In the Spring of 2009, a friend and I walked into the Federal Building in Des Moines, IA with two copies of a petition urging our Senators to support comprehensive energy reform related to carbon emissions at the the UN Climate Summit in Copenhagen which was scheduled for later in the year.
Our petitions were made out of plywood and were about 3 feet square. They were cutout in the shape of the logo for 350.org, a global, grassroots organizing effort started by Bill McKibben. From their own website:
The number 350 means climate safety: to preserve a livable planet, scientists tell us we must reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere from its current level of 400 parts per million to below 350 ppm.
On those plywood cutouts, we had collected signatures from concerned people in our community, people who, like us, believed that not only individual conservation, but also significant political and economic will needed to be marshaled to respond to increasing climate crisis across the world.
First, let me say that if you have never hand-delivered a petition or letter to one of your elected representatives, you should definitely do so. Taking the time to deliver our petitions and sit down with aids of both Senator Harkin and Senator Grassley was a profoundly empowering experience. To know that we, as citizens, have such easy access to our elected officials is amazing. To walk two 3-ft. plywood petitions past security guards, step on an elevator, walk down a hall, and sit down in the offices of those we have entrusted with political power, to exercise our own rights and responsibilities as voting Americans is amazing.
The petitions were not the beginning of our action, however, but rather its culmination. My friend, after seeing McKibben at a Christian Educator’s Fellowship event in Albuquerque, NM, was on fire to push for change. She came back to Ames, IA and started organizing a climate awareness event. She pulled together interested people and we met to make signs, engage public speakers, plan intergenerational activities, and offer people the opportunity to voice their opinion about climate change, fossil fuel emissions, energy policy and our global commitment to the poorest and least industrialized nations of the world. Together, a small group of people planned a half-day of activity, learning and action set for a Saturday in late May.
I wish I could say we had an overwhelming turnout. I wish I could say that our United Methodist Church members swarmed to add their names to the petition. I wish I could say that the Bishop’s Call to Action titled God’s Renewed Creation: A Call to Hope and Action had motivated many of our United Methodist connections to offer to help host, fund, or simply participate in the event. I wish I could say that our relationship connections were strong enough that our UM friends and colleagues simply showed up because we asked them to.
If you follow the news on climate change, you will know that the UN Climate Summit did not make any substantial change in the ways in which carbon emissions are regulated. The decision was made to “wait until 2015” instead.
In November of 2013, members of the Philippine delegation, along with members from 132 other nations walked out of the Warsaw climate change conference after discussion about “loss and damage” stalled. Naderev Saño, lead negotiator of the Philippine delegation, went on a voluntary fast , declaring,
“In solidarity with Filipinos who are now scrounging for food back home, and with my brother who has not had food for the last three days, with all due respect Mr. President, I will now commence a voluntary fasting and I will refuse to eat food here during this COP, until a meaningful outcome is in sight.”
This conference was held a mere 13 days after Typhoon Haiyan made landfall in the Philippines. Typhoon Haiyan is the strongest typhoon ever to have made landfall. [*] United Methodist Committee on Relief, of course was there. Is there. American United Methodist donations of goods, energy, time, and dollars, the “loss and damage” recovery side of mission, are there. We are people who care. We respond.
But . . . .
Why don’t we speak up more here at home? Why aren’t we advocating, legislating, organizing, boycotting, fasting, resisting, educating, and changing the conversation as it relates to climate change? As it pertains to environmental degradation? Why is it so much easier to spend the dollars of pity, than it is to invest in the bonds of kinship? Why, when it comes to signing petitions, talking with our elected leaders, or discussing the latest crop prices, aren’t we more aware of the importance of thinking not first of ourselves and what we may have to lose, but rather of those whose homes, livelihoods, lives, and very existence are being lost as you read this?
As we celebrate Human Relations Sunday and lift up the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., I want to echo his sentiments that social action is a moral imperative, that
“Non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good.”[*]
When our brothers and sisters in island nations, such as the Philippines and the Republic of the Maldives say, “We need change,” why can’t we take them at their word? When our brothers and sisters in North and South Sudan are pushed to war because of the growing band of desert across the Northern part of the African continent, why do we insist that climate change isn’t real? When the acres of arable land are no longer sufficient to feed the people of the planet, how do we entertain notions that it is OK to plant sugar cane for fuel or to ignore the voices of farmers who, through proprietary technology and corporate patents, are no longer allowed to save seeds?
I hear you saying, “Wait.” I hear you saying, “Now is not the time.” I hear you saying, “I’m just not convinced.” I hear you saying, “‘Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.'”[*] Yet, as I look at all the photographs from the Philippines in 2013, from the East Coast in 2012, from Joplin in 2011, from Iowa in 2008, and from Louisiana in 2005, I feel compelled to commend these words from Martin Luther King, Jr. to you:
“I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate . . . Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection. . .
So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are.
But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century.” [*]