Creation Care

Divest!

This is an introduction to five-part series in Sojourner's June 2015 issue about divestment; to read the rest, click here.

IT WASN'T A HUGE surprise last year when Union Seminary announced that it would become the first seminary in the world to divest from fossil fuels. Union, after all, has long been a leader in progressive causes, and President Serene Jones said that “divestment of our endowment from fossil-fuel companies is one small step” toward stopping the catastrophic threat—the “sin”—of climate change.

But a few months later, the divestment movement reached an altogether different level when the Rockefeller Brothers Fund announced that it was moving its money from fossil fuels, starting with the worst carbon polluters, coal and tar sands. The Rockefeller money, of course, came from oil—patriarch John D. Rockefeller was the co-founder of Standard Oil—and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund controls $860 million in assets. All in all, 180 institutions have pledged to divest more than $50 billion to defund climate change—and, as they say, with billions in assets moved, pretty soon you’re talking real money.

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Who Owns the Sun?

FOR SOMETHING as simple as sunlight, the solar energy industry can be a bit complicated. But that never stopped pastor Brian Flory from trying to see the light.

“Putting solar panels on the roof of our congregation was important to us,” said Flory, who runs the Beacon Heights Church of Brethren in Fort Wayne, Ind. “For us it seemed like a wonderful opportunity to live out the values that our faith was leading us toward.”

To live out one of the core values of his faith—being good stewards of God’s creation—Flory began the process of installing panels on his church’s roof in 2014. He’d barely raised the needed $20,000 to support the project when a bill in the Indiana state legislature nearly stopped him in his tracks.

House Bill 1320, introduced in January 2015 by Republican Rep. Eric Koch was intended to severely disincentivize individuals in Indiana from installing solar panels on their homes, businesses, and churches. If it was signed into law, Flory said, his whole project would be doomed.

The Indiana bill is not the only one of its kind. It is part of an ongoing effort across the country by a group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Backed by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, the influential right-wing group has pushed bills like this in multiple states: Utah, Georgia, Wisconsin, and Arizona, to name a few. Their goal, ultimately, is to make sure the rapid growth of rooftop solar does not cut into electrical utilities’ profits, in which many of ALEC’s members are heavily invested.

These bills all run on a variation of what the Indiana bill sought to do. Under it, solar customers who want to sell the excess power they generate back to the electrical grid would receive substantially less money than before—as much as 60 to 70 percent less. In addition, power utilities would be allowed to add a fixed monthly charge to solar users’ bills, as well as added interconnection fees.

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4 Ways to Help Your Community Talk About Environmental Ethics

Photo courtesy Timothy King

Photo courtesy Timothy King

In a world of highly charged political rhetoric, the essay provides language and a framework for a community discussion on environmental ethics that takes a step back from immediate policy debate. This work doesn’t diminish the importance of these other discussions; rather it provides a context in which that work might be more readily possible.

Our ability to make meaningful collective moral decision requires us to be able to first have enough common moral language to have a conversation. This might be a good place to start.

Vatican Kicks Off Environmental Push with Climate Change Summit

Photo via REUTERS / Tony Gentile / RNS

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the Vatican on April 28, 2015. Photo via REUTERS / Tony Gentile / RNS

Top officials from the Vatican, the head of the United Nations, and leading scientists came together at a summit April 28 in Vatican City to label the fight against man-made climate change as a “moral issue.”

“Mitigating climate change and adapting to its effects are necessary to eradicate extreme poverty, reduce inequality, and secure equitable, sustainable economic development,” said Ban Ki Moon, U.N. secretary-general, in the keynote speech.

“It is a moral issue. It is an issue of social justice, human rights, and fundamental ethics,” the secretary-general said, adding that “climate change is the defining issue of our time.”

'Cheap Grace' and Climate Change

Farm landscape, dvoevnore / Shutterstock.com

Farm landscape, dvoevnore / Shutterstock.com

Novelist Jonathan Franzen was getting hammered earlier this month. He recently wrote a piece delving into his ornithological passion in The New Yorker entitled “Carbon Capture: Has climate change made it harder for people to care about conservation?”

The Audubon Society has accused him of “extreme intellectual dishonesty,”Grist has labeled him “confused,” and Think Progress held nothing back and called his recent article “bird brained.” (My favorite so far might be the Washington Post saying that the Audubon has “flipped Franzen the bird.”)

Some of this criticism, in my opinion, is justified. Franzen set up an option between treating the planet with “disfiguring aggression” to try and mitigate climate change related emissions or “with palliation and sympathy” since the battle has already been lost. This choice, as the pieces above point out, is a false one.

Unfortunately, those controversial statements have covered over what I found to be the core argument of the article, and his most compelling case.

Love Is the Primary Energy to Amend Climate Change

Image via anawat sudchanham/shutterstock.com

Image via anawat sudchanham/shutterstock.com

Several weeks ago at the Minnesota State Capitol building, I and a host of others met with senators and representatives to lobby them on environmental issues. When I met with one senator he said he understood the issues and was on my side. It was a love fest. But when asked about working with the Republicans, the love fest ended.

He started rattling off how the other side will not listen, how there is no communication with them, how they are funded by the Koch brothers and will not compromise or even consider any proposals but their own, and so on and so forth. I do not doubt that he was speaking from personal experience, but if he only sees the other as bull-headed then that is exactly what he will get.

As he spoke I kept saying to myself, "There has to be another way of doing this…" ​

Last week I discovered "a more excellent way" when I re-read The Journal of John Woolman, the spiritual autobiography of the colonial Quaker who I describe as America’s first social mystic. It my seem odd to look to a colonial Quaker as the model for amending climate change — I say amend because we have already changed the climate; the best goal now is to stop further change and amend our way of live — but his model/witness may be the exact model/witness we need. 

In my work on environmental causes I have acted primarily from a place of loss, sorrow, and anger, centering on the loss of my family farm in northern West Virginia. In the mid-1980s, the farm was sold to a coal company who stripmined the farms and destroyed the community. I had had dreams of farming that land. 

But if I dig deeper through the loss, through the sorrow, and through the anger, I arrive at a place of love. I love creation, I feel I am a part of it, and I want it to flourish because if creation flourishes, all flourishes. 

Here is where Woolman’s witness comes in. His social conscience was formed because Love was the first motion. He was simply responding to that Love. 

How did he respond? Eighty years before the modern abolition movement of the 1830s, John Woolman began his personal mission to end slavery amongst Quakers in the American colonies. 

A Letter from Mother Earth

Mother Earth illustration, bruniewska / Shutterstock.com

Mother Earth illustration, bruniewska / Shutterstock.com

Today, many of you will remember to celebrate me, learning or teaching your children about the importance of reducing waste and recycling, conserving energy, or keeping my land, air, and water clean. I truly appreciate the efforts you make for a struggling old lady for whom such acts of consideration bring rays of hope. As you know, my health has been deteriorating rapidly of late, and I struggle to care for all 7 billion of you as I would like. I long to give you sweet, fresh air to breathe, clean water for drinking and bathing, fertile soil for growing food, majestic mountains to revitalize your souls, and much, much more. But I am not the girl I used to be, and much of what I had to give in my youth has been spent faster than I ever could have imagined. So please accept this letter as an expression of my affection; I wish I had more to give.

I am reaching out to you, my children, because I know you love me and I know you need me. Some of you try hard to care for me and nurse me back to health. I value all of your efforts. But there is something I need from all of you that is far too often overlooked when it comes to the care I need to survive. For the truth is, I am dying. Your Father cares for me but has also entrusted me to your care, and thus my hope for a future lies in you. So I am pleading with you, my children, to remember me and remember our need for each other. And I have an urgent request of all of you that could perhaps do more to revitalize my health than anything else you could do, though I rarely hear it mentioned:

Stop killing each other!

Aunt Roma's Lessons for Eco-Living

Houses in front of a power plant. Image via LeicherOliver/shutterstock.com

Houses in front of a power plant. Image via LeicherOliver/shutterstock.com

Years ago as a child growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, I was befriended by a wonderful family around the corner from my home. The patriarch of the family, Edward Blunt Sr., was a hard-working executive for a telecommunication company; the matriarch, Roma Blunt, lovingly called Aunt Roma, was a consultant for several local educational institutions; and their son, Ed Jr., became one of my best friends and adopted brother.

Ed and I played sports, shared the same birthday, and graduated from high school and college together. Ed's family provided a unique gift for the young men in our neighborhood. As a result of their southern roots and deep-rooted village values, they believed adults — especially adults of African descent — had a responsibility to aid and assist in the development of young men in the community.  

At least weekly, a gang of musty, sweaty, boisterous young men crowded into the Blunt household to take part in a ritual of culinary excellence provided by Aunt Roma. In this house we did not own, pay for, or live in, we witnessed the southern artistry and gastric creativity produced with a palette of collard greens, gumbo, cornbread, sweet potatoes, macaroni and cheese, fried okra, and fish on the canvas of our senses. The white house on Green Road became our hangout, respite, and my second home. Since I lived geographically closest to the Blunts’ home, I found myself at their address more frequently than other "brothers" in our network.

Upon one of my routine visits after finishing another amazing meal, Aunt Roma passed on a special gift. She handed me a key to the home. She stated with matter-of-fact ease, "Otis, you're over here enough, you might as well have a key."

After I said thank you, she began to reemphasize the rules of the house. 

"You are always welcome here … you are welcome to eat, rest, and relax ... I trust you, and as long as you abide by the rules of the house and your parents are aware of where you are, this door is always open to you."

I was given access to the Blunts’ home because of my relationship with their son. I was given access to a home I did not create, build, or purchase. Because of my relationship with their son, I was given access to an environment I did not create.

Paris and the Challenge of Real Change

 COP21 in Paris is set for December. Suz7 / Shutterstock.com

COP21 in Paris is set for December. Suz7 / Shutterstock.com

Even as the clock ticks down to COP 21 in Paris this coming December, agreement has yet to be reached about exactly what the conference could or should accomplish. There is little consensus concerning outcomes that might actually bring about change. Not unlike other issues where binary thinking has predominated, we are presented with an either/or scenario: economic collapse and damaging human impact, or economic prosperity and destructive impact on climate.

What is different now, however, is that the economic axis has shifted. Crucial to the Paris discussions is the fact that Western-driven economic theory and practice, rooted in the competitive polarities of prosperity versus paucity, now dominate the globe, while Western economies themselves do not. And it is this largely binary economic way of framing the issues of the environment that militates against significant accomplishment in Paris. Not unlike Copenhagen in 2009, or Kyoto in 1997, governments are posturing so as not to give away economic advantage. National prosperity continues to trump the environment.

Environmental Justice, Inclusiveness, and Mother Earth

designer_an / Shutterstock.com

designer_an / Shutterstock.com

The prophets’ preoccupation with justice and righteousness has its roots in a powerful awareness of injustice. That justice is a good thing, a fine goal, even a supreme ideal, is commonly accepted. What is lacking is a sense of the monstrosity of injustice. Moralists of all ages have been eloquent in singing the praises of virtue. The distinction of the prophets was in their remorseless unveiling of injustice and oppression, in their comprehension of social, political, and religious evils. —Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Prophets

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. —Martin Luther King, Jr.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, environmental justice is defined as:

The fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.

As we consider this definition, and look around our communities, do we find this fair treatment taking place? Are we aware of how economic and environmental decisions are made? Many times it can become so overwhelming that we think it best to leave it to the experts. Unfortunately, this can lead to exploitation, as discrimination typically takes place in poor and underserved communities where people may not understand their rights, or they choose not to fight back out of fear. As we dig deeper and the shackles are removed, we begin to see how economic and environmental justice are connected and how this exploitation is directly related to incentives like government funding, tax breaks, and land grabs that favor corporations over human beings and the environment. Does the end result benefit all God’s creation or just a wealthy few?

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