Tim DeChristopher: Church & Climate Change

Tim DeChristopher: Church & Climate Change

Tim DeChristopher is a familiar name on campus. In fact he could be the poster boy for the Mountainfilm in Telluride. Not only does the man embody Mountainfilm’s motto, “Celebrating the Indomitable Spirit,” he is the exclamation point on the event’s driving idea: awareness into action.

Tim began attending Mountainfilm years ago. That was even before George & Beth Gage’s whip-smart, tightly-structured, emotionally astute, and beautifully shot documentary “Bidder 70″ premiered at Mountainfilm (before going on to win more awards at film festivals across the country).

“Bidder 7o” is about Tim and the act of civil disobedience that halted the midnight sale by Bureau of Land Management of thousands of acres of pristine Utah land surrounding major national parks. It was an action that sent Tim to jail for about two years. Upon his release in April 2013, he went to study at Harvard Divinity School.

Here, a little over a month before Mountainfilm – which starts with a symposium on Afghanistan Friday, May 22– Tim DeChristopher weighs in on EcoWatch, saying “The Church Should Lead Not Follow on Climate Justice.”

Recently, there has been a growing discussion of climate change as a moral issue, both in academia and in religious communities. This past fall I spoke at three religion and climate change conferences in as many months, including a conference at Harvard Divinity School, “Spiritual and Sustainable: Religion Responds to Climate Change,” and in June 2015 I will join many global thinkers at a process theology conference on climate change in Claremont, California.

Not only has the fossil fuel industry continued trading human lives for profit, but, since it is difficult to convince free people to poison their own water sources or blow up their own backyards, it has increasingly killed democracy in order to keep killing people for profit, courtesy EcoWatch

The highly anticipated encyclical from Pope Francis on climate change will undoubtedly contribute and bring attention to this discourse. Frequently, however, the acknowledgment that climate change is a moral issue on which religious people should engage is the end of the conversation. There has not been nearly enough discussion about what it means to engage with this moral challenge. We have not yet answered how and where we should be taking our stand in response to climate change. I argue that when religious people answer the call of the climate crisis, we must bring real moral leadership to the climate justice movement.

The first kind of engagement with the climate crisis is usually a change in consumer behavior, reducing one’s personal carbon footprint. In our consumer-focused society, it is not surprising that the first obvious role to which we turn is that of a consumer. We see thousands of advertisements a day that remind us we are consumers. So when we seek to make an impact, we immediately think of our power as consumers. After first changing our personal carbon footprints, we then turn to our collective consumption and try to impact our organizational carbon footprint. In the buildup to the pope’s encyclical, I’ve already heard some talk about getting Catholic churches to weatherize their buildings and put solar panels on their roofs.

This is useful and important work, but, as the history of the climate movement demonstrates, this obsession over consumer behavior has limited benefit and tends to reinforce the mindset that created the problem in the first place. We got to this point of environmental crisis by “buying” into the notion that our value as people lies in our role as consumers. Furthermore, this focus on consumer activism naturally becomes a rich person’s movement. The mantra of “vote with your dollars” means that those without many votes (dollars) don’t matter very much.

Part of the role of the church is to remind us that we are more than consumers…

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