Environmental Justice for a Sustainable Future

Humankind is destroying the global ecological balance that provides the life-support systems for the planet. Signs of the crisis are evident all around us. The global ecological imbalance produces environmental destruction.

Polluted air pervades the atmosphere. Garbage abounds, with little space for disposal. Polluting gases destroy the ozone layer and cause global warming. Deforestation leads to soil erosion, a lack of carbon storage, inadequate water quantity and poor quality, and the loss of species, resulting in a reduction in biological diversity. The misuse of pesticides and fertilizers contributes to the poisoning of our soils and creates products harmful to all life.

Present social, political, and economic development structures fail to provide the basic necessities of food, clothing, and shelter for all our brothers and sisters around the world with more than 1.2 billion people currently living in absolute poverty. And the world population is projected to grow by another 3 billion people in the next fifty years. This growth, combined with higher standards of living, will pose severe strains on land, water, energy, and other natural resources.

Historical and Theological Concerns

Through the ages, a theological base for the domination of creation was found in Genesis 1:28: "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over . . . every living thing that moves upon the earth." Misinterpretation of "subdue" and "dominion" has been used to justify much of the nature-destroying aspects of modern civilization.

The scale of human activity has grown so large that it now threatens the planet itself. Global environmental problems have become so vast that they are hard to comprehend. Between 1955 and 2000, the human population has more than doubled to 6.1 billion. During the same time, the consumption of fossil fuels has quadrupled with North Americans using fossil fuels at a per capita rate ten times greater than citizens of developing nations. The vast majority of scientific evidence suggests that the carbon dioxide from fossil fuels has already caused a measurable warming of the globe. Destruction of habitat, especially tropical rain forests, is causing the loss of species at an ever-increasing rate. Valuable topsoil is being depleted. There is a recurring hole in the ozone layer. More ultraviolet radiation now reaches the earth, which may cause more cancers, poorer crop growth, and damage to the immune systems of humans and other animals.

Confronted with the massive crisis of the deterioration of God's creation and faced with the question of the ultimate survival of life, we ask God's forgiveness for our participation in this destruction of God's creation. We have misused God's good creation. We have confused God's call for us to be faithful stewards of creation with a license to use all of creation as we see it. The first humans had to leave the garden of Eden when they decided they had permission to use all of creation despite warnings to the contrary. We have denied that God's covenant is with all living creatures (Genesis 9:9). We have even denied that all of the human family should enjoy the covenant. We forget that the good news that we are called to proclaim includes the promise that Jesus Christ came to redeem all creation (Colossians 1:15-20).

We believe that at the center of the vision of shalom is the integration of environmental, economic, and social justice.

We are called to eliminate overconsumption as a lifestyle, thus using lower levels of finite natural resources.

We are called to seek a new lifestyle rooted in justice and peace.

We are called to establish new priorities in a world where 40,000 children die of hunger each day.

Therefore, we are called to a global sense of community and solidarity leading to a new world system of international relationships and economic/environmental order. In this way, the misery of 1.2 billion poor now living in absolute poverty can be alleviated and the living ecosystem be saved.

Principles for a Sustainable Future

The Social Principles of The United Methodist Church remind us that "all creation is the Lord's, and we are responsible for the ways in which we use and abuse it" ( 160). Development must be centered in the concept of sustainability as defined by the World Commission of Environment and Development: "to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." The Christian understanding of sustainability encompasses this concept. Fundamental to our call as faithful witnesses is the meeting of human needs within the capacity of ecosystems. This ensures the security of creation and a just relationship between all people. Sustainable development, therefore, looks toward a healthy future in three vital areas: the social community, the economy, and the environment.

Conclusion

The United Methodist Church will strive for a global sense of community to help achieve social, economic, and ecological justice for all of creation.

We will focus on the conversion to sustainable practices in the following areas:

Atmosphere
Support measures calling for the reduction of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide, which contribute to acid rain and global climate change.
Enforce agreements banning the use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) to stop the depletion of the ozone layer.
Support ratification and enforcement of international frameworks, such as Kyoto Protocol, that seek to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.
Support the cleanup of environmental problems through economic incentive, appropriate enforcement measures, and sanctions against those causing pollution.

Earth
Support integrated and sustainable natural resource management.
Commit to the "Greening of the World" through the limiting of all emissions of pollutants that damage forests and reforestation.
Work for ecologically sound agricultural practices that produce healthy food and a clean environment.
Protect biodiversity among both animals and plants.

Water
Maintain that water is a basic human right not a commodity to be traded for profit.
Support integrated, sustainable management to reduce or eliminate factors contributing to limited water quantity and poorer quality.

Energy
Support improved energy conservation and greater reliance on new and renewable sources of energy.
Support the development of eco-efficient mass transportation.
Support a call for a sustainable national energy policy.

Actions/Recommendations

We call upon the agencies and local congregations of The United Methodist Church to take the following actions:

Council of Bishops
Communicate to the church the urgency of responding to the ecological crisis.
Model for the church a "ministry of presence" by going to places where humans and ecosystems are endangered by environmental destruction.

Connectional Table
Initiate basic research on the changing attitudes on environmental issues among United Methodist members.
Request each United Methodist agency to include an evaluation of their corporate action taken toward sustainable environmental practices as a part of their 2004-2008 Quadrennial Report.

General Board of Church and Society (GBCS)
Develop programs that help annual conferences and local churches become more involved in sustainable practices in public policy and personal aspects of the ecological crisis. These programs would emphasize conversion to a sustainable society.

General Board of Discipleship (GBOD)
Develop curriculum and programs (for all ages), in consultation with GBCS, that emphasize ecological responsibility as a key element of discipleship.

General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM)
Join with the GBCS in working with mission partners to prepare for and participate in the implementation of Agenda 21 and the ongoing global dialogue on sustainability through the United Nation's Commission on Sustainable Development.
Conduct a survey, with the assistance of all mission partners, to identify environmental concerns and develop projects geared to the solution of common concerns.
Initiate an audit of all sponsored projects and meetings as to their environmental effect on the global ecological balance.
Establish an eco-mission intern group to work on ecology issues.
Include global environmental issues in the training of all GBGM missionaries.
Facilitate dialogue between religious groups, other nongovernment organizations, and government agencies on the formation and methods of popular participation.

General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM)
Include a greater awareness in clergy education and training of the global ecological crises.

United Methodist Communications (UMCom)
Produce programs that stress Christian responsibility for the future of creation and include models of The United Methodist Church's involvement in environmental justice.

General Council on Finance and Administration (GCFA)
Assist the church in its effort to be ecologically responsible in its own use of resources by collecting statistics on local churches' and general agencies' use of energy, water, paper, and recycling to monitor the progress of the church in these aspects of stewardship.

General Board of Pension and Health Benefits (GBPHB)  
Develop investment guidelines, in consultation with agencies, to evaluate its securities on adherence to high standards of environmental accountability as evidenced by the adoption of an environmental code of conduct and a practice of transparency in public environmental reporting.

Local Congregations
Develop programs to incorporate the concerns of ecological justice into their work in evangelism, social concerns, mission activities, stewardship, trustees, and worship.

ADOPTED 1992, AMENDED AND READOPTED 2004

See Social Principles, 160.

From The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church 2004. Copyright 2004 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Used by permission.



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