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

 

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.

Resolution on Natural World Investment Screen

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Resolution in support of an investment screen expressing United Methodist Social Principles on The Natural World.

Passed by the 2014 California-Nevada Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church

Whereas unintended consequences deriving from attempted directives to divest from certain industries for social purposes include the possibility of legal liability for the violation of trust agreements, and

Whereas the United Methodist Church has had a strong and historic positive experience guiding investment decisions by adopting screens within its investment policy that state principled objectives rather than “picking stocks”, and

Whereas the Social Principles are organized into sections (The Natural World (160), The Nurturing Community (161), The Social Community (162), The Economic Community (163), The Political Community (164), The World Community (165)) and the first of them, The Natural Community has heretofore not been represented within the United Methodist system of investment screens, and

Whereas the desire to reflect our social principles in investment applies not only to General Agency funds, but also to Annual Conference Foundations and other endowments, United Methodist institutions and local churches,

Therefore Be it Resolved that the California Nevada Annual Conference Committee on Advocacy and Justice, Conference Board of Pensions, and Council on Finance and Administration convene a consultative process with the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits to explore an investment screen which would guide United Methodists’ investment decisions specifically related to The Natural World (¶160) section of the Social Principles, and

Be It Further Resolved that the goal of the consultative process be a progress report at the 2015 California Nevada Annual Conference Session and the timely submission of General Conference legislation for the denomination as a whole.

 

Find out more about  efforts by United Methodists around the country to divest from fossil fuels at the Fossil Free UMC website or Fossil Free UMC FaceBook Page.

Fast Track to Hell

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Last week a bill was introduced in Congress that would give Fast Track Authority to the Obama Administration in order to grease the wheels to passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (or TPP), a monstrous trade agreement that twelve Pacific Rim nations, including the United States, have been negotiating secretly for four years.  This week is crucial in  defeating Fast Track, in order to give more time for the public and for members of Congress to learn about the far-reaching and deadly provisions contained in this pact.

The TPP, if passed, will impact every aspect of our lives, and will be the final undoing of democracy itself.  Fast track, if passed, will be a fast track to hell.

First, the TPP will restrict the ability of our government (and the governments of all member nations) in making and enforcing laws of every kind.  This will include laws related to:  consumer safety, product labeling (such as GMOs), worker’s rights, preferential purchasing (such as “buy local” or “made in the USA”), environmental protections, local sovereignty, organic standards, rights of family farms, restrictions on privatizing public services or community resources, and any other law that may interfere with corporate profits.

Second, the TPP will require governments to adopt laws that will increase corporate profits, as specified in the agreement itself.  For instance, it will greatly extend patent and copyright protections for corporations.  This will ensure greater corporate profits, for instance, for drug manufacturers, while making it more difficult and expensive for people in member nations to buy generic drugs.  For the poor this may mean death.  The TPP will threaten Internet freedom in many ways.  For instance,  “temporary copies” downloaded from the Internet (essentially any computer downloads) will have copyright protection, and violations of copyright laws will be subject to both civil and (depending on the scale) criminal sanctions.

These are just a  few of the thousands of regulations being negotiated behind the scenes by corporate CEOs and government representatives with security clearance.  By restricting our government’s law-making ability and by requiring our government to pass certain laws, the TPP threatens democracy itself.

If passed, corporations will be able to file disputes through the TPP, challenging specific laws.  A tribunal will rule on whether these laws can stand or whether they are “barriers to trade.”  These tribunals have binding authority and can institute sanctions if we don’t comply.  But no worries–the official policy of the US government is to comply with all such rulings, and to change any offending laws.  Besides, the United States, on behalf of US-based corporations, is pushing this agreement,  despite the fact that it is bad for people, for communities, and for the earth.

In fact, the TPP is so bad that the only way to get it passed is to rush it through via Fast Track.  If the US public becomes aware of the deadly details of this agreement, opposition will continue to grow and support will vanish.  Opposition to Fast Track is growing.  One example is the City of Los Angeles, which has passed a resolution opposing Fast Track Authority.

The official promotion of this trade agreement and Fast Track is an example of the flawed global economic system, which currently runs as a giant Ponzi scheme.  If the TPP is enacted, it will take us even more quickly down the road toward a living hell on earth that I describe in my book, Shaking the Gates of Hell:  Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization.  It will take political power even more completely out of the hands of the people, and deliver it to for-profit corporations.

This will speed up the process that is already well underway:  of consolidating corporate power and converting human labor, communities, humanity’s common heritage, and the gifts of the earth into profits that show up as digits on a computer screen, to be electronically traded, used for speculation, and finally cashed out by the wealthy few economic “winners.”  Meanwhile, the number of losers and the extent of our social and environmental losses will continue to grow, as long as vampire corporations continue to make rules that enable them to suck the life blood out of people and the earth.

This can’t last.  We are quickly heading toward a social, economic, and ecological train wreck.  Our children’s and grandchildren’s lives are being quickly diminished as we speak.  The TPP would only speed up the process.

Fortunately, we don’t need to leave these decisions to government “leaders” who are blinded by allegiance to their corporate sponsors.  The fact is, we who can see what is at stake are the only ones who can stop this fast track to hell.  I trust that God and all the powers of the living earth are with us in this struggle.

Learn more!  Watch this video in which Emanuel Sferios and I explain “Toxic Trade Agreements and the TPP.”     Sign a simple petition opposing fast track.  Learn more and stay updated  through Flush the TPP  and Public Citizen .  Help us defeat this disastrous trade bill.

Seasonal Antidotes to Consumer Culture

IMG_4555 (1)On Sunday the children of our church performed a Christmas pageant, complete with Mary, Joseph, angels, shepherds, wise ones, sheep, and a talking donkey.  The children sang Christmas carols and at times the congregation sang along.

As I mentioned in my last blog post, The Revolutionary Stories of Baby Jesus, the biblical stories of Jesus’ birth and infancy have political and even revolutionary significance.  They are stories about a man and his unwed pregnant fiancé, forced by the State to travel a long distance to register for the census in Bethlehem.  The couple spends the night in a stable because that is the only place offered to them, and the young woman gives birth there.    Lowly shepherds see visions of angels and celebrate the birth of the baby, whose only bed is a feeding trough.  Later, foreign astrologers or “wise ones” spot a significant star and follow it, in search of the Christ child.

Our pageant ends with all the children singing “Joy to the World.”  They don’t act out the painful parts of the story:  how the wise ones go to Jerusalem, talk to King Herod, raise his suspicions and outsmart him, while setting into motion a chain of events that leads to a massacre of innocent children (sound familiar?) and the flight of the holy family into Egypt, where, homeless, they struggle to survive as political refugees.

But these painful parts of the story are there, and the kids learn them soon enough.  And whether you understand the story as history or as legend, it is a reminder of the hope that “another world is possible,” the hope of “peace on earth, good will to all people.” It is also a reminder that the Ruling Powers of this world are directly at odds with the incarnation of peace, love, hope, and joy.  This is just as true now as it was in Jesus’ day.

Take, for instance, this Toys R Us ad, which deliberately attempts to lure children away from their natural love of creation and to seduce them into a corporate-constructed “world” of greed and consumption.  This ad and others that target our children seek to instill in them a sense of entitlement, self-centeredness, greed, and lust for things, values which bring not joy but spiritual harm.  In fact these negative values, which underlie our consumer-oriented culture, contribute to poverty, inequity, and ecological damage that threatens life and the future.

Christmas pageants and other non-materialistic holiday and seasonal celebrations provide an antidote to the seductions and demands of consumer culture.  They teach spiritual values such as humility, gratitude, generosity, community, peace, love, and joy.  They “incarnate” the reality of God with us.  They point to light in the midst of the darkness and to life in the midst of death.