Sunday, July 19, 2015

Choosing Hope: Divestment from Fossil Fuels

But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” They said to him, “Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?” And he said to them, “How many loaves have you? Go and see.” When they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all. And all ate and were filled. (Mark 6:37-42)

Two weeks after the close of the 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church, the Sunday lectionary has us pondering Mark’s version of the miracle of the loaves and the fishes. This story of Jesus taking what we can give and turning it into all that we need speaks to our situation today with regards to climate change. [See previous posts Loaves and Fishes and Environmental Impact Statements and New Questions for a New Time based on other John and Matthew's versions of the story.] 

All of us working to mitigate climate change and its effects know that what we can offer is not by itself enough to stop the catastrophe that seems to be slowly unfolding before us. Yet we offer what we can because our faith tells us that Jesus can use our efforts in ways that we cannot imagine; we offer what we can because hope is a Christian virtue. 

The vote for Resolution C045
in the House of Deputies
Two weeks after the close of General Convention, several of us who advocated for the Episcopal Church to divest from fossil fuels are still processing the success of Resolution C045 that calls on major funds of the Episcopal Church to divest from the fossil fuel industry and reinvest in clean energy. Part of my own processing is realizing the success of our efforts against the discouraging background of the daily onslaught of news stories about climate change and its effects. Since General Convention ended, the rather discouraging State of the Climate 2014 report has been published, fires continue to burn in western Canada and California, homes and lives have been lost in floods in Kentucky and southern Ohio, and a new study says that we are already in the "worst case scenario" for sea level rise. What does our action mean when compared to the enormity of the situation?

In the greater scheme of things, the amount of money to be divested and reinvested is not great. And the moral reach of the Episcopal Church in 2015 is not as great as it was a few decades ago; the pronouncements of the Episcopal Church do not carry the weight among leaders of government and industry that they once did. None of this, though, makes the passage of Resolution C045 insignificant. In the midst of our General Convention, we managed to have a conversation of sorts about climate change. We acknowledged the big hot elephant in the room and talked, first in the Environmental Stewardship and Care of Creation committee hearings and then, briefly but clearly, in both Houses of General Convention about what is happening and how the church might respond. When presented with a proposal to change our investment policy to reflect the realities of today’s world and our concern for people now and in the future who are negatively affected by climate change, we voted in favor of divestment.

Along with divestment/reinvestment, another successful resolution that came out of the Environmental Stewardship committee was Resolution A030 that creates an Advisory Council on the Stewardship of Creation with work at the provincial level to develop theological resources and networks for practical application to help us respond to climate change. 

We offered what we could at General Convention, knowing that even when the challenge seems beyond our ability, Jesus can take what we freely give and use it to provide just what we need even when we can’t imagine what that provision might look like. Choosing to divest from fossil fuels was both a sign of our hope and a catalyst for future hope.

Given the challenges before us, we could easily have been cynical rather than hopeful. We could have ignored climate change completely. Opponents of divestment offered arguments that we should keep our “place at the table” in the fossil fuel industry even though the nature of the industry is the extraction and processing of the fossil fuels that are killing us. Following that advice, we could have clung to our current investment policy while telling ourselves that it was for the sake of advocating for something — for the fossil fuel industry to do something other than what it does? —and not because of our own fears. We could have looked at the enormity of the challenge of climate change and decided it was beyond our abilities to do anything at all, choosing to put our energies into the church’s internal concerns rather than into serving the world in Christ’s name. But we chose hope and we chose faith in Jesus. 

Hope during these challenging times looks like General Convention. In all sorts of areas, we chose to follow the Gospel as best we know how; we chose to give Jesus what we have in faithful expectation, in hope, that Jesus, working through us and through what we offer, “can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine” (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 102). 

Part of the joy of participating in General Convention this year was the lack of cynicism and the spirit of hope grounded in faith in Jesus. I’m still processing all that we did in Salt Lake City, but I know that my hope for the church and for the world was shored up mightily by what we did there.