Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 10, 2015. Delivered by the Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Fairfield, CT. 1 John 5:1-6 Psalm 98 John 15:9-17

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.
Sermon for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany, January 18, 2015. Delivered by the Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Northampton, MA. 1 Samuel 3:1-10                                         1 Corinthians 6:12-20 Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17                                 John 1:43-51

    Martin Luther King, Jr. and the climate movement

Friends, it is good to be with you this morning. Thank you, Cat, for inviting me to preach. I serve the diocese as your Missioner for Creation Care, so I travel from church to church, preaching the Gospel and speaking about our call as Christians to heal the Earth. I am blessed by the timing of this invitation to speak, for across the U.S. this weekend Americans are celebrating the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., a man who gave his life, quite literally, to the quest to heal our country’s great racial divide, and who dreamed of a world in which men and women of all races could live together with justice and mutual respect. Racism and racial justice is of course a vital issue in our country right now, a topic of intense debate as we observe in several cities the tragic tensions between some white police officers and the people of color that they were sworn to protect. Across the country people are exploring hard questions about white privilege and institutionalized racism, about how far we have come as a society and how much farther we have to go before we finally manifest what Dr. King called the Beloved Community.

Dr. King recognized that race relations do not exist in a vacuum. He understood that racism intersects with other patterns of violence, including poverty and militarism. If he were alive today, I believe that Dr. King would add a fourth item to what he called the “triple evils” of poverty, racism, and militarism. To that list I believe that he would add environmental destruction, especially human-caused climate change. For unless we stabilize the global climate and rapidly reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases, we will unravel the web of life and destroy any possibility of Beloved Community for human beings and for most of the other beings with which we share this precious planet. The struggle to end racism is linked to the struggle to end poverty, the struggle to end war, and the struggle to protect life as it has evolved on Earth. Racial justice, social and economic justice, environmental justice, climate justice – all these struggles intersect. In the end we share one struggle, one dream, one deep and God-inspired longing: the desire to build a peaceful, healthy, just, and sustainable world. Martin Luther King, Jr. It is God who whispers that dream into our hearts, God who plants  that longing in us like a seed that grows into a mighty oak, God who stirs us out of our complacency and sends us into action. It is God who gives us a heart to care, and strength to keep fighting the good fight. For it can be difficult to keep going, difficult to keep the faith in the face of sometimes brutal opposition and the sheer inertia of business as usual. There is a wonderful scene in the movie Selma, a movie that I hope you will see, if you haven’t already. The movie is set during the turbulent three months of 1965, exactly fifty years ago, when Martin Luther King, Jr. was leading a campaign to secure equal voting rights. Early in the movie we see David Oyelowo, the actor playing Dr. King, awake at home late at night, restless, anxious, and acutely aware of the threats against his own life and against the lives of his wife and children. Should he keep going and head to Selma? He is resisting the powers and principalities of this world and he has reached the limit of his strength. In that late-night hour he picks up the phone, dials, and says to the person on the other end of the line: “I need to hear the Lord’s voice.” The friend he has phoned is the legendary Gospel singer, Mahalia Jackson, and into the phone receiver she begins to sing very tenderly, “Precious Lord, take my hand.” It is an intimate moment, as intimate as the moment recorded in this morning’s first reading, when late at night the boy Samuel hears the voice of God speaking his name in the darkness (1 Samuel 3:1-10). When God speaks to us in that intimate way, often without any words at all, we feel mysteriously addressed. In that quiet, intimate encounter we feel known by name, touched very personally by a loving power that sees us, knows us through and through, loves us to the core, and gives us strength to carry on. This is the experience of the psalmist who writes – marveling and full of wonder – “Lord, you have searched me out and known me; you know my sitting down and my rising up; you discern my thoughts from afar” (Psalm 139:1). This is the experience of Philip, who hears Jesus call him to follow, and of Nathaniel, who realizes that Jesus saw, and knew, and thoroughly understood him even before they’d met (John 1:43-51). As Christians, we open ourselves to be seen and known, loved and guided by an intimate, divine presence that will never let us go. That is what prayer is, and it gives us strength. And when we’ve lost touch with that divine presence, when we feel frightened, despairing, or overwhelmed, we rely on each other to help us find our way back to God, just as Philip helped Nathaniel, as Eli helped the boy Samuel, and as Mahalia Jackson helped Dr. King. As people of faith, we are in this together, and when any of us lose heart, we try to help each other, as individuals and as a community, to turn again to God and to make our appeal: Precious Lord, take my hand. I feel as powerfully as ever that call to prayer, that call to community, and that call to active, faithful service and advocacy. I don’t usually carry a newspaper into church – actually, this is the first time I’ve ever done it. But I want to show you the front page of yesterday’s New York Times, which gives a map of the world colored in shades of red to indicate all the areas that were above average in temperature last year. The year 2014 broke the record for the hottest year on Earth since we started keeping records. But hey, we may be saying to ourselves, it’s been so cold in New England! It turns out that below-average temperatures in our region may be indirectly linked to climate change. Some scientists are studying the likelihood that the unusual dips they are noticing in the jet stream are connected to the rapidly warming Arctic and the exceptionally warm waters of the Pacific Ocean. Bottom line is that the phrase “global warming” is probably much too simple – a better term might be “global weirding.” As the world grows warmer we can expect more erratic and extreme fluctuations in local weather, and some places will sometimes become unexpectedly cold. Yet all the while the average global temperature is heading in only one direction: up. In just two centuries – 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 higher today than they’ve been for hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of years. I heard a climate scientist say, “We are breathing from an atmosphere that none of our ancestors would recognize.” Sticking to business as usual could raise average global temperatures between 5 and 11 degrees Fahrenheit in this century. That may not sound like much, but in fact it would make the world extremely difficult for humans and other creatures to inhabit. Oceans are already heating and becoming more acidic; tundra is thawing; ice caps and glaciers are melting; sea levels are rising; coral reefs are dying; massive droughts are spreading in some places and heavy rains are 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.” The latest climate report from the U.N. warns of food shortages, waves of refugees, and the mass extinction of plants and animals, if we keep to our present course. This is the sort of news that wakes me up at night and pulls me into prayer: precious Lord, take my hand. It is also the sort of news that propels me out of bed in the morning, eager to find a way to be of use. Once we have grasped what the bishops of the Episcopal Church call “the urgency of the planetary crisis in which we find ourselves,”1 there is so much we can do, so many ways that we can contribute to the healing of Creation. Thank you for the work you’ve done here at St. John’s to conserve energy, switch to efficient light bulbs, and use cloth rather than paper napkins. Our individual actions add up: we can recycle more, drive less, be sparing in our use of water, quit using bottled water. We can turn off lights when we leave a room. Maybe we can eat local, organic foods and support local farms and land trusts, maybe even leave them some money in our wills. I hope you’ll form a “green team” in this parish, and name a Creation Care Minister. I hope you’ll sign up to join a network of people in the diocese who care about Creation. I’d be glad to support you in any way I can. I also hope you’ll sign up to receive a weekly newsletter from the grassroots group, Climate Action Now, which is centered right here in the Pioneer Valley. If we work as isolated individuals, our success will be limited, for the scope and speed of the climate crisis require action on a much broader scale. So we link arms with other people and we join the movement to make it politically possible to do what is scientifically necessary. The climate movement is gaining momentum, and many of us are inspired by Dr. King and the civil rights movement. Last week I spent a day in Amherst with other local climate activists, studying the principles of non-violent civil disobedience as practiced by Gandhi and Dr. King. Along with more than 97,000 people across the U.S., I have signed a pledge of resistance, a pledge to risk arrest in non-violent direct action if the Keystone XL pipeline is approved. Stopping that pipeline has become a powerful symbol of the urgent need to keep 80% of the known fossil fuels in the ground, where they belong. Fossil fuel companies now possess five times the amount of coal, gas, and oil that, if burned, would force the average global temperature to rise far higher than the 2 degree threshold that gives us a 50-50 chance of preventing runaway climate change. So now is the time to make a swift transition to clean, safe, renewable energy, such as sun and wind. In this unprecedented time, many of us feel called anew to listen to the tender voice of love that God is always sounding in our heart, and then to embody that love in the world as bravely and clearly as we can. If ever there were a time to bear witness to our faith that life and not death will have the last word, now would be the time. If ever there were a time to take hold of the vision of a Beloved Community in which human beings live in right relationship with each other and with all our fellow creatures, now would be the time. The collapse of the ice sheet in Antarctica may be “unstoppable,” but so is the love that calls us to stand up for life. Archbishop Desmond Tutu fought for racial justice and against apartheid in South Africa, and now he is one of the world’s champions of climate justice. Reconciling human beings to each other, to God, and to the rest of Creation is what Tutu calls the “supreme work” of Jesus Christ. Thank you, my brothers and sisters in Christ, for joining me in that supreme work.
1. In 2011 the bishops of the Episcopal Church issued a pastoral teaching on the environment that begins with a call to repentance “as we face the unfolding environmental crisis of the earth.” For the full text of “A Pastoral Teaching from the Bishops of the Episcopal Church,” meeting in Province IX, in Quito, Ecuador, September 2011, visit here.  

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!

Springfield Climate March, Close-up, by Joe Oliverio
Springfield Climate March, Close-up, by Joe Oliverio

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.

Explanation

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


 

1. http://fossilfreeindexes.com/the-carbon-underground-2014/

2. http://fossilfreeindexes.com/the-carbon-underground-2014/

3. Resolution GC2009 – D031: Urge Commitment to Lower Carbon Output, Resolution GC2006 -B002: Acknowledge and Reduce Global Warming

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

11. http://fossilfreeindexes.com/2014/05/06/the-allocated-carbon-budget/

12. Ibid.

13. http://www.climatecentral.org/news/ipcc-climate-change-report-contains-grave-carbon-budget-message-16569

14. http://www.opensecrets.org/industries/indus.php?Ind=E01

15. http://www.fastcoexist.com/3020656/are-oil-companies-wasting-billions-on-energy-theyll-never-use

16. http://fs-unep-centre.org/publications/global-trends-renewable-energy-investment-2013

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

19. http://www.thegiin.org/cgi-bin/iowa/aboutus/index.html