Environmental Issues at GA 223

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An Outline of Twelve Overtures.

In 2018, business before the Environmental Issues Committee of the PC(USA) General Assembly includes: engagement with vs. divestment from fossil fuel polluters, environmental racism, carbon pricing, reducing the use of polystyrene, and adopting the “precautionary principle” toward new technologies and strains of genetically engineered crops and foods.

Energy Divestment & Engagement

The most contentious debates will likely concern 08-01 (complete fossil fuel divestment), 08-08 (continued corporate engagement by MRTI), and other overtures relating to how the PC(USA) invests in/engages with energy corporations. Future articles will articulate different stances on this issue.

08-01 calls for wholesale divestment from fossil fuels and positive investment in renewable energy sources.
08-02 recommends selective divestment from firms matching certain criteria.
08-03 commends MRTI and recommends additional actions of activism and education about climate change.
08-06 calls for more prophetic witness on the issue of climate change.
08-08 is the report on MRTI’s work on corporate engagement.
08-10 requests positive investment in alternative energies from Board of Pensions, Presbyterian Foundation, and the Presbyterian Investment & Loan Program; the report gives MRTI 2 years to make recommendations for selective divestment if corporations do not respond.

As of June 4th, in this GA issue of Unbound three articles have been published regarding the fossil fuel divestment vs engagement debate:

Climate Action 100+: Amplifying MRTI’s Voice, Steven Webb
A Plea for Fossil Fuel Divestment, Kathy Dean
Capital or Christ? Standing with Climate Refugees is a Moral Test, Benjamin Perry

Environmental Racism/Environmental Injustice

These two overtures make very similar recommendations: opposing environmental racism, listening to the voices of people most impacted, and responding based on those voices.

08-04 mainly uses the term “environmental justice” and seeks to “position the church’s approach to environmental problems primarily as responses to the voices most directly impacted by environmental injustice”
08-05 focuses on “environmental racism,” but only seeks to to “include responses to the voices most directly impacted by environmental racism”

The rationales for the two overtures differ, though each begins with the same verse from scripture: Luke 4:16-18. The two overtures could easily be combined, choosing whichever language the Committee (or full Assembly) finds preferential in each case.

Carbon Pricing

08-09 advocates for a “Carbon Fee and Dividend,” a form of carbon pricing that distributes the carbon tax among all families after it is paid, and for enforcing carbon pricing equally at the border and within the country.
08-12 makes a recommendation for carbon pricing, like 08-09. It is more open-ended about the form of pricing, but makes specific recommendations certain aspects of the church’s engagement

Of the two as written, ACSWP prefers 08-09 because it specifies taxing carbon upstream (when it first enters the economy). The Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns endorsed both resolutions. The two resolutions could be combined in some way, though not as easily as 08-04 and 08-05.

Precautionary Principle and Polystyrene Reduction

08-07, a recommendation from the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy, advocates applying the Precautionary Principle to new technologies (a full evaluation of risks before commercial distribution, placing the burden of proof on the new technology’s advocate).
08-11 recommends reducing the use of polystyrene at all levels of the church, as much as possible.

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This outline was compiled by Henry Koenig Stone, who serves in Louisville, KY as current Managing Editor of Unbound and Associate staff to ACSWP. Henry holds a B.A. in Economics (2015) from the University of Chicago and an MPP (2017) from UChicago’s Harris School of Public Policy. His past work has focused on policy analyses of healthcare pilot programs and public health systems. 

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