Eco-Justice Ministries  

Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

Strategic, Collective Action
distributed 9/11/15 - ©2015

Last week's Notes, for the Labor Day weekend, suggested that the environmental movement needs to claim the sort of strategic, collective action is so characteristic of the labor movement. I wrote:

Without collective efforts and unified goals, we have little impact on economic and cultural systems. Personal choices may help influence the products and services that are offered in the marketplace, but they can't operate strongly enough to rewrite the social rules. Collective action toward institutional and systemic change is necessary to challenge and break down the societal rules that lead to environmental devastation.

That's a fine philosophical assertion. But last week's missing piece was some specific guidance about what that kind of collective action might involve. Today, I'll offer a few suggestions for established and respected activism that would be appropriate for both individual engagement, and for congregational study and action.

My short list of issues and leaders, obviously, is not comprehensive. Nor is it "safe", with relatively non-controversial goals. I won't be surprised if you disagree with at least one the specific initiatives that I highlight! The ones named here, though, are established projects involving broad coalitions working on topics of great importance for eco-justice action. These are examples of that collective effort with (relatively!) unified goals.

I invite your comments, and your suggestions for other areas of engagement.

Divestment from fossil fuels
I've provided information and encouragement about divestment several times in Notes over the last two years [including 5/3/13, 5/30/14, 3/13/15], and I continue to stress this as a powerful strategy for challenging the power of the fossil fuel industry.

The divestment movement is focused on the 200 largest producers of fossil fuels globally (100 coal, and 100 oil and gas). Refusing to own stocks in those companies is an action of moral witness, and the call for divestment is raising fruitful questions in the financial world about the long-term viability of such investments. The demand for fossil-fuel-free investment funds is leading to the creation of new portfolios that are reputable and well-performing. Those new funds make divestment a more viable option for individuals and small organizations.

The list of divesting institutions -- denominations, congregations, foundations, pension funds, colleges and universities -- continues to grow. And many individuals are also divesting. But even if an institution that you have targeted does not act to divest (yet!), the conversation and debate is, in itself, a valuable act of social change.

Congregations can study divestment, take action on their own investments, and participate in denominational advocacy. Individuals can get engaged with their colleges and seminaries. Our good colleagues at GreenFaith have excellent resources.

Changing the price of carbon
It is widely recognized that slashing the use of fossil fuels (as a way of cutting greenhouse gas emissions) will require some mechanism to increase the cost of carbon. Many of the carbon pricing plans "internalize" the now hidden ("externalized") costs of burning coal, oil and gas -- not only climate impacts, but also health and other environmental effects.

There are many proposals for how to shift the price of carbon, and the details are often complicated. The one that looks to me like the best for individual and congregational work is the "fee and dividend" proposal that is being promoted by the Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL). Under this proposed legislation, all of the revenue raised by a fee on the carbon content of fossil fuels would be returned to American households.

Citizens Climate Lobby is a non-partisan, grassroots advocacy organization with chapters in hundreds of US legislative districts. Those chapters can provide you (individually, or your congregation) with information, training, and opportunities to participate in the movement.

Fostering democracy
Especially since the Citizens United decision from the US Supreme Court, massive spending and corporate influence are distorting political processes. Eco-justice efforts -- on climate change, environmental justice, food safety, water quality, etc. -- are often blocked by these strong financial and corporate interests. Two initiatives offer ways to engage the movement to reclaim democracy.

  • Move to Amend is the most comprehensive effort to undo Citizens United. They seek an amendment to the US Constitution to firmly establish that money is not speech, and that human beings, not corporations, are persons entitled to constitutional rights. The grassroots organization, with many affiliate groups and endorsing organizations around the country, has a variety of ways to be involved in the movement.

  • Campaign finance reform is another strategy to reduce the power of big money in elections. (How much big money? In the 2012 elections, the top 32 donors to "super PACs" -- giving an average of $9.9 million each -- gave as much as all 3.7 million small donors gave to President Obama and Mitt Romney.) There are several generally-similar proposals for public financing of elections (such as the Fair Elections Now Act). Many of them would provide matching funds for small donations, making a $50 contribution worth $300 to a campaign that refuses large contributions. Organizations like Public Citizen and the U.S.PIRG are coordinating advocacy for some of the campaign finance reform options.

Ecological health
There are countless issues dealing with wildlife and ecological health. In terms of participation in a large and focused movement, I'll highlight the efforts to protect pollinators from damaging chemicals.

One of the most prominent aspects of that movement addresses the danger to bees from pesticides (neonicotinoids). "Neonics" are believed to be a significant factor in the crisis of declining bee populations. Many advocacy groups (Beyond Pesticides, Friends of the Earth , SumOfUs, EarthJustice) are working for corporate and regulatory action.

Study and action -- by individuals and congregations -- can move beyond the specific issue of neonicotinoids, and explore the ecological and economic importance of bees and other pollinators, and look at the pervasive and often poorly regulated use of agricultural and garden chemicals. This is a good "gateway" issue to broader movement involvement.

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These are my personal suggestions for a few issues and organizations where eco-justice advocates can be engaged in strategic, collective action. There are, of course, many other causes where coordinated action is taking place. I strongly encourage you become involved in these effective ways "to challenge and break down the societal rules that lead to environmental devastation."

For Eco-Justice Ministries' faith-based constituency, participation in these forms of movement activism is an important part of our work for social justice and ecological sustainability.


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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