Board Profile: Bill Lochstet

Bill Lochstet PennCentral Conference UCC 2016 Bright Idea
Bill Lochstet (left) at the collection point for Bright Idea at the Penn Central UCC conference

This Board member profile is one of a series that will roll out from now through the early fall.  Board members are active PA IPL volunteers who live and serve across Pennsylvania.  Bill Lochstet was elected to the Board for a 3-year term in October 2013.

When I first heard about a plan to explode an atomic bomb underground near Renovo, PA, I wanted to learn more about it. I learned that the project was intended to create an underground cavity to store natural gas during the summer that could be delivered to customers in the winter. I understood from my study of physics that radioactivity from the explosion would be released to the air and delivered with the gas to customers homes. This would be a threat to people’s health. My faith is about healing and feeding people, not doing harm. Many people came to realize the injustice of this idea, opposed it and the plan was canceled.

A few years later, a friend told me about a plan to build a nuclear breeder reactor plant in northeast Pennsylvania. A study of this plan revealed many hazards, including the release of radioactive materials, which were not taken seriously. When the details were discussed publicly, the injustices became apparent.  The wisdom and faith values of the people of the area prevailed, and the proposal was withdrawn.

For several years, I sought to critique government assessments of the health impacts of long lasting radioactive materials. In such a situation, the number of people contracting cancer each year is small, but the hazard persists for millions of years. However, the government    evaluations of harm to peoples’ health only extended over the first one thousand years.  We are all brothers and sisters on this planet,  including our many previous generations, and all of our generations of the future. This is the meaning of the “good Samaritan” story. There is no statute of limitations, all people count.

I remember, a long time ago, asking a clergy friend for biblical references on caring for the environment. There were very few.   But scholarship has moved on, and today we have many resources including the Pope’s “Laudato Si.”

It took me a long time to see and grasp not only the fact of the greenhouse effect, but also that it was due to human activity.  We were all guilty, so we try to limit our sin by conservation and using less of the earth’s resources. Later, my wife , Tabitha, and I learned of PA IPL and we went to their first annual conference.

About four years ago, we attended a regional church gathering with a program on climate change and a segment about energy conservation by a person from PA IPL.  After meditating on this for a  few weeks, I volunteered to be a member of a new group, which became the Green Justice Ministry Team of the Penn Central Conference of the UCC. Here we work with the connection of our faith with the reality of climate change.  Our group sponsored a three day workshop which included a field trip to a trailer park where the renters were abruptly evicted to make way for a pump station that would supply river water for gas well fracking. This was a very intense experience where I had a view of injustice caused by a large corporation.

Bill and Tabitha fracking rallyA few months later, three of us from the workshop set out to write a resolution for our denomination to call for a ban on fracking. We spent most of the year 2014 gathering colleagues and writing and revising drafts of a resolution. After the large demonstration in New York City that September we realized the need for a ban on all fossil fuels ( coal, oil, and natural gas), and changed the resolution to that purpose.  The document went to the UCC national meeting in 2015, where it was strengthened and adopted. The result proposes to limit climate change by ending the use of all fossil fuels by 2040.

I worry about the people of the island nation of Kiribati in the south pacific who have already lost two islets to rising sea levels in 1999, the people of Louisiana where it rained over thirty inches in a short time, the people of California and western states with severe fires, and the people of central Georgia living with drought.  What are we doing to our neighbors, and ourselves?