Investing in a Green Future: A Vision for a Renewed Creation
by Rev. Sue Smith
From(1981) to (1990) to (2008), the PCUSA has a long history of environmental policy providing us with guidance in caring for all of God’s creation. The 223rd General Assembly (2018) directed the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) to develop a policy to respond to the increasing impacts of climate change. Building on our existing policies, lifts up the intersection of environmental, economic and racial justice, to ensure that actions address how a warming planet affects all creation.
This paper was recommended to the 224th General Assembly (2020). In 2020 we were celebrating the 30th anniversary of Restoring Creation for Ecology and Justice and designed a poster celebrating over 50 years of environmental advocacy in the PCUSA. In an in-person Assembly, we would have celebrated in style. But it was not an in-person Assembly and the paper was referred to this year’s 225th General Assembly.
Restoring Creation for Ecology and Justice called for the 1990’s to be the turnaround decade for ecological restoration. We did not respond to the cry of creation then – we need to recommit to a turnaround decade now. It is not enough to be the turnaround decade outlined in 1990. Today we need to be intentional about addressing the intersection of environmental, economic and racial justice, aligning with the Church’s focus on Matthew 25 and dismantling systemic racism.
Overtures to General Assembly tend to recognize that we need to keep the needs of “the least of these” as a focus in our work and then go on to promote market solutions that favor those that profit from capitalism. We know that BIPOC folx (black, Indigenous and people of color) and women are most vulnerable to climate change and the least likely to profit from capitalism. How might the Church address these needs? Here are some of the recommendations:
· Support policies and regulations that rigorously reduce air pollution, not only carbon pollution, but also particulate matter and other carcinogenic air pollutants that disproportionately affect low-income, vulnerable communities of color living near regulated facilities and power plants. (8B)
· Ensure that communities affected by environmental racism are included at the table and have the opportunity to provide leadership in the movement to find solutions to the current ecological crisis. (8Ca)
· Affirm those who suffer most have the strongest moral claim in shaping restorative policy and practice. (8Cc)
· Reiterate that the goal of a “green economy” cannot be limited strictly to ecological concerns or environmental policy, but must address concerns of racial and economic justice in the marketplace, including a living wage; access to safe, affordable housing, health care, and food; rigorous regulation of high-polluting sectors and industries; programs to replace and retrofit aging buildings and infrastructure; access to jobs and job training in sustainable industries; and workforce development programs for workers who will transition from the fossil fuel industry to sectors with renewable and sustainable practices. Recognize that economic justice is important especially for women, who bear the brunt of many climate impacts. (8F)
Will the recommendations made be easy? No. One of the final recommendations: Recognize that transitioning to a more just, restored, and sustainable world will be difficult, but possible. While it is hard for us to imagine a low-carbon / zero-carbon economy without fossil fuels, where environmental care comes before profit, in which racism and poverty are functionally eliminated, we must do all of these things. Instead of focusing on the difficulties or expense, we must lift up our vision and actions to create a revived environment, better health outcomes, employment opportunities that provide a living wage, clean air and water, wilderness preserved for its own sake, universal access to healthy food, and the reconciliation of broken relationships. (9)
May it be so.
Sue Smith put her MBA to work in the global financial services industry for 30 years. She is an ordained minister and Stated Clerk of the Presbytery of the Coastlands (NJ). She is the co-chair of the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy. She serves on the boards of Clean Water Action (NJ) and Waterspirit and was a former steering committee member of Presbyterians for Earth Care.