Word from Winkler — At what cost?

This week, I heard a brilliant presentation regarding the consequences of all the fracking, tar sands and oil-field development going on in the United States. The latest iterations of fossil-fuels extraction are causes of great concern.

The latest iterations of fossil-fuels extraction are causes of great concern.

Fracking or hydraulic fracturing, for example, entails injecting toxic fluid into the ground at extremely high pressure to fracture shale rocks and release natural gas. During fracking, methane gas and toxic chemicals leach out and contaminate nearby groundwater. More than 1,000 cases have been documented of water contamination next to areas undergoing fracking.

Tar sands oil, on the other hand, is among the dirtiest and, consequently, most costly to refine. To extract this resource, oil companies are digging up thousands of acres of pristine forest in Alberta, Canada, leaving behind a toxic wasteland. This tar sands oil is what will be transferred from Canada across the United States through the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

Climate change occurring

I am among the vast majority of people in the world who believe climate change is occurring. We have reached a point where those who previously denied climate change are less likely to debate whether or not change is occurring, but rather ascribe natural, historic variations in the earth’s temperature as the cause. I am convinced, however, that human activity is playing an adverse role in climate change as well. Despite the naysayers, we ought to pay attention to scientific facts before it’s too late.

I am among the vast majority of people in the world who believe climate change is occurring.

As you might expect, there are those, especially in corporations profiting from fossil fuel, who oppose efforts to move toward greater use of solar and wind energy. They have had considerable success in convincing many people of the notion that climate change is a hoax.

This reminds me of a memorable moment during the meeting of a Church & Society legislative subcommittee at the 2008 General Conference, our denomination’s highest policy-setting body. When delegates were debating a petition, one clergyperson who opposed the measure declared, “Facts don’t sway me none.”

In recent months several United Methodist annual conference newspapers and online publications from the Dakotas and Texas have reported a sense of great excitement about the growth of churches in local communities where oil drilling, fracking, and/or the building of the Keystone XL pipeline is underway.

One article noted, “God’s abundance is all around us for welcoming new people into Christian community.”

Is it legitimate to ask?

Praise God for that. I do hope and pray mission work in these areas does result in more people coming to know Christ.

Is it ever legitimate to also ask: At what cost? Should we be excited about growing new churches when the oil drilling and hydraulic fracking in those communities may well hasten environmental catastrophe? Are we so profoundly panicked over long-term membership loss that we are gleeful to be, in effect, complicit in this pollution, melting of the polar ice cap, rising sea levels, and higher temperatures around the world?

There is no glory to be found in the destruction of God’s Creation.

I confess to feeling perplexed and chagrined at the level of enthusiasm developing over church growth in communities relying on unsustainable, harmful fossil-fuel extraction. What would we say on Judgment Day? “Well, yes, Lord, human, animal and plant life became unsustainable because of these industries, but at least The United Methodist Church grew in membership.”

A movement is growing around the world for divestment from the fossil-fuel industry. Albeit in early stages, the General Board of Church & Society has been in conversations for over a year with other United Methodist entities about whether we should continue to profit from the exploitation and desecration of God's Good Creation.

The conversations have not reached critical mass yet. I suspect this is because our boards and agencies, annual conference foundations, local churches, schools, colleges and universities, and others have many millions of dollars invested in oil and gas companies.

If we are keen to create new faith communities in areas where fossil-fuel extractive industries are booming, can we not at the very least commit ourselves to the statement of our General Conference on energy policy: “A transition to energy efficiency and renewable energy sources will combat global warming, protect human health, create new jobs, and ensure a secure, affordable energy future.”

There is no glory to be found in the destruction of God’s Creation.

Letter to the Editor