Lenten Reflection and Re-evaluation in Light of Our 1.5 C Commitment

February 9, 2019

Our faith, climate, and justice work are rooted in our concern for our common home and common future on our only planet, due to the threats posed by climate change.  We believe in the dignity of all and the rights of all to flourish.  In this season, we take time to reorient ourselves to the life-giving path we are called to and what is required of us.

The time to avoid destruction and to make the transition off fossil fuels is short.  The world’s scientists have told us that we must cut carbon emissions in about half, globally, by 2030.  We realize that those of us in richer or more advantaged countries must move much faster and achieve a higher degree of decarbonization by 2030.  

We hear the call to courage, reflection, repentance, hope, renewal and reorientation, and we realize we must take responsibility to lead these shifts.  Our Christian obligation cannot be outsourced.

We start with what is needed and work backward from that, informed by science and with faith, hope, and  courage.  The path we have been on to date has not brought us to the level of GHG reduction necessary and that we are committed to (2017 C. Figueres et al. Nature).  This document, co-signed by our Executive Director, Tomas Insua and confirmed by the world’s top scholars identifies the big shifts we need to make by 2020, including to a preference for electric vehicles, investing only in renewable energy, and developing plans in all cities and institutions for decarbonization.

As people of faith, we recall that we are responsible for our brothers, sisters, and all of creation, not just our own congregations or buildings.  We hear the cry of the poor and realize that the most voiceless and unattended by our modern societies have been the Earth and those who have lived in harmony with her for millennia.  We affirm that the energy transition can and should be accomplished at the same time as poverty reduction and restoration of the natural world.

As Bishop Presto wrote in his manifesto, read at Masses across the diocese in recent weeks, opposing coal and calling on authorities to seek other, less harmful sources of energy:   No one has the “absolute sovereignty to do what he or she pleases over creation, especially exploiting it for the benefit of the few. Instead, as good and faithful stewards, we should take good care of a creation and leave it in condition even better than when it was found. We consider ourselves accountable and responsible in passing the same as a common heritage of the next generations. As much as we are able to do, we prevent disasters from happening.” 

Consistent with our values, we commit to providing leadership in making these connections, including support for people over profit and care of the commons, that which is and should belong to all.  We ask/reflect:

  • What is responsible action and our role as faith, climate, justice leaders given the signs of the times and that CO2 persists in the atmosphere for millennia and is causing irreversible loss of species and ocean acidification, in addition to danger to people?
  • Are our priorities and actions consistent with getting to the dramatic turnarounds needed in our energy system right now? Will they get us to the shifts needed to carbon-free energy and transportation and flourishing for all this next decade?
  • Are we providing or proposing the level and extent of response needed? Sufficient to be and get on a path to stay below 1.5C, on our way to the 350 ppm of CO2 this century?

These questions are benchmarks for us in accomplishing the needed change in time, to address our responsibility and potential in the next few years and help guide our future reflection and planning.  

Each of the action areas below can and must be tackled on local, state, and higher levels, working with all the partners we can find to get this done.  

  • Coal plants should be shut down (faith leaders requiring a schedule of shutdowns in their areas) and no further coal investments should occur. 
  • Do and advocate what it will take for there to be no more investment in or support of fossil-fuel powered infrastructure, including vehicles.  Establish clear preferences and/or requirements that new vehicles be electric, wherever such options exist. All utility investments should be renewable or storage, to avoid further harm, death, ill health, and climate impacts.
  • Energy investments should be redirected to wind, solar, storage,  and geothermal, efficiency improvements, training and employment, e.g.,  installation of renewables, operation of microgrids, and upgrades to buildings.  

Example, the above can be insisted upon and accomplished to an important degree with consistent faith input to utility boards, City Councilmembers, and Public Utilities Commission (15 min/week), particularly building partnerships with other advocates to show up at key times.  Agreements on and implementation of standards for (net zero) building retrofits is often a longer, bigger lift but is addressed in proposals on national and provincial levels and in some local initiatives.

  • Take leadership and responsibility for bringing clean electricity to the 1 billion who lack it, over the next 5 years.  Make partnerships for development of solar electricity and microgrids where state and private plans will not reach.
  • Promote and support healthy, low carbon and local food production, land and land rights protection, eco-/less toxic fair agriculture, and less need for transport and travel, for our food, organizations, and ourselves (greater walkability, more transit and options). 10% of the world’s GHG emissions come from tourism.  Professional travel adds more, all undertaken by few people.
  • Our institutions can teach about these responsibilities and opportunities and the urgency and timeline of our response, and actions that can be taken toward each at all levels of government and society.  Until then, we will work on this.

In all of the above, we seek to maximally partner with others.  We know we cannot do it on our own but we must not stand back and figure this is others’ work, not ours. We commit to continued reflection and re-evaluation of strategy, based on the science, urgency and life or death nature of our situation.  We are called to choose life, not something less than what is necessary for that.  As people of faith and conscience we realize that it is very late, but it is never too late.  As the IPCC scientists and 1.5 C report has said, “every fraction of a degree matters.”

Organizing can and needs to occur on many levels.  Each of us are part of multiple communities where people listen to us and we can and will speak up and play a role in transformation and leadership, in our unique situations and contexts

At the same time we will build community, shared learning and thinking.  Toward this end, we aim to:

  • Challenge ourselves around our role and how we get on the 1.5 C path, thinking of previous religious leaders who took unpopular positions and risks to do what was right and more recent youth leadership.  Every year we delay getting on this path we make life more difficult and the transition more challenging for youth and generations unborn.
  • Have a light impact on people’s time.  People are busy and stretched thin.  We are obliged to think about how we can work together without adding too many meetings and how we can emphasize creativity, empowerment, and support of what is both underway and emerging.  Given all of our limited time, we are also committed to prioritization and re-evaluation to identify where the highest leverage impact can occur, given the size and timing of change needed.  
  • Support an emerging life-giving reality, realizing how very interconnected we are. We want to extend and support individual and community inspiration as well as find and work with partners, understanding their reality, priorities, and interests.
  • Maximize cooperation and minimize bureaucracy and competition.
  • Share knowledge, wisdom & inspiration as a networked learning community