"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.
This week the National Climate Assessment Report was released, documenting the disruptions already being experienced due to global warming. President Obama has tried to raise the alarm by talking about the Report with weather reporters in different cities.
What’s amazing to me are not the findings of the report. More flooding, extreme temperatures, drought, severe wildfires — these have been predicted for years. And the crushing effects of global warming around the world are felt most by the poor and marginalized.
As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) releases a groundbreaking and comprehensive report detailing the impacts of climate change as “severe, pervasive, and irreversible,” young evangelicals across the United States are coming together to pray for urgent and responsible climate action to protect life and defend their future. Organized by the Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, the Evangelical Environmental Network, and Renewal: Students Caring for Creation, prayer events are being held across the Nation — and on more than 20 Christian campuses — in recognition of April 3 as the 2014 National Day of Prayer for Climate Action.
While evangelicals are not typically associated with climate action, YECA spokesperson Ben Lowe points out,“Climate disruption is not just a scientific or political issue — it’s first and foremost a moral issue and biblical issue … It’s about protecting life and, as evangelicals, we’re particularly concerned about the ways our pollution and political inaction is affecting the poor and those who are most vulnerable.”
Communities around the world are already experiencing the negative impacts of climate change. The new IPCC reports details how the poorest countries are being seriously affected by climate change, with severe consequences to global food security, human health, and economic development. The poor will not be the only ones influenced by climate change, as IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri says, "Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change.”
“Humanity is intimately tied to the world we live in, and every societal action and technological advance has an effect on the earth,” reads one of the plaques in the current Unintended Journeys exhibit at the Natural History Museum in Washington, D.C.
The temporary exhibit, which runs until Aug. 13, is a powerful photographic portrait of the catastrophic effects environmental disasters are having on millions of people around the world.
The exhibit focuses on five different countries that have recently experienced or continue to experience severe weather conditions that have caused displacement, migration, intense hardship, and death for inhabitants. The disasters covered are the Hurricane in the Gulf, the Earthquake in Haiti, the Tsunami in Japan, Flooding in Bangladesh, and Desertification in East Africa.
For me, joy in the everyday begins with food. If I can take time to make food and drink holy, if I make my table a place of family and community, a place of health and wellness, a place of good choices that sustain creation, I am grounded. Food is the place where I began my journey towards social justice, as a self-righteous young vegetarian who lusted after meat.
Food is the thing we all have in common, and with it, Jesus set forth the Eucharist. Is that enough for you to believe food is important?
Do you ever wonder why Paul spends so much time advising his churches on food and dinner manners? It's because the Eucharist was a wine-and-bread-leavened feast that intentionally leveled the strict hierarchy of Roman society. This enables Paul to confidently state, "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus."
When facing a crisis, silence is certainly easiest. But silence isn’t best. As we face some very challenging environmental issues, evangelicals must learn to begin to discuss the environmental crisis with creativity and integrity. Whether it’s because we know we play an integral role in the healing of the world, in agreement with Wendell Berry, who says our fate is “mingled in the fate of the world.” Or, because we’ve come to see our responsibility to care for God’s creation as a central aspect of our love of Jesus Christ. Regardless of our reason — silence can’t be our policy.
In a very real sense, the easiest way for us to deal with the realities of the 21st century ecological crisis is practicing a kind of mutual pretense. That’s the easiest thing to do. Despite the humming knowledge that hard things await, we will talk about anything without actually talking about what is going on. More than many, I know that this can be the practice of evangelical Christianity in which I am rooted. We’ll talk about the return of Jesus, about theology, about church practice, anything but what’s actually going on in our world.