Column: Hold fossil fuel companies to account

By the Rev. Sam Domingo | November 10, 2019

As a person of faith, I believe that all creation is the Lord’s, and we are responsible for the ways in which we use (and often abuse) it. God has granted us stewardship of creation; and we should meet these duties through acts of loving care and respect. And we must also be accountable for our actions.

It is increasingly clear, through courageous acts of journalism and political leadership, that a handful of fossil-fuel corporations have spent millions to mislead the public, for decades, about climate change. It’s now a matter of public record.

Last month in Washington, D.C., Congress held hearings on what fossil fuel companies knew for decades about the impact their industries would have on the planet if they continued business as usual. Martin Hoffert, a physics professor who worked as a consultant to Exxon from 1981 to 1987, said that their findings in the 1980s were consistent with recent research by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: the continued burning of fossil fuels would cause unprecedented increases in global carbon dioxide levels and would alter the Earth’s climate.

But instead of using that information to prevent the overheating of our planet, Exxon and other companies launched campaigns of denial and misinformation. This was sinful and has greatly set back efforts to address climate change.

Unless we change our ways and hold these companies responsible, the average global temperature by the end of the century is on course to increase by 4 degrees Celsius — resulting in sea level rise, shrinking glaciers, extreme weather, droughts and flooding.

Here in our islands, which are some of the finest gifts of Creation, we are on track for billions of dollars of disrupted infrastructure and land use.

Many leaders continue to debate, from places of comfort and privilege, the “reality” of a changing climate in order to perpetuate their polluting ways. As persons of faith, we witness firsthand the consequences of climate disruption in our communities and in the lives of those Christ calls us to be with in ministry.

Recognizing our complicity and responsibility, we seek to chart a new path rooted in economic and ecological justice.

We understand climate justice not simply as an environmental or economic concern, but rather as a deep ethical and spiritual concern that the Church must address so that abundant life is ensured for our children and future generations.

It’s correct and appropriate that our elected officials take legal action against the fossil fuel companies. We all share a common responsibility for Creation, but should be held accountable in ways that are commensurate with our roles. The corporate executives who chose to deceive in order to increase their wealth should be held accountable, and the proceeds from the lawsuits should be used to heal our communities and adapt our islands to this brave new world. We have an obligation to each other, and to our faith, to do the right thing.

The Rev. Sam Domingo is a United Methodist pastor in Honolulu and is a clergy-founder of Faith Action.