"The theory we work with as a society is that you can raise the temperature of the planet and nothing else wobbles on the other side," said Orr, a member of First Church in Oberlin UCC in Oberlin, Ohio. "But that's not the way the world works."
Orr discussed that small changes to the atmosphere can have big effects, noting that not only is the planet getting warmer, but that parts of the country are experiencing the "driest drys, the wettest wets and the windiest winds." He highlighted the connections between corporations, the economy and the $4-trillion fossil fuel industry, and noted how money in the United States has gravitated to the powerful few at the top. He related this to why the U.S. government has been ignoring the warnings about climate change and has yet to develop a legal climate policy since the issue first emerged in 1965.
"This is a long-term problem, not a short-term problem, and we need to find the stamina to stay with this," he said. "Don't be locked into despair, but there is a different world coming."Just before Orr's remarks, General Synod delegates provided a recap of Mission 4/1 Earth, the UCC's church-wide earth care initiative that took place April 1 to May 19. They gave examples of the countless ways UCC congregations throughout the country helped generate nearly 600,000 earth care hours, plant more than 130,000 trees, and write close to 52,000 letters of environmental advocacy during the 50-day campaign.
"It's a real honor to follow the preceding presentation," Orr said. "Those are UCC members doing things and getting involved with changing the world. I'm proud to be part of the UCC church and I'm proud of all the work you do and the connection you're making between theology and ecology."
Orr is the retired Paul Sears Distinguished Professor of Environmental Studies and Politics and senior adviser to the president at Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio. He is the executive director of the Oberlin Project, an initiative that aims to establish resilient communities for a post-fossil-fuel era. Starting in Oberlin, a city of 8,000 residents and students, Orr wants to create a place that relies on local sustainability and can succeed in a world short on oil and plagued with unpredictable weather – in other words, a place that can succeed in the future. The project seeks to combine art, science, business and academics, and is viewed as a "learning lab" for many different areas of sustainable living and development, Orr said.
The author of seven books and co-editor of three others, Orr has written nearly 200 articles, reviews, book chapters, and professional publications. In the past 25 years he has served as a board member or adviser to eight foundations and is currently a trustee for organizations including the Bioneers, the Alliance for Sustainable Colorado, and the Worldwatch Institute.
He has received seven honorary degrees and a dozen other awards including a Lyndhurst Prize, a National Achievement Award from the National Wildlife Federation, and a Visionary Leadership Award from Second Nature. He has lectured at colleges and universities throughout the United States, Europe and Asia. Among other achievements, Orr lead the effort to design, fund and build the Adam Joseph Lewis Center on the campus of Oberlin College, which was recognized as "the most important green building of the past 30 years," and "one of 30 milestone buildings of the 20th century" by the U.S. Department of Energy.