Climate change

Why Union’s Decision to Divest from Fossil Fuels Matters

Union Theological Seminary, by David Merrett / Flickr.com

Union Theological Seminary, by David Merrett / Flickr.com

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.

Union Seminary Pulls Investments from the 'Sin' of Fossil Fuels

Manhattan’s Union Theological Seminary. RNS photo by Richard Madona, courtesy Union Theological Seminary

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.

President Serene Jones said Union is the first seminary in the country to take such a step, which came from a unanimous vote from its board.

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.”

Taking Climate Change Seriously

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.

Developing a Moral Vision for Climate Change

The "Blue Marble" — Earth as seen from Apollo 17. Image courtesy Wikipedia Publi

The "Blue Marble" — Earth as seen from Apollo 17. Image courtesy Wikipedia Public Domain/wikipedia.org

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.

Taking Climate Change Seriously

Cracked earth, Microstock Man / Shutterstock.com

Cracked earth, Microstock Man / Shutterstock.com

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.

Sustainability and Care for Creation: WCC and Climate Change

Creation care illustration, Luisa Venturoli / Shutterstock.com

Creation care illustration, Luisa Venturoli / Shutterstock.com

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.

EPA Unveils Clean Power Plan to Cut Carbon Pollution

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.

Rabbi Gutow Joins Climate Change Summit

Leaders from 26 states gathered to discuss the accelerating impacts of man-made climate change, and how Americans can respond. The group included Dr. Georges Benjamin, head of the American Public Health Association, who has testified before Congress that we act “to address the growing threat that climate change poses not just to the environment but also to the health of the American public and the entire global community.” Other leaders involved in the Summit included Rev. Jim Wallis, president and founder of Sojourners, Rev. Joel Hunter, senior pastor of Northland, A Church Distributed, Dr. Antonio Flores, President of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, and former Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, who created the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement.

What Does Marco Rubio Believe About Climate Change?

by Gage Skidmore / Flickr.com

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) speaking at the 2013 CPAC in National Harbor, Md. by Gage Skidmore / Flickr.com

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.

The Bible Calls For Moral Action on Climate Change

Bible open to the Book of Genesis, Sara Calado / Shutterstock.com

Bible open to the Book of Genesis, Sara Calado / Shutterstock.com

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. 

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