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Carroll Muffett Addresses the Climate Assembly

Carroll Muffett addressed the Climate Action I Assembly at the 2023 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago, USA.

August 14, 2023 (Transcript) – It is extraordinarily humbling to be here with you this afternoon and to speak at the end of that long line of truly extraordinary speakers. What can I say that hasn’t been said eloquently? What can I offer you that hasn’t been offered in abundance?

Well, the answer is I’m your lawyer so I can tell you what to do. And perhaps we can start by calling climate change by its true names, the real names, the names that we are living, the names that people around the world are living. 

This summer, as months of searing heat waves burned across the south of the US, across the west of the US, media story after media story about those searing heat waves featured photos of people in Bikini on beaches. The story of climate change is not the story of people in Bikinis on beaches. That is not climate change’s true name.

What we have seen this summer, what we have seen with increasing intensity for many years now is that climate change means drought. Climate change means hunger. Climate change means famine. It means storms and homelessness. It means disease. It means heat stroke. It means profound violations of human rights. And when we recognize that that is what we’re fighting, the stakes become clear, the moral case becomes clear, the urgency becomes clear, not just to you, but to the people you need to move in your congregations, in your communities, and in your lives. 

And so, let’s begin by calling climate change what it is. A true global emergency.

In the face of the statistics, in the face of the growing realities of the climate crisis, it is easy to feel hopeless. But there’s a reason you feel hopeless, and that is because the architects, and there are architects of the climate crisis, have spent decades, indeed more than a half century, making you believe it’s hopeless, and making you believe that you are the cause of climate change, and that you alone and acting alone are the only one who can fix it. 

That belief that everyone is responsible for climate change and therefore no one is responsible for climate change is the biggest and most successful lie that the fossil fuel industry has perpetrated for the last half century. ExxonMobil, Humble Oil at the time, published its first scientific paper recognizing the links between burning fossil fuels and greenhouse gases in 1958. 1958. In 1969, consulting scientists for the American Petroleum Institute told the industry as a whole, we have looked at the science. The science is clear. There are some uncertainties, but the real uncertainties are about the scale of impacts. What the industry should be doing now in 1969 is looking for ways to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

We have lost decades, countless decades, and the industry wants to tell you that it’s your fault. The industry wants to tell you that because you don’t flip your light switch off when you leave the room, that because you don’t walk everywhere you have to go in your life, that because you can’t figure out what in your life is recyclable and what really isn’t, that it’s your fault, and that it’s all of our fault, and therefore there’s nothing that can be done. But it’s not true. 

80% of global greenhouse gas emissions, 80% comes from the production, the use, the combustion, and the disposal of fossil fuels, 80%. And that means that four-fifths of the problem can be addressed immediately by simply getting fossil fuels out of our economy.

And as you’ve heard today, we have the tools to do that now. Ironically, in most places in the US, in most places around the world, renewable energy is actually already cheaper than building a new coal plant or building a new gas plant. And indeed, increasingly in countries around the world, just building new wind or solar plants, is cheaper than continuing to operate fossil fuels.

So we can do this. We have what we need to do this. And the first step, as you’ve heard from David, as you’ve heard from speaker after speaker, is to stop digging the hole. The first step is to end the expansion of fossil fuels to recognize oil, gas, and coal as the weapons of mass destructions that they are, and accelerate the phase-out.

But how can you do that? What does that have to do with you? And this is where my real offering begins, because it has everything to do with you.

When you realize that you are not acting alone, that this is not about whether you turn off your lights. It’s not about whether you walk to your grocery store and walk your kids to school. It is not about whether you can figure out what to recycle and not to recycle. It is about how you use your power collectively with those around you. This is how we win, and we can win. 

So what can you do specifically? The answer is any number of things. You can join the fight for a Fossil Fuel Non-proliferation Treaty, a fight that has been embraced by more than 2,000 organizations around the world, by Nobel laureates, and by the Parliament of the World’s Religions. You can do that today through the Parliament website. 

You can join the fight against other drivers of climate change, including plastics.

That’s right. Plastics are not only a curse on our oceans, not only a curse on human health, not only a curse on the communities where they are made, they are a major driver of the climate crisis. At our events this week, you will learn how your organization can get involved in the fight for a just plastic treaty at the global level to accelerate the phase out of plastics in ways that benefit the environment, the communities, and benefit the global climate. You can join the fight to divest from fossil fuels and invest in cleaner solutions and cleaner options.

Already 40 trillion dollars in assets have been moved out of fossil fuels worldwide. And fully 38% of the organizations around the world that have led that divestment effort are faith institutions. We can close off the biggest, dirtiest pipeline there is, and that’s the money pipeline. 

But there are also things that you can do closer to home when water keepers and frontline and fence line communities are taking action to stop those pipelines, to stop new petrochemical plants, new plastic plants, new refineries. You can join them, you can stand behind them, you can stand alongside of them, and if they ask you to, you can stand between them, and those who would use power and violence to do them injustice and do them harm.

More fundamentally, you can speak out. You can speak out in your communities, you can speak out politically, you can ensure that other voices are at the tables where you’re sitting, where you’re speaking, where you’re acting. When you are in a room where decisions are being made, you can look across that room and ask yourself, “Who is not here that needs to be here, and what is in my power, what can I do to get them here?” 

Because at the end of the day, this is how we win, and this is our true power. The power in recognizing that none of us, none of us are doing this alone. We are in the billions.

We are communities. We are institutions. We are Indigenous Peoples. We are entire nation-states. We are nonprofits. We are businesses, and we are filled with and surrounded by leaders. 

Lift them up, join them, and join us. We will do this. Thank you.

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