Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A New Thing

At the 147th Annual Council of the Diocese of Nebraska in Scottsbluff last Saturday, we passed a resolution calling on the Episcopal Church Pension Fund and the Episcopal Church Endowment Fund to divest from the fossil fuel industry and reinvest funds in the clean energy sector. Between now and General Convention, other dioceses are expected to offer resolutions about divestment from the fossil fuel industry.
The theme of our Annual Council was “Behold, I am doing a new thing!” The people of the Diocese of Nebraska showed that we are indeed open to something new. In response to a global warming crisis that is unlike anything humankind has ever faced, a crisis that makes the future of humankind itself uncertain, we are willing to imagine a different world. We are willing to imagine a world in which we no longer burn fossil fuels to create energy, a world in which we instead harness the energy of the wind and the sun. We are willing to imagine a world in which we mitigate climate change resulting from global warming rather than continuing to accelerate global warming. With faith and hope, the people of the 147th Annual Council were willing to think about the reality of global warming and do something in response. 

The resolution itself outlined two moral reasons and two financial reasons to divest from the fossil fuel industry and reinvest in the clean energy sector. In presenting the resolution, I reviewed the resolution and then shared some of my own some of my deeper personal reasons for working hard for the church to address climate change in a significant way. Here is an excerpt:
First are the justice issues arising from climate change and Jesus’ straightforward commandments to serve the poor. Some of the world’s poorest people are being affected first and worst by climate change — people in Pacific Island nations like Kiribati, Tuvalu, and the Marshall Islands who are trying to figure out where they can go as their islands disappear; people in many places around the world who rely on traditional subsistence farming who no longer know when to plant and harvest because seasonal weather patterns have been disrupted by climate change; people in traditional Arctic villages built on permafrost — or what used to be permafrost — losing their homes and often their way of life, their culture and language; and all those affected by increasing tropical diseases, flooding, decreased water supplies as glaciers shrink or disappear, and so forth. 
Second is personal grief over the loss of familiar plants, birds, and trees. As a child, I first experienced the Holy in nature, and I still feel a special nearness to God when I feel close to God’s sacred creation. The loss of these things breaks my heart. 
Third is the knowledge that I can only begin to really comprehend of two things: first, what I know scientists tell us we will all face — us, our children, and whatever generations might come after — as global warming shoots beyond 2 degrees Celsius and goes on to 4 degrees or even 6 degrees warming, and what I know political and military analysts tell us about the breakdown of security around the world that would accompany these changes; and second, the knowledge that we — governments and industries and other institutions around the world — are failing to do much of anything right now to stop this. This isn’t hard to understand because the information isn’t there; it’s hard to understand because it is too terrible to contemplate. Somehow that has brought us to a point of inaction rather than action.
One reason we are reluctant to act significantly is that we are scared of facing the reality. Have you noticed how little we hear about global warming from politicians and pundits, or from pulpits, or even from one another in conversations? Talking about climate change is a big social taboo. One reason we sometimes get angry or annoyed with people like me who talk about such things is that we are all frightened of what is unfolding and perhaps a little ashamed at the things we have done or left undone that helped get us to this point. Along with that is that resistance to change that Mike Wagner talked about yesterday.
 At one point, Mike talked about the gap between the rate of cultural change and the rate of change most of us can readily accept. But what we needed to understand about Daniel’s ability to embrace change, he said, was that Daniel understood “You’ll be in Babylon in two weeks.” 
Graphs of carbon emissions and warming global temperatures show a similar shape to each other and a similar accelerated rate of change to those graphs of cultural change that Mike discussed. So far, the gap between those curves and a line showing our response to the global warming crisis has done nothing but increase. We won’t be in Babylon in two weeks, but we already see the beginnings of the change, and we will be in a whole new world by the middle of this century or perhaps as soon as 2030 — 16 years from now — if we continue to do too little too late. 
A church that leads in recognizing the moral issues involved in climate change and responding in a big way to this crisis — a crisis that is as much a spiritual crisis as a physical crisis — is a church that will continue to live and minister to God’s people in a changing world. I ask you to be that church and vote in favor of this resolution. 
I ask your prayers for other dioceses that will be looking at divestment and reinvestment between now and General Convention in 2015. Please pray for those of us working on this issue, that we might have the courage to work for a strong resolution at General Convention, the wisdom to do that work well, and hope to sustain us as we contemplate this issue.