Saturday, June 6, 2020

Carbon Offsets for Planting Trees

Replanting the Tree of Life

by Jed Hawkes Koball

It really is blue! It only took about three days of lockdown in Lima to see the sky again. And, it is blue! Anyone who has been to Lima knows we have pretty bad air quality. On a good day with regular traffic flow, I can see an outline of the first ridge of mountains facing due east from my apartment. Today I can see as far as the third and even fourth ridge. While certainly an understatement to say that these are incredibly stressful times for us humans, for the Earth it must feel like jubilee. As my heart pains for the sick, the dying, and those with no income and little food security, my heart also fills with joy for the mountains and rivers and those blue skies out my window. If this tension does not feel right, it´s because it is not. The life of one must not depend on the sacrifice of the other. 

For nearly two decades our global partner, Red Uniendo Manos Peru – an ecumenical network of Peruvian NGO´s and churches - has been fighting poverty with a deeply held belief that such human injustice (the lack of health and food) stems from a long broken relationship between humans and the Earth. Much of this work has evolved out of years of accompanying families from the Andean town of La Oroya, often considered to be one of the ten most contaminated cities in the world where nearly 99% of the children have been shown to have extreme levels of toxic metals in their bodies due to emissions from a massive metallurgical complex once owned by a billionaire investor from New York. While the political advocacy of our partners has focused on specialized health care and the enforcement of adequate environmental protections, a more deeply seeded movement has been growing to teach and embrace more responsible living to restore the Earth – and more importantly, renew our relationship with the Earth. 

Mama Toya
In the community of Villa El Sol, on the outskirts of La Oroya, 84-year old Victoria Trujilla – better known as Mama Toya – has been leading an effort to re-forest the hillsides of the communal land she helps care for. As Mama Toya will note, remediating the toxins and restoring nutrients to the soil is only half of the problem. The other issue is climate change. The Andean glaciers, the source of water for the vast majority of the country, are melting. The vision she shares with her team of conservationists is to harvest water in the hills, remove the heavy metals with native plants, and make the land fertile again. La Oroya and surrounding areas were once pastures and agricultural lands that helped form the bread basket of Peru. Today, it is a food desert, making the cost of living much higher than elsewhere in the Andes. Children poisoned with lead and mercury are sustained by papas fritas and Inka-Cola. At 84-years of age, Mama Toya knows her work is for the next generation, yet she also knows that the work she does is what gives her life today. 

Presbyterians have been supporting the work of Mama Toya and Red Uniendo Manos Peru for most of these past twenty years. Often, they have visited with one another – both in the US and in Peru. Relationships have formed. Commitment has been deepened. About a year ago, following a visit from Giddings-Lovejoy Presbytery with Mama Toya and friends in Villa El Sol, a conversation ensued about responsible living in the context of climate change and a poisoned Earth. We looked at our carbon footprints, and we quickly saw that the very travel – specifically, air travel - that strengthens our relationships was also undermining our shared vision. Further conversation and research taught us that the best technology to capture the carbon dioxide emissions we were contributing to is none other than the tree. And thus, a vision emerged: 

Red Uniendo Manos Peru adopted a policy to charge a small fee to each visitor from the US for their in-country air travel while in Peru. The idea was to establish a tree fund to support the work of Mama Toya and other reforestation and forest protection projects being implemented by partner organizations in Peru. Shortly thereafter, I shared this initiative with the newly formed Peru Mission Network (a collection of Presbyterians from across the US who are interested in God´s Mission in Peru) at its inaugural meeting in Webster, TX on the outskirts of Houston in October of last year. As this was a gathering of folks who would be most impacted by the financial aspect of the plan, I was anything but confident in sharing the news of our global partners. Yet, to my joyful surprise, the gathering not only applauded the decision, they embraced it so fully that they developed their own plan – not just for themselves – but for the Presbyterian Church (USA). 

On behalf of the Peru Mission Network, I present to you the Presbyterian Tree Fund! At the initiative of the Peru Mission Network and with the support of the Presbyterian Hunger Program, the Presbyterian Tree Fund overture has already been approved by Scioto Valley Presbytery and concurred by New Covenant Presbytery and Monmouth Presbytery. However, as the 224th General Assembly will not be addressing overtures, it will have to wait until the 225th General Assembly to be perfected. You can read the full text and rationale of the overture below. 

Yes, air travel has nearly come to a halt in recent months. Yes, there are urgent needs of health and hunger that must be addressed right now. Yes, we must find a responsible way to get the global economy up and running again, which in some form or fashion will include increased air travel. But, in all this, I believe our hearts and minds are big enough and strong enough to also imagine a new way forward – a new way of co-existing, a new way of sharing this one Common Home entrusted to us all. A Presbyterian Tree Fund is hardly a solution, but it is a responsible step for us to take in a still globalizing world in which we can deepen our relationships with our global partners and strengthen the work we share. 

Overture to General Assembly to 
Create the Presbyterian Tree Fund

The Presbytery of _____________________ overtures the 224th General Assembly to direct the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA”), no later than June 30, 2021, to develop and implement a carbon offset program for carbon emission generated as the result of work related air travel by personnel of the PMA, that includes the following components:

1.     The PMA will establish a “Presbyterian Tree Fund” administered by the Compassion, Peace and Justice office of PMA, in collaboration with the Presbyterian World Mission office and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), A Corporation board, which shall hold carbon offset donations that are received, and fund grants for tree-planting and other climate-friendly projects;
2.     For every flight taken by personnel of the PMA, a specific dollar amount calculated based on generally-recognized standards would be taken from the travel budget of the staff person´s work area and transferred to the Presbyterian Tree Fund. 
3.     Presbyterians throughout the church (including but not limited to commissioners to General Assembly, attendees at Ecumenical Advocacy Days, Presbyterians traveling to mission network meetings, and participants at Presbyterian-Sponsored conferences) will be invited to voluntarily contribute to the Fund to offset their own carbon emissions related to their own air travel, and/or to contribute to reforestation efforts on a global scale above and beyond any relation to their air travel or other greenhouse gas emissions. 
4.     The Compassion, Peace and Justice office of PMA in collaboration with the Presbyterian World Mission office, together will identify global partners, U.S. Presbyterian entities (local congregations, presbyteries, synods) and partner projects engaged in reforestation programs, and other carbon sequestration projects eligible to apply for funding from the Fund to support and expand their reforestation efforts or may determine that a existing program could adminster this initiative.
5.     The Compassion, Peace and Justice office of PMA will report to all future General Assemblies regarding disbursement of funds from Presbyterian Tree Fund and the impact of such disbursements on reforestation efforts.


This overture seeks to offset carbon emissions due to work related air travel by personnel of the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA) and support the ongoing work of PC(USA) partners in addressing climate change by establishing a fund within the Presbyterian Mission Agency to support reforestation efforts of PC(USA) global partners and other Presbyterian entities in the United States. 

Greenhouse gases generated by human activity are almost unanimously considered to be the cause of global warming and climate change. Carbon dioxide emissions from air travel constitute approximately 2% of all such human generated greenhouse gases. The carbon emissions attributed to a single passenger on one mid-range flight are greater than the average annual carbon emissions attributed to individuals in many of the countries of PC(USA) global partners. Some of these countries are among the most vulnerable to climate change. Any efforts to curb climate change must include reducing human generated greenhouse gas emissions and amplifying efforts to remove such gases from the air. Trees surpass any human made technology in their efficiency and capacity to extract carbon dioxide from the air. Reforestation not only helps to mitigate climate change, in many cases it also helps adaptation to climate change because of trees´ capacity to hold water in the soil. The creation of a Presbyterian Tree Fund would provide a mechanism through which the Presbyterian Mission Agency could continue its travel intensive work more responsibly while also strengthening its global partnerships and stimulating passion for the care of God´s Creation. 

Rev. Jed Koball is a PC(USA) mission co-worker who serves as the Presbyterian Hunger Programs Facilitator for Joining Hands in Peru. He serves with his wife, Jenny Koball, who is the site coordinator of the Young Adult Volunteer Program in Peru. They live in Lima with their three year old son Thiago. 

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