Shuck and Jive

Monday, July 07, 2008

Presbyterians and the Environment

My presbytery, Holston, sent an overture to the General Assembly regarding the ministry, Living Waters for the World. The GA approved it on a voice vote.

The Presbytery of Holston overtures the 218th General Assembly (2008) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to celebrate with us the life-changing impact of “Living Waters for the World” as a clear, proven example of the shared future of mission as described in “An Invitation to Expanding Partnership in God’s Mission,” and respectfully requests that the video, Clean Water for All of God’s Children, or a portion thereof, be shown to the assembled body of commissioners.

I am very pleased that our presbytery is involved with Living Waters for the World and that other congregations in the PC(USA) can get involved as well. Click here for the video.

The General Assembly approved on a voice vote to re-establish The Office of Environmental Justice.

The Presbytery of Heartland overtures the 218th General Assembly (2008) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to direct the Executive Director of the General Assembly Council to reinstate the Office of Environmental Justice in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) as a vital and integral part of the ministry and mission of the church to help protect and save God’s creation.
Thanks to Heartland Presbytery for putting that through. The Ethical Issues and Human Needs Committee of my presbytery tried to get our presbytery to concur with that overture, but they didn't go for it. I am pleased the GA approved it in spite of us!

The General Assembly passed a thorough energy and environmental statement, The Power to Change: U.S. Energy Policy and Global Warming. It is rather lengthy, but I feel worth the blogspace to post below. According to the Presbyterian News Service, this is "the first document to address the Presbyterian Church’s energy policy since 1981."

I am excited that our congregation has take steps to become a green congregation and is making efforts to educate ourselves regarding energy conservation and of Earth friendly practices. This statement may be helpful to congregations who want to go green.

Final Text:

That the 218th General Assembly (2008):

1. Approve the study and recommendations, entitled, “The Power to Change: U.S. Energy Policy and Global Warming,”to revise existing energy policy, “The Power to Speak Truth to Power”(hereinafter, referred to as the “1981 Energy Policy”). [The 1981 Energy Policy was jointly adopted by the 121st General Assembly (1981) of the Presbyterian Church in the United States (Minutes, Presbyterian Church in the United States, 1981, Part I, pp. 122, 413-25), and the 193rd General Assembly (1981) of The United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (Minutes, The United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, 1981, Part I, pp. 42, 86, 293-306).]

2. Urge individuals and families in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to do the following:

a. Pray, asking for God’s forgiveness and for the power and guidance to enjoy and care for creation in new ways.

b. Study energy sources, their advantages and disadvantages, and the impacts they have on human communities, all species, and the ecological systems that support life on Earth.

c. Practice energy conservation as a form of thanksgiving and sharing by adjusting thermostats, walking, biking, carpooling, using mass transit, turning off lights and appliances, recycling, minimizing the use of plastic water bottles and other wasteful packaging, etc.

d. Purchase energy-efficient appliances and fuel-efficient vehicles for use at home and at work.

e. Purchase sustainably grown food and other products from local producers in order to reduce the energy associated with producing, and shipping goods.

f. Reduce consumption of meat because the production of grain fed to most livestock is fossil fuel-intensive and their waste emits methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas.

g. Purchase Green-e certified energy and/or carbon offsets in the pursuit of a carbon-neutral lifestyle. Green-e certification ensures these payments result in additional installations of renewable energy generation capacity as well as verifiable and permanent environmental benefits.

h. Invest personal funds in the renewable energy industry and also in companies that demonstrate concern for the well-being of their workers, their communities, and the environment.

i. Advocate for change and leadership within the church and in all forms of government regarding energy policy and global climate change.

3. With regard to the councils[, governing bodies,] and agencies of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the 218th General Assembly (2008):

a. Urges synods and presbyteries to become models of energy-efficient institutions and proponents of renewable energy by

(1) stocking resource centers with information about energy issues;

(2) working with the New Church Development Committee to ensure that all new and remodeled churches meet high-efficiency standards;

(3) strengthening support for Stewardship of Creation Enablers, inviting them to provide workshops on energy and related concerns, and consulting with them to provide carbon-neutral meeting sites and transportation plans whenever possible;

(4) advocating before local, state, and federal governments for public policies that encourage energy efficiency and renewable energy generation; and

(5) adopting environmental education and energy conservation as high priorities at all Presbyterian camps and conference centers.

b. Urges the “Restoring Creation” program to establish a Presbyterian Green Energy Fund, which would help congregations and other organizations in our church reduce their carbon footprint through investments in energy efficiency, renewable energy production, and Green-e certified carbon offsets.

c. Urges the Office of the General Assembly to make future meetings as carbon neutral as possible (considering climate, travel requirements, amenities, and energy conservation efforts by hotels, conference centers, and academic institutions).

d. Urges the General Assembly Council, the Presbyterian Foundation, and the Board of Pensions to continue to improve the energy efficiency of the Louisville, Jeffersonville, Philadelphia, and other national agency offices.

e. Urges the Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) to expand efforts to engage businesses on energy efficiency and conservation in manufacturing, transport, and product design; to work with companies on appropriate technology applications, including co-generation, wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, and low-head hydroelectric; to support solutions to the problem of nuclear waste; and to advocate that utilities establish incentives to reduce electricity, oil, and gas usage while also eliminating barriers for small power producers to interconnect with the power grid.

f. Urges the Presbyterian Investment and Loan Program, Inc., to continue to encourage energy efficiency, renewable energy technologies, and new and mixed uses such as adding generating capacity or housing to underused city facilities.

g. Urges presidents of Presbyterian-related colleges and universities to consider becoming a signatory of the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, which obligates these schools to become carbon neutral in the future and to integrate sustainability into the curriculum.

h. Urges Presbyterian-related seminaries and conference centers to make environmental education on global climate change and energy a part of their curricula; to take measures to reduce energy consumption; and to encourage holistic thinking about the relationships between technology and nature.

i. Urges the Stated Clerk and other people representing the PC(USA) in ecumenical programs and initiatives to explore and develop whenever possible joint statements and studies on energy policy with other communions or councils of communions, and the General Assembly agencies to join in appropriate coalitions with non-church bodies to reinforce these measures of practical discipleship.

4. Concerning the church’s social responsibility regarding U.S. energy policy, the 218th General Assembly (2008):

a. Endorses and approves the following principles and stances that will guide our church’s advocacy work regarding policy discussions and legislative proposals to revise energy policy in the context of global climate change:

With our Lord, we will stand with “the least of these” (Matt. 25:40) and advocate for the poor and oppressed in present and future generations who are often the victims of environmental injustice and who are least able to mitigate the impact of global warming that will fall disproportionately upon them.

As citizens of the United States, which has historically produced more greenhouse gases than any other country, and which is currently responsible for over a fifth of the world’s annual emissions, we implore our nation to accept its moral responsibility to address global warming.

In agreement with four prior General Assemblies (202nd, 210th, 211th, and 215th) that have called on the U.S. government to ratify the Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol, we ask the U.S. government to do nothing less than repent of its efforts to block consensus and to work with the international community as it develops a binding agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol when it expires in 2012.

As advocates for justice, we reject the claim that all nations should shoulder an equal measure of the burden associated with mitigating climate change. Industrialized nations like the United States that have produced most of the emissions over the last three centuries deserve to shoulder the majority of the burden. Rapidly industrializing nations like China and India with very low per capita rates of energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions should not be expected to bear an equal share of the burden. Our church challenges all nations to embrace their common but different responsibilities with regard to dealing with climate change.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) supports comprehensive, mandatory, and aggressive emission reductions that aim to limit the increase in Earth’s temperature to 2 degrees Celsius or less from pre-industrial levels. Legislation should focus on the short-term goal of reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions 20 percent from 1990 levels by 2020, and 80 percent from 1990 levels by 2050.

In order to achieve these targets, we support legislative and policy proposals that:

(1) Internalize the social and environmental costs related to greenhouse gas emissions in the prices of fossil fuels. A preferred way to capture these costs would be through an initial auction and continued trade of a fixed number of emissions allowances in a “cap and trade” approach applied to all sectors of the economy. Affirming “the polluter pays” principle, emissions allowances should be sold because giving them away simply rewards the largest polluters. While the initial price may need to be low at the outset to avoid adverse economic repercussions, price caps defeat the purpose of harnessing the market to achieve this social and ecological good. A separate tax based on the carbon content of fossil fuels could compliment a cap and trade approach, but it should not replace it because a carbon tax lacks a guaranteed cap on total emissions. Revenues generated from either or both approaches should be utilized nationally to redress the regressive impact of higher energy prices on people who are poor, to increase funds for public transportation, to increase research and development as well as investment in renewable energy, and to encourage the purchase of energy efficient appliances and vehicles. Internationally, the United States needs to contribute funds to help poorer nations adapt to the social dislocation and ecological devastation caused by global climate change.

(2) Shift subsidies and financial incentives toward industries specializing in renewable energy and energy efficiency and away from the fossil fuel and nuclear power industries. One vital step would be to extend for ten years the federal tax credit for production of electricity from wind, solar, geothermal, closed-loop and open-loop biomass, landfill gas, and small irrigation power facilities. Similar incentives at the state and county level should be reauthorized and expanded. Subsidies can also influence personal consumption decisions. For example, “feebates” require purchasers of fuel-inefficient vehicles to pay a fee; these funds are then utilized to offer purchasers of fuel-efficient vehicles a rebate on the purchase price. Federal research and development grants are another important financial incentive. These funds need to be increased, and a much larger percentage must be dedicated to renewable energy, alternative fuels, and energy efficiency. Funding for these measures can be made revenue-neutral by reducing subsidies to the oil, gas, and nuclear power industries.

(3) Adopt significantly increased efficiency standards for all energy consuming appliances, buildings, and vehicles. Recently modest improvements have been made to federal laws regarding the energy efficiency of buildings and appliances as well as the nation’s Corporate Automotive Fuel Economy Standards (CAF╬Ľ). These increases are overdue and much needed, but states like California and New York should not be blocked from raising these standards if they wish to do so. Increased efficiency and fuel economy standards should be based on the best science available and in dialogue with the relevant industries, but ultimately legislated standards are more productive than voluntary goals negotiated with industries. In addition, public scrutiny must be brought to bear on regulatory agencies to ensure that they are insulated from undue industry influence.

(4) Mandate that an increasing percentage of the nation’s energy supply be produced renewably and sustainably. More than half the nation’s states have adopted renewable portfolio standards that impose differing mandates on energy providers. Not surprisingly, most of the investment in renewable energy production is taking place in these states. Adoption of a 20 percent national Renewable Energy Standard (RES) by 2020 would build on the success in the states. Environmental problems associated with ethanol production related to the federal Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS), however, indicate there can be dangers associated with ratcheting standards up too quickly. Any mandate must ensure that the energy is produced renewably and sustainably.

(5) Remove market barriers for producers of renewable energy. These barriers include expensive and overly complicated requirements for connecting to the electricity grid, insufficient transmission line capacity, and extremely low power purchase rates based on avoided costs from fossil fuel power plants that are not yet accountable for their impact on global warming. Both Germany and Japan have stimulated the renewable energy industry in their nations through requiring net billing and also mandating higher “feed-in” rates. Such measures would stimulate investment in residential solar and wind power in the United States and help restore the nation as a leader in technological innovation. Other initiatives to expedite transmission capacity are also critical to the expansion of renewable energy in the nation.

(6) Encourage decentralized and distributed power generation. Decentralized, residential renewable energy systems, and distributed generation from community wind farms can relieve pressure on the power grid, create new jobs, and empower local communities. State and federal tax credits are one way to encourage investment in decentralized and distributed renewable energy production. Flexible financing schemes are also valuable. The state of Minnesota has pioneered a unique approach to community-based economic development (C-BED), which has resulted in the largest number of community-owned wind farms in the nation.

(7) Place a moratorium on all new coal-fired and nuclear power plants until related environmental concerns are addressed. Given the predominant role carbon dioxide plays in global warming and climate change, and given that coal-fired power plants are responsible for 40 percent of the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions, it would be irresponsible to build new coal-fired power plants or coal-to-oil technologies until it can be demonstrated that the carbon can be captured economically and sequestered permanently. Similarly, given the extremely toxic danger that spent nuclear fuel poses to future generations for thousands of years, it is irresponsible to build new nuclear power plants until a permanent means of disposing of this waste is placed into service.

(8) Limit exploration and exploitation of new fossil fuel supplies to parts of the nation where this can be done without adverse damage to people and the environment. As the climate in the Arctic warms, it is doubtful that the economic benefits of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge can outweigh the environmental damage that this will do to one of the nation’s most beautiful and wild places. Another example of such a limit would be the ecological devastation associated with mountaintop mining in Appalachia.

(9) Support a systemic shift to rail-based public transportation and urban planning that emphasizes mass transit. These measures would discourage urban sprawl and the depletion of water and energy resources, especially in the Southwest. Farmland in and around cities should be preserved to maintain and increase the capacity for local food production. Support for public transportation will also require substantial funding to repair the nation’s highways, bridges, and dams. Efforts should be focused on increasing the quality of the nation’s transportation and energy infrastructure, not on increasing the size of it.

(10) Revise U.S. national security policies. Decrease attempts to control oil resources owned by other nations and the profligate use of energy supplies to enforce inevitably temporary as well as massively tragic military interventions. Increase the authority of science-based international standards for addressing the issue of global climate change. Strive to decouple nuclear power from nuclear weapons production so as not to encourage a new round of nuclear proliferation.

b. Expresses gratitude to climate scientists in government, industry, academia and the United Nations, and to environmental public-interest groups and far-sighted political leaders, for their steadfast commitment to the common good and future welfare of all species.

c. Directs the Stated Clerk, the Presbyterian Washington Office, the Presbyterian United Nations Office, the Environmental Justice Office, and other General Assembly representatives to advocate for this approach to national energy policy before Congress, the Executive branch, state legislatures, and regulatory agencies, including those specifically involved in the areas of climate change and international cooperation, with the goal of restoring the United States of America to a leadership position in taking responsibility for reducing the scale and speed of global climate change.


  1. Dammit, John, when will Presbyterians learn to worship the market like everyone else?

  2. Okay, you're going to hate me,..., but all that green s**t's making me tired. Here's a good one from George Carlin on Saving the Planet. Please listen, and tell me what you think.

  3. Hey Rachel!

    You got me. I do/did love George Carlin. He is correct of course in the big scope of things. We homosapiens will be gone one day and we won't even register a hiccup as far as the Universe is concerned.

    Except...we do live here now. This is home. And attempting to live sustainably is about human beings being here a bit longer than if we trashed the place--which will ultimately trash us.

  4. Rev. Shuck, the PC(USA) GA membership only adresses the symptoms of today's climate problems. They make it sound like going green (i.e. GREEN CONSUMPTION) is the solution. WHEN the real problem cannot be fixed unless the global economic system changes. The PC (USA) supports the “cap and trade” approach and the G8 summit Kyoto Protocol. They say,

    "In agreement with four prior General Assemblies (202nd, 210th, 211th, and 215th) that have called on the U.S. government to ratify the Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol, we ask the U.S. government to do nothing less than repent of its efforts to block consensus and to work with the international community as it develops a binding agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol when it expires in 2012."

    This is just scary, don't you know this is going to give the superpowers (i.e. the top 1% of the richest corporations/political people in control) more power over the poor countries and peoples of the world. You really need to watch this edisode of Democracy Now. One of the activist yells out at the meting today:

    "This is a meeting by world thieves. They, the G8 countries, are causing all the current problems, such as environment destruction and food crisis. That is why I am against them."

    Did you know that rice paddies and livestock are a big threat to humanity because they produce methane gas? And that the G8, the world's 8 richest countries, wants to cede some control over the day-to-day policy and regulations of the American rice growers and cattle ranchers to United Nations bureaucrats. Is it good to handle our food supply this way? Wouldn't it be better to have local community farms here in America? Don't you see how easily we could all be killed off? What happens when our world food system fails? So yeah all this legislation that the PC(USA) is involved in scares the crap out of me. Before you join the collectivist bandwagon, maybe you could check out this video on the real debate of our times.

  5. Rachel, please calm down. The black helicopters are not coming. It's too expensive for the UN to refuel them anyway.

    The family farm is a thing of the past in the United States. We now have agribusiness, with outfits like Con-Agra and Archer-Daniels-Midland now pretty much controlling American agriculture. There are arguments for and against. Small farmers competing against each other tend to get caught in erratic price fluctuations (Farmer Bob made more money off of soybeans last year, so everyone else plants soybeans this year and drives the price down, so next year no one plants soybeans and the price spikes). Years of this left many family farms broke and in debt, and one spell of bad weather gives us the Dust Bowl and the first few chapters of The Grapes of Wrath. On the other hand, we have instead of conscientious farmers tending land that has been in their family for generations, large corporate offices in Chicago (incorporated in Delaware) filled with board members whose sole obligation is to maximize the stockholders' return on investment. You get Monsanto patenting the DNA of crops so that farmers cannot legally take seed from their crops and replant (this is causing all kinds of havoc in India).

    In other words, we have the best and worst of both capitalism and communism at work in American agriculture. Rather than the politburo controlling production, we have boards of directors doing it. Instead of bureaucrats ostensibly responsible to the voters (but not really), we have bureaucrats ostensibly responsible to the stockholders (but not really).

    In a nutshell, we as Christians have an obligation to tend to the Earth that God gave us. We have to take action, and action now, to prevent large parts of the Earth from becoming uninhabitable and causing untold misery for millions--if not billions--of our neighbors. This is the world your child will grow up in, and his children, and their children. We've only got the one planet.

  6. flycandler, I'm glad that you chimed in on this posting. I was hoping to hear your point of view.

    I'm glad that you acknowledge that communism is at play in our world economic/political system. I recall Noam Chomsky who said something like the following, "The free market has never been tried, not even once."

    I can't figure out how you can put so much faith in the leaders of the world (i.e. the plutocrats). Do you really think they will protect the little people's best interest or will they only look after their best interest?

    What can you say to the accusation that the leaders from the G8 nations—Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States "are causing all the current problems, such as environment destruction and food crisis."

    What about the G8 agenda on the food crisis? Do you really expect anything to come out when the G8 countries or the G8 governments caused the food crisis by their policies?

    Oh, and do you support a new green revolution based on genetically modified organisms, seeds, in Africa, something else the G8 supports? This is just scary.

    "In a nutshell, we as Christians have an obligation to tend to the Earth that God gave us."

    I totally agree. What we disagree on is the way to go about it. I believe in small government, you think big government is best.

    "We have to take action, and action now, to prevent large parts of the Earth from becoming uninhabitable and causing untold misery for millions--if not billions--of our neighbors."

    Give me one good reason why I should trust the people who got us into the mess were in to get us out?

    "This is the world your child will grow up in, and his children, and their children. We've only got the one planet."

    Don't you think I realize this, and that is why I am trying to point out to people the real reason that I believe are putting our future at risk.

    Please, please, watch this video on The truth about Big Government and respond to it.

  7. Exactly how is a "small government" going to be able to do anything? I don't think it was the Federal government that got us into this mess, at least not directly. It did sit idly by whilst certain advocates of "small government" (read: less regulation) trashed the environment.

    Look, in many respects, the air and water of the United States is much cleaner than it was forty years ago (the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts are the only thing keeping Richard Nixon out of the deepest circle of Hell). That was because We the People got mad as hell at the sight of rivers on fire. And yes, it's "Big Government" that made it happen.

    In a small-d, small-r democratic republic, Government is us. As the late, great Molly Ivins pointed out, as an American today, you have more political power in your little finger than 99% of all people who have ever lived on Earth. You have the right to state your opinion, the right to petition your government for redress of grievances, the right to run for office, and the right to throw the bums out. Are the odds stacked against the proverbial little guy? Yes, but it's largely a function of mathematics. Get a movement going, and any politician worth his or her salt will run to get out in front of it. The Presbyterian Church (USA) is joining many other churches to get a movement going along these lines in regards to care of creation.

    To paraphrase somebody important, we are the ones we have been waiting for.

    And yes, I'm that guy who has my member of Congress on speed dial.

  8. "The Presbyterian Church (USA) is joining many other churches to get a movement going along these lines in regards to care of creation."

    That's great, but why are they helping to get legislation passed that would hand more control over to the top 1% of the wealthiest people in the world. The "cap and trade" policy that they promote will require that the U.S. and other major polluting nations make big cuts in emissions, all a while, China and other third world nations will continue to pollute. It's just another way for the owners of the world to exploit the resources in underdeveloped countries. It will kill the U.S. economy, force industries to move overseas, like to China, and drive up energy prices. Can you say anything to these concerns. Are they unfounded in your opinion? What about the other concerns I raised in my previous post?

    Here is a transcript from DN! of an environmentalist who opposes carbon trading.

  9. Well, for starters, the overture does NOT advocate "legislation that would hand more control over to the top 1%". If anything, decentralization of energy production is a huge boom to ordinary individuals. For example, in Germany, the government subsidizes a program whereby you get a low-interest loan to put solar collectors on the roof of your house, and then the local utility buys back any excess electricity you produce at the market rate. This also encourages energy conservation, since the less power you use for lighting your house, the more money you get from the power company. Over several years of this, the German government has been able to cancel plans for a new nuclear reactor. That's handing control over to ordinary homeowners.

    Similarly, there are places in the US where farmers and cattlemen are paid to lease space for windmills, which have a tiny physical footprint on the land and don't disrupt their growing or pasturing. That's handing control over to ordinary landowners.

    Now, I agree that the cap-and-trade model may not be the most effective way to curb greenhouse gas emissions, but it's the most realistic way to do it in a capitalist framework. It limits the amount of greenhouse gases put into the atmosphere and encourages companies to reduce their emissions by providing a dual profit motive: one to get a new revenue stream by selling carbon credits, the other by providing an incentive to avoid having to buy carbon credits from competitors.

    The most direct way to get a reduction (and the least palatable to most Americans) would be simple government fiat. If the government passes a single, uniform standard with fines for noncompliance, then every company is put at an equal disadvantage. Corporations can be sued by their stockholders if they can prove that the officers are not acting to maximize their return on investment. That means that corporations cannot act out of pure beneficence; any charitable act has to be justified in terms of how it improves the bottom line (usually in terms of generating goodwill among consumers). A government regulation lets corporate officers off the hook in this regard, because they have no choice but to abide by the laws of the place where they do business, and they can't be sued for complying with the law.

    In order for that to work, however, the government needs to use its power to regulate trade by tariff. That way, if it cost a company $10 to make a product in compliance with US environmental standards, but $1 to make it in Berzerkistan (which has no environmental laws), then the government would slap a $9 tariff on the product. The company then has no incentive (and actually a disincentive due to transport costs) to produce the product abroad. We should also be doing this in regards to labor standards, but that's another discussion for another time. If we're not going to use the trade powers of the government, then the next best thing is cap-and-trade.

    I'll point out that both China and India are signatories to the Kyoto Protocol. I also think we have to go Beyond Kyoto, and this has to happen anyway when the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012. Last year, 12 countries (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the UK, the US, Brazil, China, India and South Africa) agreed to the Washington Declaration, which proposes a new protocol that would require a global cap-and-trade system that would apply to countries like China and India.

    The Kyoto Protocol is a means of implementing the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the treaty agreed to at the 1992 Rio Summit. Almost every country in the world is a party to the treaty (the exceptions are Andorra, Iraq, Somalia, Taiwan and the Vatican--all but Taiwan are observers). The UNFCCC establishes the basis for dealing with global warming; Kyoto was the first plan of action to get there. We need another now, and this will likely be hammered out in Copenhagen next year.

  10. All right, I have nothing to say to that, but you haven't changed my opinion about big government being immoral.

  11. Well, Rachel, your choices are bureaucrats accountable to the voters or bureaucrats accountable to the shareholders. Neither system is perfect, but I prefer the one in which I have a voice.

    I don't agree that representative democratic government that is responsive to the needs of its citizenry is immoral.