Climate Change Queries

Questions for Portland Friends Meeting to consider in deciding on climate change actions
Glenn Picher, 24 May 2015


  • Does fear of the future play an outsized role in our decision making?
  • Are we open to viewing the human future hopefully rather than fearfully, considering the trend lines of progress in human welfare that we in the developed world have recently enjoyed?
  • Do we also fear, in some reasonable balance, the consequences of denying access to what has powered our own prosperity to the rest of the world? Our widely available and reliable energy infrastructure, historically dependent on the affordability of fossil fuels, has made possible:
    • modern sanitation and copious safe drinking water;
    • cooking and heating technologies that don’t choke and kill;
    • resilient construction techniques that save lives in natural disasters;
    • enhanced agricultural productivity and food availability; and
    • refrigeration to improve nutrition and preserve vaccines that save lives.
  • Will current international relationships of resource disparity, long understood to be an occasion of war, be cemented in place by people of privilege setting a harder path to prosperity for the rest of the world? (International development assistance for energy infrastructure is increasingly limited to alternative energy technologies with higher relative costs and lower carbon dioxide emissions than what the developed world expects of itself. This seems to be an unjust product of a political culture of the privileged world that too highly fears CO​ emissions.)
  • Are we mindful of the occasional temptations we face to exaggerate certain fears over others, beyond a reasonable basis in fact, to promote the particular actions we desire? Are we aware when we are vulnerable to other people affecting us when succumbing to this temptation?


  • How do we translate our highest priority values, such as environmental stewardship, concern for our children’s future, or global economic justice, into specific effective actions to take– this one, but not that one?
  • Do we believe the actions that we currently prefer are the only defensible means to put our moral and ethical values into action?
  • Do we imagine that those who oppose such actions, or who are as of yet unready to undertake them, must value the environment, love their children or seek justice any less than we do?
  • Do our moral and ethical values impel us not simply to do “something, anything,” but to do something actually likely to work, without doing more harm than good?
  • Have we valued thoughtful and searching moral and ethical consideration of the undesirable impacts or possible ineffectiveness of our proposed actions, in a reasonable balance with what we hope our actions can accomplish? To follow our leadings of the heart, do we broadly enough also engage our heads, looking from all other morally necessary perspectives?
  • Do we unjustly value the uncertain future suffering due to a warmer climate of people of distant generations more than the certain and known suffering of the poor who are with us now?
  • Would justice have demanded that the poor of the Dust Bowl generation sacrifice more of themselves– or that the privileged people of those days make that choice for them– in order to render our more prosperous and resilient generation even more secure?
  • Will the quite possibly better-off future generations look back on our values and actions on climate more surely with admiration, or sadness?
  • How would someone like Woody Guthrie, who sang on behalf of rural electrification in lifting up the poor of his day, look forward in time to our current choices?


  • Do we consider the insight of scientific research and reasoning, without mistaking it for Truth?
  • Do we consider a breadth of scientific perspectives outside of the materials closest at hand or most consonant with our current thinking?
  • Do we seek scientific evidence of both the costs and the benefits of a warmer climate, avoiding a bias in our attention to confirm only the worst news? There is scientific evidence that–
    • fatalities in cold weather exceed those in hot weather by a factor of twenty, which would be fortunate for a warming world;
    • food production has improved, forest land has rebounded, and satellite photos show the world greening in step with recently rising CO​
    • methane, which tends to warm the climate far more than carbon dioxide, does not seem to be emerging from the Arctic permafrost or ocean bed at dangerous levels, as had been feared (with more recent research suggesting it is not likely to in the future);
    • the accretion of coral growth on low lying islands, based on the geological record and from current measurements, seems to be well able to keep pace with sea level rise (perhaps the very reason these islands have come to exist at sea level now).
    • Do our preferred policies recognize and accommodate divergent national interests that flow from measurably different distributions of these costs and benefits (especially considering nations’ different current levels of poverty and infrastructure development), or do they unwisely presuppose a global uniformity of thought and purpose?
    • Do we respect scientists’ warnings about their limits of knowledge in accurately modelling and predicting climate impacts on the regional scales necessary to plan locally appropriate policies (for instance, whether the U.S. East Coast should now be preparing for more snow or drought)?
    • Are we mindful of the differences in degree of certainty of, for instance, the physics of the atmosphere, in relation to how much we can surely know about future social behavior of relevance to the actions we support? For instance,
      • the likely political attainability, nationally or internationally, of the policies we would prefer, in light of many years of experience so far trying and failing to attain them;
      • the possibility of their future circumvention by powerful corporate or national actors, or even by the powerless, with whose interests these policies may not fully align;
      • the possibility of their vitiation or reversal by the next election season’s political winners;
      • the plausibility of accurately projecting the full range of economic impacts and changes in consumption that flow from them over the decades; or
      • the impact on the workability of such policies of completely unpredicted changes in the natural world, cultural landscape, international military and diplomatic alignments, or technological developments.
    • Do we assign undeserved authority to the opinions of, for example, atmospheric physicists, in fields of scientific or social knowledge well outside their expertise, or grant undue privilege to their preferred human values and policy directions?
    • Do we value reports of scientific consensus more highly than scientists themselves do?
    • While science is an inherently social enterprise (because it depends on the trustworthy communication of the reproducible results of testing falsifiable theories), its value as a method of truth seeking derives from its findings, not from the social consensus among its practitioners. Scientific history is replete with discarded hypotheses that were once consensus. Scientists themselves respect this; for instance, Richard Feynman’s catchy definition of science was “the belief in the ignorance of experts.”
    • Scientific societies issuing position statements is a rather modern development, not a general scientific practice. That this has become more common in climate studies than other scientific fields is viewed by many scientists as a problematic aberration, because
      it puts a political project to attain consensus in the place of scientific truth seeking itself.
    • Statements indicating an urgent consensus have sometimes been drafted by activist but non-scientist staff of such societies, and never submitted for approval to the scientist membership. The dearth of contrary position statements from scientific societies–
      • may indicate some degree of scientific dissent to the very idea that science can’t speak for itself without resort to consensus; and
      • should not surprise anybody, since you can not sensibly count and compare how often non-activist scientists have lacked enough motivation to get their societies to issue unified statements of the topics they ​don’t ​agree on.
    • Have we considered alternative readings of the sociological studies that are frequently mischaracterized as indicating something like a 97% consensus of all scientists or scientific papers supporting specific climate change actions? For instance,
      • the trivial nature of the questions posed, such that nearly every scientist who is doubtful of catastrophic anthropogenic climate change is counted as concurring;
      • carbon dioxide never being cited in questions as the causal factor, such that scientists’ assessment of the impacts of land and water use, deforestation, agriculture, and particulate pollution are all lumped in together with CO​ levels;
      • specific policy solutions like a carbon tax never being mentioned in the questions, meaning they were never opined upon by surveyed  scientists;
      • the elimination of responses from scientists who did not self-identify first as climate scientists, or who had not recently enough published in select climate-related journals (resulting in the consensus being calculated only among about seventy responding scientists out of many thousands); and
      • more straightforward questions and methodologies reporting a far lower percentage of consensus that humans are primarily responsible for a warming world (about 59% of the members of the American Meteorological Society).
    • Do we give due moral weight to the historical reality, and ongoing possibility, of the catastrophic failure in human terms of mistaken scientific consensus? (For instance, eugenics, the science of racial purity and improvement, had an institutional home in a great many U.S. colleges and universities in the early 20​th century, with nearly four hundred courses enrolling more than 20,000 students. Eugenics enjoyed the support of notable Quakers such as Maine’s own Prof. Henry Goddard of East Vassalboro, a graduate of Haverford, principal of Quaker schools, and
      scientific researcher who concluded that 83% of immigrant Jews were “feeble-minded.” Eugenics became a project of political consensus, was an American intellectual export to Germany before World War II, and produced with minimal Congressional opposition the discriminatory Immigration Act of 1924, which was not reversed until 1965.)
    • Do we consider the distortions of scientific process and public policy that can result from large disparities in earmarked institutional, governmental and foundation funding and support for specific scientific research topics, as was warned about for instance by President Eisenhower?
    • Do we appreciate and accommodate in our decision making the different degrees of insight, usefulness and proximity to scientific truth-seeking that emerge from the different steps of the prevailing climate science research and policy environment (the UNFCCC’s IPCC) —
      • scientists’ original research;
      • panels of appointed scientists assessing and summarizing such current research;
      • the summarizing for policy makers by non-scientist appointees of national governments of the contents of such scientific summaries (arrived at by vote, sometimes resulting in redrafting of the scientific assessments);
      • the reporting by non-scientist mass media outlets on such summaries for policymakers;
      • the interpretation and call to political action of motivated non-scientist citizens in response to such reporting?


  • How can we know whether climate change deserves to be in a position of privilege as the most important problem we face, whether within our Meeting or in the larger political order?
  • What is the likelihood, both scientifically and politically, that a warming world is truly an existential crisis, and that emissions mitigation policies are still capable of reversing it?
  • While humanity can work on more than one problem at a time, how might certain actions on climate impede simultaneous or complementary action on other issues? For instance,
    • due to privileged concern for CO​ emissions, disallowing fossil fueled electrical or gas cooking to replace the dung fires that kill somewhere around a half a million poor people annually, due to indoor air pollution;
    • spending an undue proportion of limited global wealth on decarbonization, limiting resources available for other priorities; and
    • monopolizing human attention, causing compassion fatigue and inability to
      summon political will for other significant issues.
  • Is it prudent to bet the future on only one number on the roulette wheel– to put all of humanity’s eggs in the one basket of minimizing CO​ emissions? Globally improved prosperity that could flow from continuing to allow some fossil fuel usage could improve adaptability and survivability, especially that of the poor, in the face of multiple threats– earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, disease, war and others unknown.
  • Does the position of privilege of people who support climate action, in terms for example of social class or ethnic background, confer the undue privilege of agenda setting for climate change as an issue? (Recent public opinion research indicates that climate action is considered a low priority by the large majority of Americans, even among those who say they are supportive of environmental protection. It’s also ranked last among sixteen issues by continental Africans.)
  • Do some alternative energy policies deliver unjust privileges? For instance–
    • large regressive tax credits to the tune of many thousands of dollars for families able to afford electric or hybrid automobiles, even luxury electric sports cars, thus transferring wealth from the poor to the rich;
    • net metering (the mandated parity pricing of electricity produced and consumed at different sites, or at power-producing and power-consuming times of day) externalizing the costs of the electrical distribution system for solar farm and solar home customers onto less wealthy ratepayers, an ultimately unsustainable practice; or
    • allocations of government funds to large alternative energy installations such as wind, redistributing wealth disproportionately to landowners and investors.


  • Is our Meeting the right or only place to express political consensus for climate action?
  • Are our actions and rhetoric on climate issues consistent with respect for that of Light in everyone, or do they tend to devalue others by for instance–
    • attributing insincerity, moral compromise or denial to those reaching other conclusions;
    • using the language of war, such as “public enemy #1” and “crimes against humanity”; or
    • imposing social ostracism, through divestment or otherwise, on the people who produce the fossil fuels we all continue to use and depend on every day, even if only indirectly?
  • Is our Meeting truly in a diseased state of “paralysis” if we are not moved to take unified action on climate? (We do not prevent members or committees from acting outside full Meeting approval.)

Climate Stewardship Initiative

Climate Stewardship Initiative

Climate Stewardship Initiative (pdf download)


Prepared by Peace and Social Concerns and Earth and Spirit Committees


Over the past decade, many members of Portland Friends Meeting have felt a growing concern about global climate change. In recent months, the Earth and Spirit Committee (E&S) and the Peace and Social Concerns Committee (PSOC) have focused their attention on climate change, seeking to discern where and how we are led to respond to this potential crisis. We see climate change as relating to the Quaker testimonies of stewardship, peace, community, and equality.

We now offer this Climate Stewardship Initiative for the Meeting’s consideration. We see this Initiative as further advancing and building on the leadings felt by individuals and various committees. We feel called to rise to our own greatest active resonance with these concerns, and hope to be of service to the Meeting community and the wider world.

We intentionally use the word “Initiative” because it is important to us that members (by which we also mean attenders) of the Meeting not feel pressure to engage in any of the below actions and ideas if they do not feel led to do so. We realize that there are members who may feel called in different directions, and who fear that climate change might become too central of a focus within the spiritual life at the Meeting. Thus, it is our hope that this Climate Stewardship Initiative not be divisive or disruptive to the very special community that is our Meeting.

The following are several selected avenues that E&S and PSOC will be exploring or possibly recommending to the PFM community over the next few months. We seek meeting-wide threshing of these actions and everyone’s input and discernment. Furthermore, we do not anticipate that our commitment to reducing climate change will be a short-term endeavor, and thus see this Initiative as a living document that will evolve over time. Perhaps we will complete one goal and add another. Perhaps we will lay down a goal after realizing that way is not open. Above all, we hope that our efforts will be Spirit-led, and that continuing revelation will guide our work.

Further Greening the Meetinghouse

The Buildings and Grounds Committee has taken significant strides in greening the Meetinghouse and lightening our carbon footprint. An energy audit was conducted in 2011 and various recommendations were received. However, year-by-year, the market for renewables has become increasingly attractive, and E&S and PSOC would like to explore, along with Buildings and Grounds, whether the time has come to start weaning the Meetinghouse from fossil fuels.

First, we are excited about the possibility of establishing or joining a Community Solar Farm (“CSF”). A CSF is an off-site location where one can purchase or lease solar panels for her electricity needs. It is a way to tap into the solar market for individuals and institutions for whom direct on-site solar installation is not feasible or desirable, as is the case for the Meetinghouse due to our limited land space and lack of a south-facing aspect. The beauty of a Community Solar Farm project is that although the Meeting itself has relatively modest electricity uses, the farm would be open to other individuals and institutions, such as members of the Meeting and other churches. Thus, the Meeting would be acting as a catalyst for many others to get off fossil fuels and onto solar for their electricity needs. E&S and PSOC are still in the exploration phase of this project, and at this point we are looking for someone who has at least ¼ acre of flat or south-facing land with full sun who would consider donating or leasing it for a Community Solar Farm.

Second, we are exploring ways to replace the natural gas boiler that provides our heat and hot water. Ideally, we would love to get off fossil fuels entirely. One possibility is air-source heat pumps, a technology that within the last couple years has seen major improvements for cold climates such as Maine. We are exploring whether air-source heat pumps could make sense for the entire Meetinghouse or perhaps just for the Meeting Room. The air-source heat pump runs on electricity, which means that if we can hook up to a Community Solar Farm then our electricity, heat and hot water would both be fossil-free solar. A side benefit of air-source heat pumps is that they don’t just provide heat, but in the summer can also cool a space.

Fossil Fuel Divestment

Divestment is a strategy whereby an institution (or an individual) sells any investments it has in a particular kind of industry. Over the past couple years, many academic and religious institutions have chosen to divest from fossil fuels.

The good news is that PFM is already partially divested. Our investments are held primarily in Pax World Investments, and all of Pax’s funds are divested from any company whose primary business is coal mining and production, or in most electric utilities whose reliance on coal is above the average of its home country. Pax World Investments is also in the process of divesting from oil sands (also known as tar sands) companies.
There is interest among E&S and PSOC for divesting completely from fossil fuels, and Pax World does offer two funds that are fully divested. However, we recognize the Finance’s Committee’s central role in this process and would like to explore the concern mutually with the Finance Committee to bring the leadings of PSOC and E&S before them for a thorough sharing and discussion. We anticipate that both the Finance Committee and the Meeting as a whole, after appropriate discernment, would have to come to a Meeting-level decision to fully divest from fossil fuels. We are appreciative of the careful thought that the Finance Committee gave to the Meeting’s current investment vehicle (a fund that advances women-lead businesses and other socially responsible business practices around the world), and we will not undertake a recommendation to change or diversify these investment fund choices lightly.

At the same time, E&S and PSOC will encourage members to consider divesting themselves as individuals and families. We hope to offer resources and inspiration for such an important step. A few of us have already made this decision, and can share our experiences.

Voluntary Carbon Tax Witness

A federal carbon tax is another version of CCL’s (see below) Carbon Fee and Dividend program. We believe that although a federal carbon tax should exist, we as individuals do not have to wait around for Congress to impose one on us. Mount Toby Meeting in Massachusetts has led the way in establishing a Voluntary Carbon Tax Witness whereby members can choose to periodically measure their own carbon footprint and then make a charitable contribution to a climate-related organization. E&S and PSOC plans to borrow and tweak this idea for PFM. Mount Toby tracks and celebrates their collective progress in these actions (while maintaining anonymity for individuals) and we would like to do something similar.

As we plan to implement it, an important component of the Voluntary Carbon Tax Witness will be to channel our giving towards an organization that focuses on climate justice. In other words, we aim to support an organization that is seeking to address the inequity issues of climate change. For example, it is generally acknowledged that many of the world’s poorest communities face the gravest threats from rising sea levels and stronger storms. In addition, the switch from carbon-intensive energy sources to carbon-free sources will be especially difficult for those struggling simply to put food on their plates. We are still in the process of researching a suitable organization to recommend for the funds collected by the Voluntary Carbon Tax Witness. Beginning in the fall of 2015, we will roll out this program through announcements, sample materials, and perhaps one or two adult religious education or after-Meeting sessions.

Citizens Climate Lobby

The Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL, is a relatively new non-partisan, grassroots advocacy organization focused on national policies to address climate change. There are currently 257 chapters nationwide, including three in Maine, and a Portland Chapter is just getting underway.

E&S and PSOC believe that CCL is the most promising vehicle for effecting national legislative change. Because we have in Senator Collins one of the few Republican Senators who is open to considering meaningful debate and action on climate change, Mainers have both an opportunity and a challenge to change the political dynamic around climate change. We hope to tap into the resources of Friends Committee on National Legislation to aid our efforts with CCL.

Although we are not excluding supporting the actions of other organizations such as, for now we will focus our advocacy work on CCL’s goal of creating a federal Carbon Fee and Dividend program that would internalize the costs of burning carbon-based fuels. It is a specific and achievable policy that many climate scientists and economists alike say is the best first-step to reduce the likelihood of catastrophic climate change.

Nonviolent Civil Disobedience

Some of us have been moved by the civil disobedience (CD) actions of Jay O’Hara and others in the climate change movement. At this point, E&S and PSOC are not recommending any Meeting-wide CD actions, but we are open to following the Spirit as we are led. We may form a working group of interested members to consider engaging in such an action. We may also consider how we as committees or we as a Meeting could provide spiritual support for a CD action.

Other Meaningful Actions

The two committees also want to stand in solidarity with all of our members and friends who are acting in their personal lives, within other committees of Meeting, or with outside organizations, in all the myriad ways that helpfully impact Earth stewardship issues. Examples include activism at the State level and local levels, pollution prevention, forest protection, wildlife conservation, and clean water programs, to name just a few. Because there are so many valid issues and such a diversity and richness within the Meeting, it has been a challenge to bring the Meeting together in the past around specific concrete actions. PSOC and E&S hope to rally themselves and others in the Meeting around the particular actions in this Climate Stewardship Initiative to end the paralysis and move forward, but the committees in no way seek to diminish or detract from any and all other efforts. In fact, we would like to find a way to recognize or share the information of those efforts within the Meeting, so at least like-minded individuals can find those with whom they may have an affinity to work together outside of these two committees (in whatever other context) without limiting the committees or each other, and allowing unity to be found in ways large and small. We are looking for good ways to acknowledge and recognize such other efforts without impairing the work of the committees and are very open to suggestions in this regard. We hope to offer at least one awareness session for each topic to share more information—these may be in conjunction with Adult Religious Ed or come from the two committees as is most fitting.

Insofar as we understand the breadth of the possibilities of Climate Stewardship concerns, we are humbly choosing to narrow our initial focus to a manageable range of issues and projects. We welcome your feedback on this Initiative, and we invite anyone who would like to become more involved in any particular issue or project as well as those who are carrying environmental concerns which they would like to recommend these committees to take up at some point – to come forward and contact the clerk of either committee: Aaiyn Foster ( or Rob Levin (

In conclusion, the committees are hopeful to launch this Climate Stewardship Initiative, to reach all who are willing within the Meeting community to engage, participate and move forward with these programs with every size and scale of commitment or tentativeness, and all the while, to recognize and encourage other parallel but different efforts, and to offer respect and space for those who do not feel any leadings in these areas.

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