’s level of energy and engagement.
(Updated and adapted by Patrick Cage and the Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas from “Green Team FAQ’s,” the Episcopal Ecological Network (EpEN).)
To download a pdf, click on this link: How to Start a Green Team at Your Church
What is a Green Team?
A Green Team (or Environmental Stewardship Team, or Creation Care Committee) is a core group of people in a congregation who are committed to raising awareness about the urgent need to protect God’s Creation and to work for environmental sustainability and responsibility. Green Teams develop sustainability in church life by increasing energy efficiency and conservation, decreasing consumption and waste, and, if possible, encouraging the use of clean, safe, renewable energy. Your group may also choose to engage in issues of public policy and to advocate for ecological and climate justice.
The Importance of a Green Team
Every congregation can find ways to better preserve and protect God’s Creation as an aspect of faithful discipleship. Forming a group that can inspire, implement and/or oversee environmental progress in your church is essential for long-term success. A Green Team avoids burnout by dividing and sharing tasks. By praying together and by creating opportunities to reflect on how protecting God’s Creation connects with their faith, Green Team members can offer each other a sense of community and moral support. A group also shows church decision-makers that there is a constituency that supports real change.
Starting a Green Team
To start a Green Team, begin by talking to friends within your congregation that might be interested in forming the core group with you. Talk with your clergy and staff to gauge their level of interest and support. Be sure to speak with whoever is in charge of facilities; begin to form alliances and to develop an understanding of how the church buildings work. Once you have gathered several committed people, announce the first meeting in your church’s bulletin and during announcement time at worship services. Your Green Team can include any number of people, as long as you conduct meetings and choose projects that keep your scale in mind.
What should we do during our first meeting?
Organize a potluck if the group is small enough! Invite everyone to share what led him or her to come to this meeting. Discuss goals and brainstorm possible projects, drawing on the suggestions below, if desired. Choose your first project, and set up a basic plan for how to complete it, with delegated tasks. Then set up a time to meet regularly to check in with one another.
What should we choose as our first project?
During your first meeting, after brainstorming, choose one project that can be quickly and inexpensively accomplished so that you build confidence and create momentum within your team. Be sure to consider the energy and interest of your group, the pace of change within your congregation, and how much support you have from clergy and staff.
Initial projects to make church life more sustainable:
There are many different ways to start treading more lightly on God’s green Earth. Below are a number of possible activities. Consider this a guide to prompt brainstorming for your own congregation, rather than a checklist.
- Set up a bulletin board and post news articles and photos that relate to Creation care.
- Provide Eco-Tips for publication in your church’s service leaflets or newsletters.
- Minimize waste during coffee hour by replacing Styrofoam cups with mugs.
- Connect your church with local recycling, composting, or e-waste resources.
- Replace incandescent lighting with CFL bulbs and LED lights for your Exit signs.
- Transition church land to organic greenscaping or community gardens.
- Organize carpools to church services and events.
- Encourage local, organic, and vegetarian-friendly foods at church events.
- Ditch bottled water and serve tap water at church events.
- Conduct an energy audit through your local utility company, or with the assistance of Interfaith Power & Light.
…or anything else! Be creative. Choose something fun.
Further Green Team Projects:
In addition to the ideas above, here is an expanded list of projects that could supplement “greening” church life by further engaging church members in environmental and climate justice:
- Encourage your pastor to preach about climate change and to develop special worship services that honor God’s Creation. Celebrate an annual Creation Sunday, or an entire Season of Creation.
- Host a movie night for your church and your local community. Watch a film like “Renewal,” “Chasing Ice,” or “A Climate of TRUST,” and hold a discussion afterwards.
- Host a 100-Mile Potluck, in which as many foods as possible are grown or produced within 100 miles of the church.
- Join your local chapter of Interfaith Power & Light and help your church to save money while it saves energy.
- Build relationships with other groups in the congregation. Encourage Sunday School programs, Bible camps, adult education programs, and spiritual retreats that focus on care for God’s Creation.
- Support local green energy through a program such as MassEnergy in Massachusetts.
- Install solar panels on your church’s roof.
- If your congregation has an endowment, work with the investments committee to divest from fossil fuels.
- Encourage everyone to join the climate movement and to sign up to receive newsletters from your local climate action group, such as 350MA.org in Massachusetts.
- Organize church field trips to witness the beauty of creation and to participate in rallies.
- When circumstances call for it, participate in nonviolent civil disobedience or ease the financial burden of people who choose this step.
- Reach out to other churches in your area. Create an ecumenical event.
How can I make our Green Team more effective?
As you consider ways to improve the work of your team, you might consider the following questions:
- Are you accomplishing the goals you have set for yourselves?
- Are you meeting regularly (even if only once per month)?
- Do you have a sense of community commitment?
- If your goals are proving elusive, are you able as a group to set new goals and to analyze errors without blame or despair?
- Are you welcoming newcomers, and do you accommodate differing interests and schedules?
Tips for Success:
Focus on achievable, incremental changes. Don’t try to do everything at once. Let engagement grow like a mustard seed.
Don’t be bashful! When your Team is graced with successful completion of a project, share this in your church announcements. Use the church website and banners to inspire others and potentially to attract newcomers. Reach out to regional denominational leaders. If your Green Team achieves something major, like divesting from fossil fuels or building a community garden, contact your local media!
Connect action and education. Combine a movie night on plastics with efforts to reduce your congregation’s consumption of petroleum-based products. If your church joins a compost pick-up, let church-members know that they can do the same in their own homes.
Continue to reflect on how this work connects to the values of our faith.
Whatever you decide to do, have a blast doing it! Let it bring your church together.
“No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” –Matthew 5:15-16
“Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” – Matthew 18:19-20
“Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.” –Mark 4:30-32
“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” –Romans 8:19-21
“The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for [God] founded it on the seas and established it on the waters.” –Psalm 24:1-2
Further actions for greening your church from Eco-Justice Ministries.
Divest & Reinvest resources from GreenFaith.
The homepage for the Season of Creation, which in some denominations runs from September to mid-October each year.
This post is based on a statement I read yesterday morning (October 25, 2014) at the annual convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts.
That afternoon the diocese passed a resolution asking the Episcopal Church to divest from the top 200 fossil fuel companies and to re-invest in clean energy.
It was a glorious day.
The resolution, which passed by an overwhelming majority, is included at the bottom of this piece.
I have been serving as the diocese’s Missioner for Creation Care since last January, and I can’t imagine a more rewarding or meaningful way to spend my time. I am especially grateful for the advice and support of our bishop, Doug Fisher, whose understanding of Jesus’ mission inspires me and gives me strength. Thank you, Doug.
I compare my ministry to a swinging door. Sometimes I turn toward the Church, and sometimes I turn toward the secular world. When I turn toward the Church, I speak about the sacredness of creation and about God’s call to protect the web of life. Most of us aren’t aware that the web of life is unraveling. We don’t realize that we are now in the midst of the sixth major extinction event in the history of this planet – the last one involved the dinosaurs. Most of us haven’t fully taken in what scientists are telling us about climate change. We haven’t quite grasped that in only 200 years – a blink in geologic time – we have burned so much coal, gas and oil, and released so much heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the air, that atmospheric levels of CO2 are higher today than they’ve been for millions of years. The world is changing before our eyes – melting, flooding, acidifying, and burning in ways that no human has ever seen. If we keep extracting and burning fossil fuels at present rates, we will force the worldwide average temperatures to rise between 5 and 11 degrees Fahrenheit in this century, which would make the Earth quite inhospitable for life as it has evolved on this planet, including human life.
So when I turn toward the Church, I speak about the Earth, and when I turn toward secular people, I speak about God. To political and corporate leaders, I speak about the Church’s deep commitment to caring for creation. I speak about the Church’s particular concern for the poor, who are least equipped to deal with the effects of climate change, from more extreme floods and droughts to more infectious diseases and greater food scarcity. To environmental activists – some of whom wrestle with despair – I speak about the spiritual resources that give Christians hope. I speak about a God who created and loves every inch of creation. I speak about Jesus Christ rising from the dead and showing us that life, and not death, will have the last word. I speak about the Spirit that gives us power to roll away the stone. I speak about the divine love that will never let us go and that sends us out to bear witness to love, no matter what the outcome may be and whether or not our efforts are “successful.”
My vision is that this diocese – and the wider Church – will come to see that caring for the Earth is the great mission of our time, and that caring for Creation must be woven into everything we do – from sermons to Sunday School, from prayers to public advocacy. We were born at an unprecedented time in human history, a time when our choices really matter to the future of our children, our children’s children, and the ongoing evolution of life. Whatever particular “issue” may be closest to our hearts – whether it be poverty and economic injustice or immigration; war, racism, violence, or human rights; education or public health – whatever you think of as “your” issue, please know that it will be deeply affected by climate change. Please keep working on those issues, but know that tackling climate change is the great and over-riding challenge that pulls us together in a common search to find a more just, peaceful, and sustainable way of inhabiting this planet. This is the kind of moment the Church was made for. This is an all-hands-on deck moment, a time when we need everyone’s wisdom and energy and help.
So – to the parishes that have already invited me to preach and speak: thank you. To the parishes that haven’t yet done so: please do. I would welcome an invitation. Over the last 10 months we’ve been building a network of people in the diocese who care about Creation, and if you’re interested in joining, please give me your name and contact information. Since beginning this job, I’ve started a new Website, Reviving Creation, on which I post blog essays and sermons, and I hope you’ll take a look and maybe sign up to receive blog posts in your email. We now have a diocesan banner that says “Love God, Love your neighbor: Stop climate change,” and it has been getting a workout. Last month people from the diocese carried our banner during the People’s Climate March in New York City, which drew something like 400,000 people for the biggest climate march in history. And last Monday night, here in Springfield, a wonderfully diverse mix of poor Hispanic, African-American and immigrant communities from the inner city joined with white folks like me from places like Amherst and Northampton to march together to City Hall to ask the city to develop a climate action plan. Once again we carried our banner, and the Dean of our Cathedral was there; our Hispanic Missioner was there; members of our churches were there; and a representative of Bishop Jim Hazelwood and the New England Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America was there. Bishop Doug was one of the speakers at the rally, and that night Springfield’s City Council voted unanimously to pass a resolution to create a climate action plan. Days like that warm my heart!
Here we are in the midst of our first-ever Season of Creation, and I’ve enjoyed learning about the many ways that churches in the diocese are celebrating this special season. I hope you’ll enjoy and make good use of these weeks until Christ the King Sunday at the end of November, and will lift up the sacredness of the natural world and God’s call to safeguard life. Two weeks from today we’ll be offering a special event in Worcester: on November 8, Massachusetts Interfaith Power & Light will give a Sustainable House of Worship (SHOW) workshop that can show your church how to save money and become more energy efficient and energy conserving. I hope that everyone here will make sure that someone from your church attends that event.
Meanwhile I want to thank the Trustees of this diocese for carrying out a thoughtful, prayerful, and sometimes difficult discussion about the diocese’s policy and practices regarding investments in fossil fuels. I salute your decision in August to reduce our diocese’s exposure to fossil fuels and to invest instead in clean energy. I am grateful for your leadership, and I am grateful that we will have an opportunity this afternoon to discuss a resolution that asks the Episcopal Church to make the same decision.
I look forward to the day when I am no longer a swinging door – the day when we all live in one space. On that day, the Church will fully understand and embody the fact that caring for the ongoing web of life is central to our moral and spiritual concern. On that day, the “secular” world will fully understand that the living mystery we call God is real, and very much alive, and is making all things new. Until that day comes, and when that day comes, I will give thanks for all of you who engage in the great work of loving God and neighbor by participating in the movement to protect life on this planet.
The following resolution was submitted to the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts by the Social Justice Commission, and passed at the diocese’s annual convention on October 25, 2014.
Eliminating Fossil Fuel Holdings and Investing in Clean Energy
Resolved, that as a matter of moral and theological urgency, in obedience to God’s command to “tend and keep the earth” and consistent with Jesus’ injunction that we care for those who are most vulnerable, this 113th Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts calls on the Church Pension Fund, the Investment Committee of the Executive Council, and the Episcopal Church Foundation to adopt a policy to refrain from this time forward from purchasing any new holdings of public equities and corporate bonds of the world’s leading 200 fossil fuel companies as identified by the Carbon Underground1, and be it further
Resolved, that in obedience to God’s call to be stewards of earth’s diverse community of life, this 113th Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts calls on the Church Pension Fund, the Investment Committee of the Executive Council, and the Episcopal Church Foundation to develop and implement a plan to eliminate exposure within five years to direct ownership of public equities and corporate bonds of the world’s leading 200 fossil fuel companies as identified by the Carbon Underground2, and be it further
Resolved, that as an investment in the healthy future of humanity and the planet, this 113th Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts calls on the Church Pension Fund, the Investment Committee of the Executive Council, and the Episcopal Church Foundation to develop and implement a strategy to invest 5% within two years and 10% within four years of their overall holdings in “impact investments” in the clean energy sector, and be it further
Resolved, that this 113th Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts, memorialize the 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church to encourage all dioceses and the Consortium of Endowed Episcopal Parishes to engage within the coming year the topic of eliminating exposure to investment in fossil fuels and of reinvesting in clean energy.
God calls us to be good stewards of God’s good Creation (Gen. 1:31, 2:15). Jesus commands us to care for those who are vulnerable as if we were caring for Him (Mt. 25:40). The Fifth Mark of Mission of the Anglican Communion is “To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.” The Episcopal Church has long been on record calling for action to address climate change, and environmental justice, most recently with resolutions in 2006 and 2009.3 The Episcopal Church, by its mission, is pledged to the protection and care of God’s people and God’s Creation.
Climate change represents a titanic threat to all life, and especially to the poor. The biblical mandate and our church’s teachings could not be clearer that we must respond with faithful, prophetic action. For over two decades, the Episcopal Church and the wider faith community has utilized shareholder and legislative advocacy on climate change, to very little effect.
The scientific consensus is overwhelmingly clear that anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels4 have already caused and will continue to cause climate change.5 Without a swift, concerted, global shift away from the burning of fossil fuels, the effects of climate change will displace and impoverish hundreds of millions of people in the coming century6 and condemn many species to extinction. In recent years, superstorms and droughts have plagued our planet. We witness an unprecedented melting of Greenland’s ice cap, the Arctic ice pack, Antarctic glaciers and ice shelves, and mountain glaciers worldwide. Rising, acidifying7 seas coupled with more violent storms are threatening communities at sea level worldwide. An estimated 400,000 people a year die from the effects of climate change8. A far larger number of people lose their homes, livelihoods, and health from climate-related droughts and storms, the increased spread of infectious disease due to rising temperatures, and related stressors. Climate change is, in profound ways, a matter of justice. Jesus teaches that when we care for the poor, we care for Him (Mt. 25). As the climate crisis worsens, the church must increase the scope of its response.
Climate scientists inform us that if we are to limit global warming to just 2 degrees Celsius above the norm existing prior to the Industrial Revolution—a cap that is still fraught with risks9 but one that even the most conservative governments in the world have agreed to meet10—then we can only emit approximately 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide11. The fossil fuel industry already possesses in its reserves enough carbon to emit approximately 2,795 gigatons of carbon dioxide if burned12—five times the amount that could be ‘safely’ emitted into the atmosphere. At current rates of emission this ‘ration’ will be used by 2040.13
The fossil fuel industry’s value and future depend on burning these fuels. This industry has used its financial power to prevent legislation to reduce carbon emissions, spending over $400,000 per day to lobby the US government alone.14 It secures unthinkably large government subsidies – $1.5 billion globally per day, according to the International Energy Agency. In 2013, the industry spent over $600 billion exploring for new fossil fuel reserves, far beyond the $244 billion invested globally in renewable energy.1516 This level of spending dwarfs the resources that can be mobilized by advocates for a sustainable future.
Given this reality, four factors require the church to address the issue of eliminating exposure to holdings in fossil fuel companies and reinvesting in clean energy. Two of these are moral factors, and two financial.
First, a growing number of religious and educational institutions are committing to eliminate their fossil fuel holdings, having concluded that it is immoral to profit from an industry whose core business creates climate change and whose financial and political influence has prevented climate change legislation. In the past, under circumstances of grave harm combined with intransigent resistance to change by the offending industry or regime, the church has debated and/or divested from certain industries (tobacco) or from certain companies which support repugnant regimes (apartheid South Africa). Such a time has arrived with the fossil fuel industry. Within the past two years, the United Church of Christ and the Unitarian Universalist Association have both voted to divest. The Presbyterian Church USA is studying divestment. The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, in May 2014, became the first Anglican body in the world to divest form fossil fuels. Union Theological Seminary and the University of Dayton, a Roman Catholic University, voted to divest in June 2014.17 The Diocese of Massachusetts has adopted a divestment resolution, and study of divestment is underway in our diocese, the Diocese of Oregon, and in hundreds of churches nationwide. The time has arrived for the Episcopal Church to take a leading role in the pre-eminent moral issue of our time.
Second, analyses18 have shown that eliminating fossil fuel industries from an investment portfolio over the past twenty-five years would have resulted in no reduction in returns. This suggests that concerns about the risk to church investments posed by divestment may well be overblown.
Third, a growing number of investment professionals are now warning about the inevitability of a “carbon bubble,” a term referring to the over-valuation of fossil fuel companies which currently depend on fossil fuel reserves as a substantial part of their market value. In the view of an overwhelming majority of scientists and policymakers, approximately two thirds of these reserves will not be able to be burned if the climate is to remain below two degrees Celsius. This creates the inevitability of the devaluation of these holdings; church investment managers and trustees are duty-bound to respond.
Fourth, the growing number of renewable energy and clean technology investment opportunities (with some of these referred to as “impact investments”), combined with the desperate need of the developing world for clean energy, establishes a moral obligation for the Episcopal Church to seek to utilize its investment resources in a manner that meets its investment objectives while supporting the emergence of clean energy systems in the developing world. According to the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN): “Impact investments are investments made into companies, organizations, and funds with the intention to generate a measurable, beneficial social and environmental impact alongside a financial return. Impact investments can be made in both emerging and developed markets, and target a range of returns from below-market to above-market rates, depending upon the circumstances.”19
The time has come to bear our witness in this new, faithful, courageous manner. For the sake of life and of justice, the time has come for the church to eliminate its holdings in fossil fuels and to reinvest in clean energy.
— Sponsored by the Social Justice Commission
4.“Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions Data” from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/global.html
5. Naomi Oreskes, “The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change”, Science, December 3, 2004; http://www.sciencemag.org/content/306/5702/1686.full
6. “Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,” 2007; http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg2/en/contents.html
7. Ken Caldeira and Michael E. Wickett, “Anthropogenic Carbon and Ocean pH”, Nature, 2003; https://pangea.stanford.edu/research/Oceans/GES205/Caldeira_Science_Anthropogenic%20Carbon%20and%20ocean%20pH.pdf
8. “Climate Vulnerability Monitor, Second Edition”, DARA and Climate Vulnerable Forum, 2012; http://daraint.org/climate-vulnerability-monitor/climate-vulnerability-monitor-2012/report/
9. Just two examples of the effects of a warmer planet include the increased risk of hurricane disasters (see Kerry Emanuel, “Global Warming Effects on U.S. Hurricane Damage,” 2011; ftp://texmex.mit.edu/pub/emanuel/PAPERS/wcas_2011.pdf) and species extinction (“Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: Summary for Policy Makers,” 2007; http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/wg2/ar4-wg2-spm.pdf).
10. The 2010 United Nations Climate Change Conference; http://unfccc.int/key_steps/cancun_agreements/items/6132.php
17. For a current list of faith-based institutions that have divested or that are debating divestment, see http://greenfaith.org/programs/divest-and-reinvest/listing-of-known-religious-divestment-efforts
18. See, for example, http://www.aperiogroup.com/system/files/documents/building_a_carbon_free_portfolio.pdf
I have been speechless for the past three days.
OK, not exactly speechless. I have been immersed in email, so that counts as words.
But after the weekend’s “Religions for the Earth” conference in New York City, which brought together more than 200 religious and spiritual leaders from around the world to voice our concerns and commitments regarding climate change; after the conference’s powerful multi-faith service at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine; after the People’s Climate March on Sunday, which surpassed all expectations when 400,000 people surged through the streets of Manhattan; and after Flood Wall Street the next day, in which perhaps 2,000 demonstrators poured into the financial district and more than 100 people were arrested in a peaceful, passionate uprising to protest carbon pollution and carbon profits – after participating in all these events, any one of which would be enough to change a life, something deep within me fell silent. At a soul level, I had nothing to say. I wanted only to marvel in silence.
Years ago someone told me that when Leo Tolstoy saw the ocean for the first time, all this man of words could say was: “It’s big.”
I’m no Leo Tolstoy, but I understand such reticence. When for the first time you see something as deep, wide, and alive as an ocean, words fail. You want to gaze in silence. You want to bow with amazement and respect.
Here’s what I can say, three days after coming home: I saw an ocean in New York.
It was deep: deep in prayer. Deep in grief, conviction, and resolve.
I heard an indigenous woman keen a lullaby to the children of the future who may never be born.
I heard an elder from Greenland tell a hushed crowd at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine that when he was a child, the ice was 5 kilometers thick. Sixty-seven years later, the ice is 2.5 kilometers thick. “I carry the wisdom of the ice,” he told us. “It is too late. The big ice is going away. Our only hope is that you begin to use your vast knowledge wisely. We must melt the ice in the heart of man.” It was time now, he said, to call upon the ancestors. He pulled out two thin circular drums, placed them against his cheeks like a megaphone, and began to wail. His long, deep call echoed through time and filled every space. From where I was sitting, his face was hidden. He was nameless, ego-less, as anonymous as the psalmist who cries, “Out of the depths have I called to you, O LORD” (Psalm 130). His ardent plea carried the universal prayer of every heart that longs for life as we know it to continue on this earth. “Lord, have mercy,” I prayed in union with his plea. “O God, make speed to save us. O Lord, make haste to help us.”
I heard the chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change appeal to the world’s religions to speak boldly about the most urgent moral issue of our time. “This power has to be a spiritual power. This has to be an ethical force.”
I heard a man who marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 1960’s and who spent his long life dedicated to the struggle for justice tell a group of Christians that the time has come for everyone who cares about stabilizing the climate and building a livable future to “Organize. Strategize. Mobilize.” At the Cathedral service, I heard his resonant declaration: “The civil rights movement and the human rights movement have now joined the climate movement. We are the rock of this movement. We will never stand down.”
It was wide: brimming in size and wildly diverse.
Four hundred buses headed to New York from all over the country, including more than 50 buses from my home state, Massachusetts, and a bus of Episcopalians from western Massachusetts and Connecticut who celebrated Holy Communion along the way (thank you, the Rev. Stephanie Johnson, for helping me organize that bus!). Also arriving in New York were people from the world’s front-line communities, the regions suffering most from the initial effects of climate change, among them Micronesia, Guatemala, India, New Zealand, and the Philippines. So many people filled the streets of Manhattan that the preliminary count of 310,000 marchers had to be revised upward, to 400,000 – certainly the largest climate march ever. Over the same weekend, more than 2,800 solidarity events were held in over 160 countries around the world. (To view some of those beautiful march pictures, click here.)
It wasn’t just the numbers that took my breath away – it was also the diversity. There were scientists and students, anti-fracking and anti-war groups, indigenous people and urbanites, grandmothers and children, medical doctors and social justice activists, celebrities and people from historically under-served communities – waves of people from every walk of life, all of us united in the urgent call to governments and the U.N. to take strong action for climate justice and sustainability.
The signs that people carried were as diverse as the people carrying them: funny and poignant, angry, sad, and quirky. At least two writers created poetry from the signs’ messages, including Terry Tempest Williams (The Orion Blog: River Walkers) and a local friend, Nick Grabbe (Adventures in the Good Life: Climate Change Kills Kittens).
About 10,000 people marched in our interfaith contingent. So many different faith groups were represented that a thoughtful volunteer created 38 small flags for each group to carry, alphabetized from A-Z (Agnostic to Zoroastrian). All of us marched together: Greek Orthodox and Pagan, Jew and Muslim, Pentecostal and Sikh, Buddhist and Mennonite. A handmade Noah’s ark was stationed alongside an inflated replica of a mosque. (For a photographic essay about the Ark’s journey through the streets, visit “A priest, a rabbi, an imam, and a unicorn got on an Ark to save our planet”).
It was alive: filled with energy and generating new possibilities.
The march was timed to coincide with the U.N. climate summit in New York, and a host of significant events rose up alongside, like mighty ocean waves.
The protesters and the acts of non-violent civil disobedience on Wall Street gave voice this week to everyone who wants a fossil-free economy and an economic system that heals the chasm between rich and poor.
The Rockefeller family, whose legendary wealth flowed from oil, announced its decision to divest its $860 million philanthropic fund from fossil fuels.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu and more than 80 of the world’s leading theologians, ethicists and religious leaders released a statement supporting fossil fuel divestment and clean energy reinvestment by faith communities. “To serve as custodians of creation is not an empty title,” Tutu said in a video released this week. “It requires that we act, and with all the urgency this dire situation demands.”
A Pastoral Message on Climate Change was issued this week by the heads of the Anglican Church of Canada, The Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada. Worth reading carefully, the statement declares: “God, who made the creation and made it good, has not abandoned it. Daily the Spirit continues to renew the face of the earth. All who care for the earth and work for the restoration of its vitality can be confident that they are not pursuing a lost cause. We serve in concert with God’s own creative and renewing power.”
Meanwhile, there are things that all of us can do right away. I invite you to add your voice to a new initiative, OurVoices.net, by which millions of people around the world can register their commitment to pray for the success of the 2015 U.N. climate talks in Paris. The U.N. climate leader, Christiana Figueres, is asking for everyone’s spiritual and moral support of this initiative.
Those of us who live in western Massachusetts have an opportunity on Monday evening, October 20, to march to the steps of City Hall in downtown Springfield and to urge City Councilors to pass a resolution calling on the city to create a strong climate action plan (for updates, please check Climate Action Now).
Faced with a crisis that threatens all living beings, human and non-human alike, will humanity unite at last to create God’s dream of Shalom and to form the beloved Earth Community? Will we respond at last to the call to organize, strategize, and mobilize?
I take heart from the prophet Isaiah, who perceives God as coming to us from the future, making all things new. God speaks through Isaiah, saying: “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:18-19).
The planet is rapidly warming. Species are going extinct. Sea levels are rising. But another kind of ocean is rising, too: an ocean of love and concern, an ocean of commitment and resolve that is bringing together all kinds of people who are willing to engage in the struggle for a just and habitable world.
Al Gore, one of the Cathedral speakers, quoted the Wallace Stevens poem that begins:
After the final no there comes a yes
And on that yes the future world depends.
I will remember September 21, 2014, as a day when humanity said Yes. In the days ahead we will have plenty of opportunities to repeat that Yes, again and again, with our lips and in our lives.
We have a long struggle ahead of us. I hope that all of us will discover what it’s like to rise up like an ocean, deep and wide and alive.
To view some of the plenary sessions and workshops from the conference “Religions for the Earth,”held at Union Theological Seminary from Sept. 19-21, 2014, and sponsored by Union Theological Seminary, the World Council of Churches, and several other major religious organizations, go here.
To view the multi-faith service held on Sept. 21, 2104, at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, which served as the finale of the “Religions for the Earth” conference, go here.
At the service, religious and spiritual leaders from around the world joined with activists, artists, scientists, community leaders, and government officials in a ritual of covenant and commission to protect and care for the Earth. Speakers included Former Vice President Al Gore, Rev. Jim Wallis, Chief Arvol Looking Horse, Dr. Vandana Shiva, Rabbi Ellen Bernstein, and more.
The man who prayed to the ancestors is Uncle Angaangaq Angakhorsuaq, Founder, IceWisdom International/Eskimo-Kalaallit Elder. The man dedicated to civil and human rights is the Rev. Dr. Gerald Durley, Pastor Emeritus, Providence Missionary Baptist Church.