Category: Sustainability and Global Affairs

A Time for Change

The coronavirus pandemic should be understood as a dress rehearsal for climate change. The rapidity and breadth of its impact has been too much for our systems to bear. It’s put health care, social security, food systems, sanitation, and most everything else to the absolute test. Thus far food is still getting to the grocery stores and medical care continues to be given but the question remains for how long? If the pandemic continues assaulting the world for months on end can we trust that our supply chains will continue to hold steadfast? Our globalized world is absolutely dependent upon safe, efficient, and guaranteed shipping.

Depending on perspective, globalization and free trade are a gift. It created huge wealth across the globe, decreased costs associated with manufacturing and trade, and developed a model that maximizes efficiencies across the entirety of the global economy. Geographic regions around the world contribute to the creation of singular products, with favorites in separate companies making component parts for a whole product that is sold globally. It’s efficient, low cost, high revenue, and creates cheap replicable products that weed out competition.

Seen another way, the globalized model rooted out the ability for local development of goods and services, notably manufacturing and agriculture. It’s why there are food desserts, which should more appropriately be called food apartheid zones in cities surrounded by farmland. The majority of farmland around the world has been dedicated to monocropping staple crops that are then shipped globally rather than locally. For instance, half of the United States arable farmland is monocropped.

The global food chain of course allows there to be bananas in Wisconsin in the winter and wheat from the United States is sent to food starved areas across the world. But it also means that our food access is completely reliant on a complex exchange between nation states and private enterprises rather than local farmers and ranchers. If any links in the supply chain break then a global food crisis would be inevitable. We are not that far away. The United Nations has provided warning that food shortages may be imminent with food production facilities and farms losing workers to the disease.

What the coronavirus has demonstrated is that our system of global interdependence is not as stalwart as we would like or need it to be. South Korea is using the unfortunate opportunity provided by the coronavirus to push for greener economies and infrastructure. They see what needs to be done to encounter climate change and are working towards it. Some countries are going the other direction. China recently announced 34 gigawatts (GW) of new coal power — equivalent to Poland’s annual output — adding to the 147 GW it already produces annually from coal. The China Development Bank (CDB) and China Export-Import Bank (CHEXIM) — have also provided over $226 billion in loans to South East Asian countries — Vietnam, Indonesia, India, and the Philippines over the past two decades. It’s created a boom of renewed production and confidence in the fossil fuel sector while dealing a huge blow to conservation and environmental efforts, let alone the hope of hitting the Paris Climate Agreement targets.

Not only are these actions inane they are deeply immoral and make very little long-term economic sense. What does make sense is a re-evaluation of and a commitment to investment strategies that fund locally focused regenerative agriculture projects and renewable energy production. Regeneration International describes regenerative farming as: ”farming and grazing practices that, among other benefits, reverse climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity — resulting in both carbon drawdown and improving the water cycle.” At present, agriculture globally is responsible for nearly 30% of global emissions. Regenerative farming techniques, on the other hand, have the potential to to sequester upwards of two tons of carbon per hectare. Additionally, it is estimated locally focused regenerative farming has the ability to employ upwards of 32 people for every million dollars in production revenue creating a net-positive boon for local economies and mitigating climate change.

Despite a pledge to green their portfolios, the majority of MDBs continue to heavily resource fossil fuel infrastructure. This is true for other banks and crediting agencies. For instance, “from 2016–2018 Export Credit Agencies (ECAs) provided $31.6 billion annually to support fossil fuel projects” — $7.1 billion for coal and $24.5 billion for oil and gas. By comparison, ECAs only gave $2.7 billion per year for renewable energy. Common wisdom has held that investing in fossil fuels is a guaranteed money maker. This belief continues to hold even though half the coal plants in the world are projected to lose money in 2020. Furthermore, the coronavirus pandemic has plummeted oil to nearly $10 a barrel. Rather than bet on oil rebounding and investing heavily in it, let’s make moves in the other direction.There is no better time than now to transition away from fossil fuels. Renewable energy has a higher economic upside and the long term viability that fossil fuels do not. We need MDBs and ECAs to move their investments towards renewable energy and local economies. It will strengthen local resilience and create new energy and economic pathways that are not dependent on fossil fuel economies. This transition will be slow but it is necessary if we want to guarantee a future worth living into.

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. 

 

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.

Facing Devastation in the Amazon

by Guest Contributor, Alfredo Sirkis, Executive Director of the Brazil Climate Center / Climate Reality Project

 

The confrontation with donors like Germany and Norway, the increase of more than 273% of deforestation in the Amazon in July of this year, compared to the same month last year, the increase of invasions of indigenous land with the pollution of its rivers with Mercury; the sticking at IMPE (Brazil’s satellite image monitoring institute)  to “break the thermometer”, the foolish eager to hide the fever, are crazy episodes.

With an additional 5% of further destruction of the Amazon rainforest,  we can engender irreversible changes affecting the rain regime in the rest of the country. Floods, desertification, risks to agriculture, extreme winds, invasion of coastal areas by the sea, heatwaves make up the foretold drama of climate change. On the other hand,  global decarbonization action offers Brazil economic opportunities, if we can use and negotiate with intelligence the immense environmental services we offer, our advantages in low carbon agriculture and clean energy and the great availability for the reforestation and afforestation producing negative emissions.

Bolsonaro’s invectives and gross misinformation silence those in his government who understand the equation. Climate change is unquestionable, its recent extreme manifestations: the terrible cyclones in Mozambique, affecting three million people or the 46-degree heatwave in Nantes, France, are warnings of what is coming. 2019 will be the warmest year ever experienced by mankind.

The latest IPCC report, dealing with not exceeding 1.5 degrees by the end of the century, mentions the need to reforest an area the size of US territory. Brazil has at least 60 million hectares of degraded pasture for reforestation and afforestation, both native and economic. It has abundant sun and wind for clean energy, biofuels and is pioneering low carbon farming techniques. So why all this destruction?

It is not mainly modern agribusiness who illegally deforests, promotes land grabbing and spreads indigent livestock, purely for speculative purposes or poison rivers with mercury. These are criminal activities incited by president Bolsonaro and favored by his dismantling of federal environmental low enforcement institutions.  Agribusiness has much to lose from the international repercussions of the new outbreak of devastation, with worldwide repercussions.

Between 2004 and 2012, Brazil managed to reduce its deforestation in the Amazon from 27,000 km2 to less than 5,000 km2, reducing its CO2 emissions by 80%, more than any other country. Now the deforestation rises again, in full swing. How far will it go?

Bolsonaro hates environmental concerns. He believes they are “leftist stuff” but who were their pioneers in Brazil? Marshal Cândido Rondon, a life in defense of the Indigenous peoples, Major Manuel Archer, promoted greater urban reforestation to date, made in the Tijuca massif in the late 19th century, Admiral Ibsen Gusmão, all military.  Paulo Nogueira Batista, Marcelo de Ipanema, conservatives,  who can hardly be considered the “left-paws” of his idiosyncratic bullshit.

No, worrying about climate and biodiversity is not a “communist scheme”. It is our responsibility to the generation of our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, threatened by the catastrophic consequences that can still be contained but in a closing window of opportunity. Quickly.

Original Caretakers Director, joined Indigenous Voices in Brazil to support the SDG’s

In the International Decade of Action for Water (2018-2028) and International Year of Indigenous Languages 2019, and coinciding with the international day of indigenous peoples (August 9), the international hydrological program celebrated with a seminar on Indigenous Knowledge for Integral Water Management in Latin America and the Caribbean in Manaus, Brazil, August 8-9, 2019

Following the seminar, on August 10th in Manaus, indigenous leaders met for a time of reflection and discussion of Agenda 2030 for the Sustainable Development Goals. Indigenous peoples across the globe have long understood the value of water and the way it connects us.  CEE supports opportunities for indigenous peoples to gather, fortify their alliances and articulate wisdom that can inform new models of economic and environmental health for the well being of our people and our planet.

Center for Earth Ethics participates in the Annual Kofi Annan Faith Briefings

From the report by the Parliament of World Religions blog:

On Monday July 15th, 2019 the UN Task Force on Religion and Development and the Multi-Faith Advisory Council (CA) gathered for the Annual Kofi Annan Faith Briefings in New York.

In 2019, the program focused on the theme of Empowering People and Ensuring Inclusiveness and Equality: The Role of UN and Multi-Faith Collaboration and included keynotes from high-level experts and five panel discussions. The panel discussions focused on issues like multi-faith collaboration, intergenerational dialogue, the rights of children, and climate change. Explore the full list of programs here.

The Parliament participated in discussions moderated by Charles McNeill and Rev. Victor Kazanjian of URI and included eminent speakers including Jamil Ahmad from UN Environment,  Mary-Evelyn Tucker from the Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology, Gopal Patel from GreenFaith, Rev. Ken Kitatani from Forum 21, Karenna Gore from the Center for Earth Ethics, and Audrey Kitagawa from the Parliament of Worlds’ Religions.

More photos and Complete pdf Report

Council on Foreign Relations: CEE’s Karenna Gore presides over Combating Climate Change conversation

CEE Director, Karenna Gore presided over the conversation Combating Climate Change, Wednesday, June 26, 2019 at the Religion and Foreign Policy Workshop for the Council on Foreign Relations.

Distinguished Panel:

Jason Bordoff, Founding Director, Center on Global Energy Policy, Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs; Former Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Energy and Climate Change, National Security Council

Brenda Ekwurzel, Senior Climate Scientist and Director of Climate Science, Union of Concerned Scientists

Kanta Kumari Rigaud, Lead Environmental Specialist and Regional Climate Change Coordinator in the Africa Region, World Bank Group

***

Karenna opened the panel with this introduction:

“This is an important discussion to have in this place and time with exactly this group of people. The impacts of climate change are already here—stronger storms, record downpours and floods, deeper droughts, more destructive wildfires, melting ice and rising sea levels, loss of whole species of life in the sixth great extinction, and an increasing amount of strain and suffering among the most vulnerable peoples of the world. Week after week we see both scientific analysis and snapshots of experience. The news media is starting to connect the dots a bit more. This week, there are record high temperatures in Miami and Europe. This Friday, on the same day that our women’s soccer team is playing France in France, the temperature is expected to reach 113 degrees Fahrenheit in the southern part of that country.

The causes are also quite present among us. And if we can see them clearly, and confront and change them, we might be able to stop this tragedy from getting unimaginably worse. In addition to that, we must simultaneously work to adapt to the damage that has already been done to our ecological system, including those worsening impacts that will come no matter what we do now. And we must work to protect as many people from harm as we can.

The climate crisis is not merely an environmental crisis. It is an economic crisis. Yesterday’s New York Times included a report that Florida may have to build $76 billion worth of sea walls by 2040, perhaps causing some new thinking in that hotbed political state.

The U.N. Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights Philip Alston issued a report this week saying, “Climate change threatens to undo the last fifty years of progress in development, global health, and poverty reduction. It could push more than 120 million more people into poverty by 2030 and will have the most severe impact in poor countries, regions, and the places poor people live and work.”

It is a political crisis. We are already seeing the effect of the new government’s policies in Brazil in the Amazon rainforest and, of course, in this country as well. The outlines of the future of public discourse on this topic are already taking shape due to the demands and actions of a younger generation that is living the consequences. As the Swedish teenage activist Greta Thunberg has said, “Since our leaders are behaving like children, we will have to take the responsibility they should have taken long ago.”

It is a national security issue, as the United States military and intelligence communities have recognized and stated for decades. It is also a moral issue. It requires deep consideration of our moral obligations to one another across time and space. It asks us to consider our interconnections to nonhuman life, and whether we will value and protect it. It requires us to separate truth and delusion, and to have the courage to face down powerful interests as well as our own misguided habits and patterns. And for many, many people, it presents the question of the role of God or the divine, in whatever form or forms it takes, in the world.

Does God independently intervene in the course of events? Is God expressed within the laws of nature, in the chemistry, physics, and metaphysics of our world, in the very essence of the relationship between cause and effect, leaving us with free will to discern our fate? What is sacred? What is evil? The expertise of the world’s faith and wisdom traditions are seriously needed for this challenge.”

Combating Climate Change – complete video and transcript.

Poor Peoples Campaign Moral Action Congress in DC 2019

See complete summary and videos originally published at RepairersoftheBreach.org and more coverage from the Observer online.

The Poor People’s Moral Action Congress was held at Trinity Washington University from June 17-19, 2019, by the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. Nearly one thousand poor people, moral leaders, activists, and advocates from over 40 states across the country convened in Washington, D.C., for three days to strategize, learn, and build power together.

During the Congress, the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival launched the Poor People’s Moral Budget that shows concretely how to enact the demands of the Campaign. We held a Forum with 2020 Presidential Candidates when poor people from across the country will ask questions about the issues that impact their lives and we will hold a hearing from those most impacted by systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation, militarism, and the distorted moral narrative of Christian nationalism who are coming together to organize a movement.

On the second day of Congress, participants joined workshops or longer tracks to learn how and why we are building a moral fusion movement.

The last day featured a Congressional hearing before the house budget committee with voices from the campaign.

We closed with the exciting announcement of the Mass Poor People’s Assembly and Moral March on Washington next summer: June 20, 2020. Save the date!

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Want to read more? 

How the Poor People’s Campaign is Building a New Electorate: A conversation with Rev Liz Theoharris and Greg Kauffman for The Nation.

On Food & Faith: 2019 Ministry in the Time of Climate Change Highlights; Beyond Religion; and More…

Dear Friends,

What a weekend!  We had 150 faith leaders, activists, farmers, academics, and community leaders from around the Midwest (coasts too!) come together at Methodist Theological School in Ohio (MTSO) to learn how our food systems and land use impacts and is impacted by climate change. There are so many highlights to share and here are two. One was touring Seminary Hill Farms at MTSO and seeing veggies harvested for dinner the next day. Another were the presentations from Dr. Rattan Lal and Mr. Al Gore who spoke of the massive challenges in front of us but also the opportunities for hope and change. Yes it will be hard but we left the training feeling more prepared, with a renewed sense of community, and ready to act. A special thanks to all of the speakers and participants at the training.  And of course, thank you to our partners the Climate Reality Project, the Initiative for Food and AgriCultural Transformation at Ohio State University, and MTSO.

Please enjoy our photo album of the event including several highlights from our speakers.

Andrew Schwartz, CEE Deputy Director 


CEE Team Members at MTSO left to right:  Karenna Gore, Peggy Cusack,
Andrew Schwartz, Mindahi Bastida, and Genie Cooper.

Original Caretakers Upcoming Events

Image result for pulitzer center beyond religion

Image result for mary evelyn tucker

CEE’s Original Caretakers Program Director, Mindahi Bastida Munoz, will participate in a panel discussion on Religion and the Environment with Tiokasin Ghosthorse, Kalyanee Mam and Marianne Comfort. The panel will be moderated by Mary Evelyn Tucker, Co-Director, Forum on Religion and Ecology, Yale University. For the full conference schedule , visit the Pulitzer Center website.  Beyond Religion will take place June 8-9 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.


Environmental Justice: The Accidental Environmentalist

CEE’s Catherine Coleman Flowers at the MOUNTAIN FILM FESTIVAL – Telluride, CO showing of THE ACCIDENTAL ENVIRONMENTALIST: Catherine Flowers.  
Watch this Documentary Short


Eco-Ministry & Sustainability and Global Affairs

CEE’s Director, Karenna Gore on today’s panel “Focus on Faith: Planting and Nurturing the Seed of Climate Responsibility” Civil Society Briefing at the UN in New York City.