Humankind enjoys a unique place in God's universe. On the one hand, we are simply one of God's many finite creatures, made from the "dust of the earth," bounded in time and space, fallible in judgment, limited in control, dependent upon our Creator, and interdependent with all other creatures. On the other hand, we are created in the very image of God, with the divine Spirit breathed into us, and entrusted with "dominion" over God's creation (Genesis 1:26, 28; 2:7; Psalm 8:6). We are simultaneously caretakers with all creation and, because of the divine summons, caretakers with God of the world in which we live. This hybrid human condition produces both the opportunity and the twin dangers for humans on this planet.
The first danger is arrogance: that we may overestimate the extent of human control over our environment and the soundness of human judgments concerning it; that we may underestimate the limits of the planet where we live; and that we may misunderstand "dominion" to mean exploitation instead of stewardship.
The second danger is irresponsibility: that we may fail to be the responsible stewards of the earth. As stewards entrusted with dominion, then, we will demonstrate our faith in God by shaping the new human society that will emerge in the twenty-first century. We cannot, therefore, neglect the task of seeking to embody in the world the values that we hold in covenant with God. Nor can we forget the forgiving grace in Jesus Christ, which alone makes us bold enough, or the hope in Christ, which alone keeps us from despair.
The Values Involved in Energy Policy
The decisions that humans are now making will either enhance or degrade the quality of life on the planet. We have entered an era of greater energy interdependence. As the world confronts global issues such as climate change, energy inequity, and pollution, energy-related problems will require international solutions based upon the values of justice and sustainability.
The Scripture that provides the motive for our action in the present energy crisis also lays the foundation for the values that we seek to realize. These values underlying the policies we advocate are justice and sustainability.
(1) Justice. Ever since the first covenant between God and Israel, and especially since the eighth-century prophets, the people of God have understood that they bear a special concern for justice.
"Let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an everflowing stream" (Amos 5:24)
is a cry echoed in hundreds of contexts throughout the Old and New Testaments. Biblical righteousness includes a special concern for the least and the last: the poor, the captive, the oppressed (Luke 4:18; Isaiah 61:1-2). Energy policies that Christians can support, then, will seek to actualize the multifaceted biblical vision of justice. They will be policies that close rather than widen the gap dividing wealth and poverty, rich nations and poor. They will be measures that liberate rather than oppress. They will be programs that distribute fairly the benefits, burdens, and hazards of energy production and consumption, taking into consideration those not yet born as well as the living. They will thus be strategies that give priority to meeting basic human needs such as air, water, food, clothing, and shelter.
(2) Sustainability. Only recently have we humans come to recognize that creation entails limits to the resources entrusted to us as stewards of the earth. In particular, we have come up against limits to the nonrenewable fuels available for our consumption and limits to our environment's capacity to absorb poisonous wastes. These double limits mean that humans can betray their stewardship either by using up resources faster than they can be replaced or by releasing wastes in excess of the planet's capacity to absorb them. We now know that humans have the capacity to destroy human life and perhaps even life itself on this planet, and to do so in a very short period of time. Energy policy decisions, therefore, must be measured by sustainability as a criterion in addition to justice. In terms of energy policy, sustainability means energy use that will not: (a) deplete the earth's resources in such a way that our descendants will not be able to continue human society at the level that is adequate for a good quality of life, and (b) pollute the environment to such an extent that human life cannot be sustained in the future. These guidelines for sustainability must include considerations of quality of life as well as mere biological continuance.
We enjoy a highly sophisticated, industrialized world. It is not a realistic option for us to return to a world where people read by candlelight and heat with wood. Also, we should be aware of the tragic effects that steadily increasing energy costs will have, especially upon the aged and poor members of our society. All options available to the rich nations are not open to peoples in other parts of the world; hence, we should endeavor to develop just and equitable energy policies.
We must creatively explore all sustainable energy options available to us. There are environmental problems connected with certain energy options. We believe that the environmental problems of each energy source should be fully assessed. For example, the large-scale use of our coal resources poses many problems. Underground mining, in addition to operational accidents, causes disabling illness or death from black lung. Strip-mining can despoil an area and ruin it for further use if restoration measures are not practiced. The burning of coal causes large-scale pollution and seriously alters the environment by increasing the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere, contributing to global warming.
Hydroelectric power also has its problems. In addition to deaths from industrial accidents, many dam sites are (or were) attractive scenic areas. Destroying (or diminishing) such natural beauty areas is objectionable to most of us. Possible dam failure with the resultant flood damage must also be considered in evaluation of this source of power.
The use of petroleum products creates severe environmental problems. Tankers and offshore wells have created spills that have devastated seacoast areas; the damage is long-lasting or permanent. Air pollution, far from being under control, is a serious health problem, especially in centers of dense population.
The nuclear energy option also has many problems to be faced. The hazards in storing radioactive wastes for thousands of years and the destructive potential of a catastrophic accident involve a great risk of irreversible damage to the environment or to the human genetic pool.
(1) We support strenuous efforts to conserve energy and increase energy efficiency. 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. Economists have concluded that a greater increase in end-use energy can be gained through conservation and energy efficiency than through any single new source of fuel. Furthermore, conservation is nonpolluting and job producing. We include under conservation: insulation, co-generation, recycling, public transportation, more efficient motors in appliances and automobiles, as well as the elimination of waste, and a more simplified lifestyle. The technology for such steps is already known and commercially available; it requires only dissemination of information and stronger public support, including larger tax incentives than are presently available.
(2) All United Methodist churches, annual conferences, general boards and agencies are to be models for energy conservation by doing such things as: installing dampers in furnaces, insulating adequately all church properties, heating and lighting only rooms that are in use, using air circulation, purchasing energy efficient appliances, and exploring alternative energy sources such as solar energy. Local churches, camps, and agencies are urged to become involved in programs such as the Energy Stewardship Congregation program, thereby witnessing our shared values of justice and sustainability.
(3) All United Methodist Church programs and mission projects must model our sustainable and just energy values. We particularly urge the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) and the General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM) to support and fund renewable and energy efficient mission projects; and we urge the Church Architecture Office of the General Board of Global Ministries to make energy conservation and the use of renewables a prime design feature in new building design and renovations.
(4) We support increased government funding for research and development of renewable energy sources, especially solar energy, and government incentives to speed the application of the resulting technologies to our energy needs, wherever appropriate. The greatest national and international effort should be made in the areas of conservation and renewable energy sources.
(5) We encourage international lending institutions and aid agencies to promote sustainable and just energy policies.
(6) We oppose any energy policy that will result in continuing exploitation of indigenous peoples lands. The despoiling of indigenous peoples lands and the increased health and social-economic problems that have resulted because of oil exploration, hydroelectric projects, and the mining of coal and the milling of uranium must cease.
(7) We support national energy programs that will not increase the financial burden on the poor, the elderly, and those with fixed incomes. If a rapid rise in the price of fuel is necessary to smooth out distortions in the energy economy, as many economists believe, then means should be found to cushion the impact of such price increases on the poor. Furthermore, energy policies must guarantee universal service to all consumers, protecting low-income and rural residents.
(8) We support full cooperation of all nations in efforts to ensure equitable distribution of necessary energy supplies, the control of global warming, and rapid development and deployment of appropriate technologies based on renewable energy resources such as solar, wind, and water energy generation.
(9) We strongly encourage The United Methodist Church at all levels to engage in a serious study of these energy issues in the context of Christian faith, especially the values of justice and sustainability.
AMENDED AND READOPTED 2000
See Social Principles, ¶ 160B.
From The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church — 2004. Copyright © 2004 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Used by permission.