Susan Chamberlain is a Ruling Elder at First Presbyterian Palo Alto. She works as a psychotherapist, loves playing the piano, enjoys being in nature, and is passionate about caring for creation.
Like many good ideas, the vision of asking the Presbyterian church to divest from fossil fuels sprang up in several different places in the spring of 2013. Here’s the story of how this idea took root at First Pres Palo Alto in California.
Our Cool Planet group had been busy with many programs on climate change for six years. We presented a number of speaker series, greened our church facility, advocated for state initiatives to lower carbon emissions, and led a six month challenge to get every household to lower their carbon footprint. We took seriously the overture passed in 2006 urging us to lead carbon neutral lives.
We worked hard.
During that period, the carbon parts per million (ppm) in the atmosphere rose to over 400 ppm, 50 ppm over the safe upper limit, and well over the 280 ppm at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in 1800, where it had been stable for millennia.
It became clear that individual actions were not going to get us to a sustainable planet fast enough. We needed to do something to address the systemic problem.
In October 2012, we heard Bill McKibben speak on his "Do the Math" tour. The science was convincing: We need to leave 80% of fossil fuel reserves in the ground if we are to have any hope of a sustainable future. If we are to slow global warming we have to focus on the companies that are extracting and selling coal, oil, and gas.
We came away from that lecture with a vision and a moral imperative. We would start a campaign to get the PC(USA) to divest from fossil fuels. This seemed an effective way to call attention to the necessity of turning away from our dependence on fossil fuels and of turning toward renewable sources of energy. In the spring of 2013, fueled by a passionate energy we didn't know we had, we wrote an overture calling the PC(USA) to divest from fossil fuels.
Soon we found that there were other Presbyterians across the country in whom the divestment idea had taken root and we joined together in this calling. Thus began a fast growing grassroots movement that brings us, 3 years later, to a second overture, with 29 concurrences, asking the 2016 General Assembly to divest Presbyterian funds from fossil fuels.
By divesting, the PC(USA) will join the chorus of 500 other institutions around the world that have divested from fossil fuels. As our collective voice grows louder the moral arc of the universe will bend toward climate justice.
Above: Cool Planet celebrates the concurrence of OVT 09-01 in San Jose Presbytery together.