Are new EPA rules and a U.N. Climate Summit enough to turn the tide on climate change?
This week began in song and prayer outside the Environmental Protection Agency.
The government employees walking past our prayer circle definitely thought we were unusual; for Sojourners, though, publicly witnessing to our calling as Christians in care for creation is just another day on the job. We gathered with interfaith partners for a morning blessing to kick off the EPA’s hearings on the Clean Power Plan – an ambitious plan to curb carbon emissions from our largest source, power plants. Our goal was to show EPA and the nation that people of faith care deeply about what human sin has done to creation, and how all of God’s creation – including people – are suffering and will continue to suffer from climate change.
The next day, I was back at the EPA, this time to offer my testimony during their second day of hearings.
Worried about global warming, a growing number of churches and other faith groups are divesting their holdings in fossil fuel companies, which release large amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
“The warning in Scripture that ‘the wages of sin is death’ could not be more literally true than it is in the case of fossil fuels,” said Serene Jones, president of New York’s Union Theological Seminary, whose board voted in June to divest its $108.4 million endowment from fossil fuel companies.
“While we realize that our endowment alone will hardly cause the fossil fuel giants to miss even half a heartbeat, as a seminary dedicated to social justice we have a critical call to live out our values in the world. Climate change poses a catastrophic threat, and as stewards of God’s creation we simply must act.”
Rabbi Moti Rieber travels the politically red state of Kansas armed with the book of Genesis, a psalm and even the words of Jesus to lecture church audiences, or sermonize if they’ll let him, about the threat of global warming.
“My feeling is that I’m the only person these people are ever going to see who’s going to look them in the eye and say, ‘There’s such a thing as climate change,’” Rieber said. “I’m trying to let them know it’s not irreligious to believe in climate change.”
He is at the vanguard of religious efforts — halting in some places, gathering speed elsewhere — to move the ecological discussion from its hot-button political and scientific moorings to one based on theological morality and the right thing to do.
1. Afghan Taliban Bans Polio Vaccination Teams
"Afghanistan is one of just three countries, along with Pakistan and Nigeria, where polio is still endemic. There has been a rise in cases this year, with seven reported so far compared with just three for the same period of 2013, according to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative."
2. Communion in a Strip Club
"I found myself in a strip club years ago. I carried a meal, and that was about all I carried. And a dancer asked me if I thought Jesus was insecure. … I quickly told her no. I told her that Jesus was entirely secure, hoping she wouldn’t try to take my Jesus away."
3. This Is What Happened When I Drove My Mercedes to Pick Up Food Stamps
The birth of twins and a job loss — stories like these illustrate how close so many people are to poverty: " … the judgment of the disadvantaged comes not just from conservative politicians and Internet trolls. It came from me, even as I was living it."
4. Dismantling the White Male Industrial Complex
Christena Cleveland argues against the logic of the white man as the secret weapon in the fight against injustice. "… rather than contributing to the white male industrial complex and focusing most/all of our justice efforts on convincing and engaging white men, I propose a different strategy …"
5. The Failure of Christian Witness in a World of Violence
"Are we contributing to the epidemic of mockery and the glorification of violence in our world with what we share from our air-conditioned living rooms? If so, then the fact that we are privileged enough to have clean hands doesn’t make us any less guilty of the violence in our world than the suicide bombers and the drones."
6. 'Life Ended There:' Rare Interviews With the Children of America's Border Disaster
POLITICO Magazine puts faces and stories to the border crisis in this must-read.
7. How Hot Is It? Hot Enough to Ruin the Economy
“The increased number of excessively hot days guaranteed to come with the changing climate has the potential to dramatically denigrate worker productivity, according to recent study. … Productivity figures to be the biggest economic hit, though energy costs will certainly give it a run for its, uh, money.”
8. Cory Booker, Rand Paul Shine Light on Shadow Side of U.S. Justice System
A new proposal pairs an unlikely duo to confront the injustice of mass incarceration. Read what brought the two together to find common ground.
9. How It Feels to Love and Hate a Sex Offender
"Most people do not understand how sex offenders function and therefore do not realize the depth of their damage. … In the healing process, I've learned that the families of sex offenders, the secondary victims, just like primary victims, must learn to do basic things even when all our beliefs and emotions scream it is not safe."
10. This Land Is Their Land :The Braves, Chiefs, and Washington NFL Team All Play on Land Seized from American Indians
“It is easy to assert that the name of your favorite team expresses solidarity with the survivors of the long, sordid history of Indian dispossession. But what if sports lore included the specifics of how the U.S. acquired the land below your team’s home field?”
"A lot of people don't know that we exist."
Last week, Serene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary, announced that the school is divesting its endowment of fossil fuels. It is the first seminary in the world to do so, marking Union’s latest action in a long legacy of social justice commitments.
So what? Well, it helps to look at this news in context.
New York City’s venerable Union Theological Seminary plans to pull all investments in fossil fuels from its $108.4 million endowment, casting it as part of a bid to atone for the “sin” of contributing to climate change.
Union’s portfolio has been investing 11 percent (or about $12 million) of its endowment in fossil fuels. Jones did not mince words in condemning the school’s contributions to fossil fuel, quoting “the wages of sin is death” from Scripture.
“We have sinned, and we see this divestment as an act of repentance for Union,” Jones wrote in an op-ed for Time magazine. “Climate change poses a catastrophic threat. As stewards of God’s creation, we simply must act to stop this sin.”
Political talk of moral obligation almost always invokes future children; it is not politically controversial to hope that our children and grandchildren will live on a safe planet. But the moral dimensions of climate change are far more complex and granular: food shortages here, extreme weather events there, floods that displace people in coastal regions, melting polar icecaps causing increased extinctions, the vulnerability of the global poor.
A moral vision able to see these granular risks comes, I would argue, not from time (Obama’s “future children” or the Pope’s “Creation will destroy us”), but from space.
Since 1946, the modern world has been able to view images of the earth from space. Some four millennia earlier, Hebrew scribes penned Genesis 1’s creation account of the whole known world. Ancient and modern, these are two portrayals of the earth, one to begin the Scriptures and one iconic of the modern space age — both spatial lenses offering moral vision about climate change.
Climate change is about people, not just science and politics — it is an inter-generational ethics issue. The earth is the Lord’s, and in Genesis, God entrusts us with caring for Creation. The earth that we leave to future generations is already being changed by climate change, and so far, our nation has done little to stop climate pollution. The Clean Power Plan, announced Monday by the EPA, is a great step forward for our country in taking climate change seriously.
The policy will treat carbon the way it should be treated — as a pollutant that’s harming our health and our planet. It will reduce our carbon pollution 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, but will allow each state the flexibility to decide how it reaches that goal.
The rule reflects some of the best values we hold dear. It will help prevent premature deaths and asthma attacks caused by smog and other air pollutants. But most importantly, it will reduce the pollution that fuels climate change. It’s clear that President Obama cares about the legacy he leaves to today and into future generations. While there is a lot more that can and should be done by this administration and by Congress, President Obama deserves our appreciation for embracing the common good and taking such a big step to preserve the earth for our grandchildren’s grandchildren.
About 30 global religious leaders working in their churches and organizations on environmental justice and advocacy for climate change met last month for the World Council of Church’s (WCC) Working Group on Climate Change in Wuppertal, Germany.
This group tackled the urgent issue of climate justice — as there are environmental problems caused by rich nations that affect others. This includes, for example, the great Pacific garbage vortex and depletion by U.S., Japanese, and Norwegian fishing of species, such as cod, on which smaller countries depend for sustenance, creating conditions that affect vulnerable communities around the globe. Climate change is affecting those in Africa as it dries up their land and enlarges the size of the Sahara desert. It affects Asia as huge storms flood broad areas of coastline, devastating homes and lives. Climate change is affecting the most vulnerable populations, which live near vulnerable croplands and shorelines and depend on farming and fishing for their livelihood. Climate change creates weather that takes lives and destroys communities.
Climate change workers realize that those who have contributed the least to CO2 emissions are (and will be) suffering the worst consequences.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency just released its new plan to cut carbon pollution from power plants, the first policy of its kind. This plan will cut carbon dioxide pollution from existing fossil fuel power plants 30 percent below 2005 levels by the year 2030. EPA could have chosen a better benchmark, since we’re already 13 percent below our 2005 pollution levels because of the recession and natural gas. But this plan still carries many benefits: it allows the states flexibility in meeting the 2030 goal, and the reduction in smog is projected to prevent 2,700 to 6,600 premature deaths and 140,000 asthma attacks in children. It also shows the U.S. is finally taking leadership on global warming, which is likely to have an impact on the world stage.
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy is speaking in a press conference at 10:30 am Eastern Time about details of the new rule; C-SPAN is streaming it live online.
You can find the full rule as well as summaries and analyses here.
To join Sojourners in responding to the rule via public comment, join us HERE.
Why is it so difficult for some people to respond to climate change in a thoughtful way? Sen. Marco Rubio says he doesn’t believe human activity is causing changes to the global climate. He told ABC News: “I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it, and I do not believe that the laws that they propose we pass will do anything about it, except it will destroy our economy.”
But if Sen. Rubio believes that humans aren’t causing climate change, who does he believe is? Does he believe that climate change is natural, perhaps an act of God? The senator is a Christian , and he would be wise to listen to the words of a variety of religious leaders who have spoken about care for creation.
To ignore climate change is to abuse the moral call to care for the environment, and generations to come will suffer.
Some of the most inspiring words in the entire Bible are found in the opening pages of Genesis. Here we are told that humans were created in God’s image and given a divine mandate to care for Creation (Gen. 1:26-31). Our vocation—our calling—is to partner with God in preserving and sustaining the earth with all the creatures and species that God has made. The word used in most translations is “dominion,” and the true meaning is what we would today call “stewardship.”
Unfortunately these passages have often been used and abused to advance countless agendas, often to the great detriment of the Earth and its inhabitants. The deep sense of stewardship implied by and inherent in these verses is ignored and the word “dominion” has been interpreted as domination—and a license to destroy. Such thinking is not just unfaithful to God; it is dangerous to all God’s creation and creatures.
The most recent example of this unfortunate mindset can be seen in the recent comments made by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) denying that human activity contributes to climate change.