By Emily Brewer and abby mohaupt
What big action do we do to make the urgency of climate change clear to the Presbyterian Church (USA)? After five years of talking about overtures and thinking about strategy, it’s become clear that we need to do something that visually represents the dramatic implications of climate change.
So, in January, a group of people from Presbyterian Peace Fellowship and Fossil Free PCUSA announced a 260 mile journey from Louisville to St. Louis this June—a walk that will center the stories and experiences of communities on the front lines of climate change. More details about the walk are available at www.pcusawalk.org.
From January 31-February 3, we traveled from New York City to Chicago and back, holding public conversations in Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Princeton.
We’ve had good, energetic and enthusiastic interactions with people, as people have supported the walk with their ideas and money. Some people have even registered for the walk. Here are the three things that we’re really coming away with:
Want to support the walk?
by Colleen Earp
So far, the overture on directing the Board of Pensions and the PC(USA) Foundation to divest from fossil fuels and actively invest in renewable energies is already supported 13 presbyteries! (The overture is currently listed as OVT-006 on pc-biz.org until it is assigned to a committee for General Assembly.) This is a brave and prophetic effort toward having our denomination be a leader in climate justice work. The overture was originated in Hudson River Presbytery, part of the Synod of the Northeast, which has already decided to divest its own holdings from fossil fuel industries.
The twelve concurring presbyteries are spread out all over the United States. Also from the Synod of the Northeast are Boston, Northern New York, and New York City Presbyteries. Northwest Coast, San Francisco, and San Jose Presbyteries bring partnership from the west coast. There is support from the middle of the country in Southeastern Illinois and Heartland Presbyteries. Presbytery de Cristo brings representation from the southwest. And Pittsburgh, Shenandoah, and Mid-Kentucky Presbyteries connect us with the Appalachian Mountains, plateaus, and foothills, a region where the fossil fuel industry has a long history of influence and impact.
Two of the concurring presbyteries, Boston and San Francisco, have served as originating presbyteries for the fossil fuel divestment movement in PC(USA) at previous general assemblies. We are excited to have such wonderful partnership as we seek to do all we can to be good stewards of God’s creation. Rev. Stephanie Sorge Wing of Presbytery of Southeastern Illinois reminds us of the importance of this stewardship work: “[Climate change] is especially impacting the poorest, most vulnerable populations—those who we are consistently charged to care for throughout Scripture.” We are aware of at least ten more presbyteries in the process of concurring with this overture. Will yours be next to join us in this important work?
by Stephanie Sorge Wing
This is what Rev Stephanie Sorge Wing said on the floor of Shenandoah Presbytery before the body voted to concur with the overture to divest from fossil fuels.
25 years ago, 1700 scientists signed onto a paper that issued a clear warning about the many likely dangers of climate change if humans did nothing to curb it. A few weeks ago, an updated paper was released, signed by over 15,000 scientists from around the world. Their “second warning” recognizes that we are in far worse shape today than we were 25 years ago, and global warming poses an existential threat to humanity as we know it.
I understand that this Fossil Free overture to GA is something that Trinity brings every other year to Shenandoah for concurrence, and that it usually fails. The last time this happened was the same meeting when I was examined for membership here. You may remember that I was very nearly about to labor in the bounds of this presbytery on the spot.
Today I have a nearly 2 year old and a four year old. They don’t understand what climate change is yet, but when we drive through the beautiful mountains of West Virginia, my four year old notices the changing landscape. He sees the smokestacks that spew dark smoke, and he sees the giant wind turbines that do not. He sees the beautiful mountains and forests, and he sees the areas where mountains and forest used to be. In a few years, when he and his brother start to learn more about the ways in which fossil fuels hurt our environment, the health of the public, our air, and waterways, and in huge ways, our whole economy, I don’t want to have to tell them that we had a chance to do something in this part of the church and we failed to act.
The danger isn’t years away. It’s happening right now. Right now, the air quality in New Delhi, India is so bad that going outside is the equivalent of smoking more than two packs a day. Right now, victims of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria are continuing to rebuild from extreme storms that are exacerbated by climate change.
Climate change is costing us. It’s costing us billions of dollars. It’s robbing us of places to enjoy God’s creation, and clean air and water that supports ecosystems and our own lives. Climate change is costing health, livelihoods, and lives. It’s especially impacting the poorest, most vulnerable populations - those who we are consistently charged to care for throughout Scripture. Recognizing all of this and more, the Session of Trinity Presbyterian Church requests for Shenandoah Presbytery to offer our concurrence.
by Colleen Earp
In this season of hot cocoa and warm cookies, I am feeling a bit hopeless.
Earlier this fall I was diagnosed with a severe alpha-gal allergy, also known as a mammalian meat allergy. In my case, I’m also sensitive to all mammal products, including gelatin, butter, milk, and cheese. This doesn’t cause a little bit of indigestion; this causes reactions ranging from hives to anaphylaxis. I was already a vegetarian, but kicking dairy has been heartbreaking. It means most baked goods are off limits this holiday season. No chocolate chip cookies. No pumpkin pie. It means no warm, gooey macaroni and cheese after a long day of working outside in the colder weather. It means I can’t have the wonderful cream cheese pastries I make with my grandmother every Christmas.
This allergy is caused by a tick bite (specifically from the lone star tick). Tick-borne illnesses like Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, babesiosis, and yes, alpha-gal allergy, are on the rise in the United States. Overall, warmer winters allow for longer life cycles for these teensy arachnids, increasing the likelihood of them carrying and spreading diseases. This is just one kind of public health side effect of climate change; heat related illness, air pollution, severe and lengthy seasonal allergies, and crop shortages are all very real issues, too.
My situation is not actually completely without hope. This allergy can easily be controlled through dietary restrictions. I am privileged to have access to healthcare, including coverage for my emergency epinephrine auto-injector in case of cross-contamination or miscommunication about my allergies. I have access to plenty of foods to supplement my new diet—yes, even dairy alternatives (I made my family’s traditional pumpkin pie recipe with coconut milk!). I also have an amazing community of family and friends who are willing to try new foods and take extreme care in their kitchens so I don’t have to go through this alone.
I find hope in these little modifications we can make in our own lives that consider our neighbors and future generations on this shared planet. You don’t even need a severe food allergy to change your habits! A little less meat in our diets, a little more vegetables, or a little more walking or biking, a little more recycling, a little more sustainability.All of these things contribute to healthier individuals and a healthier Earth. And a little more bug spray and tucking your pants into your socks while enjoying the beauty of creation will help prevent tick-borne illnesses, which will also contribute to a healthier individual!
So the situation is not really without hope. A plant-based diet might be better for our planet anyway. Plants require far fewer resources to produce than meat--though we all should consider our food mileage: a steady diet of foods that are shipped long distances ups the amount of resources.
In this season of Advent, we wait with hope in great anticipation for our Savior. Jesus didn’t expect us to do nothing while we wait; he demonstrated putting faith into action, going out into the world and doing what he could. With hope and anticipation, let’s continue working together to make changes for a better future for our Earth and all of our neighbors within it.
by Elizabeth Welliver
"I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert." (Isaiah 43:19)
In the past year, I have struggled to hear the good news of the Gospel over the blaring chaos of our political atmosphere. I have felt despair, anger, and numbness following the current administration's actions to threaten and attack marginalized communities, particularly people who have migrated and those who live in borderlands.
As followers of Jesus, who lived within and crossed borders between communities, we can see that the wall represents more than an act of "security," "immigration enforcement" or "defense." The wall is an attempt to separate families and communities rooted in racism and economic exploitation. The wall does not serve to foster the kindom of God, or the healing and wholeness of creation in a world too often plagued by violence and walls.
In November, a group from the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship attended the Border Encuentro of the School of the Americas Watch, a convergence of the international anti-war movement. From the communities of Nogales, Sonora and Nogales, Arizona, we learned that the wall artificially separates us from our neighbors, harming ecological stability and enforcing draconian immigration policies that threatens death to migrants. We listened for the "new thing" that God is doing by bringing activists, artists, and people of faith and conscience to both sides of the border wall to sing, chant, and resist the wall and all the violence it represents.
Standing at the border wall, I also felt the weight of complicity that I carry in its construction. In the words of Rev. Mark Adams from Frontera de Cristo, a binational border ministry in Agua Prieta, Sonora and Douglas, Arizona, "The border wall was built for me as a white, U.S. citizen." In this acknowledgement of sin, we are also empowered to repent of the wall and act for justice. How can ministries like Frontera de Cristo sustain ministry in a place divided by a wall? The families in Douglas and Agua Prieta view the border as a place of convergence, a rich and equitable exchange of culture, faith, language, and resources. I believe the "new thing" that God is doing, often in hidden places, is enlivening and emboldening us to work with partners on the other side to overcome separation and hear the voices that the wall attempts to silence.
This letter calls upon the current administration to renounce its plans to construct more border walls. We recognize the damaging effects and consequences of building this wall for all of creation. We proclaim faith that God is making a way, and it is our responsibility to follow the leadership of impacted communities to tear down the wall and invest in peace.
Elizabeth Welliver is a Young Adult Volunteer serving at Grassroots Leadership in Austin, Texas. She enjoys prayers for creation and living in community.
by Timothy Wotring
As a child who consumed the pop culture of the 90’s, I was and still am obsessed with Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Sabrina helped me to see magic in the mundane and broaden my imagination. My family also had a black cat, like Salem, at the time Sabrina was a regular on ABC’s TGIF. Lately, I’ve been re-watching Sabrina. What I’ve gladly noticed are the many climate change references and how keenly aware they were of it in the 90’s.
In the fourth season, the episode “Sabrina, Nipping at Your Nose” focused directly on climate change (12/17/99). Sabrina tires of the winter weather and even goes as far to say, “If I see my breath one more time, I’m going smack it upside its head.” In the background, a radio host offers a free trip for four to Jamaica if a caller can answer a science question. Of course, she wins because her Aunt Zelda who is a scientist is able to answer it with ease. Sabrina brightens up and heads off to school. When she comes back, the radio announcer says that all airports are closed because of the winter storm, which means the Jamaica trip is canceled. Angry and frustrated, Sabrina casts a spell to stop the snow storm. The spell backfires and she is turned into a snowman inside the house. Needless to say, the aunts come home to find a melted Sabrina. They quickly scoop her into a bucket and go to Mother Nature in the Other Realm.
Mother Nature is dressed as a corporate CEO, with a business suit and all. When Aunt Zelda, Aunt Hilda, and a melted Sabrina enter, Mother Nature is on the phone saying, “Hello Steve? Hurricane Steve? Yeah, this is Mother Nature. I need you to make a swing to the Virgin Islands later this week… Don’t give me any of that ‘I’m just a tropical storm’ business. Get off your tail-winds and get down there pronto.” These lines hit home since in September, the Virgin Islands were hit hard by Hurricane Irma and Maria. This is such a tragedy along with Puerto Rico, Barbuda, Dominica, St. Martin, and many others. Mother Nature seems to be ruthless.
When Sabrina eventually becomes materialized by a spell from Mother Nature, she calls out her out, even if it was just quickly. Sabrina says, “Well I’m sure there’s a third-world town you need to reduce to rubble so we’d better get going.” Sabrina clearly understands that climate change hurts the most vulnerable. But at the same time, Sabrina was not able to recognize that Mother Nature is also constrained to human activity. To blame Mother Nature is to point the finger at humanity as well.
What I appreciate about Sabrina is that climate change, pollution, and a talking cat appear frequently. I continue to look for the magic in mundane, but I am not looking for imaginary solutions to our predicament. We must use and promote alternatives to fossil fuels. Make no bones about it, the transition will be difficult, but we must not give up. Like Sabrina, we must not be afraid to confront the powers with a prophetic word, cast spells even if they only take place in a ballot box, and be willing to make the bold step ourselves to promote the Fossil Free PCUSA Overture to our presbyteries.