cop21 - agriculture's effect on climate change

Bishop Marc Andrus asked me to write a briefing about agriculture's effect on climate change for his delegation to the Paris Climate Change Conference. Here's my recommendation for how the Church could act to reduce green house gases.


The Rt. Rev. Marc Handley Andrus Bishop of California Episcopal delegation to the cop21, Paris Climate Change Conference December 3, 2015

Dear Bishop Marc,

As part of the Episcopal delegation in Paris discussing climate change you bring an entirely unique perspective. Not only do you offer a faith-based perspective, but as the Bishop of California, you also bear witness to a state known worldwide for our agricultural presence - California is the largest exporter of agricultural crops nationwide.

Agriculture plays a major role in climate change. According to the COP21, the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, agriculture, as an industry sector, contributes 14% of all human generated green house gases. However, if we include food processing, packaging, and distribution, agriculture and food systems are estimated to account for one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions, more than twice that of the transport sector.

Faith and agriculture have always been intertwined in the Christian church as Jesus made use of agricultural products – bread and wine – to be the symbols of our faith. Jesus even called himself “the bread of life,” forever marrying the person of Jesus with a food that used to nourish and sustain life.

However, almost all bread, communion bread or croissants, is made from industrialized wheat which relies on fossil fuel-based fertilizers and pesticides. These chemicals eradicate soil life, pollute the water table, create green house gases, increase our energy dependence, and harm farm workers who are exposed to these toxic chemicals.

By celebrating Eucharist each week, the Episcopal Church is asking farmers to grow wheat for our communion bread. However, 99.99% of all wheat grown in the US is farmed with practices that are not consistent with our Christian values and ethics, including sanctity and sovereignty of life, just economic structures, care of creation, and care for the poor.

Your presence in Paris incarnates these values which bring moral authority to birth hope and change. According to many experts, we live at a critical moment and we still have time to reverse damaging climate change. Current research conducted by the Rodale Institute shows that switching to regenerative organic agriculture in the world’s cropland and pastures, could still feed the world’s population and at the same time sequester more than 100% of the world’s annual carbon emissions. If we made this switch, we could begin to reverse the human production of green house gases.

However, aiming to enact such broad-reaching global change in farming may be beyond our reach in the near term. Goals which are too lofty and ungrounded in reality will likely have the same frustrating result as did The Copenhagen Climate Change Conference in 2009. On the other hand, changing the way the church sources wheat for communion bread is wholly doable. And, not only is it doable, I wonder if the symbolic role that Eucharist plays in Christianity, that one small bite of bread unites and energizes the people of Christ worldwide, might be the catalyst we need to bring about broader change in agricultural practices and the health of our environment.

As Americans, “our main contribution in Paris is to push for detailed agreement on measurement, reporting and verification.” A goal of changing the sourcing of our wheat meets this criteria.

The success of the Paris conference depends upon global mobilization and cooperation. At this moment you, Pope Francis, and other religious leaders are speaking out about climate change and together if we target one measurable, doable action, such as changing the source of wheat for communion bread away from wheat farmed using conventional damaging practices, to wheat farmed using sustainable, regenerative practices we stand to effect significant change. As you know, if our faith is about anything, it is about God’s power of love and justice to change the world. Let us not forget the toppling of the great tobacco giants of the 20th century. In this spirit and in the words of Pope Francis, “Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementing a culture of care.”

Thank you for standing alongside other leaders speaking out for Creation. May the words of 4th century bishop, St. Basil of Caesarea, affirm your ministry.

O God, enlarge within us the sense of fellowship with all living things, our brothers the animals to whom thou gavest the earth as their home in common with us. We remember with shame that in the past we have exercised the high dominion of man with ruthless cruelty so that the voice of the earth, which should have gone up to thee in song, has been a groan of travail. May we realize that they live not for us alone but for themselves and for thee, and that they love the sweetness of life.

4th century St. Basil

Godspeed, may your time in Paris be safe and productive. We look forward to hearing about your experiences upon your return.

Love in Christ,

The Rev. Elizabeth DeRuff Agricultural Chaplain

P.S. We have said nothing about the perilous effects that climate change is having on agriculture, so when you return to San Francisco don’t be surprised if you still cannot eat local crab infected by high levels of neurotoxins due to warming ocean temperatures.

Works Consulted:

California Department of Agriculture

30% of greenhouse gases

99.99%, Total wheat acreage 55 mm acres, of this, 339,000 acres are organic- UDSA 2011 •US organic wheat acreage •US total wheat acreage

Rodale Institute 30 year Farming Trial Study

Quote from Pope Francis’ Speech to US Congress, 9/24/15

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