Bill McKibben talks to interfaith crowd in Portland.
Bill McKibben talks to interfaith crowd in Portland.
Faith communities should be at the forefront in the fight to derail the fossil fuel industry’s current business plan, which prioritizes profit over climate justice.

That was the message shared last month by author Bill McKibben during an interfaith conversation, sponsored by the Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon’s Interfaith Power and Light Project. McKibben has written extensively about the science and politics behind global warming for the general public.

“We’ve known the signs for 25 years and we have a 25-year bipartisan record of accomplishing nothing,” the climate activist said. The problem isn’t a lack of information or science, he said, but instead the problem is powered by the richest industry on Earth.

“We have real theologians in here, so they can correct me, but my guess is that the fossil fuel industry has more money than God,” McKibben said to the crowd at First United Methodist Church in Southwest Portland. In the audience were church leaders from a variety of denominations.

That means people will have to find other currencies to fight the industry — like passion, creativity or spirit, he said.

McKibben called the roomful of church leaders to start by rallying for divestment, demanding that faith communities cleanse their funds of any investments that support the fossil fuel industry. 

Climate activists’ message is finally getting politicians’ attention, McKibben said.  
Earlier this month, at the request of climate change activists, Portland Mayor Charlie Hales announced his support for fossil-fuel divestment in Portland and urged the state of Oregon to follow suit.

President Obama identified climate disruption as an ethical matter during a speech in June.

“We know that the costs of these events can be measured in lost lives and lost livelihoods, lost homes, lost businesses, hundreds of billions of dollars in emergency services and disaster relief.  In fact, those who are already feeling the effects of climate change don’t have time to deny it — they’re busy dealing with it,” he said to a crowd of young people at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. The president called for the United States to become a leader in the global fight to reduce carbon emissions.

Pope Francis has frequently denounced the culture of consumerism and waste that has become so ingrained in many developed countries. On World Environment Day in June he said, “We are living in a time of crisis: we see this in the environment, but above all we see this in mankind ... Man is not in charge today, money is in charge, money rules.”  

Valerie Chapman, pastoral administrator of St. Francis Parish in Southeast Portland, said that simply swapping out “green” products for traditional products isn’t good enough.

“Our life needs to change,” she said. “We need to be able to speak about the value of life in a different way.”

Many Oregon congregations and denominations are already taking divestment proposals to the national level of their faith organizations, or starting to implement national resolutions.

Catholic News Service contributed to this article.