The United Church of Christ and Global Warming, Term Paper Example
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In 2007, the United Church of Christ (UCC) introduced the Resolution on Climate Change, calling for the U.S. government to take positive action to decrease Americaâs carbon footprint (Appendix A). The following year, President Obama was elected on a platform that included proposals to make our country less dependent on fossil fuels and to fund sound alternative energy options. Since then, very little has been done at the governmental level and, if anything, the oil industry is stronger than ever. Therefore in 2009, the UCC passed an even stronger resolution, A Resolution on the Urgency for Action on Climate Change, demanding that the U.S. achieve a carbon-neutral footprint in 2016. In 2013, the UCC further resolved to divest itself of non-complying fossil fuel companies by 2018. This paper will explore both the policies adopted â and the actions taken â by the United Church of Christ to address the problems of global climate change, and determine what results have been achieved to date.
The United Church of Christ: Positions Taken on Global Climate Change
Pastor Susanna Griefen of the Congregational Church in Dummerston, VT, quotes the twenty-fourth chapter of Isaiah in part by saying, âThe earth has been defiled by its people; they have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes, and broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse consumes the Earth; its people must bear their guiltâ (quoted in Woodside). This is a very strong statement, but it could well describe the situation we are now facing with the global climate crisis at the beginning of this century.
Jim Deming, UCC National Minister for Environmental Justice adds that the people who are the most affected by climate change do not have the resources to combat it, while those âwho have been responsible for it will be the last ones to be affectedâ (quoted in Woodside). As any rational person would agree, this is an untenable situation.
The United Church of Christ, (with a membership of about 1.1 million people, or about one-half of one percent of American adults, according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life) has made its position on global warming very clear, yet the United Statesâ government has chosen to ignore the obvious facts (Woodside). On a national level, the 2007 and 2009 resolutions on climate change did not mince words. The details outlined in the 2007 resolution, Global Warming: United Church of Christ Statement on Global Climate Change, included the fact that âthe industrialized nations are the main producers of gases that cause global warming and the United States, with only 4% of the world’s population, still emits 22% of these gases.â While the UCC âurgedâ the government to âto support legislation that regulates and reduces pollution and provides for alternatives to the burning of fossil fuelsâ (Appendix A), both congress and the executive branch have to this day refused to be moved to serious action.
Not to be deterred, the 2009 UCC Synod took a stronger stand by passing an even stronger resolution, A Resolution on the Urgency for Action on Climate Change, demanding that the U.S. achieve a carbon-neutral footprint in 2016 (Woodside).This same year, the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ passed another resolution, calling upon our elected leaders to âreduce emissions of greenhouse gases with the goal of reducing the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere below 350 parts per million; and [also to] immediately adopt the practical goal of cutting emissions by 25% by 2020â (MACUCC). Again, the American government, to its shame, has ignored the warnings that will affect all citizens of the world â including its own members â in the near future.
Then, in 2013, the UCC issued a powerful resolution aimed at divesting their portfolios of stocks from energy companies not deemed by their research to be âbest in class.â (The top 200 companies are listed in Unburnable Carbon, p. 15). The Resolution also urged coal-, oil- and gas-producing companies to comply with the demands of the UCC to âProvide quarterly updates, available to the public, detailing research undertaking, progress made and actions taken in the implementation of this resolution to the national database created by the United Church of Christ Board.â The UCC resolved to âcommunicate these actions to the media to hasten the revocation of the social license which the fossil fuel companies depend on to stay in businessâ (Appendix B). When the 2013 divestment resolution was publically announced, âa Nobel Prize laureate and the head of a major Protestant denomination sent their congratulations.Â And Archbishop Desmond Tutu also sent his congratulations and added, âWe hope others will follow your splendid exampleââ (macucc.org).
There has been an interesting domino effect to this UCC divestment plan. Divestment movements are underway at nine other churches in the U.S., Canada and Australia, and the 2013 UCC Resolution is serving as an example for others to consider (Marcacci). Student groups at 192 colleges and universities were urging their schools to divest. At Harvard, students voted 3 to 1 to tell their trustees to divest their fossil-fuel stocks. Swarthmore, Unity College and others followed suit as did, surprisingly, the city of Seattle, which has a $1.9 billion investment portfolio (Sermon 5).
Although the stand the UCC took on fossil fuels at the 2013 Twenty-ninth Synod (and its resulting Resolution) is certainly the strongest to date, governmental inaction and public apathy have held back progress on this front. However, the United Church of Christ, together with other religious sects and denominations, remains undeterred. For example, the Web of Creation tracks resolutions and actions undertaken by diverse religious groups, including (in alphabetical order): the American Baptist Church, the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, the Church of the Brethren, the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, the Disciples of Christ, the (U.S.) Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Environment Network, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, The Mennonite Creation Care Network, the (U.S.) Presbyterian Church, the Quaker Earthcare Witness, the Reformed Church in America, the (U.S.) Roman Catholic Church, the Unitarian Universalist Association, the United Church of Christ and the United Methodist Church (Rhoades). There are even âGreen Muslimsâ working alongside the Christians, Jews and Buddhists, as well (Wihbey). By educating the general public and heightening awareness of the existence of (and actions taken by) these groups, progress is being made. Yet we are nowhere near achieving a carbon-neutral footprint by 2016.
As the Rev. Gordon S. Bates recalls, the first meeting of the UCCâs national energy task force in 2006 in Berkeley, CA, met with considerable resistance (Woodside). After all, few of us have melting glaciers or polar ice caps in our back yards, and none of us lives in a city that has been covered by rising seawater. True, Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy decimated major urban areas in a way that possibly only Hurricane Andrew had done before. But how many Americans directly felt the impact of those âsuper-stormsâ? Jeff Stross, quoting a paper in Geophysical Research Letters, suggests that due to the rise in sea level, New York Cityâs seawall âcould be overrun by storm surges every four to five yearsâ (thinkprogress.org). However, life is still going on, and the general public is more concerned about the state of the economy (and their own pocketbooks) than the state of climate crisis.
In short, it seems that if we as Americans are going to make any progress on acting to further the causes of energy conservation, energy efficiency and sustainable, renewable energy, to promote the earthâs ecosystems and safeguard human health worldwide, we need to take the initiative ourselves. Fortunately, that is precisely what the UCC and other religious organizations are doing, both separately and together.
The United Church of Christ: Actions Taken â and Results Achieved â on Global Climate Change
This paper has explored some of the ways the United Church of Christ has taken a strong stand on global warming over the past decade. The Resolutions of 2007, 2009 and 2013 are powerful statements that target both the funding of fossil-fuel companies and the congress-persons that are beholden to them for reelection. Goals are stated for legislation and (in 2013) economic sanctions are proposed. Certainly, the passing of these Resolutions is a form of action in and of itself, and they contain powerful calls to action, as well.
However, other forms of clear-cut action have been taken at the grassroots level. In 2012, for example, the Rev. Jim Antal, head of the prestigious Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ, was arrested (along with several others, and spent three days in jail) for refusing to leave Lafayette Park across from the White House, where they had joined in a large protest against the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline. Woodside goes on to quote the Reverend: ââThe overall effort against Keystone is [protesting their] turning loose the second largest carbon bomb on the planet,â Antal said in a recent phone interview. That is, oil locked in shale in Canada.â
In response to the apparent apathy in Washington, D.C., Jim Deming, UCC National Minister for Environmental Justice, helped some members of the UCC open a camp in the Seattle region, training environmental âjustice leadersâ (Woodside).Once trained at the camp, these people go back to their communities and hold workshops that will actively address the global climate crisis.
Acclaiming the work of the UK-based Transition Network, the United Church of Christ has become a follower of one of its numerous partner organizations, Transition US (transitionus.org). As âwe-the-peopleâ cannot change the present, they reason, we must focus on the future by building local âfood systems, transportation [and] health careâ (quoted in Woodside). In business since late 2006, the Transition Network has had almost a decade of impact on communities across England, as well as Australia, Canada, England, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Scotland, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, the United States and Wales. Their mission is to train citizens, using a wide variety of media, to help their communities to create initiatives to reduce CO2 emissions and promote healthy living. As their web site maintains, âUltimately itâs about creating a healthy human culture, one that meets our needs for community, livelihoods and funâ (transitionnetwork.org).
Meanwhile, the IPL â Interfaith Power and Light (interfaithpowerandlight.org) â grew out of the California IPL, which helped pass Californiaâs landmark climate and clean energy laws. The United Church in University Place, WA, has teamed up with the IPL to respond to the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, with programs on nuclear energy and workshops on spirituality and the environment. The church, through IPL, had an energy audit performed and has responded by greatly reducing the energy usage of their main building, as well.
In 2011, the Massachusetts Conference of the UCC began an annual âLenten Carbon Fast,â encouraging its members to reduce their carbon footprint, at least during the Lenten season prior to Easter. Those who âfastâ sign up and are able to track their progress online (Woodside). On their web site, articles are available for download that discuss eating ethically (including a review of Michael Pollanâs The Omnivoreâs Dilemma), ways to calculate the carbon emission of your meals, how giving up meat can reduce global warming and an article on a similar theme from World Watch Magazine(macucc.org). Also available is an online calculator, created by The Empowerment Institute, for those who want to measure their householdâs annual CO2 output (empowermentinstitute.net). Additionally, there is a link to âEat Low Carbon,â a site that includes diet tips, food scores and a quiz to see what those who fast know about the link between various foods and global warming (eatlowcarbon.org). In short, following a plant-based diet, especially one featuring local, seasonal foods, is the most likely way to reduce a personâs carbon footprint and, incidentally, boost their health.
As the United Church of Christ is made up of (very) independent local parishes, however, most of the actions taken by its members are at the grassroots level. This means that time is a factor here: grassroots need to be nurtured and to grow, largely through workshops and education. The MACUCC suggests that, through Transition US, communities can work together to mitigate the effects of peak oil, climate change and the economic crisis. The idea is not to reinvent the wheel, but to start with self-reliance, local assets, networking, building links to local government, defining goals, replicating proven strategies â and seeing how other towns have transitioned to achieve these â plus getting the word out, which are among the basic ingredients a community group needs to begin the process. Eliminating dependence on oil, among other goals, will not happen overnight. However, Transition US will provide the support and materials to help a small group grow their project into a large and healthy one (transitionus.org).
Apart from Transition US, The Massachusetts Conference of the UCC also offers opportunities for parishioners and ministers to take action on climate issues. The Environmental Ministries Task Team, which leads the activities of the MACUCC, hosts and sponsors events in partnership with 350mass, NEREM (New England Regional Environmental Ministries) and MIPL. Pastors are encouraged to make every third or fourth sermon topic to be about the environment, because (as Jim Antal says), âif we donât focus our life-together [sic] in this way, then in perhaps 10 years â but not more than 15 â every single sermon with be on grief over our dying planet â killed by greed, acquisitiveness, and the silence of the churchâÂ (macucc.org). In Lexington, the Hancock United Church of Christ voted to limit Hancockâs fossil fuel investments, and many other congregations are following suit. Perhaps these initiatives will inspire private investors to divest, as well, and the fossil-fuel industries that have for so long damaged the earth and depleted our non-renewable resources will find themselves out of business in the not-too-distant future.
Another way to reach people is through blogging and social media. One blog that offers, according to MACUCC, âthe most comprehensive coverage of climate changeâ is Joe Rommâs Climate Progress (thinkprogress.org). He covers the gamut: climate, economy, health, justice, LGBT, world news, culture and, yes, even sports. He has âtrendingâ issues, and a multiplicity of images on a beautifully designed site, creating a visual impact that inspires the viewer to want to read more. Almost every article has hundreds of tweets and thousands of Facebook shares accompanying it. The blog serves to keep critical issues in the forefront, even though it does not point to any solutions. There is a modicum of good news, and some petitions to sign, but most of the content is designed to wake up the viewer to the harsh eco-realities that confront us today. The end result may be that the viewer is overwhelmed, as well, but at least the message is getting out there.
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Web of Creation is more grassroots oriented. At earthcharterinaction.org, the Earth Charter is one of their principal guides, along with âWilderness Projectâ materials they have developed that can give congregations the impetus to actively respond to the challenges our wild areas are facing. They feature tips for âgreenâ Bible study groups, study guides, forums, videos, seminars, films, training manuals, books, field trips, retreats and projects, all designed to focus the energy of a congregation on solving eco-problems in their community / country / world (webofcreation.org). While not as step-by-step specific as Transition US, they nevertheless give interested parties a solid baseline for starting their own ecological projects.
The Web of Creation also provides a page for what they call âDenominational Resources,â allowing the viewer to see what other religions and denominations are doing for the environment. They offer a manual called Earth Care in the Christian Tradition, full of links to other activities in the eco-religious realm. Unfortunately, most of the links (at least for the United Church of Christ and its activities) do not connect to anything, although this may be the fault of the UCC, rather than of the Web of Creation.
The National Council of Churches (a link that does work on Web of Creation) has a very lovely site that exhorts people to get involved (creationjustice.org). They offer the Energy Stewardship Guide for Congregations: but again, when this author tried to download it, the link was broken. The Guidelines for Talking with Pastors and Boards about Energy Stewardship and Climate Change, however, is easy to access. It serves as a springboard to getting a pastor and a congregation on board for a carbon reduction campaign. There is discussion about what funding is available and how taking small steps is a way to grow your program. They urge parishioners to be creative when it comes to fundraising: one church, for example, offered to throw a party for everyone who donated $40 dollars, the cost of replacing one fluorescent light for a more efficient LED bulb. The goal is to start simply, preferably with an energy audit. The concept is familiar, but in this two-page flyer there are many good ideas for engaging the church community in wider issues.
The site also has a section called âResourcesâ that is a veritable gold mine of information, divided into Climate and Energy, Earth Day Sunday, Environmental Health and Lands Stewardship Resources. For example, a 2014 publication, Water, Holy Water, is a downloadable pdf that includes sermon ideas, worship resources and a bulletin insert to enhance the worship service. There are different versions of it that are adapted for Episcopalians, Presbyterians, the United Methodist Church and (of course) the UCC; the ten-page publication is beautifully illustrated and thoughtfully written, full of current events and reflections on them.
After exploring these sites, and seeing what various congregations have done to implement the energy and climate mandates of the United Church of Christ, this author was beginning to feel that if we as a nation do not succeed in addressing and overcoming the perils of climate change, we have no one to blame but ourselves. Projects, resources, proven blueprints and people who are willing to act as experienced mentors are all there to galvanize action at the grassroots level. There are marvelous publications like Unburnable Carbon (Carbon Tracker), which make the economics of the fossil fuel industry completely transparent.
Of course, the biggest challenge is fighting the giant corporations that seem hell-bent on destroying salmon breeding grounds, forcing us to eat genetically modified corn (and even more corn!), and fracking our drinking water supplies into a polluted, combustible mess. However, there are even resources for blocking their destructive plans, as well as people who have been there before and are willing to share their experience. After all, Jim Antal spent three days in jail for opposing the Keystone XL oil pipeline and called the experience âenergizingâ (Woodside). In this day and age, he is only a click away from becoming the mentor of any persons who want to join him in his crusade against the oil industryâs excesses, or who want to create a carbon reduction program in their own communities.
The threat of global warming is real and the pressure on industrialized nations, including the U.S., to substantially reduce their carbon footprint and wean themselves from dependence on fossil fuels is enormous. Nevertheless, little is being done in America at the government level. During the past decade, the United Church of Christ has actively pursued an agenda of bringing America to a carbon-neutral footprint by 2016. Even as that date ominously looms, the UCC is now targeting fossil fuel divestment by 2018. The UCC will conduct research that, by 2015, will have defined who is â and is not â a âbest in classâ fuel company. Those who do not measure up will be divested. Divestment movements are underway at nine other churches in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and on many college campuses, and the 2013 UCC Resolution (Appendix B) is serving as an example to others (Marcacci). At the individual level, the UCC is actively encouraging its members to start programs, and its pastors, to educate the public as to what the problems are and what needs to be done. As much of these efforts are grassroots-level projects, only time will tell if we can slow global warming enough to save the planet for other life forms, as well as for our own successors. However, the momentum seems to be building and there is room for optimism.
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