Presbyterians and Utmost Leadership in Earth’s Climate Crisis

smoke from smokestack

Photo credit: Chris Leboutillier and thanks to Unsplash

By James R. Turner, guest writer from Presbyterians for Earth Care

Humanity has only another decade left to achieve a decisive shift in our energy regime, so that we do not leave our children an Earth that is ravaged by climate heating. In “Investing in a Green Future: A Vision for a Renewed Creation” the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy called for witness pertaining to “fossil fuels” and “fracking” and support of “policies and regulations that rigorously reduce air pollution”.[1]  Consistent with that call, the Heartland Presbytery’s Earthkeepers committee believes that members of the PCUSA should be urged to speak out, as Presbyterians, to protect our climate from the harms to Earth and human society caused by natural gas – a topic treated below.

Why Advocate As Presbyterians About Energy Policy In The Public Arena?  

We must not overlook anything that we as Presbyterians can possibly do to avoid climate catastrophe.  Let us think big about our potential role, as a faith community, in nurturing a readiness for the necessary economic and social changes. A majority of America’s population supports improving our energy systems to protect our climate.[2]  Nevertheless, it remains to be seen whether, for example, enough consumers will step away from their advertiser-induced devotion to the carbon-spewing internal combustion engine, despite the clear economic and carbon-reducing advantages of electric propulsion for our cars, trucks, and mass transportation.

Consider a crude model of how technological change gets adopted.  Scientists and engineers develop a fundamentally different technology that better meets emerging needs.  Businesses develop processes that can put that new technology into use.  But will it then be adopted by consumers, other businesses, and governments at sufficient scale so that it displaces the older technology that is clung to by entrenched interests?  The new technology might be adopted only if it is endorsed by a set of values, and if their advocates can sufficiently bring them to bear on the consumer behavior.

Presbyterian institutions are competently communicating Earth-care values within our religious community.  And with those values in mind, individual Presbyterians have been individually communicating (in our “citizen” hats) to politicians that we want energy-policy change.  And some individual Presbyterians install solar panels or other technologies and we discuss that with our neighbors, which helps that technology to spread.  (Perhaps the neighbors could think we are motivated only by immediate considerations like cost reduction.)  But is that individualized communication, as citizens and consumers, causing adoption of new technology at sufficient speed?

It seems likely that the potential adopters of new technologies, and potential supporters of governmental nurture for the technologies, will adopt and support them more quickly if they see that it’s not just individuals who favor them.  Might some be more deeply influenced if they see that a faith community, motivated by communitarian values, is speaking for the new technologies?  If so, then we should explicitly say that we are speaking as Presbyterians when we speak in support of a needed technology.  And we should call for our Presbyterian communities and institutions to be vocal in support of the new technologies, and thereby sanctify them.

If we as Presbyterians are to assert ourselves on behalf of needed technologies, we must do it credibly.  It is vital that we immerse ourselves sufficiently in informative articles so that our communications as Presbyterians will flow from a well-informed lay understanding of issues raised by each emerging technology.  Ideally, we should not be passive recipients of technology decisions handed down by top-level business and government leaders.  Rather, we should be so well informed that we can have a credible voice as Presbyterians in social dialogue as those decisions take shape.

And, if a majority of Americans recognize the wisdom of modifying our energy systems to protect the climate, does it not reflect well on the Presbyterian Church as a definer of Christianity, if we identify ourselves as Presbyterians when we speak for the climate?  In his book “Just Faith”, Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons says:

We need to use words.  Christianity isn’t going to get untangled from conservativism without us proactively litigating the case in the public square.  We need to be thinkers and pray-ers and word users.  We are called not just to act for social justice, but to contest the hijacking of Christianity.  The Hebrew prophets didn’t just let their actions speak for themselves.   [Isaiah 10].[3]

Therefore, identifying ourselves as Presbyterians as we speak for reforming energy can help to make the general public aware that Christian values are different than what they hear from fundamentalists Christians who are politically linked to the Republican defenders of fossil fuels.[4] 

Heartland Presbytery recently provided a vivid example of speaking out on a social issue, when it issued a statement calling for the police chief of Kansas City, Missouri, to resign, because of the department’s failure to work adequately with the County Prosecutor and with the city’s African-American community.[5]  Such statements on behalf of social justice enhance Presbyterians’ credibility for speaking to intersectional concerns such as environmental justice.  Presbyterians for Earth Care might feel a corresponding duty to nurture and assert our denomination’s credibility to speak about the environmental aspect of intersectional problems.

Preparing Ourselves to Advocate Against Natural Gas

As the economics and reliability of wind and solar energy have improved, it has become less acceptable for our state and federal government to support production and use of natural gas.  Gas wells and distribution lines leak too much methane[6] – the gas that is most effective at trapping heat in our atmosphere[7].  Also, the fracking process uses too much water and pollutes our surface and underground water.[8]  And there is growing awareness that indoor exhaust from natural gas is harming our health.[9]

In order that those harms be reduced, there are various fronts upon which we should challenge the role of natural gas in our energy regime (and each of these can affect the size of demand for natural gas within the United States and abroad, so all of them are relevant to the ‘balancing’ that Secretary of Energy Granholm should do in deciding on approving particular exports of natural gas — as discussed below):

1.  Support shifts to renewables and battery storage as electric grids are updated: this can reduce the use of coal and gas for electricity production.[10]  We should understand the electricity technology well enough that we can present citizen-level viewpoints at local or national levels about choices presented for infrastructure build-up.[11] For example, opportunities may occur for submitting statements to state commissions that regulate our utilities.

2.  Support more thrifty use of energy in America’s buildings: here are two topics that need attention:

    • More rigorous energy efficiency standards in building codes: the 2021 update of the International Energy Efficiency Code (IEEC) could provide a ten percent gain in efficiency over previous editions of the IEEC, with improved standards for insulation, lighting, and other components.   Later in 2021, in Kansas City, Missouri, the Council will consider whether to adopt this latest version of the IEEC. [12]  Local Presbyterians aim to be vocal about adoption of this 2021 code.
    • Choice of heat pumps instead of gas for heating: “. . .  the press release for the American Jobs Plan places heat pumps right alongside electric vehicles and their charging stations as leading technologies in the race to meet the 2050 net zero goal.“[13]   Advances in technology[14] have made heat pumps cost-competitive and effective for heating in regions where winter temperatures below 0 degrees F are rare.[15] If we can help to build demand for advanced Air Source Heat Pumps (ASHP), maybe they can displace some gas furnaces for heating buildings.[16]

3.  Oppose further acquisition of Compressed Natural Gas vehicles (and related expansion of supportive infrastructure) by governmental fleets.[17] The fleet managers should stay nimble to convert auto and truck fleets to electric vehicles as they become available.[18]

4.  Oppose legislation by states that could inhibit city actions to promote electricity and efficiency.[19]

5.  Oppose building more gas pipelines[20] and export facilities.[21]

6.  Question governmental support of ‘Renewable Natural Gas’ (RNG), “an industry term for methane captured from biogenic (organic) waste at landfills, livestock operations, farms, and sewage treatment facilities. (It is sometimes called “biogas” or “biomethane.”)” [22]

7.  Urge Secretary Granholm to use discretion to restrict the exports of Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) produced in the USA;

Encourage Energy Secretary Granholm to restrict exports of Liquified Natural Gas

Here is an immediate opportunity to begin a focused campaign; Presbyterians’ messages could encourage Secretary Granholm to resist an unacceptable status quo.  Exports of LNG now amount to around ten percent of gas production in the U.S.[23], and there is pressure to enlarge those exports.    During the Trump Administration the Energy Department set policies favoring exports of LNG[24], and political necessities have obliged Granholm to acknowledge the gas industry’s arguments for LNG exports.[25]  Nevertheless, as Energy Secretary, the Natural Gas Act of 1938 still gives Granholm authority to balance considerations as to whether to approve many particular export deals.[26]  Exports of LNG can provide revenue and jobs in our gas industry, and can provide other nations an alternative to burning coal.  But burning gas has the adverse consequences for our climate and water mentioned above; and the other nations can use wind and solar energy and emerging battery storage technology as alternatives to burning gas, so Granholm has reasons to restrict the amount of gas exports.

As Secretary Granholm exercises this discretion, the Energy Department will undoubtedly get ongoing pressure from the natural gas industry, which anticipates that its exports of LPG could more than triple by 2030.[27]  It is important that Earth-care advocates should provide countervailing messages of the importance of restricting the amount of such production and exports, so that in the public arena the balance of equities can be fairly perceived.  Such a statement, made on behalf of PCUSA by our Representative for Domestic Issues, could provide political support for her to use her discretion to limit LNG exports, and to press for production methods that limit methane emissions.   Granholm has expressed support for expanded use of clean energy (as opposed to fossil fuels), and therefore she can speak effectively in favor of President Biden’s climate policies.


Our task is not to pretend that we have engineering expertise about the needed technologies.    Our calling is to help maintain the firmness of public opinion that supports the emerging technologies, and to offer expressions of public support that can reinforce the good judgment of the decision makers. The credibility of all our assertions can be nurtured by the extent to which Presbyterians and faith colleagues engage in dialogue, internally and externally, about the technical, economic and political factors that bear on decisions that lie ahead.


James R. Turner

Ruling Elder, Westport Presbyterian Church, Kansas City, Missouri
Member, Earthkeepers of Heartland Presbytery
Associate Professor Emeritus of Accounting (2010), Truman State University, Kirksville, Missouri — BA, MS, JD, University of Missouri-Columbia
Chair, Missouri Sierra Club (2007-2015)

group photo of PEC at Stony Pt Center

Latest in-person Presbyterians for Earth Care conference at Stony Point Center in New York



[2] Alec Tyson and Brian Kennedy, “Two Thirds of Americans Think Government Should Do More on Climate Change”, Pew Research Center (June 23, 2020)

[3] Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons, Just Faith:  Reclaiming Progressive Christianity, Broadleaf Books, Minneapolis, (2020), Ch. 10, (p. 205 in Kobo Epub]

[4] E.g. Sidney L Green, “Evangelical fundamentalists and the science of climate change”,  Oct. 2014),

[5] “Church Council Calls for Resignation of Kansas City Chief: The regional body that represents the Presbyterian Church is joining other civil rights organizations in calling for the dismissal of Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith”, Associated Press, (March 18, 2021); ; Luke Nozicka and Cortlynn Stark, “Church Council calls for KCPD to dismiss chief, ‘no longer ignore’ Black community” Kansas City Star, (March 18, 2021) .  (Unlike other cities, Kansas City’s police department is supervised by a Board appointed by Missouri’s Governor, an aftermath of the Prendergast political machine’s dominance in Kansas City in the 1930’s.  — .

[6] “The amount of methane leaking from the nation’s oil and gas fields may be 60 percent higher than the official estimates of the Environmental Protection Agency, according to a new study in the journal Science. The study, led by a group of scientists from the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) . . . “ Sabrina Shankman, “Oil and Gas Fields Leak Far More Methane than EPA Reports, Study Finds”, Inside Climate News, (June 21, 2018); ; see also Lean Burrows, Harvard John A Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, “Oil and natural gas production emit more methane than previously thought”, (March 26, 2021),  , describing a paper published in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics.


[8] See e.g. .

[9] “Four research and advocacy groups — the Rocky Mountain Institute, Mothers Out Front, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and the Sierra Club — have released a new literature review, assessing two decades worth of peer-reviewed studies. They find that ‘gas stoves may be exposing tens of millions of people to levels of air pollution in their homes that would be illegal outdoors under national air quality standards.’”   David Roberts, “Gas stoves can generate unsafe levels of indoor air pollution:  an accumulating body of research suggests gas stoves are a health risk”, Vox, (updated May 11, 2020),

[10] Ivan Penn, “The Next Energy Battle: Renewables vs. Natural Gas”, (July 6, 2020),

[11] For a book-length discussion of the technical and economic issues, aimed at laypeople, see Amory B. Lovins and Rocky Mountain Institute, Reinventing Fire, Chelsea Green Publishing (2011).

[12] Lauren Urbanek, “The 2021 Energy Code Is Final – and More Efficient than Ever”, Natural Resources Defense Council, (April 9, 2020),  A summary of the changes found in the 2021 can be found at .  Karen Uhlenhuth, “Kansas City poised to adopt the most efficient building code in the country”, Energy News, (June25, 2020), ,

[13] Tina Casey, “All Hail The Mighty Heat Pump, Hero Of The American Jobs Plan:  . . . as part of push for building electrification”, (April 11, 2021)  .

[14] Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships,

[15] “in recent years, air-source heat pump technology has advanced so that it now offers a legitimate space heating alternative in colder regions.” —  As to relative costs, “According to, the national average cost for a heat pump is $5,605, with the typical price range running from just over $4,000 to a little over $7,100. Meanwhile, the national average cost for a gas furnace is $4,289, with the typical price range running from just above $2,500 to $6,101.”


[17] See e.g. ,

[18] Joshua Loyd Adam Young, “A road map for successful conversion to a fully electric vehicle fleet”, Burns McDonnell,

[19] Nichola Groom and Richard Valdmanis, “As climate fight intensifies, U.S. states seek to block local natural-gas bans”, Reuters, (March 5, 2020) .

[20] Jonathan Hahn, “Sustained Opposition Derails Three Major Oil and Gas Pipelines:  Grassroots resistance shuts down Atlantic Coast, Dakota Access, and Keystone XL”, Sierra, (July 8, 2020), .

[21] Will Englund, “Proposal to Build LNG terminal on Delaware River could pose early test for the Biden administration”, (Jan. 5, 2021), .    “Operation of LNG terminals produces billions of dollars of climate damages every year, which have to be added to the damages from emissions . . . ” according to Catherine Traywick, Stephen Cunningham, Nauareen S Malik, and Dave Merrill, “Gas Exports Have a Dirty Secret:  A Carbon Footprint Rivaling Coal’s”, (Jan. 23, 2020),

[22]  “RNG is not as low-carbon as the industry claims and its local air and water impacts are concentrated in vulnerable communities. Even if it were low-carbon and equitable, there simply isn’t enough of it to substitute for more than a small fraction of natural gas. And even if it were low-carbon, equitable, and abundant, it still wouldn’t be an excuse to expand natural gas infrastructure or slow electrification.”, David Roberts, “The false promise of ‘renewable natural gas’, Vox, (Feb. 20, 2020), “Rhetoric vs Reality:  The Myth of ‘Renewable Natural Gas’ for Building Decarbonization”,

[23] “U.S. gas producers have become increasingly reliant on liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports to Europe and Asia to absorb their growing output and prevent domestic prices from plunging as a result of oversupply. . . . The fastest growth for U.S. LNG has been to markets in Europe and Asia”  —

[24] e.g. “DOE Takes Concrete Steps to Streamline Permitting and Reassure Global LNG Markets”, at


[26]    Recently Granholm said “”The Natural Gas Act of 1938 dictates the requirements and the considerations, and I would certainly abide by that act, including issues related to whether something is in the public interest, what the economics are, what the geopolitical concerns are,”” —

[27] Adam Barth, Jamie Brick, Dumitru Dediu, and Humayun Tai, “The future of natural gas in North America”, McKinsey, Jan. 6, 2020, , which says in part” From 2019 to 2030, North American gas exports are predicted to grow from nine bcfd [billion cubic feet per day] to 30 bcfd, mainly as a result of Asian LNG demand.”