natural gas

University of Dayton, a Catholic University, Moves to Divest from Fossil Fuels

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.

What Good Is a Bridge If We Never Cross It?

What good is a bridge if we never cross it? Rebell/Shutterstock

Energy policy and climate change action are inexorably linked, like two oxen in a yoke.

The trouble with this set-up is that while climate action tends to look straight ahead, energy policy is apt to veer off on any number of paths, some of them quite well-meaning, like job growth or “energy independence.”

Last night’s State of the Union address by President Obama was, I’m afraid, one such experience for climate action, which compared to the huge bull of energy issues is a yearling at best. The yoke between energy and climate did get mentioned by the president, but the yoke pressed toward economic growth, the paradigm which many argue is responsible for our ecological crisis in the first place.  It’s enough to strain a vertebra. 

Murky Waters

THE FINGER LAKES region of western New York is one of the most beautiful places on earth. The 11 lakes dangle like a necklace below Lake Ontario, surrounded by hills that are a breathtaking green in summer, red and orange for a flash in the autumn, then snowy white until the cycle repeats. It’s an area where the main tension has been of the resident-vs.-renter sort.

This summer, the tension, visibly staked out with lawn signs, was different. The topic: hydraulic fracturing, “fracking” for short. In this process, fluid—primarily water, with some sand and other chemicals—is injected deep underground to break apart shale rock, releasing natural gas and oil. Back at the surface, gas and oil are cleaned and sold; the water mixture is dumped into deep wells.

The procedure has only been made cost-effective in the last decade or so; awareness of retrievable shale oil and gas deposits isn’t a whole lot older. Combine the two, and you have an energy boom—one that led natural gas to nearly overtake coal for electricity production at one point last year.

A key question that has not been definitively answered: Does fracking, compared to the fuel it displaces, increase or decrease greenhouse gas production? Since natural gas, compared to coal, produces significantly less carbon dioxide when burned, cheaper natural gas is one reason why U.S. carbon dioxide emissions have gone down significantly of late. But natural gas is primarily methane—a gas that is more than 20 times as effective at trapping heat as carbon dioxide. During the fracking process, some of that methane escapes into the atmosphere; there is debate over how much.

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The Deadly Misnomer of 'Fossil Fuels'

COAL, NATURAL gas, petroleum. Thoughtlessly we call these substances “fuels”—fuels to burn for creating pleasant climates inside homes and offices; fuels to power appliances and engines. For years, like nearly everyone, I never thought beyond our mere use of these things. I neglected to consider their role in the Earth’s wider economy.

This all changed when my family moved to a Wisconsin peatland in 1972. Since then, conducting research there with my graduate students has produced four decades of discovery.

For thousands of years, wetland plants and algae in a bay of glacial Lake Waubesa took carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. They transformed it by photosynthesis into the carbon structure of life, eventually adding their remains, page upon page, to the accumulating peat. Eventually, this peat filled the bay for an area more than a mile long, reaching a depth of 95 feet at the present lake edge. When first I walked here, I saw the vibrant surface of plants and wetland creatures; now, in my mind’s eye, I also see the deep-layered remains of creatures below.

Also standing and walking here (much more gracefully than I) are sandhill cranes. These stately creatures, as conservationist Aldo Leopold observed, “stand, as it were, upon the sodden pages of their own history.” Elsewhere, the sodden pages of peat deposits have been cut over the ages to be dried for fuel. The early Romans saw this practiced by conquered peoples of northern and western Europe. Peat was also used as fuel in Ireland, Scotland, and northern Europe after forests were cleared for agriculture. And peat is the precursor of coal, transforming under geologic pressure into brown coal, bitumen, bituminous coal, and anthracite.

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What Not to Burn

Have you heard the old adage, “Just because you can say it, doesn’t mean you should”? Well, the same principle applies to the fossil fuels we scorch and torch each day for our own consumption: Just because you can burn it, doesn’t mean you should.

In his latest Sojourners commentary, “The Deadly Misnomer of ‘Fossil Fuels’” (September-October 2012), environmental scientist and ethicist Calvin DeWitt explains how we need to change the way we look at carbon substances. Petroleum, natural gas, and coal are not merely “fuel” sources. Rather, they are “fossil carbons” necessary to the sustenance of the earth. Read more here.

To illustrate what not to do, our staff shared some of their favorite things to—voluntarily or involuntarily—burn:

Office Printers and Fax Machines (Sandra Sims, Director of Sales and Advertising)
Tired of dealing with crappy computers, jammed printers, and finicky fax machines? Office Space offers their solution by pummeling faulty equipment. But Sandra would rather threaten the office machines with fire …

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