Costly Hope: This Changes Everything

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“Love will save this place.”  From This Changes Everything:  Capitalism vs. the Climate by Naomi Klein.

Naomi Klein’s new book, This Changes Everything:  Capitalism vs. the Climate, is a hard read.  But it is so important and timely that I will be leading a five-session study and discussion on this groundbreaking book (see details below).  It will begin on April 6, the Monday after Easter, an appropriate time to begin discussing a book that gives hope that we human beings will be able to rise to this historic occasion and address the root causes of climate change and related injustices before the ultimate catastrophe of runaway climate change is upon us.

The catch?  This book does not lend itself to optimism.  It fosters what I call “costly hope.”  The book pushes us toward facing our global situation squarely and refusing to take refuge in false hopes that will allow us to stay comfortable as we are.

A friend who has started reading admits that she is becoming discouraged as she reads.  And it’s true—the first section of the book, “Bad Timing,” points out the grave challenges we face on a warming world and makes clear that the profit-based global economic system that is accelerating greenhouse gas emissions cannot provide a solution that will save us.

This sounds, at first, like very bad news.  Part II, “Magical Thinking,” goes on to expose the false hopes for addressing climate change that have gotten us nowhere.  The very things that we had hoped would save us are revealed as too little, too late.

More bad news—but wait!  Facing the reality of our situation is actually a healthy place to be.  It is like coming out of denial and hitting bottom, ready for a new approach grounded in true hope for both personal and systemic transformation.

This is a fitting message for this Easter Season.  It is a bit like dying and being reborn, like entering the darkness in order to glimpse the dawning of the light.  It is costly hope because it requires us to change.  As the title of the book says, “This changes everything.”

The last section of the book, “Starting Anyway,” is an astounding proclamation of hope and a call to hopeful action.  So much is already taking place that is hopeful, and it is not based on the market, or on corporate partnerships, or on “Big Green” environmental groups, or on government action.  Rather, this hope is being built upon successful grassroots struggles that impact everything (“this changes everything”), including actions at the top.  Hope that “another world is possible” is not a top-down process, but emerges from the bottom up, from people who are invested in the lives of their communities and are committed to leaving a flourishing world to future generations.  “Love will save this place.”

This is not a summary of the book—just a challenge to read it and consider what changes you can make to your current world view and way of life.  It helps to be able to talk things out with others who are also going through a transformative process, so feel free to join us.  This changes everything.

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Community Book Study on This Changes Everything:  Capitalism vs. The Climate by Naomi Klein, Sponsored by the Nevada County Climate Change Coalition 

The Nevada County Climate Change Coalition is sponsoring a 5-session book study on This Changes Everything:  Capitalism vs. The Climate by Naomi Klein.   The study will be led by Sharon Delgado, a climate change educator, and is open to all.  Each session will include a presentation summarizing the themes of each chapter, with small group and open discussion by those who are reading the book.  The study will be held on the following Mondays at 3:30 to 5 p.m. at the Nevada City United Methodist Church, 433 Broad Street, Nevada City:

 April 6- (pages 1-94) Introduction and Part One:  Bad Timing (Chapters 1 and 2)

April 13- (pages 96-187)  Part One:  Bad Timing (Chapters 3, 4, 5)

May 4- (pages 189-290) Part Two:    Magical Thinking (Chapters 6,7,8)

May 18– (pages 291-387) Part Three:  Starting Anyway (Chapters 9,10,11)

June 1- (Pages 388-466) Part Three:  Starting Anyway (Chapters 12,13); Conclusion 

Please RSVP if you plan to participate by “joining” this Facebook event at the Nevada County Climate Change Coalition website:  https://www.facebook.com/events/790583357657274/ or by contacting Sharon or by email at thischangeseverything@earth-justice.org. 

Book study organizers encourage participants to purchase copies of This Changes Everything from local book dealers:  The Book Seller (272-2131) or Harmony Books (265-9564), well before the first meeting.

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.  Her other blog postings about climate change can be found here.   

System Change Not Climate Change (2)

Change the SystemHow can we understand, challenge, and transform the global system of late-stage free-market capitalism?  It seems so all-encompassing and all-powerful that nothing can stop it.

To most people in the United States, today’s dominant system seems like a given, just part of the milieu.  Most people don’t give it a second thought.  We’re like fish in water who have never known anything else.  Or rather, we are like frogs in a pot of water on the stove, not noticing that the water is getting hotter and hotter and will eventually kill us.  We have moved from a “mixed economy” in the decades following World War II to a system that benefits the wealthy few at the expense of the majority of people, communities, and the natural world.  This system is very bad news for the climate, for those vulnerable people who suffer first and worst from the effects of climate change, and for future generations.

How is all this related to so-called “free trade”?  The very corporations that write many of the laws here at home are creating trade agreements with new rules to consolidate their power.  The egregious Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is just one such effort.  There are many more.  Through the global trade regime, corporations are able to challenge democratically enacted laws, including climate-friendly policies that require local sourcing or “green jobs” for locals, that create moratorium on fracking or other environmentally harmful practices, or that restrict the extraction or export of “dirty fuels.”

For details about how trade agreements impact the movement toward a peaceful, just, and sustainable world, read This Changes Everything:  Capitalism vs. the Climate, by Naomi Klein. (See info about a local book study below.)  You can also read my book, Shaking the Gates of Hell:  Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization, which covers similar themes.   Below is an excerpt from Chapter 12, “The Unholy Trinity:  The IMF, World Bank, and WTO,” which explains how this global free market system is being further institutionalized:

“You would think that governments and multilateral institutions such as the IMF, World Bank, and WTO, would be moving in a more constructive direction, but many people both within and outside of these institutions believe that the current course is already set and is inevitable. Why, for instance, is the United States government not using its vast financial resources to create a better life for the majority of its people or for people around the world? Why does it support policies that trap people in generations of debt? Why does it allow domestic laws that protect people and the environment to be overturned?

“Clearly, the United States and other nations see their interests as tied to corporate interests. As corporate power increases, however, the power of government decreases, until governments, the lucky ones, end up riding on corporate coattails. But corporations, once they are truly globalized, have no loyalty at all, except to the bottom line. They are not even loyal to their “home” governments. They can even change nationalities at will.

“Though the rhetoric of the IMF and World Bank has been about development and raising the standard of living, the actual effects of these multilateral bureaucracies has been to integrate poor nations into a world economy dominated by global corporations and powerful nations. They have used structural adjustment policies (SAPS) to “pry open” the economies of developing nations, creating complete dependency.

“How can global corporations further pry open the U.S. economy and the economies of other industrialized nations? How can they finish what they started during the Reagan Revolution in the 1980s? How can they bypass the messiness of the democratic process altogether while gutting regulatory agencies and eliminating troublesome laws that interfere with corporate profits? How can they perpetuate the “smoke and mirrors” illusion that nation-states have power, while eliminating the very laws that governments use to protect the rights and well-being of their people? How can they privatize the potentially lucrative public-services sector, including publicly funded hospitals, schools, libraries, prisons, utilities, water services, and social services, and offer these and all other services up for sale to the highest bidder? How can they ensure that wealthy, industrialized nations will ultimately be as dependent upon the global system that they dominate as are poor and indebted nations? How can they bring structural adjustment policies home? How can global corporations extend their power and consolidate their dominance over people, their governments, and the earth itself? The answer: they create trade agreements and global bureaucracies that convince governments to do this for them, institutions like NAFTA and the WTO, which essentially take the matter out of government hands.”

As of now, there are many things that we can do to challenge and transform this global system. In order to be effective, we must understand what is at stake and where the power for change resides.   I will lead a 5-session community book study on Naomi Klein’s book beginning Monday, April 6.  To RSVP and to find out more, “join” the book study on this This Changes Everything on the Nevada County Climate Change Coalition Facebook page or contact me here.

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.

Read Sharon’s previous blogs on climate change 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

 

System Change not Climate Change (1)

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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, as the ones taking place in the eastern United States) 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

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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.