Editor's Note: In this latest edition of our “Disinvest/Reinvest” series, John Elwood reflects on how – and why – he divested from fossil fuels. You can sign up for the final week of our Christian Divestment e-course here.
Investments shape souls. Jesus tells us so.
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:21
Over the years, these words of Jesus have kept me away from the “merchants of death” and conflict minerals and steered me toward ethical products of many sorts. In recent years, however, a more sinister and pervasive threat has come into focus. Climate scientists in 2014 warned that energy companies like Exxon, Shell, PetroChina and Chevron – which derive their value from enormous reserves of recoverable fossil fuels – will have to leave about 80 percent of those precious reserves in the ground if the world is to have a chance of avoiding global climate mayhem.
That means that four out of every five barrels of oil, or tons of coal, or cubic feet of natural gas that these companies have discovered and developed must eventually be written off.
The market value of fossil fuel reserves today is valued at around $27 trillion, a sum that dwarfs the famous U.S. national debt. This means that there is a very, very bad day of reckoning ahead for someone. Either all of humanity will endure unspeakable suffering, or those who invest in the fossil-fuel companies will suffer huge losses.
It became clear to me that investing in fossil fuels is no longer a retirement strategy or a way of mitigating market risks. It is a decision whether to align my soul with unfathomable harm to virtually all of humanity and to all of God’s beloved creation. If I’ve got my own personal slice of those carbon reserves (whether by buying a share of ExxonMobil or by investing in a mutual fund that does), I make money, or avoid big losses, only if the entire creation groans and suffers under the weight of climate calamity.
By now, you may have heard that Jim Wallis and Sojourners have stopped funding climate change by divesting from fossil fuels. Unfortunately, for millions of Christians who invest at faith-based financial institutions, fossil-free investing just isn’t an option.
We’ve done our research. Of the 13 major Christian investment companies we studied, not a single one offers a way for their members to opt out of fossil fuels. We think Christian investment companies should be the FIRST to stop funding climate change! Read our open letter and sign below.
Recently President Obama proposed giving wilderness status to 12 million acres of the Artic National Wildlife Refuge.
Many Republican senators, including Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, strongly oppose the president’s proposal. Much of the opposition is expressed as frustration and outrage that the president is hindering Alaskans from having control over their economic future. Sen. Murkowski asserts:
What’s coming is a stunning attack on our sovereignty and our ability to develop a strong economy that allows us, our children and our grandchildren to thrive. … It’s clear this administration does not care about us, and sees us as nothing but a territory. … I cannot understand why this administration is willing to negotiate with Iran, but not Alaska. But we will not be run over like this. We will fight back with every resource at our disposal.
The ANWR is home to significant untapped petroleum reserves that lie beneath the land the president is seeking to protect. This fight between protecting the ANWR and promoting economic growth and development through oil drilling is one that has been going on between Democrats and Republicans for years.
Alaska Gov. Bill Walker said in a statement he may be forced to accelerate oil and gas permitting on state lands to compensate for the new federal restrictions.
While I believe I understand the arguments made by advocates on both sides, it seems to me there is a fundamental ideological (and possibly theological) premise that often goes unacknowledged in these debates.
There could not be a more important year for climate action. It’s now or never. The future of our planet and the people, places, and things that we love depend on all of us working together to demand a healthy, just, and vibrant planet home. It impacts everything else – immigration and migration due to drought, flooding, sea level rise, and worsening storms; war and conflict over natural resources; access to drinkable water; food insecurity, hunger, and agriculture; disaster relief. It even impacts the sex trade — when women have to walk farther and farther to find water, they’re more vulnerable to rape and kidnapping in many regions.
So here we are, now. Governments, scientists, universities, companies, our military, and thousands of non-profit organizations are all scrambling to save the very integrity of God’s creation, the composition of the atmosphere God so magnificently created to support life on earth. And Christians are barely even at the table. We need to be at the table.
Last night I watched the State of the Union, because I live in D.C., and this is our Super Bowl. My roommate, who works on women’s rights, was listening for any mention of her "issues." And I’m no different: I tuned in to the president’s address to hear what he would have to say about climate change.
And he did have a lot to say! This is what he said:
"And no challenge — no challenge — poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.
"2014 was the planet’s warmest year on record. Now, one year doesn’t make a trend, but this does — 14 of the 15 warmest years on record have all fallen in the first 15 years of this century.
"I’ve heard some folks try to dodge the evidence by saying they’re not scientists; that we don’t have enough information to act. Well, I’m not a scientist, either. But you know what — I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA, and NOAA, and at our major universities. The best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we do not act forcefully, we’ll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration, conflict, and hunger around the globe. The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security. We should act like it."
What struck me was that it’s now totally normal for the President of the United States to speak firmly and at length about the clear and present danger of climate change.
Look at how far we’ve come! This is real progress — this is a cultural shift. This is a victory.
But this Monday, I marked Martin Luther King Day by reading the Letter from a Birmingham Jail with members of a neighborhood church. And I heard Dr. King admonishing me for my celebration.
Catholic environmental groups from around the world on Jan. 14 announced a new global network to battle climate change just as many Catholic conservatives are sharply criticizing Pope Francis’ campaign to put environmental protection high on the church’s agenda.
“We are certain that anthropogenic (human-made) climate change endangers God’s creation and us all, particularly the poor, whose voices have already spoken of the impacts of an altered climate,” the new Global Catholic Climate Movement says in its mission statement.
“Climate change is about our responsibility as God’s children and people of faith to care for human life, especially future generations, by caring for all of God’s wondrous creation,” the statement continues.
The GCCM said it intends to push for international treaties to battle global warming but said it is approaching the issue from a moral and biblical perspective and hopes to “encourage the conversion of hardened hearts.”
That could be a tall order in light of current arguments over climate change in U.S. politics and in the American church.
Evangelicals are teaming up with environmentalists to support the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan to substantially reduce carbon dioxide emissions from coal-burning power plants.
The Rev. Mitchell Hescox, president and CEO of the Evangelical Environmental Network, submitted comments from more than 100,000 “pro-life Christians” who he said are concerned about children’s health problems that are linked to unclean air and water.
“From acid rain to mercury to carbon, the coal utility industry has never acted as a good neighbor and cleaned up their mess on their own,” Hescox told reporters on Dec. 1. “Instead of acting for the benefit of our children’s lives, they’ve internalized their profits while our kids (have) borne the cost in their brains, lungs and lives.”
Despite recent findings that almost four in 10 evangelicals remain skeptical about climate change, Hescox said the comments he provided to the Environmental Protection Agency reflect a belief that “climate change is the greatest moral challenge of our time.”
Most Americans say they feel a deep connection to the wider world.
But all that spiritual stargazing makes no difference in views about the facts of climate change and global warming, a new survey finds.
Just 5 percent of Americans thought climate change was the most important issue in the U.S. today. And religion was a major dividing point on how much — or how little — they think it’s a matter of concern, according to a new survey by the Public Religion Research Institute.
“We asked about spiritual measures such as being in awe of the universe, and you might think it would correlate with views about the universe. But, in fact, they have very little relationship,” said Robert Jones, CEO of PRRI, which conducted the survey on U.S. adults’ attitudes toward climate change, environmental policy and science.
Last night, the Senate voted on the Keystone XL pipeline — and with only 59 votes, the bill failed. (In the current political climate, it takes 60 votes to make a bill filibuster-proof so that it actually passes.)
Right after the announcement, things got loud on the Senate floor. Someone from the gallery broke out into song. Although the C-SPAN cameras didn’t show them, someone was singing loudly in the Dakota/Lakota language from the gallery up above. That someone was Greg Grey Cloud, a member of the Dakota/Lakota Nation from the Rosebud Sioux reservation.
See, in some ways, the Keystone pipeline is a symbol. If President Obama lets the pipeline pass, it shows us that he isn’t actually the president who cares the most about climate change — even if he makes major agreements on climate change pollution with China or releases the Clean Power Plan for the EPA. If he lets the Keystone XL tar sands pipe be built, he’ll be undoing so much good work, cancelling it out with a fuel even dirtier than oil.
Tonight at 6:00, the Senate is holding a vote on the Keystone XL pipeline. I’ve been so excited lately by all the good thing happening in Congress, but this just might spoil my mood.
Here’s what has happened lately: President Obama met with Chinese President Xi Jinping, and the two of them agreed on a climate pollution-curbing deal. It’s a move that many people never thought possible, and it means big things for international climate talks. Also big news in that arena is Obama’s recent commitment of $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund, making us one of very few prosperous nations willing to help the world’s poor and vulnerable countries grapple with the climate impacts they are already facing – stronger storms, droughts that ravage subsistence farmers, rising sea levels that displace island nations. When the U.S. delegates show up at the U.N. climate talks in Lima two weeks from now, people might actually be happy to see us!
This week is an exciting one on the national level too. This afternoon at the EPA, a group of faith representatives will hand over our thousands of comments from people of faith who support the Clean Power Plan (and want to see the rule implemented well in every state).
But just when things were looking up, enter Congress. Here’s the basic scene:
If Quaker antislavery activist John Woolman were alive today, he would probably be doing everything in his power to resist the fossil fuel industries destabilizing our climate.
Woolman, who in the mid-1700s refused to cooperate with any aspect of the slave trade, would probably divest any ownership interest he had in big oil, gas, and coal companies. To profit financially from corporations that are destroying the planet would be unconscionable.
The divestment movement received a tremendous boost the day after 400,000 people took to the streets of New York City for the People’s Climate March. In advance of the United Nations Climate Summit on Sept. 22, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund — an $860 million foundation built on the oil fortune of John D. Rockefeller — announced its commitment to divest its holdings of fossil fuels.
This was the latest wave in a series of Divest-Invest announcements including the launch of Divest-Invest Individual, which facilitates a meaningful role for individuals in the divestment and reinvestment movements. More than 700 inaugural investors – with investments totaling $2.6 billion – announced their intention to divest from fossil fuel industries and reinvest in clean, renewable energy. Hundreds of individuals have since taken the pledge to stop new investments in fossil fuels and divest from the top 200 carbon-holding companies within five years.
“The destruction of the earth’s environment is the human rights challenge of our time,” said South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu in a video-taped message to the UN Climate Summit. He called on world leaders to freeze further exploration for new fossil fuel sources. “Divest from fossil fuels and invest in a clean energy future. Move your money out of the problem and into solutions.”
Today the House of Representatives is set to vote, yet again, on the Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline. This pipeline would move bitumen, a tar-like version of oil, from the Alberta tar sands in Canada down to the oil refineries and export areas in Texas. The pipeline is controversial because of the high carbon content of tar sands oil, the sensitive farmland, aquifer, and Native American land it passes through, and the risk of pipeline spills.
The Senate will vote on the Keystone pipeline – which would require President Obama’s signature since it crosses an international border with Canada – on Tuesday, but if it passes the House and the Senate, Obama will be faced with a choice: veto or sign. He has been silent on his final decision, stalling as the State Department goes through the review process (which raised conflict of interest concerns, as a contractor working for the pipeline company also wrote State Department’s Environmental Impact Statement).
You can call your Member of Congress to let them know where you stand on Keystone XL – find their phone number here: http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/
This morning, President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping of China made a historic announcement that their countries would limit greenhouse gas emissions.
The United States and China are the world’s two largest consumers of energy and two largest emitters of greenhouse gases. Together, they account for 40 percent of the world’s emissions.
This announcement is a milestone for two reasons. First, this is the first time that China, the world’s No. 1 producer of greenhouse gas pollution, has made any pledge to limit its rapidly growing emissions. Second, this is a major breakthrough in U.S.-China relations that highlights what’s possible when the two superpowers work together on an issue.
Both leaders hope that this statement will inject momentum into global climate negotiations by putting pressure on other major countries to reflect on their own plans for major emissions reductions.
A written statement alone will not alter the course of climate action internationally. However, this announcement has laid a foundation for an international collaborative relationship on climate change. As President Xi told President Obama on Tuesday evening, “A pool begins with many drops of water.” For the sake of God’s creation let’s hope that the drops of climate change collaboration continue to gather.
For more on this story The Hill’s report.
Editor’s Note : This is the first post in a new series about fossil fuel divestment and clean energy reinvestment. We’ll look at how and why people of faith might choose to divest from fossil fuels as a response to climate change.
When you really care about something, it’s important not to give up hope.
If one of the things you care about is climate change and the harm we are doing to God’s beautiful world, it’s pretty hard to keep the hope alive.
After all, the world’s leading peer-reviewed scientific authority on climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, just released its most damning report ever, declaring that climate disruption is at this point “irreversible.”
And then let’s look at Congress. The United States has emitted more greenhouse gases than any other country in the world, and yet it’s been five years since Congress came anywhere near passing a major climate law. (And they failed to pass that Cap & Trade law). After the most recent election last week, Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) — who once called global warming “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people” — is set to become the gatekeeper for all climate legislation.
This should come as no surprise. Fossil fuels – the main driver of our nation’s climate culpability – are a big business. We blow up mountains to get more coal, set up dangerous oilrigs in the Gulf of Mexico, pipe tar through the breadbasket of America, and use California’s limited water supply to hydrofrack for gas. When I say “we,” I mean the fossil fuel industry. The industry spends tons of money each year propping up climate deniers, spreading misinformation, and sowing seeds of doubt about what we are doing to God’s earth. They also fund political candidates on both sides of the aisle, buying silence from elected officials whose constituents are suffering from air and water pollution, historic drought, or stronger hurricanes.
In the face of all this, I have hope — for two reasons.
“The reason I speak to them in parables is that ‘seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.’ With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says: ‘You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes” (Matthew 13:11-15)
Humans shut their eyes to truth.
This week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the final installment of its three-part synthesis report on climate change. According to Rajendra Pachauri, the chairperson of the IPCC, this report is the “strongest, most robust, and most comprehensive analysis” to come out of the IPCC, which has been tracking climate change since 1988. Yet, there are still some who are hard of hearing.
The data that lies within the report is nothing completely new: climate change is happening, humans are responsible for climate change, and fossil fuels are severely damaging our levels of CO2. So, what is different about the newest installment of the IPCC report?
The emergence of one word: irreversible.
Editor’s Note: Global warming means rising sea levels, worsening extreme weather events, and a threat to God’s creation and people. The world has not experienced normal global temperatures since 1985. So while some might call them millennials, anyone under the age of 30 is part of the “Climate Generation.” If you’re under 30, congrats! You’ve inherited a big problem. Bill Lewis has a letter to share, written to his two year old grandson, and to all those who will inherit a changed planet.
Dear Future Generations,
Today, a day that encompasses all that has gone before and precedes all that will come, I write as one whose heart breaks open with joy at an expanse of prairie or Southern Pine flatwoods stretching to the horizon. I write as one who thinks of your life, my little 2-year-old grandson, and what opportunities you might have to know the natural world. I write as one who thinks of this beautiful world that encompasses so much diversity in the creatures, plants, soils, and relationships. At first I was going to tell you what I think you should know. But now it seems that I have more questions than answers. Perhaps as you live into these questions and others that you will ask, you’ll grow in wisdom and stature and awe of God. Will there be any natural areas left? Will you have the opportunity to experience what was once the largest and most biologically diverse forest type in North America – Longleaf Pine? Will you be able to travel on foot away from concrete, autos, electricity? Will you be able to be in places where nature has the power and sculpts the landscape, rather than people?
Editor's Note: Global warming means rising sea levels, worsening extreme weather events, and a threat to God’s creation and people. The world has not experienced normal global temperatures since 1985. So while some might call them millennials, anyone under the age of 30 is part of the “Climate Generation.” If you’re under 30, congrats! You’ve inherited a big problem. Dorothy Boorse is a science professor, a Christian, and a parent, and she has some words for the Climate Generation.
Dear younger ones. You idealistic, smart, and entrepreneurial folks, take courage! I am speaking from an earlier generation, but one with you, caring for each other and our lovely world. I have two sons: one home-grown in the more common way, and one gained through a long process I often call “my paperwork labor.” For one of them, I ate for two, then sweated and yelled in an epic battle to get him out into the world. For the other, I had certificates of health and finances and assessments printed, travelled abroad, and got my husband to write an autobiography. Both were arduous journeys, and both of my sons are loved more than I can describe.