Thursday, March 14, 2013

Desperate Times Call for Desperate Measures

A Devotional for the Fifth Week of Lent
By Rev. David A. Dolan

A statement often attributed to the great theologian Karl Barth goes something like this: “One should read the Bible in one hand, and the newspaper in the other."  In order to understand the contemporary culture, a modern version of this statement could say: “One should read the Bible in one hand, and the Rolling Stone magazine in the other."  In the August 2, 2012 edition of Rolling Stone, Bill McKibben, a Methodist Sunday School teacher and author of numerous books on climate change, published an essay titled "Global Warming's Terrifying New Math" on the issue of climate change and the impact that the fossil fuel industry has had on the rapid increase of global warming. Bill McKibben argues that if the fossil fuel industry were to produce and sell all the fossil fuel that they currently have rights for, the Earth’s temperature would dramatically increase to the point where all of Earth’s inhabitants would not survive. He then lays out the strategy for influencing the fossil fuel industry by calling for the divestment of this industry by universities and other institutions (including religious denominations, as mentioned in his article "Playing Offense" in The Christian Centurymuch in the same way this practice was effective in influencing the South African government to drop its unjust policy of Apartheid in the 1980’s. Bill McKibben’s movement is sounding the call for this action to save the Earth.
The movement is a campaign to address the issue of climate change and influence individuals, governments and corporations to take action to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from the current amount of 392 parts per million (ppm) to a safe 350 ppm.

I made a symbolic commitment as a teenager: I would not get my driver’s license until I turned 21. I had several reasons for taking this unusual step. When I was in my early teens growing up in Santa Barbara, California, I witnessed the ecological devastation of the massive oil spill in the Santa Barbara Channel in January of 1969. I also witnessed the beginning of the environmental movement including the first Earth Day in 1970 and was particularly impressed by the negative impact cars had upon the planet. This was my personal act of “divestment” of the fossil fuel industry.

Like giving something up for Lent, this symbolic commitment took some discipline. I walked, rode my bike and utilized public transportation. My discipline meant that there was just a little less pollution and consumption of petroleum. I often had a chance to explain my reasons for not having a driver’s license — a teachable moment as result of this symbolic act.

During this time of Lent, we have another teachable moment. I urge all Presbyterians to make a prayerful study of all Biblical passages dealing with the stewardship of creation and also read Bill McKibben’s 
Rolling Stone article. Upon reflection, I hope that a discussion and dialogue would commence within our denomination for us to consider joining this call for divestment of the fossil fuel industry in order to demonstrate our commitment not only for human rights, but the right for all of God’s creation to thrive in a healthier planet for many years to come.

Rev. David A. Dolan is a Minister-at-Large in the PC(USA) and has a life-long commitment to the environment and conservation. He has served on the staff at several churches and presbyteries and is the official liaison for the movement to the Presbyterian Church (USA).

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