Confessing our fossil fuel sins

January 16, 2013 | Editorial
Dick Benner | Editor/Publisher

“The fossil fuel industry is the richest and most arrogant industry the world has ever seen,” charges Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature, and referenced by Will Braun in our lead feature “Crossing the (pipe) line” on page 4. The five largest oil companies alone made $137 billion in profits last year, according to the Sierra Club.

“Where it once served a great social need—energy—it now stands squarely in the way of getting that energy from safe, renewable sources. Its business plan—sell more coal, gas and oil—is at odds with what every climate scientist now says is needed for planetary survival,” writes McKibben.

As Anabaptist Christians, Mennonites are latecomers to the issue of creation care, or, more particularly, seeing climate change, as Desmond Tutu names it, “the next great overriding moral issue on the planet’s agenda.” Menno Simons, much more concerned about other pressing issues of faith in his 16th-century days, could only vaguely be interpreted as referring to the earth from his definition of “true evangelical faith” as “destroying all lusts and forbidden desires, seeking, serving and fearing God in its inmost soul.”

Climate change, with all of its destructive implications, escaped his concerns completely at a time when religious convulsions, not tsunamis, earthquakes and hurricanes were more top of mind.

Our own Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective, as recently as 1995, makes scant reference to this issue in only two articles: “Human beings have been made for relationship with God, to live in peace with each other, and to take care of the rest of creation” (6); and “led by the Holy Spirit, we follow Christ in the way of peace, doing justice, bringing reconciliation and practising nonresistance, even in the face of violence and warfare (22).

As has been the focus of our core beliefs over five centuries, we have sustained deeply held views of not participating in violence through war and other injustices, and held tenaciously to the view that the earth was created “good,” sustained by God for our health and nurture. That view is still pretty much the prevailing one as we reluctantly and slowly accept the fact that many things humans are doing to this creation are not good.

What if the destruction of the earth through the misuse of these “good” gifts (natural resources) from our Creator is killing 400,000 people a year, “not to mention undercutting developing economies,” as McKibben points out? Isn’t this a form of violence that our faith should also address?

It took until 2008 for a binational Mennonite Creation Care Network to be formed, that is now raising awareness of our obligations to care for the earth and thus the people who inhabit it, especially those in developing countries with limited healthcare structures and the ability to get help after natural disasters.

In her opening article in Vision magazine when the network was created, Joanne M. Moyer, one of Canada’s representatives, posed some potent issues and questions: “We must ask not only how we can live better, but also why we live the way we live. Why is our society so destructive of the earth? Why do we feel entitled to use the gifts of the land indiscriminately? Why do we take for granted the life-giving processes of natural ecosystems? Why do we assume that they will provide these gifts indefinitely in the face of our overuse?”

While the network is working hard with churches in both Canada and the U.S. to have them take specific action, such as converting to solar panels and geothermal for heating and cooling, and doing energy audits, the overall problem is one of invisibility, as scientist Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, told Bill Moyers recently.

“This very day we can look out the window and there’s CO2, carbon dioxide, pouring out of tailpipes, pouring out of buildings, pouring out of smokestacks,” he said. “And yet we can’t see it, it’s invisible. The fundamental causes of this global problem are invisible to us. And, likewise, the impacts are largely invisible to us as well, unless you know where to look.”

McKibben makes something of a confession: “Yes, we all use fossil fuel. But most of us would be just as happy using sun and wind power.” Can we collectively rise to this confession?

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This editorial is disappointing as it appears to endorse the speculative science activism of Bill Mckibben and by association the sometimes questionable content at his web site. Anthropogenic (man made) Global Warming is highly theoretical and for a Mennonite theology centered magazine to indulge in the un-civil science narrative and political extremes associated with AGW is very questionable. Our own Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective is quite correct to steer clear of any issue associated with scientism.

I am commenting on the comment. There is nothing unrealistic in drawing on our current best understanding of science (which is that climate change is happening, now - many lines of evidence pointing to that). The commentor is right to steer us away from "scientism", which is "EXCESSIVE belief in the power of scientific knowledge and techniques."

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