Author: Andrew Schwartz

CEE Joins Big Shift Global

CEE is proud to announce that we have formally partnered with the Big Shift Global campaign. The Big Shift Global (BSG) is a multi-stakeholder, global campaign coordinated by organizations from the Global North and South. Together, we aim to make the people’s views on energy finance known to Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs), their Executive Directors, as well as the Heads of State and Finance Ministers of the members countries.

You can hear it straight from them here.

CEE got involved because we cannot adequately address the climate crisis while the world keeps bankrolling and burning fossil fuels. It’s like trying to patch a hole in a bucket that doesn’t have a bottom. You’re solving for the wrong problem. We want to solve for the right problems which means getting money away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy projects that will bring clean, affordable energy the world round. There are a lot of banks and financial institutions that invest in fossil fuels and with this campaign we’re focusing on Multilateral Development Banks, which we get into below.

What’s a Multilateral Development Bank

Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs) are institutions composed by a group of countries that provide financing and professional advising for the purpose of development. Development here is a broad category. It can be anything from fossil fuel projects to infrastructure, financial development, or agricultural development. Really anything needed to make society function. MDBs finance projects in the form of long-term loans at market rates, very-long-term loans (also known as credits) below market rates, and through grants. 

Twelve notable MDBs are:

The World Bank, European Investment Bank (EIB), Islamic Development Bank (IsDB), Asian Development Bank (ADB), European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), CAF – Development Bank of Latin America (CAF), Inter-American Development Bank Group (IDB, IADB), African Development Bank (AfDB), New Development Bank (NDB), Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), Arab Petroleum Investments Corporation (APICORP), and Eastern and Southern African Trade and Development Bank (TDB)

For reference, the USA is a member of five MDBs: the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the African Development Bank.

How do MDBs Work

Great question. MDBs are made up by lending countries (rich countries) and borrowing countries (not rich countries). While it’s far more complicated than this, basically the rich countries pool their money together in the MDBs and then decide which projects they want to fund in which countries. There’s a lot that goes into this process including applications and indicators for returns on the investment (ROIs) and loan repayment plans but at the end of the day, the MDBs essentially have the say in what countries and what projects are worthy of their investment. 

For decades, the sure fire money makers have been and continue to be fossil fuel development projects. With Paris and climate change on people’s minds, many MDBs have shifted towards renewable, sustainable projects but not all of them, and even the ones who do still keep a toe in the fossil fuel pool. 

You’re Telling Me that My Tax Dollars Fund Fossil Fuel Projects Around the World

Yes. As stated above, the United States is a member in five separate MDBs. Representatives from the United States Treasury – under the leadership of Steve Mnuchin – sit on the boards of MDBs to vote which projects go forward and which ones don’t. The number of votes each representative on the board gets is typically determined by the amount of money said country has in the bank. Predictably the United States and other major economies like China and Europe tend to be big lenders and have significant sway over what does and doesn’t get funded. 

MDBs, 1.5 C, and Paris

A 1.5C global temperature increase is bad. However, 1.5C is much better than 2C, which is infinitely better than a 3C increase. If we eclipse 3C then pack your things and find the high ground.

To help meet the 1.5C target – ideally coming in under it – nine MDBs pledged to align their financial flows to the Paris Climate Agreement during the 2017 One Planet Summit. These nine bank heroes further announced at COP 25 that they will “design and implement long-term low GHG emissions and climate resilient strategies that grow in ambition over time.

This is well and good but ambition doesn’t always match outcome. With President Trump in the White House and vehement climate denial from fossil fuel companies and conservative regimes across the planet – to say little of how entrenched global economies are in fossil fuels – the move towards financing renewable energy projects is slow and even saw a decline between 2017 and 2018.

So Are MDBs Good or Bad

Yes. MDBs have huge potential for creating better lives and living for developing countries. MDBs can also serve as the invisible hand that picks development projects that may not necessarily be in the interest of the borrowing country but has huge upside for the lending country. There’s lots of room for corruption and for special interests to put their own interests over those of the country being lent to. 

But with positivity in mind, MDBs can and have acted as positive forces for good. They are increasingly shaping their investment strategies to the shifting needs of climate and energy finance. This includes innovative projects around wind and solar, which bring energy to previously energy starved areas.

This piece is essential for BSG. It’s not only about getting money out of fossil fuels but using the shift to renewables to improve currently impoverished regions. Unlike fossil fuel driven energy sources, wind and solar can be adapted to most any region to provide on the spot energy. Neither wind nor solar require the drills and wells and bulky housing units that fossil fuels do. Renewables can mark a just transition towards energy for all creating new jobs, now opportunities, and new for folks around the world.

What Now 

Show up and speak up. We’ve learned through the divestment campaign that our voices do matter. The Big Shift Campaign is more than simply moving money away from fossil fuels. Its moving money from fossil fuels to renewable sustainable energy options that will bring energy to currently energy starved populations. This a project for human and planetary well being that moves us away from death towards life.

We know what doesn’t work. We know what is causing the planet to fall a part. We know who is responsible for it. We all know what does work and what can be done. Keeping on this current path is like someone with lung cancer investing in a lifetime’s supply of cigarettes. It just doesn’t make sense. Let’s speak the truth and do what makes sense. Let’s tell MDBs and our governments that we want to invest in life.

Let’s get our money into renewables. 

 

A Community Response to Climate Change

A problem with climate change is that no one knows what’s going to come next. Yes there are climate models – some from nearly 40 years ago – that accurately predict the moment we are in: record floods, incredible droughts, dwindling snowpacks, and a full ⅓ of the year consumed by fire.  

What is lost in these reports, though, are the realities of the communities that now must respond to the crises they create. They don’t tell the stories of those forced to relocate to Portland because their home went up in flames two years ago in Paradise, CA. These unwilling transplants never dreamed of moving to Oregon but are here now trying to make sense of their new lives. There are thousands of such in-migrants finding their way to Oregon either due to force of circumstance or because they can see the writing on the wall. 

Oregon has always been a popular destination for transplants but the numbers are being amplified thanks to climate change.  Already stressed and aging infrastructure in cities across the state are being asked to do more than ever before. Bend is expecting a ~40% population increase in the next decade leading city managers to wonder where to put them and how to allocate an already stretched water supply. In Portland, the housing crisis is only getting worse, to say nothing of the increasing traffic and decreased air quality that will come with it. 

For all of these reasons we are required to think differently about how we live in the now so that we’re prepared for whatever then presents itself. It’s why nearly 40 faith leaders from around Oregon gathered together at Willamette University December 4-5 for a training titled ‘A Community Response to Climate Change’. The training – hosted by the Center for Earth Ethics, the Claremont School of Theology at Willamette University, the Climate Reality Project, and Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon – was convened to hear how communities around the state are already being impacted and how faith leaders can best respond. 

 

One of the principle goals of the conference was to create a stronger sense of community for faith leaders working on climate in Oregon. Advocacy on climate can be an isolating experience for many faith leaders who don’t find allies within their peer groups or in their own communities. Yet though climate change remains a politically charged topic, the felt realities of climate change refuse to be ignored. Many pastors in the room shared how their congregations are increasingly impacted and of the emotional and financial toll climate change brings. And while those in the rooms came from very different contexts around the state several common themes emerged among the group: struggles to address mental health issues related to climate change, a desire for better disaster preparedness, responses to wildfire, and an ever increasing need to care for immigrants and in-migrants moving to the state. 

While the problems facing communities are becoming startling clear the solutions to them remain clouded and somewhat distant. Working groups to address each of the issues were created to identify and imagine how the faith community could respond especially in regards to the most vulnerable in Oregon. There is no doubt that frontline and historically marginalized communities are feeling them the worst. It was important that these voices were present as conference attendees but also as speakers to highlight the struggles many of these communities face. We were grateful to hear from Oriana Magnera of Verde NW, Pastor E.D. Mondaine of the Portland NAACP, and Jeremy Five Crows of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. 

Ms. Magnera spoke to the need for better legislation to protect air quality, especially in low-income urban zones. It’s not by mistake that most bus depots and major thoroughfares are placed next to brown, black, and low-income neighborhoods leading to increased incidences of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. It is a problem that needs to be addressed immediately and once solved, will have cascading benefits for surrounding communities and their environments. This message was echoed by Pastor Mondaine as well, who through his work at the NAACP, has fought for community water and housing rights and meaningful climate legislation.  One such piece of legislation is the Portland Clean Energy Fund that “will lift up a community-led vision that builds resilience and wealth in the face of climate change and federal inaction.” 

Jeremy Five Crows challenged the audience to look at the religious and cultural impacts of climate change through the lens of the  First Foods tradition of the Umatilla Tribe which serves as a reminder to local tribes to care for the First Foods – water, fish, game, roots and berries – that care for them. As climate change worsens, each of these elements are threatened differently and must be cared for in their own ways. If left unaddressed, these foods may be lost to history taking with them a cultural and spiritual importance of generations. 

The problems set in front of us are limitless. Even in a room of pastors whose day job is to help others find hope and purpose, the reality of climate change weighs heavy. Climate change asks us to truly look into the void of not only our own mortality but of the morality of every aspect of the world which grounds us and gives us meaning. It means articulating a future not of hope and happiness but of loss and unknown change. It’s an existential weight that bears down on each generation differently. For the old it’s a question of what have they done? How could they leave behind such an awful legacy? For the young it’s wondering how to come to terms with a dramatic harrowing future. And for those somewhere in the middle its severing the promises we were told in our youths and doing our best to prepare the way for ourselves and those younger generations we’re now accountable to in ways we never imagined.

There’s always a way out of no way. There’s always reason to hope even if it’s not ready to be found. When we began the conference,  Rev. Michael Ellick of Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon reminded the room that we don’t have all the answers – and that’s ok. What we have is each other and the connections we make now are critical for dealing with tomorrow’s problems. We must grieve what is being lost while keeping ourselves open to the new life that emerges along the way. There’s always hope for the new. 

 

Heber Brown III | Facebook | Fair Use

On Faith and Food Disparities

 

Last week, Rev. Dr. Heber Brown joined the webinar series CEE hosts with the Climate Reality Project. 

Through the work at his church, Pleasant Hope Baptist, and the organization he founded, the Black Church Food Security Network, He and his congregation are attempting to unravel the strangle hold Food Apartheid Zones – more commonly know as Food Deserts – have on black and brown communities throughout Baltimore and around the country. The semantics between Food Desert and Food Apartheids is important. A desert, as Rev. Brown relays, is a naturally occurring phenomenon. Their being is necessary to the vitality of creation as a whole and foster life found nowhere else.

There is nothing natural about apartheid. By definition, apartheid is “a policy or system of segregation or discrimination on grounds of race” that is intended to harm or disadvantage an entire population. What we see with Food Apartheid are entire communities shut off from healthy, life sustaining foods. It is a conscious decision by grocery chains not to open stores in these locations because they don’t believe the communities will support their profit margins, think them too dangerous, or even that the communities wouldn’t know what to do with the fruits and veggies even if they were made available. Within this are layers of discrimination and racism that form a boot of oppression not easily lifted.

In this webinar, Rev. Brown helps unravel the history of  Food Apartheids, the misinformation that surround them, and actions that communities can take to reclaim power of their own food systems.

Center for Earth Ethics Affiliates with Columbia Earth Institute

Beginning October 2019, the Center for Earth Ethics will affiliate with the Earth Institute at Columbia University. Karenna Gore, as director of CEE, will become an ex-officio member of the EI Faculty.

The Earth Institute (EI) is comprised of nearly 2,000 professionals – including researchers, students, and academics – from across Columbia University. It is a unique gathering place for transdisciplinary conversations to advance Global Sustainability Solutions. EI understands that there is no single solution to sustainability in the time of climate change, and that only collaboration will we be able to adequately address the most pressing issues of our times

As a new partner, CEE will have the opportunity to contribute our earth ethical lens to these conversations. Our experience working with frontline, indigenous, and faith communities coupled with our comprehensive scholarship and research will be an important value add to the EI community.

It is an exciting opportunity to work with new partners to research and implement much needed solutions to the climate crisis. Look forward to future news about joint projects with EI and updates on ways to become more involved.

 

CEE Gains Consultative Status with United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)

The Center for Earth Ethics is pleased to announce that the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations adopted the recommendation of the Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) to grant Special Consultative status to CEE (via Union Theological Seminary).

Consultative status will enable the Center to actively engage with ECOSOC and its subsidiary bodies, as well as with the United Nations Secretariat, programs, funds and agencies in a number of ways. CEE will now be able to participate in the work of the Council, including opportunities to consult with Member States and the United Nations system at large.

Working directly with the United Nations will advance CEEs programmatic goals of advancing conversations between frontline and Indigenous communities with policymakers, providing policy recommendations, and establishing key relationships to encourage meaningful action on the climate crisis. It is an opportunity to work with high-level actors on the world’s most pressing issues at global summits and meetings. With consultative status, the Center will be informed of the Economic and Social Council provisional agenda and have the ability to request through the Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations that the Secretary General add items of special interest.

We will use this new platform to continue our mission of building a world where value is measured according to the sustained well-being of all people and our planet.

CEE Hosts Indigenous Leaders and Vatican Representative for Dialogue on a New Development Paradigm

In Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home (2015) Pope Francis wrote, “It is essential to show special care for Indigenous communities and their cultural traditions. They are not merely one minority among others, but should be the principal dialogue partners, especially when large projects affecting their land are proposed.”

Inspired, the Center for Earth Ethics partnered with the Indigenous Environmental Network and Forum 21 to host an intimate dialogue between Indigenous leaders and a representative from the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development to discuss the wisdom that Indigenous traditions offer to the world as we forge a new development paradigm, and how we all may support them as they protect their land.

Among those present were Dr. Aliou Niang (UTS Professor), Ken Kitatani (Forum 21), Dr. Mindahi Bastida (Otomi; CEE), Karenna Gore (CEE), Chief Dwaine Perry (Ramapough Lenape), Chief Ninawa, Tom Goldtooth (Dakota / Dine; Indigenous Environmental Network), Betty Lyons (Onandaga / Haudenosaunee; American Indian Law Alliance), Francisca Calfin (Mapuche), Clara Soaring Hawk (Ramapough Lenape Deer Clan), Bernadette Demientieff (Gwich’in), Fr. Augusto Zampini, Geraldine Ann Patrick Encina (CEE), and Petra Thombs (CEE).

2019 Ministers Training Applications are Open!

Ministry in the Time of Climate Change:
On Food and Faith

May 30 – June 1, 2019

At Methodist Theological School in Delaware, OH


“The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all.  It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.”
– Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture

Technological advances in the 20th and the 21st century offer many American consumers easy access to cheap and abundant food, much of which is traced to supply and labor chains around the world. The same advances have resulted in the depletion of soils, the overuse of fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides, greenhouse gas pollution, as well as increasing obesity and food related health issues. And within this system, millions in the U.S. and billions more across the globe go hungry each day. Food deserts persist across urban and rural America, and upwards of 41 million Americans are food insecure, 13 million of whom are children. This system keeps externalities hidden, supply high, and prices low affecting the long term health of soils, water, human beings and wildlife.

As climate change becomes more pronounced, communities around the world will have to become more self-sufficient and sustainable. This new model of resilience may entail some hardship, but it also brings the opportunity to create new, more robust community relationships with the land and one another. It is here that faith communities have unique opportunity to guide others by providing space, pastoral care, education and leadership.

This year’s conference will teach faith leaders how our current food system is contributing to the climate crisis, explore the impact climate change is having on farming and food security, and help empower attendees to take action on these issues in a way that aligns with their deepest values. The training is hosted by the Center for Earth Ethics, Methodist Theological School in Ohio (MTSO), and The Climate Reality Project. It will take place at MTSO May 30th-June 1st.

Applications:
Applications are open for the 2019 program. Application deadline is April 15, 2019. Applicants will be notified of decisions soon after.

Click here to submit an application.

Questions:
Please contact: Genie Cooper

How to Start a Green Team Webinar – with Rev. Kate McGregor Mosley

Once something is up and going it seems like it’s always been there but how do we start? Many churches have begun green teams to help green their churches and become more involved in their larger communities. It’s a way to give back and to practice the stewardship we preach.

In this webinar, the Center for Earth Ethics and Climate Reality Project have teamed up with Rev. Kate McGregor Mosley of Georgia Interfaith Power and Light to discuss best practices for starting up a green team in your own faith community.

 

Reducing Waste Webinar

In Matthew 7:5 Jesus warns his followers to remove the beam from their eyes before speaking to the speck of dust in someone else’s eye.

As we look at the causes of climate change it’s easy to point out who the big polluters are and how they need to change. There is no doubt that fossil fuels emissions need to draw down to zero and that our friends in agriculture, tech, and manufacturing need to clean up how they do business. That much is obvious. What can be less obvious, though, is how our own lives and the institutions we frequent contribute to the problem. Are we making the changes we need to see in order to prevent climate change? I for one can say that I’m trying but there’s a lot of work left to do.

In this webinar, the Climate Reality Project and Center for Earth Ethics teamed up with Rev. Kate Mosely from Zero Waste Church to talk about reducing waste in our faith communities and the things we can do as individuals to lessen our overall footprint. You can find good tips on how to start a similar project in your own faith house too!

Allensworth

Not many people know where Allensworth, CA is. Of all the people I asked in Fresno only one had heard of it. Allensworth is a small town about 30 miles north of Bakersfield that according to the last census is home to 471 people. The town leadership says its closer to 800 because of seasonal farm workers but the census didn’t bother or care to count them.

There are two Allensworths. The first can be found in Colonel Allensworth State Park, which memorializes the town founded in 1908 by Colonel Allen Allensworth, a black man. It was founded as the Tuskegee of the West and meant to be a town for African Americans run by and for African Americans.  By 1910, it was being heralded across the country as an improbable success. It had a functional school, general stores, a church, and all the other indications of a thriving community. Many of the men in the town were employed by the railroad company while others worked the verdant fields in the otherwise dry desert brown Tulare County Its success was apparently too much to bear for the white farmers in surrounding towns, though. That the rail line was diverted and irrigation water refused was no accident. Both went to service and advance white owned farms nearby. Problems were further exacerbated when elevated levels of arsenic were found in the water in the 1960s. More and more residents moved away and the town fell into disrepair. In 1976 it became a California State Park making the town and its residents a part of history.

Barely a few miles up the road from the park exists modern-day Allensworth. You would be forgiven if upon arrival you thought the town and its 800 residents had been forgotten to history as well. The homes are primarily single or doublewide trailers planted haphazardly on sun-hardened lots. There are holes where walls and roofs should be and barely an AC unit in sight to help manage the 115-degree heat in the summer. “This isn’t supposed to exist in America” many of us say. It’s dusty and uncomfortable.

A group of us came to Allensworth on an environmental justice tour to learn the history of Allensworth and to see where things stand now. It’s not great. We gathered at the elementary school to hear from local advocates and university researchers to be told the myriad problems that trouble the town. The arsenic is still in the water and so too are elecvated levels of lead and chromium II. Residents haven’t been able to drink their water for years yet they are still charged for it. There aren’t many jobs in Allensworth and the ones that are there don’t pay well. Many don’t have working septic systems and rely on outhouses to do their business. There’s no natural gas either so it’s not uncommon to see folks cooking their meals outside over wood or coal fires. Propane is the fuel of choice for those who can afford it.

Professors, researchers and non-profit leaders enumerated the problems in Allensworth to our small group including solutions that they hoped to install. The problem was that there was no money for the solutions. One researcher told us that with $10k they could fund potentially revolutionary research that would extract arsenic from the water supply, which would have far-reaching application for communities around the world.

$10k.

San Francisco is barely 4 hours away from Allensworth. In one of the world’s richest cities, 10k could be dropped at a bar on a Tuesday night without second thought. In Allensworth 10k is an impossible amount of money. The annual per capita income is $8,413. Median household income is $29,091. A venture capitalist could sneeze and solve half of the town’s troubles.

American history is a tired record of repeated injustices perpetuated towards non-white people. When Allensworth was founded it was 97% black. Now it’s 97% Latino which may or may not account for migrant laborers. The much maligned, alleged job-stealing Latino workers are certainly not living high off the hog. The mishmash of dirt and paved roads that make up the town betray as much. Parts of Allensworth look like a shantytown. There are a few houses that demonstrate wealth is to be found in Allensworth but their relative opulence makes the surrounding poverty so much more pronounced and painful. It’s a reminder that wealth can and should be possible in a place like this but due to systems beyond the control of the community it simply isn’t.

According to a 2016 report, the Central Valley generates more than $21 billion in revenue (though Chinese growers are biting into these profits), which obviously doesn’t make it back to the communities of farmers who harvest the crop. There are more than a handful of farm owners who see the lion share of the profits and have encouraged short-term investments from Wall Street types who want to cash in on the dividends almonds supply.

Problem is that almonds demand incredible amounts of water to produce. For instance, it takes an entire gallon of water to produce a single almond. That’s a shocking amount of water anywhere and is especially shocking in bone-dry Tulare County. It was reported by the SF Weekly one farmer in particular, Stewart Resnick, used more than 400,000 acre-feet of water to grow his mixture of almonds, pistachios, citrus, and other crop which represented two thirds the annual consumption of Los Angeles.  

Despite all the water pumped into Tulare and its surrounding counties there is still little for the farm workers who live there. In a small community owned plot, locals have an experimental community garden in the works. Among other things, the garden grows leafy vegetables, watermelons, and okra. All crops are grown above ground to avoid contamination from the arsenic rich soil. Problem is that there aren’t good reliable water sources for homes and even less for their gardens. Large plastic water cisterns were given to the community to help irrigate their crops yet they aren’t wholly functional and making them so presents another obstacle in a queue of already too many.

Like every environmental justices issue, Allensworth is the product of choice. The choice systems and the individuals who create those systems to preferentializes the rich at the expense of the poor; that are willing to utilize racist policies to disembowel a community because of their skin color. Systems that make land and water management decisions that create short-term economic gains that jeopardize the land and community alike. That refuse to pay a living wage, provide benefits, or social services and then wonder why the people struggle.

If things don’t change, the Central Valley’s farming days are numbered. If it weren’t for extensive and expensive irrigation infrastructure nothing would be able to grow. The sources of that water, the Sierra Nevadas, with its ancient Sequoias and water tables, no longer see the same rainfall as they once did. Nor is the snowpack as voluminous or long lasting as it once was. At some point the water there will dry up and so too will the Central Valley. For those outside the Valley it will be a sad footnote along with so many others. But for those in the Valley and the Valley itself it is the end of a story and a reminder of the devastating results of the hubris of men. The soil is rich there and the growing season is abnormally long but both these can be wiped away by shortsighted greed and a fundamental ignorance of what eco-systems need in order to be healthy.

Residents call Allensworth “the town that refuses to die.” Despite the exhausting number of problems the town faces its residents remain proud and hopeful. Some wonder why the residents don’t just pack up and move. But to where? The poverty that haunts Allensworth isn’t dissimilar to the hourly wage-worker in Fresno, Bakersfield, or San Francisco. Nor would their departure signal a change to the environmental degradation in the Central Valley. No problem has ever been solved by running away from it. There are solutions to be had that empower communities and allow them to be self-sustaining but that would require systemic changes that gives more money and power back to the workers, and implementing ecologically minded practices that do no exhaust the land or the people who work it. They are changes that need to be made and fast otherwise the problems will grow to a magnitude we as a society are unable to address.