This Changes Everything

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I have been engaged in several conversations lately about how best to reach people on the subject of climate change.  Is it best to focus on educating people about the basics of climate change and its implications?  Should we try to convince skeptics by appealing to science and logic?  Shall we encourage people to make simple changes to their lifestyles and reduce their carbon footprints, even as overall emissions continue to rise?  Shall we use “bridge language” that feels safe, non-confrontational, and socially acceptable?  Or shall we sound the alarm and go to the heart of the problem: the global system of unrestrained free market capitalism, which depends upon ever-increasing amounts of oil and ever-rising corporate profits.

Perhaps there is a place for each of these strategies.  But if we think we will be able to continue on indefinitely with life as we know it, ignoring Earth’s changing climate or just making minor lifestyle changes, we are mistaken.  As the overall climate warms, extreme weather events (including unusual snow storms) become more frequent.  The most vulnerable people are affected first and worst, but eventually everyone on earth will be affected.

In This Changes Everything:  Capitalism vs. the Climate, author and activist Naomi Klein claims that if we want to halt climate change, we will have to change everything, including this global system that is causing climate change.  Many other leaders in the struggle against climate change are saying the same thing.  As Bill McKibben said in a Rolling Stone article, “The gap between `We’re all sitting ducks’ and `We do not face a crisis’ is the gap between halfhearted action and the all-out effort that might make a difference. It’s the gap between changing light bulbs and changing the system that’s powering our destruction.”

I have been writing about this for years.  Next Saturday I will lead a workshop that addresses this topic at the Interfaith Climate Conference:  Moral Ground-Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril at the University Covenant Church in Davis.  My workshop will be a presention and discussion on “System Change through Divestment,” about the movement within the United Methodist Church to screen fossil fuels out of our investment portfolios.  Of course, divesting from fossil fuels is just a small part of what needs to be done to address climate change.  But as I posted in a previous blog, it does “undermine the system that causes climate change.”  See Global Divestment Day:  Undermining the System that Causes Climate Change to see how.  Changing the system that causes climate change (along with so many other ills) is also the topic of my book,  Shaking the Gates of Hell:  Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization.

Upcoming blog postings will be about these topics:  A Critique of Global Free Market Capitalism, Challenging the System of Free Market Capitalism, and Transforming the System.  It may seem impossible, but my hope is that we human beings will rise to the occasion, awaken to what is at stake, take action to change the corporate-dominated system that is wreaking havoc on people and the planet, and create new life-sustaining institutions and systems that support life and heal earth’s natural systems and human communities.  I believe that God is with us in this struggle.

Follow Sharon’s blog by clicking the “Follow Sharon Delgado” button at the right or by “liking” the Shaking the Gates of Hell Facebook page

Sharon is available to give presentations on this or other topics.  Contact her here

Order Sharon’s CD– Climate Change:  What Do We Know?  What Can We Do? or download a free MP3 version.  Other blog postings about climate change can be found here.   Find related actions at Earth Justice Ministries website or Earth Justice Ministries Facebook page

 

Global Divestment Day: Undermining the System that Causes Climate Change

 calling on the United Methodist Church to Divest

Calling on the United Methodist Church to Divest

Check out the many divestment actions that are taking place around the world today–Global Divestment Day.

The movement to divest from fossil fuels undermines the system that is causing climate change.   The worldwide system of unrestrained free-market capitalism, dominated by global corporations and fueled by money, is based on the view that market forces will sort everything out.

Those of us who are working to get our churches, colleges, and other institutions to divest from fossil fuels are challenging this system by saying, “Money is not the highest value.”  There are good financial reasons to divest from fossil fuels, but even if there weren’t, “If it’s wrong to wreck the planet, then it’s wrong to profit from that wreckage.”  There are values in life that are more important than money.

It is true that the global economic system is working well for the largest corporate players, those who benefit from subsidies, tax breaks, and preferential treatment.  Coal, oil, and gas corporations are among the most privileged beneficiaries.  But the system certainly isn’t working for the majority of people or for the natural world.  It’s not supposed to.  This system is not designed to preserve the creation, protect communities, or create equity and harmony among human beings.  It’s designed to turn human life and labor and the gifts of the earth into commodities to be bought and sold, and to deliver this wealth upward, to those who design and control the system.   As I say in my book on this subject, Shaking the Gates of Hell:  Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization:  “If we follow the money, we will see that the system is designed for the results it is getting. The architects, rule makers, and enforcers of the global economy are reaping the benefits of what they have designed.”

But as the movement to abandon these fossil fuel producers grows, they lose moral standing.  They are revealed as being not as all-powerful as they would like us to believe.  It becomes clear that their stock prices are based on extracting and burning all the reserves in their portfolios which, as we now know, would destroy the planet.  Political leaders, corporate CEOs, and others at the top will not lead the way to keeping the majority of fossil fuels in the ground, as is required for us to mitigate the harm caused by climate change.  They are driven and constrained by institutional realities.

But (thank you, God) a global movement for climate justice has emerged, led by people in developing nations most vulnerable to climate chaos, by Indigenous people in “sacrifice zones” where extraction is destroying the land, by women who live and struggle to care for children on the front lines of climate change, and by youth who know they have everything to lose by keeping silent.  This is the most hopeful movement of our time.  In fact, if we want our children and future generations to enjoy an abundant life, it’s our only hope.

Follow Sharon’s blog by clicking the “Follow Sharon Delgado” button at the right or by “liking” the Shaking the Gates of Hell Facebook page Sharon’s previous blog postings about climate change can be found here.  Order Sharon’s CD– Climate Change:  What Do We Know?  What Can We Do? or download a free MP3 version.

The United Methodist Board of Pensions Screens out Coal

Guari photo

On January 22nd the United Methodist Board General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits announced that it is going to screen thermal coal out of its investment portfolio.  For those of us who have been organizing for months to get the United Methodist Church to screen out coal, oil, and gas, this is a great success.  It is just a first step, but it is a step the Board wouldn’t have taken without the coordinated efforts of many people across the United States, especially Jenny Phillips and others involved with Fossil Free UMC.

We need to keep moving forward.  We need to create a comprehensive investment screen in the United Methodist Church on all fossil fuel companies because of the accelerating rate of planetary warming, because of the unethical behavior of coal, oil, and gas companies, and because the core business plan of these companies is to extract and utilize all of their reserves.

Institutions around the country and world are divesting from fossil fuels.  The “Go Fossil Free” campaign was started by Bill McKibben, a United Methodist Sunday School teacher, climate activist, and author of many books including The End of Nature and Oil and Honey.   The Go Fossil Free website states:  “If it is wrong to wreck the climate, then it is wrong to profit from that wreckage. We believe that educational and religious institutions, city and state governments, and other institutions that serve the public good should divest from fossil fuels.”

I agree.  Because I am a retired United Methodist pastor, I receive a monthly pension from our denomination’s General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits (“Board of Pensions”).  To me it is a moral dilemma to be receiving money from United Methodist investments in coal, oil, and gas companies, including Exxon Mobile, Conoco Phillips, and Occidental Petroleum.  These global corporations contribute directly to global warming through the greenhouse gas emissions of their products and operations.  They degrade the earth, harm communities, and pollute the atmosphere through hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), mountaintop removal, offshore oil drilling, and the mining of tar sands and other forms of so-called “dirty fuels.”

At the same time, many companies that produce fossil fuels, including those in the Board of Pensions portfolio, engage in unethical and egregious behaviors.  They divert earnings from pension plan participants to fund skepticism and denial about the reality of climate change, lobby governments to defeat climate-friendly legislation, sue to recover damage claims resulting from spills, and refuse to convert their business plans to focus on sustainable energy sources.

The primary rationale for creating a fossil fuels investment screen is this: Scientists warn that any warming above a 2°C rise would be dangerous, and governments of the world have agreed to work together to limit warming to that level.[i]  Scientists estimate that humans can emit roughly 565 more gigatons of CO2 into the atmosphere and still have some reasonable hope of staying below 2°C.  But proven coal, oil, and gas reserves, mostly held by fossil fuel companies, total about five times that amount–2,795 gigatons of CO2.  If companies extract and burn all these reserves, there will be no way to limit warming to 2°C, and we will have runaway climate change.  [ii] [iii]

Fossil fuels companies also carry some financial risks.  There is a risk of sharp losses in the value of stocks held by fossil fuel companies based on an over-valuation of these reserves, which will be unburnable if international agreements to hold warming to 2°C are honored.  If the world transitions to less polluting and more sustainable forms of fuel, this “carbon bubble” could burst, leaving the unburnable carbon as a “stranded asset.”

Screening out coal, oil, and gas from the church’s investment portfolios will not cause the collapse of the fossil fuels industry.  But such actions by churches, universities, foundations, and other institutions can highlight the urgency of the climate crisis, reveal the moral bankruptcy of the fossil fuels industry, expose the financial vulnerability of investments based on fossil fuel reserves, and demonstrate a way of being that values life more than the financial bottom line.  It is a way to demonstrate concretely that money is not God.  

Sharon Delgado spoke to the General Board of Pensions last November, urging them to create an investment screen on fossil fuels:   A Call to Create an Investment Screen on Fossil Fuels.

See the United Methodist News Service announcement and the Wall Street Journal Story about the United Methodist General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits creating an investment screen on fossil fuels.

Follow Sharon’s blog by clicking the “Follow Sharon Delgado” button at the right or by “liking” the Shaking the Gates of Hell Facebook page

Order Sharon’s CD– Climate Change:  What Do We Know?  What Can We Do? or download a free MP3 version.  Sharon’s previous blog postings about climate change can be found here.   Find related actions at Earth Justice Ministries website or Earth Justice Ministries Facebook page 

[i] World Bank Warnings on Why a 4 Degree Rise in Global Temperatures Must be Avoided:  http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/2013/06/17862361/turn-down-heat-climate-extremes-regional-impacts-case-resilience-full-report

[ii] “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” Bill McKibben, Rolling Stones, July 19, 2012–These scientific concepts as written for a mainstream audience:  http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/global-warmings-terrifying-new-math-20120719?page=2.

[iii] See also the original scientific paper, “Greenhouse-gas emitting targets for limiting global warming to 2 degrees C,” Malte Meinshausen, et al, in Nature, April 30, 2009.

A Call for an Investment Screen on Fossil Fuels

Peoples Climate March in rural Nevada City, California, suffering from drought and  wildfires.  Photograph by Guarionex Delgado

Peoples Climate March in rural Nevada City, California, suffering from drought and wildfires. Photograph by Guarionex Delgado

A Call for an Investment Screen on Fossil Fuels

A Presentation to the United Methodist General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits by the Reverend Sharon Delgado, November 13, 2014

My name is Sharon Delgado.  I’m a retired clergy woman in the California Nevada Annual Conference.  I’m here today representing our conference Advocacy and Justice Committee.

I appreciate the work of this Board, which safeguards my pension and does the hard work of determining how our investments can be both ethical and profitable.  I appreciate being given this time to share with you about an Investment Screen on fossil fuels.

Thank you, Jenny Phillips, for your presentation on The Last Beneficiary, which gave an overview of this topic and of the Fossil Free UMC movement.

In June, the California Nevada Annual Conference passed a resolution calling for a consultative process with the General Board of Pensions and several Cal-Nevada boards and agencies.  The goal of this process is to work toward an investment screen based on the Natural World section of the Social Principles, and ultimately toward a General Conference resolution.

We hope with this “consultative process” to avoid conflicts with the General Board of Pensions that can result from unilateral calls for divestment.  Also, by calling for an investment screen we are hoping to avoid the legal pitfalls that can arise from divestment.

We know that the Board of Pensions is concerned about climate change.  We want to understand the perspective of Board leaders and hope to find a common strategy to address our shared concerns.  We want this legislation to be informed by various stakeholders, even if all stakeholders don’t agree on the content of the legislation that is developed.

So far, we have been in touch with Anita Green, the Board’s Manager for Sustainable Investment Strategies.  She has been frank and thorough in answering our questions.  We trust that that relationship will continue.

 Specific Requests

We do have two specific requests.  First, we would like a decision by the Board of Pensions about whether the Board is willing to engage in this consultative process.   Ms. Green said that she has gone about as far as she can with us and that we will need to bring in others for a more substantive conversation.   If the Board is willing to go forward with us in a cooperative two-way process, please delegate someone to work with us.

We also request at least three meetings, in person and/or conference calls that include representatives from Cal-Nevada and from the Board of Pensions–one in early or mid-December, one in mid-January, and one in February.  People from Cal Nevada can then ask questions directly, pose suggestions, and get feedback from the Board of Pensions representatives.

Shareholder Advocacy vs. an Investment Screen on Fossil Fuels

 So far the General Board has established investment screens related to human rights but not the natural world.  The Board dealt with environmental concerns through shareholder actions.  But this is not adequate in the case of climate change.  The threat of climate chaos and the unethical behavior of fossil fuel companies makes a screen for fossil fuels necessary.

Besides, it seems that shareholder actions with fossil fuels companies have had little or no effect in reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG).  For instance, some fossil fuels companies in our pension portfolios have set internal GHG emission reduction goals, but they do not report their goals or results.  These companies have no goals related to lifetime emissions of their products (oil, gas, coal).  In fact, just the opposite:  their goal is to sell and have consumers burn as much of their products as possible.

Funding Climate Change Denial and Lobbying against Climate Legislation

Many fossil fuel companies fund think tanks that promote climate change denial.  This stalls action and increases the risk of runaway climate change.  Some of these think tanks, like the Heartland Institute, worked with the tobacco companies to promote denial about the harmful effects of tobacco.  They are using the same strategy to cast doubt about the science of climate change.  I was told that “this has not yet been part of the conversation” within the Board of Pensions.

Many fossil fuel companies lobby directly and fund organizations that lobby government to block climate change legislation and international treaties.  The Board puts this topic into the broader category of shareholder action related to “political spending,” which is done mostly through cooperative action with other groups.  But blocking climate legislation is too important and the resulting harm too great for this kind of lobbying to be folded into the general category of “political spending.”

If we invest in companies that fund climate change denial and block climate change legislation, it reflects badly on the church, contributes to environmental and social harm, and increases the risk of runaway climate change.

Climate Change as a Human Rights Issue

Climate Change is not just an environmental Issue, but also a human rights issue.  On an international level, the African continent, island nations, and other vulnerable countries are calling for climate justice.  In the wake of Typhoon Haiyan, the lead negotiator for Philippines fasted throughout the climate summit in Warsaw, while pleading for strong climate action.   The Typhoon killed 4,000 and displaced 4 million people.

In North America the treaty rights of Indigenous peoples are being violated, especially in Canada but also in the United States. This is what activated the Idle No More movement.  Indigenous leaders are calling for support in their struggles to prevent the pollution of the land, air, and water by dirty new extraction technologies.   All over North American, wherever there are fracking fields, tar sands, wetlands near offshore oil platforms, or mountains with their tops being blown off, there are poor communities and communities of color that serve as “sacrifice zones.”

Creating an investment screen on fossil fuels is one way we can take action on behalf of the poorest and most vulnerable people in our country and in the world.

Thank you for this opportunity to speak with you about these important issues.  We look forward to further conversations.  I hope we can find a way forward so that we United Methodists are practicing what we preach about climate change.

Stay informed and updated. Go to the Fossil Free UMC website or the Fossil Free UMC Facebook page.    For more general information about the movement to divest from fossil fuels, go to the Go Fossil Free website or the  Fossil Free Facebook page.   Follow Sharon’s blog by clicking the “Follow Sharon Delgado” button at the right or by “liking” the Shaking the Gates of Hell FaceBook page.

 

Arrested While Dancing at Beale

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On Tuesday morning I was arrested again at Beale Air Force Base while dancing at the main gate.  Eight others were arrested with me, while demonstrating peace through the Dances of Universal Peace. We were cited and released.

Two other demonstrators had been arrested the day before, on Monday:  John Auer, another ordained United Methodist minister, and my husband Guari.   Guari had pushed John’s wheelchair one mile onto the base to the guard booth at the Wheatland Gate, where John delivered a letter for the base commander related to a resolution passed by the California-Nevada Annual Conference supporting “A Call to Stop Drone Killings,” a statement signed by many religious leaders around the country.  The two were arrested, cited, and released.

Both of these actions were coordinated with Campaign Nonviolence, through which over 230 nonviolent actions took place around the country at the end of September.  The focus of the Campaign Nonviolence actions was to call for an end to war, poverty, and climate change.

Why did I risk being arrested again at Beale?  I answered that question in Why I Crossed the Line at Beale,  when I crossed the line at Beale the first time, almost two years ago.

This time, however, we have just begun another war, this time against ISIS, as if bombing and killing people could somehow lead us to security and peace.  We are told that we are targeting terrorists, but we are also killing innocent civilians, including children, in Iraq and Syria.  Have we learned nothing from our endless pursuit of endless war?  Have we forgotten the roots of the current crisis, and the U.S. role in it?  We are sowing ill will and creating future terrorists by terrorizing people through war.  Meanwhile we are spending billions on weapons of destruction, billions that could be used to meet human need and to heal the natural systems of the earth.

Insanity has been described as doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results.  As a nation and as a culture, our priorities are wrong.  It is time to repent, to change direction, to turn around.  It is time to focus on peacemaking, on feeding the hungry and welcoming the stranger, on healing the earth.  This will take a major shift in values, in investments, and in systems of power.  It will take a great awakening of the earth’s people, sustained resistance, and ongoing demonstrations of peace.

This transformation is already taking place, and I am certain that God is with us in this struggle.  This is a struggle worth living and dying for.  We need you.  Wherever you are, there are kindred spirits nearby.  I invite you to join us.

 

I wrote more about the Monday (September 29) action with Rev. John Auer and Guari in my previous post, Campaign Nonviolence Arrests at Beale.

 I wrote about the three interrelated evils of war, poverty, and climate change in Campaign Nonviolence:  A Call to Transformation.

Stay informed and updated.  Follow Sharon’s blog by clicking the “Follow Sharon Delgado” button at the right or by “liking” the Shaking the Gates of Hell FaceBook page.  Go to the Occupy Beale Air Force Base Facebook page or Occupy Beale website for updates on this court case, background information, and announcements about upcoming Beale demonstrations and direct actions.