by Erica Schemper
Thinking about climate change, and praying that what we've got going here will not be the new normal.
Without minimizing one bit the loss of life and homes and infrastructure at the actual site of the fires, I don't know if those of you in the rest of the country are hearing how the smoke from the fires is affecting big swaths of the state of California.
In the Bay Area, we are up to a week plus of days when the air quality levels are unsafe for vulnerable populations. I read somewhere that we're now at a point where the particulate is even smaller, and thus better able to get deep down in our lungs.
We live outside in CA: leave our doors and windows open; our kids eat lunch and have gym class outside (we often don't have indoor cafeterias and gymnasiums at our schools); my kids swim at an outdoor facility. Classes there have been cancelled for a week, which I think means the teachers and life guards aren't getting paid. My kids have missed gym classes, and are eating in their classrooms. Their teachers are exhausted. After school activities have been cancelled, and playgrounds are empty.
I know those of you in places with actual winter might not be sympathetic to our being shut indoors, but I've lived in climates with winter, and I am really winter person at heart, and I have been known to go for a run when it's well below freezing. This is different: it's not just about comfort, it's about safety. I haven't gone running for over a week because it's just not safe to breath in that much of this air. Many races and outdoor athletic activities and community events have been cancelled, likely cutting into the economy of those communities (the half marathon I was training for was cancelled: I was going to go to brunch afterward. That's not happening...)
I noticed over the weekend that traffic at local restaurants was down.
I sing in a choir in San Francisco. We had our concerts over the weekend, and so many of us had voices that were seriously compromised by this air.
In some areas not far from here, schools are closed. Colleges and Universities, too.
Meanwhile, we are not taking good care of the people who work outdoor jobs for low pay. I've seen families hurrying their masked kids to the car to avoid the air, while next door, a team of gardeners is hard at work on a yard, no face masks.
I know there are people laboring in the farm fields nearby in this air. The food they're harvesting, while breathing this air, is coming to a super market near you soon, because California is truly America's salad bowl.
People who have to bike to work or take public transit, are likely sitting outside breathing this in.
I've also read about food programs for folks living on the streets opening up not just for meals, but for emergency overnight lodging. While we with the means cower in our homes, there are people breathing this air all night long.
These fires are big, and they are life ending have a big reach, and they may well be the new normal for the American west.
And this week? I'm thinking really hard about climate change and my part in it. I hope you will, too.
by Dick Gibson
Dick is responding to the recent announcement that Seattle University will become the first college in Washington State to divest from fossil fuels.
We know that fossil fuels are dangerous in the atmosphere. Now scientists are explaining how bad they are for our oceans. The combustion of fossil fuels helps to acidify ocean water. The colder the water, the more readily carbon dioxide will dissolve in it. Marine life is reacting: oysters, clams and snails are struggling to produce and maintain their shells. Coral reef ecosystems are being destroyed. Krill are less likely to hatch and amphipods will die in the acidic waters. Clown fish can't find their homes, and even sharks miss out smelling their food!
What kind of a world are we leaving our children? With no fish in the sea, no oysters or clams to eat, no coral reefs to visit, their life will be poorer and more confused.
Some regions are fighting fossil fuel use by introducing carbon taxes. WA state has an initiative on the ballot for November to put a price on greenhouse gas pollution by fossil fuels. Most citizens rely on oil, natural gas and coal for the tasks of daily life. This must end, and divesting from companies engaged in fossil fuel production will begin the process. Fossil fuels are the number one problem, as we search for solutions to our changing climate.
Seattle University, a Jesuit school, has voted to divest its endowment fund of fossil fuel companies over the next five years, joining others in the growing divestment movement. As a university and school of theology, the school has a special obligation to address climate change and to make a difference.
So the Presbyterian Church needs to see the handwriting on the wall by others, listen to prophetic requests from its own members, protect its children, and practice its theology of caring for God's creation. Divestment is paramount and needs to be accomplished with our church funds, sooner rather than later. We can not wait for more years of talking, or for negotiations which produce no results or movement by the industries. 2018 must be the year the church stands up to industry and says "NO" to ruining our climate and "YES" to the stewardship of God's gift of our abundant earth!
by Angela Williams
Serving my seminary internship with Fossil Free PCUSA and Presbyterian Peace Fellowship has opened my eyes to so many different facets of ministry in our beloved Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The seminary experience is always perfectly imperfect. I learn much about worship, polity, and theology with my brilliant professors, classmates, and assigned authors. However, the tensions between the theoretical and practical dimensions of learning always remain.
The past eight months working with Fossil Free PCUSA/PPF has exemplified the intent of the Supervised Practice of Ministry, the name my institution gives to this internship. I have definitely benefited from the weekly supervision of abby mohaupt. We delved deeply into the practical sides of ministry through planning and then living out the PCUSA Walk for a Fossil Free World. Our work was certainly ministry as we created community on the walk, learned from phenomenal teachers, and worked around the edges to move our denomination toward divestment from the fossil fuel industry.
One of the greatest takeaways I am bringing from this work is challenging the notions of business as usual. We live in a world broken by white supremacy, cisheteropatriarchy, ablism, capitalism, colonialism, and many other big, scary things. But it does not have to be like this. Being God’s people in this world does not mean we need to be conflict avoidant, passive aggressive, or risk averse. We do not have to stay silent when people speak or act inappropriately for fear of being called indecent or out of order. We do not have to stay at the table when the table is on fire. We can choose to side with the oppressed of the world, using whatever privilege we carry to act in solidarity with those living in poverty. In fact, that is exactly what God calls us to do. I knew most of this coming into this movement, but working with abby has strengthened my courage and stamina to act boldly, drawing from our deep biblical and Reformed theological roots. We name these sins whenever we see them, even in ourselves, and to work toward bringing the reign of God to this beautiful, broken world.
Those are a lot of big, theological words. How do we actually do this? This is the practical nature of the work. The practice of dismantling these systems and spreading the liberative gospel includes showing up and putting our bodies on the line. It is using our time, energy, and resources to learn about climate change and listening to the stories of frontline communities. It is walking across two whole states to listen to those stories and form connections with other stories. It is centering the perspectives of those most impacted by our investments in the fossil fuel industry, those who cannot wait any longer for power brokering in corporate boardrooms. It is coming together with our hearts, souls, minds, and full strength to worship God. We do this by speaking up and speaking out in committee rooms and on the floor of General Assembly, as well as in building relationships with individuals inside and outside of our denomination.These are the tangible, practical ways we engage in ministry.
Joining this movement for climate justice and divestment from the fossil fuel industry has deepened my understanding of what ministry is. As a hopeful future pastor and community organizer, I feel energized to dream strategically about how to build relationships to create meaningful change. Still, no matter how much preparation for ministry we do, the Spirit continuously surprises us, showing up in unexpected people and places. She nudges us toward discomfort that ultimately brings us into deeper relationship with God and with each other, showing us where our treasure is and where our hearts are. The Spirit remains even when we feel beaten down, discouraged, and angry. In those vulnerable places, the spark of ministry ignites communities to support each other with love, compassion, and sometimes righteous anger. This is what ministry is, can be, and ought to be.
Through this experience of outstanding supervision, engaged practice, and deep ministry, Fossil Free PCUSA and PPF have sharpened my skills as a community organizer and pastor. I am so grateful.
Hello, my name is Mina Haddad and I am from the Presbytery of the Ohio Valley. I am speaking in favor of overture 08-04 [on Environmental Justice]
I am a proud Presbyterian and a proud teacher. This past year, through the Fulbright program, I had the honor of teaching English to 300 Muslim girls in India and, as the story goes, they taught me far more than I could have ever taught them. My girls taught me about hospitality, devotion, and struggle. They are the reasons I walked 212 miles in support of divestment from fossil fuels to be here, with you, today.
See, both literally and figuratively, my girls are stuck. They are living in the highly populated heart of Jaipur where, in October, the pollution rolls in and stays well into the month of March. This means they cough, a lot. Their hair is covered in black specks. They blow their noses and their mucus is black. Clean water is much harder to come by. Over the course of those 6 months, my girls are eating, learning, playing and sleeping in pollutants 24/7.
One day, I was talking with my student Raya and, in her broken English, she said, “Ma’am, in our life no fun, no enjoy. Sad life.” And, in that moment, all I could say, in my broken Hindi, was, “Raya, maaf kigiye,” which means, “Raya, I am so sorry.”
By approving this overture before you today, you can help me respond to Raya’s struggle and the struggle of countless other young children around the world. We need to acknowledge the need for environmental justice and take meaningful, bold steps towards alleviating the injustices because, quite frankly, it’s the least we can do.
by Cole Strickland
I walked for two days this summer with the #WalkToDivest crew to help send the message to the 223rd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) that it is time to divest from the fossil
fuel industry. I hesitated to participate at first, knowing that all my friends and family would be
firmly split between supportive and critical of my participating in this #WalkToDivest. After all,
what difference would one more dude (me) make in the General Assembly’s decision on whether
to call for a divestment from fossil fuels?
The answer: I do not know for sure.
Luckily, my decision to show up wasn’t based on any cost-benefit analysis. Rather, my decision to show up was based on my own restless desire to stand up and say, “Hey, wait a minute, I don’t agree withwhat’s going on here!”I have a feeling most of us share that same feeling of restless desire
nowadays. I am thankful for the organizers of the PCUSA Walk for a Fossil Free World that provided a space for us to express it.
Participating in the #WalkToDivest also reminded me of the wonders of community. I only spent
two days with the crew, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t feel like family by the end of those two
We ate together, walked together, prayed together, camped-out in churches together.
I spent a lot of time reflecting on how today’s culture of wanting, achieving and displaying (a culture that I participate in daily) often doesn’t allow for this type of togetherness.
I don’t think God intended for us to behave this way - constantly at each other’s throats competing
for resources and individual achievement, but that seems to be the status quo now. In a way, this
walk was also an outlet for me to stand up and say, “Hey, wait a minute, I’m not cool with that
Maybe one day, when we’re a little older, we’ll spend a little bit more time walking, eating and praying together. So long as we keep standing up for what we believe in.
Thank you to the organizers for all the phone calls and emails that had to be made to make this
walk possible, and a big round of applause for those that completed the entire walk and presented
the resolution to the General Assembly. I hope to see y’all again one day soon.
These are the words rev. abby mohaupt spoke in open hearing at the 223rd General Assembly. Because the PCUSA did not vote to divest from fossil fuels, these words are a record of part of what was lost.
Good afternoon, my name is the rev. abby mohaupt and I am the moderator of Fossil Free PCUSA.
For the past five years, we have worked in our beloved denomination to call for divestment from fossil fuels.
In 2014, 13 presbyteries joined us.
In 2016, 31 presbyteries joined us.
Over the last two years, 40 presbyteries have lined up to support the overture that has become 08-01—more presbyteries than have ever supported an overture.
40. It rained and poured for 40 days and nights on Noah. The Israelites wandered for 40 years in the desert. Jesus spent 40 days fasting in the wilderness. When the number forty appears in scripture, someone is usually being tested.
I am also a PhD student focused on religious responses to climate change. I have learned from people in front line communities, communities who have already experienced climate change, communities who have asked me to continue to ask for divestment from fossil fuels—people who have become friends, people like Oluwatosin Kolawole, who you heard speak earlier today. He has asked me again and again to listen to the increasingly dangerous impacts that climate change has had on his community and call for divestment from the fossil fuel industry.
Tosin walked with us to St. Louis.
Will we walk with Tosin and others?
Will we stand with 40 presbyteries?
It’s time to do so—it’s time to divest.
by Aida Haddad
I come from the Presbytery of Ohio Valley, and I am a proud Presbyterian, Princeton Seminary graduate, and environmental scientist.
I walked 212 miles from Louisville, Kentucky to speak with you today.
And somewhere along the way—as 60 mph semi-trucks zoomed past us unavoidably within a couple arms reach, as the abnormally hot sun beat down on our brows, as our many foot blisters stung with pain, and as radically hospitable churches opened their doors to us, I found clarity about who I am as a Presbyterian.
I found my prophetic voice, or, my ability to speak the truth about our present.
And the truth is we have sinned.
The truth is we have been complicit in creating climate change refugees and killing those who can not flee, here and abroad.
The truth is we are ‘studying’ and ‘engaging’ our way to extinction.
The truth is that Oluwatosin and Jose are losing their homes because of our hardened hearts.
The truth is our hearts are hardened because we are trying over and over again to love both God and money and that is Biblically impossible.
The truth is that all hope is not lost. The truth is that we can repent. And the truth is that divestment gives us the opportunity to begin doing so.
by Ashley Bair
MRTI writes in their report that the most efficient way to discourage the burning of fossil fuels is to aggressively engage and challenge companies to reduce their carbon footprint.
If we agree that climate change is real and that human consumption of fossil fuels is the cause, then shareholder engagement is a mute point. Because the product is what is killing our people and our future. We need to get out of it now. We have decided as a church not to put our money in alcohol or tobacco or firearms or pornography - because we know better than to expect that the manufacturers would engage us in reducing or changing their harmful, destructive, deadly goods. It is not the company, it is the product.
Knowing that wetlands are disappearing, communities are dislocated, oil and gas are clogging our air and water, disease is rampant and deadly - We do not have until 2020 to make a decision on which select companies to leave, we need to say no. It is the product of fossil fuels that are deadly and from that we must faithfully choose life and divest. Now.
Welcome to St. Louis! I have been a resident of this intriguing and complicated city for the last two and a half years and I am also an active member of the Presbytery of Giddings- Lovejoy – your host presbytery this week. I am speaking to you today as the Overture Advocate for Overture 08-01 which calls for denominational divestment from fossil fuel companies. I also speak as the former Moderator of the 215th General Assembly.
I have four grandsons – Declan (5), Raymond (4), Quinn (3), and Elijah (1). According to earth scientists when these little boys are my age, the sea level will have risen 6 inches – immersing large parts of the Florida Peninsula, and coastal areas around Long island and Norfolk – not to mention Pacific islands where some of the poorest people in the world live. All because of global warming, caused in large part by the insatiable hunger of North Americans for fossil fuels. And that doesn’t even describe the severe weather patterns, droughts, floods, and life- threatening diseases caused by carbon pollution. This is not the world I want to live in – or that I want to bequeath to my grandsons. I believe that to perpetuate this desecration of God’s glorious creation is nothing short of blasphemy.
Two years ago, the General Assembly asked MRTI to create a process of corporate engagement that would measure and judge the efforts being made to control fossil fuel emissions made by companies holding PCUSA investments funds – all as a way of encouraging these companies to do the right thing. And MRTI has faithfully and competently carried out that General Assembly mandate.
And yet progress has been incremental even as the devastation of global warming escalates - destroying lives, crops, islands, animals, and environmental health. There is an urgency to this issue that must be met with decisive and prophetic action. A multi-year process of corporate engagement is not an adequate response to this sense of urgency. I believe that divesting from fossil fuel companies – and then reinvesting funds in renewable energy companies – will more boldly proclaim to our communities and our families that abundant life for all God’s creatures is our calling as disciples of Jesus Christ.
I have been a proud Presbyterian for 69 years, and have cherished the prophetic witness that our denomination has made over the years related to global and justice issues. But, today, it is hard for me to be proud – when we continue to invest our sacred money in companies that are helping to destroy the earth. The Episcopal Church, the Unitarian Universalists, the Church of England, the United Church of Christ, the Lutheran World Federation, The Rockefeller Foundation, the City of San Francisco, and 30 other religious, educational, and municipal organizations – have all divested from fossil fuel companies. By continuing to invest in the fossil fuel industry I believe that we in the Presbyterian Church USA are on the wrong side of history.
It was at the last General Assembly that I learned about the Pax Global Environmental Markets Fund – the option now open to all Presbyterians with Retirement Savings Accounts. I immediately went home and transferred all my Retirement Savings through the Board of Pensions into that environmental fund. The returns on those investments have been equal to or greater than they would have been in other funds, but the financial bottom line was not my main motivation. I want to make sure that the values I cherish – including creation care for the earth - are reflected in the decisions I make about my hard- earned money.
Last year, my husband, Sim, made an even braver decision. When his mother died several years ago he inherited some of her family’s Chevron stock – a legacy passed down by generations of Kentucky Arterburns. For a while, he held onto the stocks for sentimental and legacy reasons. But then he realized that money is not the legacy he wants to leave to Declan and Ray and Quinn and Elijah. He wants to leave a legacy of beauty and justice and financial integrity. So Sim sold all his Chevron stock at a considerable loss, and has reinvested it in companies that uphold the values of life that we both hold dear.
In the Genesis creation story, Adam and Eve are shaped and called forth to keep and to till the earth. And in Genesis 9, God promises never again to destroy the earth through flood or environmental disaster. Friends in Christ, as heirs of that covenant promise, we are called to do the same.
For the love of God, for the love of the earth, for the love of grandchildren and generations to come, I urge the Commissioners of the 223rd General Assembly to vote in favor of Overture 08-01.
by Timothy Wotring
Love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and prophets.
If there was one Scripture that I’ve read more times in my life, other than John 3:16, it would be this one. Now, of course, my interpretation of this passage has changed over the years. And I no longer think as I did as a child that the first half of the passage is for my spiritual self and the second half is for how I interact with others.
Because I do believe and please Take Heart that neighbor is not just about the one who I am closest to, although that it is true, but that our neighbor is also the Earth and all who dwell here.
So I love God with my heart, not just by praying for Creation and for fossil fuel companies to repent of their Earth hurting ways, but also by praying with my hands when I plant tomatoes in my church’s rooftop garden.
And I love God with my heart, not just by weeping with those who weep or rejoicing with those who rejoice, but also by amplifying the voices of forefront communities who are affected the most by the effects of climate change.
And I can love God with my heart, not just by going to see the sick in the hospital, but also by being repairers of creation, advocating for Earth-justice, planting trees, and getting my friends and loved ones to join in the struggle.
As the great poet Sufjan Stevens once sang, “I use my hands to use my heart.”
And with this incredible witness that the Louisville to St. Louis walk to divest participants have shown us, it’s that sometimes you need to “Use your feet to use your heart.”
So let us continue to follow in the Way and to get in the way with our hearts on our sleeves, pushing for eco-justice, for an end to environmental racism, and a healthy Earth for us and generations after us!
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