Environmental Stewardship

Emilie Teresa Smith 04-01-2015

Canadians are supposed to be the good guys in the story. Well, not anymore. 


OUR FRIENDLY NEIGHBOR to the north has a well-deserved reputation for civility and hospitality, not to mention great health care available to all. But a dirty secret has emerged: Some of the worst mining companies in the world are Canadian. In this issue of Sojourners, Canadian writer and Anglican priest Emilie Teresa Smith investigates the extensive harm Canadian mining firms have brought upon Indigenous people and the environment.

Rabbi Arthur Waskow 04-01-2015
Lidia Kabakova / Shutterstock.com

Lidia Kabakova / Shutterstock.com

Fifty years ago, the sleeping giant of America’s religious communities shook off their sleep and rose to change the country in a crisis over whether democracy would grow or falter.

Today we face a crisis over the very fabric of life – human and more-than-human – on our planet. Is there anything the religious communities, now yawning their way just beginning to awake, can bring to dealing with that crisis?

There is. Much of it comes from the Hebrew Scriptures, what Christians call “the Old Testament.” It reaches a climax in the Exodus story, recalled each year in the Jewish festival of Passover and to some extent in the Holy Week that in Christian tradition is rooted in Passover. But it pervades the Hebrew Bible.

For that is the record of the spiritual struggles of an indigenous people of shepherds and farmers in their relationship with YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh, the Holy One Who breathes all life. They centered their God connection in sacred relationship with their land, especially through the foods they grew and then offered on the altar.

Our own generation, facing a catastrophic crisis in the Earth-earthling relationship, must go back to the Bible for guidance on how to apply indigenous wisdom to the planet as a whole.

QR Blog Editor 03-31-2015
Environmental blueprint. Image via Moon Light PhotoStudio/shutterstock.com

Environmental blueprint. Image via Moon Light PhotoStudio/shutterstock.com

On Tuesday, the White House revealed President Obama’s blueprint for cutting U.S. greenhouse gas pollution by 26-28 percent before 2025. The Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) is in accordance with the United Nations formal effort to come to forge an international climate agreement in Paris in December.

In November, the United States released a historic joint agreement with China that both countries would work toward limiting greenhouse gas emissions but until this morning no further details of this agreement had been seen.

The release of INDC has generally been supported by the environmental community because the pollution cuts in the Administration’s plan can be achieved without new action from Congress. As Greenpeace representative Kyle Ash said, “By announcing its plan ahead of Paris as agreed, the U.S. has at least shown it is committed to the negotiation process and willing to push the other nearly 200 countries to deliver.”

Ash continues that there is still much room for improvement in the outline:

“We welcome the US submission as a first step, but it would not do enough to avert global catastrophe…The Obama Administration’s [plan] begins to treat the wound, but does not stop the bleeding. As the world’s second largest emitter, the US must strengthen its commitment to climate solutions before Paris to ensure an agreement that immediately spurs the necessary transition away from fossil fuels and towards 100 percent renewable energy.”

In preparation for the Paris 2015 Climate Negotiations, all countries were asked to by the United Nations to submit individual outlines for greenhouse gas reduction by April 2015. So far only the European Union, Mexico, Norway, Switzerland and now the United State have submitted their national plans to the U.N.  It is hoped that the announcement of the United States’ reduction plan will spur other countries to announce their own contributions to the U.N. negotiations. 

Jacek Orzechowski 03-27-2015
oat.s / Shutterstock.com

oat.s / Shutterstock.com

Pope Francis is a straight shooter who does not mince words: "If we destroy creation, creation will destroy us,” the pontiff said last year. “Never forget this!”

The pope’s warning and calls for action have galvanized many religious leaders from across Maryland to step up our efforts to protect God’s creation from climate change disruptions. We understand that it is the poor and most vulnerable among us who are bearing the brunt of human-induced climate change. Unless we act now, the impacts of devastating super-storms, massive floods, droughts, and crop failures will only accelerate. Refusing to bury one’s head in the sand and facing squarely the reality of climate change is a fundamental issue of justice and respect for life.

This is why I, a Franciscan friar priest, have joined more than 230 Maryland religious leaders, including Bishop Dennis Madden of the Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore and six other leaders of Christian denominations across Maryland, in issuing an urgent, moral challenge. We are calling on Marylanders — including our elected officials — to take action on climate change by helping to shift our state’s energy policy towards renewable, clean energy sources.

We have nothing to lose and everything to gain by acting on climate change now.
Abby Olcese 03-13-2015
Merchants of Doubt' reveals the business of myth-making on issues from global wa

Merchants of Doubt' reveals the business of myth-making on issues from global warming to tobacco. From the trailer.

In one scene in the new documentary Merchants of Doubt, Michael Shermer, the publisher of Skeptic magazine, explains what he thinks is the underlying factor behind climate change skepticism.

“It isn’t about the science,” Shermer, a libertarian and former skeptic who came around on the issue in 2006, tells director Robert Kenner.

“It’s about me being a consistent team member; showing the members of my tribe that you can count on me.”

Tribalism is an important part of the equation. But Kenner, whose previous film was the well-regarded Food, Inc., believes corporate spin is just as much to blame.

Merchants of Doubt aims to show viewers how the same PR tactics that kept the tobacco industry thriving for decades are now being used to encourage climate change skepticism and denial. While the film does important work in helping audiences understand how paid representatives spread misinformation, it doesn’t do enough to address the tribalism that may keep the film’s most necessary audiences from seeing it.

READ Sojourners' interview with Merchants of Doubt Director Robert Kenner here.

To his credit, Kenner does an excellent job at making the subject matter appealing. He uses the framework of close-up magic as a metaphor for the way PR representatives work to cover up industry-damaging facts, first for tobacco, and then for coal, oil, and other clients. He interviews journalists, scientists, and lobbyists whose stories are at once fascinating and infuriating. There are even some sources, like conservative former South Carolina Rep. Bob Inglis, who manage to help the film build bridges with audiences whose tribal identity might require them to skew towards climate skepticism.

Abby Olcese 03-13-2015
A subject in 'Merchants of Doubt' sits for an interview. From the film trailer.

A subject in 'Merchants of Doubt' sits for an interview. From the film trailer.

Robert Kenner is the director of the new corporate spin documentary Merchants of Doubt, now in theaters. The film explores how representatives of large industries create doubt on contentious issues like climate change by presenting themselves to the media as independent researchers. Kenner’s previous film, Food Inc., examined similarly sticky issues of truth and transparency in the food industry. Sojourners sat down with Robert Kenner after Doubt's Washington, D.C., premiere to discuss the nature of doubt and the rise of corporate involvement in media narrative-making

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Abby: Why did you want to use the tobacco industry to introduce audiences to the world of corporate spin? And why go from there to climate change?

Kenner: I see this as a film about this class of doubters, how there are these very talented people who are very successful at what they do. We just had a screening at the Columbia Journalism School, and someone there said that for every journalist, there’s 4.5 PR reps.

There used to be more journalists than PR reps — and some of these reps are now being paid by the people they used to investigate. So in effect, we’re looking at multiple industries. We could have spent as much time on pharmaceuticals or the food industry.

I was also certainly interested in the notion of how you can have these things like tobacco, like certain pharmaceutical issues, or like climate, where the science is clear yet the doubt persists. How do you maintain doubt when the science is clear that it’s about something else? What are the factors? And it turns out there multiple, of which money is one of the biggest.

Part of it is tribal, but that was true with gay rights, too, and all of a sudden six years later things have changed. I’m feeling kind of optimistic that it can change around the issue of climate from that perspective. 

But the thing that interested me most was how media could represent issues as if they were debates when they weren’t debates.

READ Sojourners' review of Merchants of Doubt here.

Photo via REUTERS / Siegfried Modola / RNS

A Kenyan soldier looks at a cow that is dying from hunger. Photo via REUTERS / Siegfried Modola / RNS

Drying livestock carcasses and anguished faces of hungry women and children have become a common feature here as droughts increase due to climate change.

But now, in an effort to fight hunger, the Roman Catholic Church is making 3,000 acres of church-owned land available for commercial farming.

“We want to produce food, create employment, and improve quality of life for the people,” said the Rev. Celestino Bundi, Kenya’s national director of the Pontifical Mission Societies.

This is the first time the church has entered into large-scale farming, though it owns massive tracts of land across the country, most of which is idle and in the hands of dioceses, parishes, missionaries, and congregations.

“We have the will and the support of the community and government,” said Bundi. 

“I think time has come for Kenya to feed herself.”

The Catholic Church is about to bring the influence of the Holy See to the issue of climate change. Today, we look at the religious push to protect the environment.
Like budget decisions, climate decisions are moral decisions. Decisions that impact the environment reveal our moral commitments.
Margaret Benefiel 02-26-2015
Marchers at the Foward on Climate rally, March 2013. Image courtesy Rena Schild/

Marchers at the Foward on Climate rally, March 2013. Image courtesy Rena Schild/shutterstock.com

Like Jim Wallis, I believe that budgets are moral documents. They reflect our deepest values. Like budget decisions, climate decisions are moral decisions — decisions that affect the environment reveal our moral commitments.

How does Barack Obama measure up on the ‘moral leadership for the environment’ scorecard?

President Obama vetoed the Keystone XL pipeline on Tuesday. He also forged a historic agreement with Chinese Presidenta Xi Jinping in November to reduce carbon emissions in the U. S. by 26-28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025. He has worked with the auto industry to put historic fuel economy standards into place. When he wasn’t able to convince Congress to pass environmental legislation, he worked behind the scenes — using the Clean Air Act of 1970 to set tougher environmental standards. All of these actions give him points for moral leadership.

At the same time, some criticized Obama earlier in his presidency for not doing enough. In 2011, Al Gore published an article in Rolling Stone magazine saying Obama had “thus far failed to use the bully pulpit to make the case for bold action on climate change.” During the first two years of his administration, many environmental activists expected more legislation to slow climate change. Cole Stangler argues that, even given legislative obstacles, Obama could have done more through federal agencies.

A diverse coalition of citizens signed the “#NoKXL Unity Letter” urging President Obama to veto the misguided legislation and to reject the permit altogether.
As soon as President Obama vetoed Congress’ Keystone XL pipeline bill today, organizers of those opposed to the pipeline issued a heartfelt thank you.
Leah Kozak 02-18-2015

Photo courtesy Leah Kozak

“An individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law” —Martin Luther King, Jr.

Last year on a crisp afternoon in March, I was one of nine people arrested by the NYPD and taken away to the local precinct for processing. My crime? Attempting to plant detoxifying sunflowers on public brownfield land on the South Bronx waterfront in New York City.

Earlier in the day, more than 100 residents, faith leaders, organizations, friends, and allies came together to protest the proposed relocation of the online grocer FreshDirect to a residential neighborhood in the South Bronx. After a jubilant and joyous interfaith reflection and prayer vigil outside the entrance to the waterfront location, security guards refused to let us cross the gate, so we sat in front of it in protest — a peaceful and non violent act of civil disobedience.

Our coalition, South Bronx Unite, works to improve and protect the social, environmental, and economic future of the South Bronx in New York City, located in the poorest congressional district in the country. For three years we have been fighting to stop FreshDirect from receiving more than $100 million in subsidies and incentives to build a diesel trucking distribution center on public land along the Bronx Kill Waterfront.

John Elwood 02-09-2015
whiteisthecolor / Shutterstock.com

whiteisthecolor / Shutterstock.com

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.

Photo via Alistair Scott / RNS

Photo via Alistair Scott / RNS

If you are a Christian, protecting the environment is part of your identity, not an ideological option, Pope Francis said Feb. 9.

“When we hear that people have meetings about how to preserve creation, we can say: ‘No, they are the greens!’” Francis said in his homily at morning Mass, using a common name for environmental activists.

“No, they are not the greens! This is the Christian!” he said.

“A Christian who does not protect creation, who does not let it grow, is a Christian who does not care about the work of God; that work that was born from the love of God for us,” Francis continued. “And this is the first response to the first creation: protect creation, make it grow.”

The pope — who took his name from St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of the environment — has made care for the environment a hallmark of his papacy since he was elected nearly two years ago.

Liz Schmitt 02-06-2015
An option to divest. Image courtesy pichetw/shutterstock.com

An option to divest. Image courtesy pichetw/shutterstock.com

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.

Bill McKibben 02-05-2015

Churches are profiting from desecration like this—and every time they look into the account books they should tremble. 

Kimberly Burge 02-04-2015

Gail Taylor hopes that Three Part Harmony Farm in D.C. Brookland neighborhood becomes the city's first commercial farm since the 1930s.