Reflection on & Re-evaluation of Mission and Role in Light of the 1.5°C Report

January 4, 2019

Our faith, climate, and justice work are rooted in our concern for our common home and future, due to the threats posed by climate change and our beliefs 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 the requirements upon us, as people of faith.

The carbon budget for 1.5°C has already been used up.  1°C of warming has already occurred and another .5°C is in the pipeline as the bulk of the extra warming Earth has received from fossil fuel burning (equivalent to 400K Hiroshima bombs daily) has been stored in and is gradually released from the oceans.  This means a rapid shift is necessary.

The time to make the transition to protect mankind from self-destruction is short.  The world’s scientists have told us that we must cut carbon emissions in about half, globally, by 2030; however we realize that neither responsibility for climate change nor the fastest action are evenly distributed.  US states & more industrially developed countries must move much faster and achieve a higher degree of decarbonization by 2030.  

As people of faith and conscience, with commitment to care for creation, all people and all life, we realize we must take responsibility to lead these shifts.  We hear the call to courage, reflection, repentance, hope, renewal and reorientation.  We start with what is needed and work backward from that, informed by science and our values, including the dignity of all life and the rights of all generations to flourish.  With faith, hope, and commitment, we find it urgent to recognize that 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, S. Bingham et al. Nature). This is confirmed by the world’s top scholars.

As people of faith, 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.  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, particularly the limits of climate change?
  • Are our actions consistent with getting to the dramatic turnarounds needed in our energy system right now, in the time period needed?
  • Are we providing or proposing the level and extent of response needed?  
  • Is what we are proposing sufficient to get on a path to stay below 1.5°C, on our way to the 350 ppm of CO2 or below necessary for all life to flourish?

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 in the next 2-5 years in service areas in the US.  
  • Do and advocate what it will take for there to be no more investment in or support of fossil-fuel powered infrastructure.  Establish clear preferences and/or requirements that new vehicles be electric and that 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.  In addition to insisting on no further investment in fossil fuel infrastructure, we can encourage a just transition highlight the extractive profit and fossil fuel orientation of existing (especially corporate) utility monopolies.  For example, we can insist that any replacement assets that will be owned by the utility may not be more than 10% more expensive than assets that could be obtained from competitive bidding, within the preceding 6 months. We can support a Green New Deal for jobs.

With just 15 min/week of action, one can insist on and accomplish the above to an important degree with consistent input to reps, councilmembers, boards of utility companies and co-ops, and Public Utilities Commissions, 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 for a Green New Deal nationally (a 10 year decarbonization, just transition and jobs guarantee program) and some local initiatives.

  • Promote reflection, education, and involvement in other changes we need to make.
  • Address the need for jobs, economic and racial justice in the course of the transition.
  • 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 yet 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 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 for all, 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 not 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.  We will speak up as members of these communities as well as play a role in transformation and leadership wherever opportunities and time allow, realizing that each of our situations are unique and it is often up to us.  At the same time we will build community, shared learning and thinking.  Toward this end, we aim to/for:

  • More seriously challenge ourselves around our role and how we get on the 1.5 C path, thinking of civil rights religious leaders who took unpopular positions and risks to do what was right and more recent youth leadership.  Even by the point of his death (he was more unpopular earlier), MLK had only a 22% approval rating.   Every year we delay getting on this path – a global average, we should be moving faster in the US – we make life more difficult and the transition more challenging for youth and generations unborn.
  • Light impact on people’s time.  People are busy and stretched thin.  We are obliged to think about how we avoid adding meetings and how we can emphasize creativity, empowerment, and support of what is both underway and emerging.  We commit to prioritization and re-evaluation, given limited time, to identify where the highest leverage impact can occur, still responsible to and focused on the size and timing of the change needed.  
  • We want to support an emerging life-giving reality, realizing how very interconnected we are.  We have a big focus on extending and supporting individual inspiration as well as finding and working with partners and understanding their reality, priorities, and interests.
  • Maximizing cooperation and minimizing cost, bureaucracy and competition.
  • Sharing knowledge, wisdom & inspiration as a networked learning community