Sightings from the Treehouse: Fossil Fuel Industry Coup

A new blog series on the environment from Power Wise Director, Bob Donaghue.

After 45 years serving as an environmental scientist in local, state and federal government, it breaks my heart seeing where this country’s leadership is on environmental issues and ethics. There is a deep and pervasive force in our government that has as one of its primary agenda items the elimination of environmental protections allegedly slowing down economic growth. Climate change programs and policies are at the top of the proposed budget cuts at EPA, NOAA and other related agencies.

At a time when the world is truly on the precipice of global ecological disruption, our leadership beholden to the fossil fuel industry is in the process of dismantling the “administrative state” in the words of Steve Bannon. Environmental protection has a bullseye on it not only in the Executive Branch but also by the conservatives in the Legislative Branch. Soon the Supreme Court will lean towards the conservatives.  

It seems the fossil fuel industry has successfully completed a coup of the US Government. The coup was achieved by legal means as a result of the 2010 Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court.

Since the 1990s, the industry has been heavily contributing to conservative causes, particularly climate change denial. But after 2010, the fossil fuel industry upped their financial campaign money which was allowed by the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling. During the 113th Congress, total political contributions were $350 million. In comparison, oil subsidies to the industry are about $4 billion annually.  Click here for more information.  Another big contributor is the electric utility industry which is also dependent on fossil fuels.  

For a little historical perspective during the George W. Bush transition in 2000, the Transition Energy Advisory Team held meetings led by Dick Cheney, Vice President and former CEO of Halliburton, an oil industry leader.  The renewable energy industry and environmental advocates were banned from those meetings.  His administration was the first in eliminating references to climate change in government programs and documents.  The fight continued during the Obama years, but was restricted mainly to the Legislative Branch and climate deniers in both the House and Senate.  

The 2016 election saw Republicans gain control of all three branches of government – Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches.  In the Executive Branch, Trump is a climate denier and has appointed Rex Tillerson, former CEO of ExxonMobil as Secretary of State and Scott Pruitt, former Attorney General for Oklahoma. He is a strong fossil fuel advocate and climate denier and has sued the EPA 14 times.   

Neil Gorsuch is Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, and he is also the son of the late EPA Administrator Anne Gorsuch under Ronald Reagan, another President who tried to dismantle or cripple the EPA. With his appointment to the Supreme Court, he will swing the balance back to the conservatives.  He is a strong supporter of the Citizens United decision and corporate interests. I suspect he also has some hatred built up for EPA from the Congressional condemnation of his mother for mishandling $1.6 Billion in Superfund money and her forced resignation in disgrace. More information on the scandal – click here.

It would seem, the fossil fuel industry “owns” the three branches of the federal government, and they also “own” a large majority of state legislatures and governors that behave in a similar manner with the fossil fuel industry. Take Florida as a prime example. Rick Scott, governor, has eliminated the mention of climate change and action in the state that is already suffering serious effects of climate change. 

Although this dark future seems to be locked in for at least the next couple of election cycles, the 2018 and 2020 elections offer an opportunity for other parties to increase their strength and influence. The task to undue the changes being undertaken by the current administration in Washington, DC will be extremely difficult and long. All the while, the global climate heats up.

The following 10 items are some of my thoughts on how we need to proceed:

  1. Vote, Vote, Vote!
  2. Challenge redistricting and gerrymandering by the Republican controlled states.
  3. Pressure your local, state and federal elected officials to support positive climate actions including overturning Citizens United.
  4. Advocate for the mainstream media to increase coverage of climate change.
  5. Encourage cities and states to move forward on policies and programs to mitigate the impacts of climate disruption, much like the City of Atlanta.
  6. Demand an increased emphasis on science education in our schools.
  7. Faith-based organizations such as GIPL, the Evangelical Environmental Network and local congregations need to encourage parishioners to embrace Creation care through education and liturgy.  Pope Francis has taken a huge step in this direction with his encyclical, Laudato si’.
  8. Support and showcase businesses that embrace climate change action such as the renewable energy industry and companies that embrace sustainability.
  9. Get informed about and support legal action taken by environmental advocacy groups to enforce current environmental laws and regulations even if EPA or state environmental agencies do not.
  10. Adapt to a changing climate.

    Stay tuned for more Tree House Sightings (and musings) from Bob Donaghue!

Putting the Pope’s Words Into Action

GIPL embarked on a new partnership with the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta as funded through a special grant earlier this year. This partnership supports a new initiative to help Catholic parishes and parochial schools embrace energy efficiency and water conservation in response to Pope Francis’ encyclical – Laudato Si. In 2016, the Archdiocese published The Climate Action Plan as a practical guide for parishes in adapting the teachings of Laudato Si.  Recognizing that GIPL has resources and programs to help parishes in the area, the Archdiocese invited GIPL to create a special pilot project in service to 9 selected parishes and 3 local Catholic school.

The goal of the Catholic Pilot Project is to reduce the environmental footprint of these churches and schools, making their facilities more energy and water efficient. It is expected that each of these churches and schools will increase efficiencies by 25% and thus, cutting energy and water utility costs by at least 20%. These savings will go a long way for each church and school that embraces this work. Additionally, while facilities are being upgraded, education programs will be offered that incorporate themes from Laudato Si as well as other biblical foundations on stewardship and Creation care.

GIPL has hired the consulting services of Brian Savoie, an Atlanta engineer and member of St. Jude Catholic Church in Sandy Springs. Brian comes to this project with a heart for environmental stewardship and thirty years of engineering and business experience. Brian will offer direct support to each of the parishes and schools engaged through this program. Additional partners providing support include Southface Energy Institute and US Green Building Council-Georgia Chapter. The work began in March with the first energy audit completed on St. Matthews Catholic Church in Tyrone. That parish now has a list of energy conservation measures that will guide their next steps in the project.  The GIPL team looks forward to sharing the progress of this parish as well as all the others in the months to come. Learn more about St. Matthews’ recent energy audit in The Georgia Bulletin

“LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore” – “Praise be to you, my Lord”. In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs”.

This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters. – Laudato Si

Fostering Active Hope: Four Directions Fund

Scottish mountaineer and author, W.H. Murray, wrote “The moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way.”

This has been true for me at various times in my life, but the most powerful example of the Divine rushing in occurred this past fall. During the weekend of September 8th-10th, I went to the Rowe Center in Massachusetts for a workshop with Joanna Macy. I had studied her writings and framework for The Work That Reconnects for the last six years, and was so grateful to have the opportunity to learn directly from her. 

Towards the end of the workshop, there was an opportunity to share our intentions for going forth. There was not time to hear from everyone, but I was one of the lucky few who was selected to share how I planned to “commit myself.”  I declared that I wanted to teach The Work That Reconnects in faith communities. I was on the Education Committee at Georgia Interfaith Power and Light and was on the Unity Worldwide Ministries EarthCare Team, so it seemed that this was an accessible and powerful audience.

Within two weeks of arriving back in Georgia, I met an amazing woman who would help this dream become a reality.

My good friend, and gifted healer, yoga teacher, and all around extraordinary person, Elizabeth Devereux intuitively knew that she had to introduce me and her dear friend, Sara Lindkrantz. Sara was reading many of the same books that I was, and taking similar classes on-line, so our paths were destined to cross and Elizabeth made that happen on September 23.

I think that we all had a sense that this was not any introduction, but rather it was going to generate what Joanna Macy, and systems theorists call “emergent properties.” Meaning that we were going to create something that was more significant than what we could build on our own as individuals.  

We were very intentional about our meeting, as we sent some questions and ideas around ahead of time. Since it was right after the autumnal equinox, we wanted to start our gathering by giving thanks for all of our blessings and what we have thus far harvested in our lives. From there we talked about what was in our hearts and our vision for where we thought we could best be of service in the world.

As Elizabeth predicted, Sara and I shared many of the same interests and vision for creating curriculum and empowering people to realize that their actions make a difference in this world, and encourage them to make positive choices.  I was completely humbled and awe struck when Sara offered to help support this mission financially or with “green energy” as I like to say.

I wanted to be a good steward of this incredible offer and it immediately came to me that I should partner with Georgia Interfaith Power and Light.

In the spring of 2016, I had met with Carol Bartlett, the co-founder of Georgia Interfaith Power and Light. Early in our conversation, we realized that we both admired Joanna Macy’s work, and it was like a whole other layer of communication opened up and we knew that we were going to work well together and be great friends!

I called Carol soon after our meeting and told her about Sara’s generous offer. Over the next month, the e-mails flew back and forth as we crafted documents and Carol and I made plans to drive up to Big Canoe at the end of October to meet Sara and Elizabeth.

After a heartfelt and enlivening conversation, the four of us went to lunch and sat at a table overlooking the lake and mountains and we talked about what we should call this fund. Sara looked at us and said, “What do you think about the Four Directions?” It was perfect! Our new venture was born!

This whole “stream of events” including “meetings and material assistance” came together within seven weeks of definitely committing myself and I truly could not have dreamt it would come my way, but am very grateful that it did.

The Four Directions Fund allows me to teach the Active Hope Workshop, based on Joanna Macy’s framework, in congregations without requiring a set fee. This participatory workshop addresses the environmental and cultural problems that we are facing. It is based on over four decades of community-based work with thousands of people around the world and is designed to help you transform fear and despair into inspiration and a sense of empowerment.

Any love offerings collected at the workshops go back into fund. As an added bonus, attending the workshop qualifies attendees to apply for seed money for an environmental/community project, which if approved, is then awarded by the Four Directions Fund.

If you are interested in attending an Active Hope Workshop, the next two events are:

Sunday, April 23rd, 1-4 at Unity Atlanta

Sunday, May 7th, 12:30-5:30 at Emerson Unitarian Universalist Congregation

Congregants, friends, and visitors are welcome at these events.

Beth Remmes is a Facilitator for The Work that Reconnects, is on the Education Committee for Georgia Interfaith Power & Light, and is a member of Unity Worldwide Ministry‘s Earth Care Team.

If you have any questions about this workshop or to book this event for your faith community, please contact Beth at, or by phone at 770-715-4525.

Orchard Planting at First Afrikan Church

On February 26, Fruit Forward Orchards teamed up with First Afrikan Church and Creation Care Gardens to plant an orchard of service berry, apple, fig, and pear trees on the church campus. The church already had an existing ‘elder pear’ tree, and more were planted to honor this legacy. The intergenerational activity took place after a worship service, and its fruits will support the already existing community garden and pantry program for years to come. Creation Care Gardens works to promote healthy living through a natural park and education activities.

There are about 50 orchards across Atlanta, but 17% of Atlanta still lacks access to fresh, local food. Orchards provide food, nutrients, and beautification, and can also provide social, economic, and environmental benefits to an area. Fruit Forward Orchards provides services beyond the orchard planting, including extensive educational offerings and orchard care materials for future work.

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GIPL Powers Up Staff to Grow Solar in Georgia

GIPL continues in its commitment to expanding access to renewable energy  here in Georgia. To date, seven congregations in Georgia have installed solar on their properties. The size of these projects run the gamut – some are large, some are quite small but mighty. But what’s clear is that more congregations could be benefit from this promising source of energy, to reduce costs for their congregations, and more importantly, reduce their environmental impact.   Continue reading

St. Anne’s Episcopal Church and Day School Receives GIPL Grant

St. Anne’s Episcopal Church and Day School in Atlanta was awarded a GIPL Power Wise Energy Efficiency Matching Grant to help implement energy efficiency practices in their facilities. After receiving an energy audit through GIPL last year, St. Anne’s determined that spray-in attic insulation for the administration building would significantly reduce electricity usage and costs. St. Anne’s received $2,500 for this project.

St. Anne’s Episcopal Church and Day School is already actively engaged in Creation care and energy efficiency work. In Spring 2016, they installed an array of solar panels, allowing the church to reduce energy costs and reliance on coal-based energy sources. LED lighting has been installed across the facilities, even in the sanctuary and four day school classrooms. St. Anne’s has a strong recycling program, with single-stream recycling for all common recyclable items. The campus even uses a well for irrigation of plants. St. Anne’s is also planning a series of meetings focused on water and energy conservation and sustainability.

Congratulations to St. Anne’s on their matching grant, and their continued efforts to increase their energy efficiency!  We look forward to their continued work with the GIPL community, and hope that their sustainability efforts inspire other faith communities across Georgia to join GIPL’s Power Wise program.

The next matching grant application deadline is November 15, 2017. If your congregation has not yet received a GIPL energy audit, visit our website to sign up today!

Tu B’Shvat: A Jewish Earth Day

This reflection was written by Myrtle Lewin, an active congregant of Ahavath Achim Synagogue in Atlanta.

The name Tu B’Shvat means the fifteenth of the Jewish month of Shvat. It became a special day because of a commandment in the Torah that instructed Jewish farmers to contribute 10% of the fruit from their orchards to the temple, to help support the priesthood. But when did growth start? Which fruit counted? They decided that the date that trees began to flower would be considered the new year, and settled on the 15th of the month of Shvat. This falls in late January to early February each year. Continue reading

Emerson Unitarian Universalist Congregation Receives GIPL Grant

GIPL Board Member, Jim Hartzfeld, presents award check to Haylee Meyers and Nick White. 

Emerson Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Marietta was awarded a GIPL Power Wise Energy Efficiency Matching Grant to help implement energy efficiency practices in their congregation. After receiving an energy audit through GIPL last year, Emerson UU determined that replacing their fluorescent bulbs with four foot lamp LED retrofits would significantly reduce electricity usage and costs, as well as their carbon footprint. Emerson UU received $5,000 for this project. Continue reading

Storytelling As Hope

Guest post written by Kaitlin Curtice, a Native American author, teacher and worship leader. She has a book coming out this fall with Paraclete Press, and writes regularly on her blog,, where she writes on the intersection of spirituality and everyday life.

When I began my blog five years ago, I named it Stories because I needed a space to tell mine, and a space that might encourage others to tell theirs as well.

On March 6th I hosted an event in my city called DAPL & NATIVE AMERICA: AN EVENING OF DISCUSSION & MUSIC. The evening was about storytelling, the story that we are called to be good, to be kind, to care for one another and to care for this planet that we call home.

It was simple, and the longer we lingered in that space, the more I realized that all of this is about Standing Rock, and it’s about so much more than Standing Rock. It’s about native peoples, and it’s about so much more than just nativeness.

It’s about our identity as human beings.

A little past seven, I began my story.

“I am a tribal member of the Potawatomi Citizen Nation. I was born in Oklahoma in an Indian hospital. I grew up moving between Oklahoma and New Mexico, where we lived on reservations. My father worked for the BIA until I was nine years old. Continue reading

Why the EPA Should Matter to Christians

Guest blog entry written by Brian Webb, Executive Director of Climate Caretakers. Climate Caretakers is a global community of Christians committed to prayer and action on climate change.

Although environmental issues have become highly polarized in recent years, some of the earliest political leaders of the environmental movement were Republicans. In fact, one of the most important steps in protecting God’s creation came when U.S. President Richard Nixon authorized the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 

Since it’s creation in 1970, the EPA has played a critical role in cleaning up toxic waste, banning the use of DDT, restoring clean waterways, regulating air pollution and acid rain, removing lead from gasoline, addressing the health dangers of secondhand smoke, restoring the ozone layer, holding companies accountable for environmental pollution, and much more. These actions not only benefit the natural environment, but have saved untold numbers of lives by protecting the air, water, and land that God created for us to rely on. In addition, the EPA serves as one of the most important climate change research bodies in the world. Continue reading