Sunday, June 26, 2022


At the ongoing Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly, there was a little bit of action this week.  After considerable debate, the decision was made to divest from five companies that produce fossil fuels.  The rationale was, of course, driven by the desire to do something about the climate crisis.  As we together recognize that this is a real issue, one that will fundamentally impact billions of human beings, well, it makes sense to do something.

So we did.  We're selling our holdings in five stocks, and reinvesting them in businesses that are more oriented towards a sustainable future.  This is a good thing.  It's a win!  And we do need wins.  

There was, however, "considerable debate."  How considerable?  Well, we're Presbyterian.  The process of meeting, making more motions, debating, amending motions, discussing, and sending to committees for review, and then having other committees discuss and debate the aforementioned review?  

That process began in the year of our Lord Two Thousand and Thirteen.  

It is now (checks watch) Two Thousand Twenty Two.

Nine years.  It took us NINE YEARS.  An eighth-grader in the year we began the conversation could have graduated from college before we finally got around to...selling five stocks.  Was it the right thing to do?  Absolutely.  Ethical and socially responsible investing is an entirely legitimate moral imperative.   And the political dynamics of a church that is a mixed body do require time.

But for all of that effort, it feels like...really...not all that much.  The five companies involved, all vast multinationals, will be utterly unaffected.  The stock holdings will be sold, and others will buy them, and business will continue on.  Net measurable reduction in carbon emissions: zero.

What if we'd gone bigger?  Something demanding, like insisting that, across the board...inclusive of every single member of the church...we reduce our carbon emissions by 30% in a decade?  Something real and tangible, something that could be measured in megatons of carbon.

There are folks now within the church calling for us to do exactly that.  It seems like a huge ask, but it isn't.

Because we already did.

In a single decade, the Presbyterian Church USA cut our gross carbon emissions by almost a third.  Members of the PCUSA now emit over eight million tons less carbon annually than we did nine years ago.  I know, I know, you've not heard of this initiative.  But it really happened.  How did we manage this?

In 2013, when we started our process of exploring the dynamics of considering divestment from fossil fuels, the Presbyterian Church USA had One Million Seven Hundred and Sixty Thousand members.

In 2022, that number was One Million One Hundred Ninety Three Thousand, Five Hundred and Thirteen.

We shrank by a third, divesting ourselves of over half a million human beings.  

Being that we're American and all, each of those human beings emitted, on average, 16 tons of carbon per year.  As they're no longer technically part of the PCUSA, we can say with accuracy that our total carbon emissions, as a denomination, have diminished by eight million tons annually.  In only nine years!

This is...something less than a win.