fossil fuels

Bill McKibben 10-29-2015
Illustration by David Gothard

Illustration by David Gothard

THOSE OF US who work on global warming are well-defended against even moderate optimism. Every day brings another study showing how far we’ve pushed the planet’s physical systems. For instance, new research has emerged showing that even as the planet is setting remarkable temperature records, the meltwater pouring off Greenland has cooled a patch of the North Atlantic and perhaps begun to play havoc with the Gulf Stream. Simultaneously, new research showed that the soupy hot ocean everywhere else was triggering the third planet-wide bleaching of coral in the last 15 years. It is entirely possible we’ve set in motion forces that can’t be controlled.

That said, for the first time in the quarter-century history of global warming there’s room for at least some hope in the arena we can control: the desperate political and economic fight to slow the release of yet more carbon into the atmosphere. It’s not like we’re winning—but we’re not losing the way we used to. Something new is happening.

Consider where we were six years ago, as the Copenhagen conference, much ballyhooed and long anticipated, ground to its dreary conclusion: The world had decisively decided not to decide a thing. There was no treaty, no agreement, no targets, no timetables. In fact, the only real achievement of the whole debacle was to drive home to those who cared about the climate that a new approach was needed. Twenty years of expert panels and scientific reports and top-level negotiations had reached a consensus that the planet was dangerously overheating. And it had also reached a dead end.

There was a reason for that, or so some of us decided: The fossil fuel industry simply had too much power. The fact that they were the richest industry in the planet’s history was giving them total power. They’d lost the argument but won the fight.

And because the rest of us were still arguing, not fighting, there was no real pressure. World leaders could go home from Copenhagen without fearing any fallout from their failure. Barack Obama came back to D.C. where he watched mutely as the Senate punted on climate legislation, and then mostly ignored the issue for three years, not even bothering to talk about it during his re-election campaign.

Bill McKibben 06-08-2015

Fifteen million Bangladeshis already live in solar-powered houses. 

Jenna Nicholas 05-07-2015

Defunding climate change is "an idea whose time has come." 

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

An option to divest. Image courtesy pichetw/

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. 

Jim Wallis 01-22-2015
Photo via Kokhanchikov / Shutterstock / RNS

Two working oil pumps are silhouetted against the sky. Photo via Kokhanchikov / Shutterstock / RNS

We’re a few weeks into 2015, which means many of us are striving to keep our New Year’s resolutions while others have already seen their best intentions collapse under the pressure of daily routines. Every year, we make promises to be better — we’ll go to the gym, save more money, slow down. But for Christians, every day is an opportunity to make resolutions. We call that repentance.

And this year — today — I am repenting of my dependence on fossil fuels.

While many associate repentance with sorrow or guilt, the biblical meaning of the word is to stop, turn around and go in a whole new direction. Repentance means changing our course and embarking on a new path.

For Christians, humanity’s failure to care for God’s creation warrants our repentance. This is not just a theological claim but a practical moral imperative when it comes to fossil fuel consumption. American Christians need to repent — and quickly!

Our society’s addiction to fossil fuels has had an unconscionable impact on the state of our Earth and on future generations. Coal-fired power plants are giving people cancer and asthma. Oil pipelines are spilling and destroying sacred lands. Natural gas fracking waste is leaking underground, threatening water sources. Through our consumption of coal, oil, and gas, we have enabled this toxic activity.

Liz Schmitt 11-10-2014

Editor’s Note : This is the first post in a new series about fossil fuel divestment and clean energy reinvestment. We’ll look at how and why people of faith might choose to divest from fossil fuels as a response to climate change.

When you really care about something, it’s important not to give up hope.

If one of the things you care about is climate change and the harm we are doing to God’s beautiful world, it’s pretty hard to keep the hope alive.

After all, the world’s leading peer-reviewed scientific authority on climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, just released its most damning report ever, declaring that climate disruption is at this point “irreversible.”

And then let’s look at Congress. The United States has emitted more greenhouse gases than any other country in the world, and yet it’s been five years since Congress came anywhere near passing a major climate law. (And they failed to pass that Cap & Trade law). After the most recent election last week, Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) — who once called global warming “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people” — is set to become the gatekeeper for all climate legislation.

This should come as no surprise. Fossil fuels – the main driver of our nation’s climate culpability – are a big business. We blow up mountains to get more coal, set up dangerous oilrigs in the Gulf of Mexico, pipe tar through the breadbasket of America, and use California’s limited water supply to hydrofrack for gas. When I say “we,” I mean the fossil fuel industry. The industry spends tons of money each year propping up climate deniers, spreading misinformation, and sowing seeds of doubt about what we are doing to God’s earth. They also fund political candidates on both sides of the aisle, buying silence from elected officials whose constituents are suffering from air and water pollution, historic drought, or stronger hurricanes.

In the face of all this, I have hope — for two reasons.

Svetlana Lukienko and Andriano/

Svetlana Lukienko and Andriano/

The Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United case infamously affirmed money spent in political campaigns as a form of free speech, thus declaring various legal limitations unconstitutional. The ruling gives a political megaphone to those with the most money and has been decried by many as contributing further to the nation’s political dysfunction and rigid polarization.  I strongly agree.

But this ruling came to mind again when I heard the news that the World Council of Churches, at its Central Committee meeting in early July, had made a decision not to invest in fossil fuel industries. In fact, money does talk. Where institutions place their invested funds is not a neutral, pragmatic matter. It speaks volumes.

Activists support fossil fuel divestment at Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison on April 5, 2014. Creative Commons image: Light Brigading

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.”

Bill McKibben 07-09-2014

We stood by as our addiction to fossil fuel ran Genesis in reverse.

Liz Schmitt 06-23-2014

Another Christian school moves to divest – this time, a Catholic university

Just one week after Serene Jones, President of Union Theological Seminary, announced their decision to become the world’s first seminary to divest from fossil fuels, another first announced. The University of Dayton, a Catholic, Marianist university, will divest fossil fuels from its $670 million investment pool. This is the first Catholic university in the world to do so.

Just as divestment makes sense for Union Theological Seminary and its history of engaging social justice, this choice is in line with Catholic social teachings and the Marianist values of leadership and service to humanity. Marianists view Mary, the mother of Jesus, as their model of discipleship, and their mission is to bring Christ into the world and work for the coming of Christ’s kingdom.

Union and the University of Dayton are the newest schools joining the growing list of U.S. colleges and universities divesting from fossil fuels as a way to stop financially supporting the climate pollution and the public health implications of coal, oil, and natural gas as the dominant sources of energy in the country. Their announcements are unique because they speak not only of the moral choice, but of the Christian choice on matters of financial investment.

At the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly this past week, in addition to the denomination’s decision to divest from three companies in relation to conflict in Israel/Palestine, a decision was made to begin the discernment process on fossil fuel divestment. The fossil fuel divestment conversation is happening in many churches and religious institutions across the country, and Union Theological Seminary and the University of Dayton are clear that they see this as an act of Christian witness for protecting God’s creation and people.

Information is from The University of Dayton’s website.

Liz Schmitt 06-18-2014
Union Theological Seminary, by David Merrett /

Union Theological Seminary, by David Merrett /

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.

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.”

Bill McKibben 11-05-2013

This kind of neutrality is like defending the right of poor and rich alike to sleep beneath bridges.

Bill McKibben 06-05-2013

Climate Justice Now! supporter

No one wants to spend summer vacation in the clink, but that's where a lot us are going to find ourselves.


A recent study by biologists and climate researchers finds 57% of plants and 34% of animals will see their habitats cut by 50% or more by 2080. At the current rate worldwide temperatures are expected to rise 7 degrees by 2100. This change will make habitats in sub-Saharan Africa, Central America, Amazonia and Australia unsuitable for animals and plants. USA Today reports:

"The terrifying loss of biodiversity predicted by this study shows that climate chaos will fundamentally transform our planet," Shaye Wolf of the Center for Biological Diversity, a conservation group, says in a statement on the study. "We need to cut emissions now, before our ecosystems suffer catastrophic damage."

Read more here.

Jim Rice 04-03-2013

"Given the option of paying more for dirty power or paying less for clean power, what would you take?"

Bill McKibben 02-11-2013

Rev. Bryan Fischer, American Family Association

Who speaks for God? Must be this guy...

Martin Witchger 11-20-2012
Protestors march to stop the Keystone XL Pipeline. Photo by Scot Degraf

Protestors march to stop the Keystone XL Pipeline. Photo by Scot Degraf

Midway through his nationwide, one-month Do The Math tour, Bill McKibben — author, environmental activist, and founder of — attracted a crowd that packed the Warner Theater in downtown Washington, D.C., on Sunday. 

Joined both onstage and by video by a diverse group of speakers, including Rev. Lennox Yearwood of the Hip Hop Caucus, author Naomi Klein, and Archbishop Desmund Tutu, McKibben’s Do The Math tour brings to light the stark numbers of our current climate reality, first brought to the public’s attention in his viral article in Rolling Stone this past summer. 

The three main numbers are as follows: 2 degrees Celsius is the maximum level of warming our planet can endure before real catastrophe occurs. To stay below 2 degrees C, we cannot burn more than 565 gigatons of carbon dioxide. But the problem is that the fossil fuel industry has 2,795 gigatons in their reserves — five times the safe amount to burn. As is their business plan, to reap the profit from these reserves, the fossil fuel companies plan on burning all of it, “unless we rise up to stop them” states the website. 

Our food system is a cause as well as a victim of climate change.