by Bob Taylor, retired PC(USA) pastor and volunteer with Citizens’ Climate Lobby
For many Presbyterians a faithful response to the climate crisis starts with individual lifestyle choices to minimize our carbon footprint. These actions could include such things as reducing meat consumption, using bikes or public transport instead of cars, buying an electric car, recycling, taking less air travel, or choosing to eat local organic food.
While these types of individual actions are important, they will not solve global warming with the speed and scale now required. In this new reality, climate activist Bill McKibben says, “The most important thing an individual can do is be less of an individual. Join with other people in movements large enough to effect change in policy and economics that might actually move the system enough to matter. You can’t do it anymore, one light bulb, one vegan dinner, at a time.”
Here are three arenas of climate action through which Presbyterians are currently working to fulfill the calling to be faithful stewards of the Earth and to seek economic justice for the most vulnerable.
- Shareholder responsibility/divestment. Over the years the PC(USA) has debated how our denomination can be faithful to our mission yet maintain ownership in fossil fuel companies whose products cause disease, death and climate disruption. The General Assembly has supported and institutionalized mission responsibility through investments hoping to influence fossil fuel companies as shareholders. Many Presbyterians are now urging divestment. Divestment from fossil fuel companies has become the fastest growing social movement in history. In 2014 global assets committed to divestment amounted to $52 million; today over a thousand institutions have committed to divest more than $11 Trillion. The impact of this is significant. This action dries up investment capital to the companies who are imperiling our future and opens opportunities to phase-out these fuels and make the transition to a clean energy economy. The organization 350.org leads this movement, welcomes volunteers, and provides resources that could be used by local congregations. A project of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, Fossil Free PCUSA, provides support for congregations and is promoting divestment overtures for consideration at the 224th General Assembly (2020).
- Climate legislation. Commissioners at the 223rd General Assembly (2018) voted to support a climate policy called “carbon fee and dividend”, a powerful market-based policy that effectively and fairly reduces emissions. Today in Congress there are ten bills offering variations of this policy approach. One, the bipartisan Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (HR-763), has the support of our denomination. It taxes the polluters, uses the revenue to support American households, spurs investment in alternatives, incentivizes a global solution, and promises to reduce emissions 90% by 2050. HR-763 is the only climate bill that requires 100% of net revenue be rebated to American citizens. These monthly dividend payments should provide economic justice to low-and-middle-income households. The lower 70% of households will experience a net gain, receiving more in dividends than required for increased energy costs. This bill could become the centerpiece of a larger green new deal that may include companion legislation to stop the nearly $700 billion annual subsidies given to fossil fuel companies, phase-out exploration and production, provide added support to low-and-middle-income Americans, and re-train fossil fuel workers. Citizens Climate Lobby, a non-partisan grass roots organization, leads the efforts for Congressional action and welcomes volunteers. Presbyterians for Carbon Dividends is an action team which supports this approach throughout the denomination (contact: firstname.lastname@example.org).
- Joining in protests, strikes, or civil disobedience galvanizes public attention and demonstrates the moral urgency of a problem. These kinds of actions were significant to the success of previous social justice movements in our country and will likely be needed in the struggle to phase-out fossil fuels and transition to a clean energy future. Movements such as Fridays for Future, extinction rebellion and organized efforts to block the Keystone XL pipelines welcome volunteers.
The climate crisis has a time problem. If we don’t solve it soon, it doesn’t get solved.