With Hope and Trepidation

By Bill McKibben

United Methodist Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org and catalyst for the fossil fuel divestment movement, reflects on the meaning of the upcoming fossil fuel screening votes in The United Methodist and Presbyterian USA churches.

I was baptized in the Presbyterian Church on the West Coast; having ended up in the mountains of the northeast, I’ve spent my adult life as a Methodist. And so it is with hope and trepidation that I watch as the denominations that mean so much to me consider divestment.

I know how easy it is for institutions to take the easy way—to issue proclamations of good intent but then let the ‘cooler heads’ of the status quo prevail when it comes to real action.

Hope because I know how many good people have worked so hard to push this to the front of the church agendas. Hope because I know how important it’s been to watch others divest: when the Episcopalians and the UCC and the Unitarians joined in, it was a real blow to the brand reputation of the big fossil fuel companies. Hope because I know that young people in particular have been the motive force of this global effort, and so it will make the church that much more relevant to people still seeking meaning in their lives. Hope because it links the current climate fight to the last huge divestment movement, that which helped upend South African apartheid. As Desmond Tutu said when he helped launch this divestment campaign, this is the great human rights crisis of our time.

It’s time to break with the easy choices and make the hard ones—as people of faith have so often been called on to do through history.

Trepidation because I know how easy it is for institutions to take the easy way—to issue proclamations of good intent but then let the ‘cooler heads’ of the status quo prevail when it comes to real action. This choice is a particularly easy one because fossil fuel investments have done so badly—even so, it’s easier for finance committees and pension trustees to just keep doing what they’ve always done. But if they do—well, my real trepidation is about how fast the climate is changing. Month after month we crush all the old records for global temperature. The world God left us to take care of, the one that God pronounced “good,” is disappearing with lightning speed. That means it’s time to break with the easy choices and make the hard ones—as people of faith have so often been called on to do through history. Now is our chance.

 

This article is co-posted by Fossil Free PCUSA. Photo by Steve Liptay.