“listening sessions” – Sylvia Neely

Sylvia Neely photoToday, the EPA held a “listening session” in Philadelphia at which EPA officials heard statements about the proposal to create standards for existing power plants to limit carbon pollution by anyone who registered for a 3-minute slot.  These listening sessions were scheduled in 11 cities across the US.  

Several PA IPL leaders read statements, or wrote statements that were read for them.  Another faith leader, Rev. Mitch Hescox of Evangelical Environmental Network was the first speaker today.   We’ll post these as they come in.  

Below is former Board President Sylvia Neely’s statement.  Use this form to submit your own comments to the EPA.   

I am a on the board of Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light and a member of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in State College, PA.  I lead a program called Weatherization First, that brings teams from congregations to weatherize homes of low-income families.  I also give classes on how to reduce household energy use and help people reduce their fuel bills.  We are working in our community to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but we need state and national standards to help us in this work.  We are concerned about what future generations will suffer because of climate change.

Continue reading “listening sessions” – Sylvia Neely

Faith for Thought 2013

Faith for Thought is a one-day conference, sponsored by Calvary Baptist Church in State College, where people explore together how Christian faith connects with our daily lives. The theme for 2013 – “Seeds of Hope” – derives from God’s call to the first humans to “tend the garden” of his creation. PAIPL co-sponsored the 2013 conference where together we we seek an authentically Christian response to contemporary ecological anxieties, one that combines theological depth, scientific rigor, and a passion for justice.

About sixty people gathered at Grace Lutheran Church in State College to hear the keynote speakers

and to share in a range of breakout sessions and hands-on activities.


Testing the Lord

Rev. Cheryl Pyrch of (PA IPL member) Summit Presbyterian Church graciously shared her sermon from the 2013 National Preach-In on Climate Change.  For the non-Presbyterians out there wondering how she chose this reading from the many, many possibilities: many liturgically-based Protestant Christian denominations use the Revised Common Lectionary, a three-year schedule of Bible readings that specifies the texts that will be preached on a particular Sunday.  If your time is short today, skip to the last 3 paragraphs.  I have no doubt that you’ll come back for the rest.

Testing the Lord
Luke 4: 1-12

         I wonder what the devil thought, as he watched Jesus being baptized.  Now, we don’t know that he was there  – none of the gospel writers mention him  – but if he wasn’t, surely he had an informant. An informant who told him about this man from Nazareth who had the Holy Spirit descend on him like a dove.  About the voice from heaven that said, “You are my son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.”  Was the devil jealous, or did he just realize Jesus would be a really big catch?  Either way, during those forty days in the wilderness  the devil did his best to tempt Jesus into disobedience.  To undermine that father/son relationship.   To perhaps make Jesus a little less beloved.  We aren’t told about all the tricks he used in those forty days, but at the end of them he made three final offers.

         “Since you are the Son of God, turn this stone into bread.”  It must have been tempting.  Jesus was famished.  But he remembered  scripture, and he knew that he didn’t receive the  power of the Holy Spirit to satisfy his own needs.  So he replied, “it is written, one does not live by bread alone.”

         Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world.  “To you I will give their glory and authority; it will all be yours, if you worship me.”  It must have been tempting.  Jesus could do a lot of good as ruler of the world’s kingdoms.  But he knew that to worship the devil he’d need to disown his true parent.  So he replied, “It is written, worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.”

         Finally, the devil took Jesus to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written “He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,” and “on their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.”  Jesus must have been tempted.  He wouldn’t get hurt — the scriptures said so. That  would shut the devil up.  But Jesus knew that putting God to the test, making God “prove” his love, was no way to treat his father. So he replied, “it is said, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”  And then the devil departed from him until an opportune time.

         In climate change activist circles over the past few years there’s been a lot of discussion about how to “message” climate change.  The message that scientists are giving us is straightforward:  if we continue with business as usual, if we don’t turn from fossil fuels, we’re toast.  The rising seas will wipe out the world’s major port cities.  Droughts and floods will kill crops.  We can expect large-scale famine, especially in Africa.   One third of all plant and animal species could be wiped out as eco-systems collapse, our oceans acid wastelands.  Studies and predictions differ on the details.  There’s uncertainty about the future, and a lot depends on what we do or don’t do.  But most agree:  climate change could wipe out the human race completely.    It probably won’t come to that — glaciologist Edward Alley calls human beings the greatest weed on the planet — but it could.  More likely, our civilizations –  – organized communal life on a large scale – will come crashing down.   And we have very little time to prevent catastrophe.  We’ve already put into motion change that we can’t yet see.  When disaster is clearly upon us it may be too late.  And those are cautious, sober scientists speaking.

         But that message hasn’t gotten a lot of traction.  (Much like the nuclear threat).   Although things are beginning to change, Obama is talking about it, our national leaders act like there’s no danger.  The candidates were never asked about it during the election.  Everyone “agrees” there’s no way a climate bill will be passed by this congress.  But it’s not just politicians.   Even those of us who believe the climate is changing don’t talk about it much, or go beyond changing lightbulbs.  There are exceptions, of course, including the thousands marching on Washington today.  But still, especially in the United States, we aren’t acting in a way commensurate to the threat.  Stephen Colbert had a very funny spot this past week.  He noted that certain pundits who’ve been denying the reality of climate change were beginning to acknowledge it, but in the same breath  saying there’s nothing we can do about it — blaming China, everyone’s favorite scapegoat.   As Colbert put it, they went through the 5 stages of climate change grief:  Denial, denial, denial, denial, acceptance.  I think that’s hilarious, but we have to admit it doesn’t just apply to conservatives.  Most of us, in actions if not words, seesaw between denial and acceptance. 
         There are many reasons for our passivity.  A well funded disinformation campaign that says there’s no danger.  Paralyzing fear.  Other ministries, causes and responsibilities.   Well-founded suspicion of change.   Scientific illiteracy and the still rather abstract and future nature of the threat. .  .   But I also believe we’re listening to the devil quoting scripture in our ear; the wily serpent who says, “God will command his angels concerning you.  God won’t let humankind destroy itself. God will deliver mankind from the snare of the fowler, the deadly pestilence.  God will protect you and your descendants, and show God’s salvation.  God  promised never to send a flood upon the earth again.  Christ will come in clouds of glory.  Have faith.  Those prophets of doom are alarmists.”   

         In other words, we’re putting the Lord our God to the test.  We’re putting the Lord our God to the test with every thoughtless turning of the key in the ignition, and with every shrug of our shoulders when we hear about the melting arctic ice or drought in the Sahel.   It may be that God will protect us from extinction, and I believe we can trust in God’s love and a future with hope.  But stepping to the edge of the parapet and leaning over isn’t faith.  It’s no way to treat our heavenly father.  It’s no way to treat our divine mother, the giver of life and creator of the earth and the stars.  We’re called to love God, not to test him.  
         Our first scripture today, although dated in  specifics, tells us how to love.   By taking care of the land, this earth that God has given us to live on, and by caring for all God’s people upon it.   By giving thanks.  By standing with the alien among us.  By remembering the poor, the oppressed, the refugee — as God remembered our ancestors in Egypt.  So let’s follow the example of Jesus.  Let’s take ourselves off the pinnacle.  Let’s  repent from our self-destructive ways and raise our voices together.   Let’s renounce evil and its power in the world, and love God with all our heart, and mind and strength, loving our neighbors as ourselves.  Let’s fight climate change.
Rev. Cheryl Pyrch
Summit Presbyterian Church
Luke 4: 1-12
February 17, 2012

A Simple Wish

This letter from PA IPL member and former intern Barb Donnini was published in the Good Steward Campaign newsletter, as well as in the Centre Daily Times here.

A Simple Wish
I wish for an excellent quality of life for every human being, for biodiversity and for a great outdoors to exist for my children.

It is for these reasons, and my desire to follow moral guidelines, that I am deeply disturbed to learn of people who think climate change is not real, but is instead an elaborate scam to raise taxes.

The World Health Organization estimates that 150,000 deaths are directly attributable to climate change.

In a sick ironic twist, the people hurt the most by climate change aren’t emitting the most (or even a lot). The most affected nations are the poorest. Their citizens are barely able to subsist day to day, let alone pay to cope with the new effects of climate change on their communities (extreme drought in Africa, for example).

What’s being asked of all of us is small: Conserve energy in your home and encourage clean energy projects. This doesn’t mean changing your political party. It means signing an online petition, helping a nonprofit or supporting national policy that increases renewable energy usage.

Even if you still aren’t convinced, we can all agree that conserving energy is a good thing, if just for financial reasons.

I’d like to believe that most can identify with right versus wrong, fair versus unfair. It isn’t fair that we use much more energy than needed while so many others feel the consequences.

We have one chance at preserving the planet – the risk is too great to do nothing.

Congratulations to Cool Congregations 2012 Pennsylvania Honoree

For immediate release December 12, 2012                           
Also posted online right here!

For more information: (contact Cricket Eccleston Hunter at chunter@paipl.org/814.876.2597)
Pennsylvania congregation wins national honors
Faith communities lead the way on saving energy, addressing climate impacts
In a year marked by increasing climate disruption, a Johnstown congregation has been honored for its participation in the 2012 Cool Congregations Challenge.  St. Paul’s United Church of Christ has received an Honorable Mention for its efforts in Engaging Congregants and Communities, and is among more than three dozen congregations honored this year by Interfaith Power & Light, a national organization mobilizing a religious response to global warming.
 “This year, we have witnessed the catastrophic impacts of global warming, from Superstorm Sandy to widespread drought, floods and wildfires,” said The Rev. Canon Sally Bingham, founder and president of Interfaith Power & Light. “As people of faith, we know that it’s not enough to talk about climate impacts. We need to take action now, and these congregations are leading the way with their creative and meaningful projects.”
St. Paul’s UCC’s interim pastor, Rev. Bill Thwing notes that as a result of their outreach work, St. Paul’s decided to became a “Creation Care Church.” In the process, they have gained new regular worship attenders.  Members of the congregation have stepped forward and taken initiative to share the congregation’s work; many congregants see their creation care work as part of the congregation’s effort to become a “mission-based church rather than a membership-based church.”
Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light helps Pennsylvania faith communities save energy and advocate for clean energy policies. Learn more at www.paipl.org.
For more information on the Cool Congregations Challenge, including success stories and congregational and individual carbon calculators, see www.coolcongregations.org. 

Ethics of Drilling Excerpt: Effects on Poverty and Social Injustice

One is forbidden from gaining a livelihood at the expense of another’s health.
Rabbi Isaac ben Sheshet, Responsa  #196

We believe that we serve God through establishing justice – and economic gains that come at the expense of harming others are unjust. Many towns in Pennsylvania have already gone through one or more cycles of boom and bust from oil and coal production.  Typically, these cycles have brought riches to few but lasting economic and social problems to many, ranging from depressed economies to scarred and infertile lands.  So far, the Marcellus Shale developments, especially without taxes or impact fees in place, seem more likely to continue this destructive pattern than to break from it.  In addition, illegal or ethically questionable practices by drilling companies have set neighbor against neighbor.

This needs to change.  Strong state or even national level regulation could help prevent a “race to the bottom” by either smaller units of government or private citizens.  It would also help prevent a “not in my backyard” mentality, whereby local groups oppose drilling in their area while still using natural gas extracted from other areas without concern.

A fee or tax system on current and future operations is imperative, and it should take into account not only short-term costs to communities, but the broader, longer-term issues such as mitigating climate change by investing in clean, sustainable energy technologies and long-term sustainable community economic development.  Knowing what we do about the history of extractive industries in Pennsylvania, we believe that it would be unethical to move forward without trying our utmost to ensure that past mistakes are not repeated.

Therefore, PA IPL can support drilling only when a state-level system is in place to prevent the repetition of such “boom and bust” cycles and to encourage long-term, sustainable economic development in communities where drilling takes place.  Furthermore, PA IPL supports efforts to help communities cooperatively resolve conflicts engendered by decisions about drilling.

Distortions to our political system

You shall show no partiality; you shall not take bribes, for bribes blind the eyes of the discerning and upset the plea of the just.
Deuteronomy 16:19

One important reason why our nation has moved so slowly to address the increasingly urgent crisis of global climate change is that fossil fuel companies have spent millions and millions of dollars trying to convince politicians to look the other way.  It is clear that many companies involved in developing the Marcellus Shale are behaving in a similar fashion.  This creates a system that is the exact opposite of what our faith traditions teach.  Instead of valuing the “least of these,” instead of protecting the most vulnerable, instead of listening to the voices of the people, our system is following the lure of money.  While this problem is obviously not limited to Marcellus Shale drilling, it is clear that a difficult situation is made much worse by this abuse of the public trust.

Therefore, we call on elected officials throughout Pennsylvania, whether serving in local, state, or national capacities, to refrain voluntarily from accepting any contributions from companies involved in the exploration, drilling, production, transportation and sale of natural gas.

Leadership in Faith Communities

You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.
Matthew 5:14-15

Because global climate change is as much a moral challenge as a technical or scientific one, it is imperative that communities of faith take leadership roles in addressing this challenge.  One important way to do so is to lead by example, to demonstrate the choices that can be made right now, without waiting for any additional laws, regulations, or other governmental programs.  Pennsylvania currently gets more than one-half of its electricity from coal-fired power plants and another quarter from natural gas.  If we stop fracking in Pennsylvania but do not switch to buying clean electricity, the overall effect will be to support a coal-based economy and ensure that drilling for natural gas will continue outside of Pennsylvania.  That would not be moral leadership.

Therefore we call on congregations and all faith-based institutions, to reduce their energy usage, switch to sustainable energy sources such as solar and wind energy, and speak with their constituencies about these choices.  We also call on faith-based institutions to refrain from entering into financial agreements with natural gas exploration or extraction companies until the issues highlighted here are adequately addressed.