Jim Rice is editor of Sojourners magazine. He has also served as managing editor of the magazine, director of Sojourners Outreach Ministry, and coordinator of Sojourners Peace Ministry.
Prior to joining Sojourners, Rice was an organizer for the Center for Peace Studies at Georgetown University. He was founder and co-director of Pax Christi: Washington's Peace Education Program and producer of the multimedia "Anatomy of the Nuclear Arms Race." In addition, Rice served on the founding National Committee, Executive Committee, and Direct Action Task Force of the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign, and he was treasurer of the Nuclear Weapons Education Fund. Before moving to D.C., Rice was the hunger action coordinator for the Oregon Center for Peace and Justice in Portland, Ore., and he spent two years as a member of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. He has been a member of the national advisory board for Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding and a research fellow for the New Media Project at Union Theological Seminary and Christian Theological Seminary.
Rice, a graduate of Seattle University, is a native of Richland, Wash., the bedroom community of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. Rice was a long-time member of Sojourners Community, an intentional Christian renewal community located in inner-city Washington, D.C. He and his wife, Dawn, have two children, Jessica and Adam. He is a member of Hyattsville Mennonite Church outside of Washington.
Selected Sojourners articles by Jim Rice
In John Carr's view, Pope Francis is already shaking up the Catholic Church -- and the best is yet to come.
GOP attempts to circumvent the health-care law range from the inane to downright bullying.
Even at their best, toys like the American Girls Dolls send a mix message.
"Given the option of paying more for dirty power or paying less for clean power, what would you take?" May 2013
The way to stop is to stop. March 2013
Before the election, several bishops went so far as to threaten their parishioners with eternal damnation if they voted for Obama. January 2013
The constraints on political engagement by nonprofits can be frustrating for those committed to social change. November 2012
We'll never reach reconciliation between Christians and Muslims until we address root causes—and take on the haters. November 2012
Drones: War Crimes and Misdemeanors
Hey Pres. Obama: The Nobel Peace Prize committee is calling. They want their medal back. August 2012
Fairness matters, especially for people on society’s margins—and that conviction goes far beyond tax equity to every aspect of public policy. For people of the Book, it’s much more important than politics; it’s a matter of faith. June 2012
A new definition of malnutrition is emerging, as formerly developing countries are globalized into “fast-food nation” lifestyles. May 2012
More than 5 million voters could be affected by new Voter-ID laws and (coincidentally?) a disproportionate number of them are people of color. April 2012
The Occupy movement has already established its legacy -- by changing the nation's conversation about wealth inequality.March 2012
Renewable energy sources aren't just safer than nuclear power -- they're also cheaper. June 2011
An interview with Palestinian Christian activist Sami Awad on why nonviolence is key to Middle East justice. May 2010
Composting with Worms (a “how-to” video)
Sojourners editor Jim Rice and his family have been composting with worms for more than a decade. In this video how-to, he shares 7 steps to composting with worms. December 2009
The Path to Peace in the Middle East
Lessons from Gaza. March 2009
Once thought to be in the pocket of the Religious Right, many American evangelicals today are discovering a deeper understanding of what it means to be pro-life. With Jeannie Choi. November 2008
During the Second Great Awakening, the fruits of conversion included social reform. April 2008
Christian-Muslim dialogue raises hope - and suspicion. April 2008
"God's Smuggler" Brother Andrew has an odd way of breaking down barriers between Christians and Muslims. But somehow it works. March 2008
Proponents claim that nuclear energy is the power source of the future - clean, green, and safe. Are they right? Cover feature. August 2007
The church consensus is solidifying on the need to save the planet. April 2007
How would Mahatma Gandhi confront terrorism today? And what action would the apostle of nonviolence take in response to the wars waged in the name of anti-terrorism? A review of David Cortright’s “Gandhi and Beyond: Nonviolence for an Age of Terrorism.” December 2006
Out of the carnage of Middle East war, can real peace ever be achieved? September/October 2006
In the Middle East, only justice for all is justice at all. August 2005
On mourning in America. August 2004
The Burden of Truth. An interview with two former CIA analysts on the lies behind the Iraq war and the heavy weight of conscience. November-December 2003
"School Choice" Passes a Test. A victory for vouchers -- but who wins? September-October 2002
Sins of the Fathers. The deepest guilt is the church's. May-June 2002
Unfoolish Consistency. Moral principles, not politics, guide the bishops. January-February 2001
Core Values. The Broetjes, owners of the largest apple orchard in Washington state, had a crazy idea -- to treat their workers like people. November-December 2000
A Blank Check for China? China is the current battleground -- as Seattle was last fall -- over the rules of global trade. May-June 2000
Sandino Lives! Actually, even in Nicaragua, revolutionary fervor isn't what it used to be. March-April 2000
Rome Not Quite Ready for Women Priests. November-December 1998
Whatever Happened to Lt. Calley? November-December 1998
A Squandered Opportunity. The biggest obstacle to Palestinian Democracy may well be the emerging state's founding father, Yasir Arafat. July-August 1997
Why Play? Contemplation, freedom, and the spirit of leisure. January-February 1997
Bernardin's Most Important Year. November-December 1996
Beyond the Nuclear Test Ban. November-December 1996
Crack, Contras, and the CIA. November-December 1996
With "Friends" Like These. What to do about sleazy TV? May-June 1996
Justifying the Next War. The real-world effects of the just war theory. March-April 1996
Into Bosnia. Mixed motives and good fruit. January-February 1996
Getting Beyond Labels. Serpents, doves, and the Religious Right. March-April 1995
"Cautious Optimism" on Haiti. Reconciliation in Haiti must be preceded by repentance and rooted in truth. November 1994
The Armor of Righteousness. The Christian Right makes its bid for the political mainstream. November 1994
Where Angels Fear to Tread. November 1994
Shifting Terrain in Korea. Without Jimmy Carter's risky pilgrimage, the world would be a more dangerous place. September-October 1994
Too Many People? The unavoidable reality is that where there is severe poverty, adding more people makes the suffering worse. August 1994
Seeking Common Ground on Abortion. July 1994
The Last Comeback of Richard Nixon. July 1994
World Bank/IMF: 50 Years Is Enough. The Bank will not change its economic model without outside pressure. July 1994
When Dignity Is Assaulted. Biblically based Christians must forcefully oppose this deceptive, homophobic campaign of the Far Right. February-March 1994
NAFTA's Fatal Flaws. December 1993
Be Like Mike? Michael Jordan or Madonna may be worth talking about, but they arguably serve no principle beyond themselves. September-October 1993
Saying No to Bigotry. Why the church must stand up for gay rights. February-March 1993
Cultures in Conflict. Inner-city tensions explode on the streets of Washington, D.C. . July 1991
SDI-Lite: Old Wine in New Skins. May 1991
On The Front Lines Of Resistance. Conscientious objectors struggle for recognition. April 1991
Mistakes Were Made…. Will the Nuclear Industry's Post-Cold War PR Campaign Work? January 1991
Posts By This Author
From the Editor: November 2019
“HUMILITY” HAS OFTEN been understood as involving self-abasement, low self-regard, and meekness. Merriam-Webster’s definition of humble refers to “a spirit of deference or submission.” It’s not surprising, with those meanings in mind, that the instruction to “be humble” has been used as a tool of oppression over the years against women and marginalized people—a not-so-subtle call to “stay in your place” and not rock the boat.
From the Editor: September/October 2019
With any change comes the potential of disruption.
From the Editor: August 2019
YOU'LL NOTICE when you turn the next page a new columnist for Sojourners, Rev. Adam Russell Taylor. Adam served as our senior political director more than a decade ago; for many years his focus has been on advancing justice and human rights around the world, first by co-founding Global Justice, then with the international Christian development organization World Vision, and most recently as the lead of the Faith Initiative at the World Bank.
From the Editor: July 2019
JESUIT SPIRITUALITY revolves around the task of finding God in all things, reflecting on the meaning of the actions and events around us, and acting in the world as “people for others.” Those principles, in many ways, speak to the vocation of Sojourners—we don’t just cover news, we seek to understand how God is working in the world.
Welcome to Post-Sexist America
Sexism is dead. So sayeth most men, according to a national survey in August. Women, on the other hand, aren’t quite convinced.
The poll by the Pew Research Center found that 56 percent of men, and only 34 percent of women, said they thought that “sexism no longer was a barrier” to women in this country. (A pair of adjacent headlines on washingtonpost.com summed it up: “Sexism is over, according to most men” immediately preceded “It’s 2016, and women still make less for doing the same work as men.”)
So, welcome to “post-sexist” America.
I imagine it will look a lot like the “post-racist” America that Barack Obama’s election in 2008 supposedly ushered in. At that time, a few days after Obama’s historic election, The Wall Street Journal wrote that “Barack Obama’s election as the first black U.S. president promises to usher in a new era of race relations.”
The paper quoted a senior Obama adviser as saying, “People say he is a post-racial candidate. When people say that, they seem to suggest that we are beyond the issue of race, that issues of race don’t matter.” But Obama will tell you, she continued, that “he thinks race does matter.”
Turns out the president was right.
AND NOW, if the country elects its first woman president this fall, will it be seen as a sign that the country has moved into a new era regarding justice and equality for women?
The campaign itself, of course, hasn’t been encouraging. Some wonder if the level of vitriol aimed at the first woman to receive a major-party presidential nomination is due in large part to the fact that she’s, well, a woman.
Over the last 50 or 60 years, overt sexism—like overt racism—has been made less and less socially acceptable. But a look at basic statistics for, say, women in leadership positions—from CEOs at top companies (4 percent) to members of Congress (19 to 20 percent)—should dispel the delusion that we live in an egalitarian society.
THE IMAGE OF Palestinian teenagers pulling out knives and attempting to stab heavily armed, flak-jacketed Israeli soldiers—or civilians, right in front of the soldiers—serves as a sad metaphor for Israel-Palestine these days. The desperation, the futility, the massive disproportionality of firepower—it’s all there.
Of course, what really happened in recent violent incidents is subject to contentious dispute, as is so much else in the region. Take, for instance, a mid-October clash in East Jerusalem. The Israeli police gave their version of events: Border police officers confronted a Palestinian man, who pulled a knife and tried to stab them. They fired at him to “neutralize” the attack, and he died of his injuries.
The Palestinian News and Information Agency’s version added significant details: The “man” killed by Israeli soldiers was actually a 16-year-old named Muta’az Owaisat, and the agency reported that the police quickly imposed a military cordon to keep journalists from the scene, near an “illegal Israeli settlement.” The report added, “Earlier Saturday, an 18-year-old Palestinian ... was shot by an Israeli setter in central Hebron, in the southern Western Bank, where he was left to die by Israeli soldiers who prevented paramedics from administering medical assistance to him.”
An anecdote in The Washington Post illustrated the senselessness of the violence: “As an atmosphere of fear and vengeance spread, a young Jewish Israeli stalked an Ikea parking lot in Kiryat Ata, a town in northern Israel, apparently looking for Arabs to attack,” the Post reported. “He repeatedly stabbed a man who turned out to be Jewish himself.”
A lot of ink is spent explaining what “caused” these latest outbreaks—it’s usually summarized as Israel’s attempts to restrict Palestinians from entering the area of East Jerusalem that houses the al-Aqsa Mosque (and the Temple Mount). But in some ways, looking for a single precipitating cause misses the point. Sometimes, such eruptions are simply a case of a people saying, “I’m not going to take this anymore.”
The Day the World Changed
The destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, by any civilized standards, represented one of the moral low-points in human history. After all, by very conservative estimates, 135,000 people died from the atomic blasts—most of them civilians, the victims of the intentional targeting of cities. Think about that—these weren’t military targets, but cities full of men, women, and children, going about their lives, destroyed in seconds by the most destructive weapons ever invented.
But the point of memorializing isn’t about the past. It’s about ensuring such things happen “never again.”
Divest from Occupation: 'We Think Israel Can Do Better'
WHITE HOUSE Chief of Staff Denis McDonough told an audience this spring that “an occupation that has lasted for almost 50 years must end, and the Palestinian people must have the right to live in and govern themselves in their own sovereign state.”
McDonough decried the illegal construction of settlements in Palestinian territory, under Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his predecessors, as intentionally seeking to divide Palestinian communities. He added, “like every administration since President Johnson, we will continue to oppose Israeli settlement activity since it undermines the prospects for peace.”
But many activists refuse to continue to merely decry the occupation, year after year, decade after decade, while facts on the ground worsen and a just peace grows seemingly more elusive. For these activists—and they include many U.S. churches, peace groups, and humanitarian organizations—the time has come to put teeth into efforts to end Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory and thereby impel progress toward a just peace in the region.
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has been debating various divestment measures since 2004, and last year the denomination voted to divest from three companies that supply equipment used in the occupation of Palestinian territory.
Nuclear Weapons: Time for Abolition
IMAGINE IF YOU will a world in which the most destructive weapons were “conventional” explosives. These bombs, often with nicknames such as “Daisy Cutter” or “bunker buster” or even the “Mother of All Bombs,” have enormous power: The Vietnam-era Daisy Cutter, one of the largest conventional weapons ever used, was designed to flatten a forest into a helicopter landing zone with a blast equal to about 15,000 pounds of TNT.
Now imagine that someone says, “Those conventional bombs aren’t destructive enough. Let’s invent a weapon a million times more powerful, one that releases radiation that magnifies the killing effects for generations. And let’s make 16,000 of those weapons.”
A sane world would respond, “You’ve gotta be kidding.”
But in the real world, it’s no joke.
Today, 70 years after the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, the world has 16,400 nuclear weapons—93 percent of them in the arsenals of the U.S. and Russia. The first H-bomb had the force of around 10 million tons of TNT, more than a million times as powerful as the worst conventional weapons.
On a Firm Foundation
HILDA DE BOJORQUEZ holds a set of blueprints in one hand. Her other hand is pointing. At a better future, perhaps, if things go well.
De Bojorquez is the chief engineer at this construction site in a neighborhood just outside Port-au-Prince still blemished with rubble from Haiti’s 2010 earthquake. She commands respect from the all-male crew of Haitians working at the site—she tells a group of visiting U.S. reporters that her gender has never been an issue in the male-dominated world of construction, here or in her native El Salvador.
When asked about obstacles on the project, De Bojorquez goes on for 15 minutes—she’s an engineer, after all—but the point is that they’ve tackled them, one by one, and done so the right way. She extols the importance of a solid foundation and robust retaining walls. She points to the cinder blocks and the rebar, and explains how her group had to teach a company how to provide high-quality materials, with the promise that they’d buy everything the company made. And she emphasizes that she’s there not just to oversee a number of construction projects, but to train Haitians to do it themselves the next time—and to do it right.
The steel-reinforced blocks are rising into walls that will surround a new six-room school for perhaps 200 children in this neighborhood four miles east of Port-au-Prince. The narrow site is wedged between two crumbling buildings, both showing earthquake damage. Even to an untrained eye, the differences are obvious between the fragile, deteriorating blocks next door and the solid retaining walls rising at our feet.
Vatican on Nuclear Disarmament: 'Time for Abolition'
This week, at a conference in Vienna, Austria on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, Pope Francis issued a statement declaring that "nuclear deterrence cannot be the basis for peaceful coexistence between states."
A Vatican official told Sojourners in Vienna that the Holy See is seriously discussing whether the possession of nuclear weapons can be morally justified in our current multipolar world. The official quoted Pope John XXIII, who said "Nuclear weapons should be banned," and said that the time has come to embrace nuclear abolition.
The Vatican statement, titled "Nuclear Disarmament: Time for Abolition," argued that "the structure of nuclear deterrence is less stable and more worrisome than at the height of the Cold War," and said that "the very possession of nuclear weapons, even for purposes of deterrence, is morally problematic."
Since the beginning of the Cold War in the aftermath of World War II, the fundamental moral rationale for the possession of nuclear weapons has been the concept of deterrence. Simply put, the threat of massive annihilation rendered these weapons unusable — the very threat of such unacceptable destruction would, in theory, deter their use.
'War is Terrorism'
ONE DAY, WHEN I was a student at Christ the King Elementary School in my hometown of Richland, Wash., the nuns gathered all the kids, two by two, and walked us outside to the parking lot. There sat a mobile van emblazoned with the logo of the Atomic Energy Commission and the words “Whole Body Scanner.”
One at a time, we were led into the van, where we laid on a white-sheathed table beneath a large, (scary), medical-looking machine. There was a whirring sound, and after a minute or two we were told to get up and make room for the next child. We weren’t told what the process was for, but it’s safe to assume that the government was interested in the effects of radiation on those of us who were “downwinders” from one of the nation’s largest nuclear complexes.
Richland was (and is) the bedroom community for the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. Hanford was built in the 1940s as part of the Manhattan Project, the massive wartime program that led to the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II. Hanford’s role was the production of plutonium for the world’s first nuclear weapon, the “test” bomb detonated in New Mexico a few weeks before Hiroshima, and for the bomb that destroyed Nagasaki three days later.
Those weapons were dropped 69 years ago, but the debate about their morality continues. It emerged again this spring when the two Missouri senators proposed renaming D.C.’s Union Station after Harry S. Truman, who authorized history’s only nuclear attack on people. One commenter in a related discussion wrote, “I have a problem with judging past cultures by today's standards. To end WWII we dropped bombs on cities filled with innocent civilians. By today's standards that would be condemned. Are you willing to say we should not have done that to end WWII?”
Cherish Each Moment — Even the Sucky Ones
ELIZABETH PALMBERG—Zab to her friends—says her motto is “Cherish each moment, even the ones that suck.”
Nine years ago, she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. She has had her ups and downs in her battle against cancer, but many moments in that journey have undeniably sucked.
In 2001, Zab was a college professor in California when she applied to be an intern at Sojourners. We decided her Ph.D. (in Victorian literature) perhaps qualified her to do the data entry and fact-checking work required of our editorial intern, and when her yearlong internship was over we invited her to become a full-time member of the editorial staff.
She’s been gracing us, and our readers, with her brilliant analysis and quirky wit ever since. Her knowledge, passion, and insight informed and often challenged those of us who’ve worked closely with her—and led to outside recognition as well. In 2011, for instance, Zab joined a Witness for Peace delegation to Colombia, visiting communities engaged in the difficult work of peacebuilding and conflict resolution. Her report on the trip—the last feature she wrote for the magazine—was honored by the Associated Church Press as the best news article of the year.
In November 2012, she wrote on her blog, “Just as I was planning a big six-year hey-they-cured-my-cancer party, it turned out I have cancer again.” Months of difficult treatment followed, and she chronicled the good times and the bad with (most of the time) her sense of humor firmly intact. For instance, she wrote that “technically, the exact wrong thing to read [during chemotherapy] is Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure, which also happens to be the wrong thing to read in almost *every* context—that book really puts the “ick” in ‘Victorian.’ My deepest apologies to the one class I forced to read it. I don’t know what I was thinking.”
Profiles in Courage
THE ULTIMATE BRAVERY might well be the courage to forgive one’s enemies and hold on to hope.
Nelson Mandela famously emerged from 27 years in prison as a reconciler and uniter, somehow free from bitterness and hatred. He was able to put into practice Jesus’ call to love our enemies—and thus became the father of the new South Africa.
Far from the upper echelons of power and fame, forgiving our enemies can be a difficult task, since “enemies,” by their very definition, aren’t easy to love. But in places of oppression, occupation, and routine violence, it’s even harder.
Take, for example, the story of a young man named Yousef Bashir. He grew up in the Gaza Strip, near an Israeli settlement known as Kfar Darom. In 2000, Palestinians rose up in protest against the Israeli occupation in what became known as the Second Intifada. In response, Israeli soldiers came to Yousef’s house and told his family to leave.
His father had dedicated his life to teaching Yousef and his brothers “how to coexist with the Israelis,” Yousef explained over lunch in Philadelphia early this winter, and he insisted on staying in their long-time family home. As a result, Yousef said, Israeli soldiers moved into the Bashir family’s house when he was 11 years old. They occupied the house until he was 15.
The Mythical World of Tom Clancy
The books of Tom Clancy, who passed away this week, contain some of the most detailed description of military weaponry and procedures the public is likely to see. And people want to believe it: Clancy’s world is one in which technology can provide security and the so-called experts can be trusted to protect us. He takes a complex world and doesn’t merely simplify it, but rather creates super humans and super machines that can manage the world’s complexities.
The Party of No Compromise
I SPENT MY first year after college doing voluntary service in Portland, Ore., serving as the hunger action coordinator for a small Catholic organization called the Oregon Center for Peace and Justice. That fall, I joined a group of church anti-hunger activists from around the state in a meeting with our Republican U.S. senator, Mark O. Hatfield. We asked him a number of questions, and urged his continuing support for food- and hunger-related legislation.
When it came my turn, I said, “Senator, how do you reconcile the compromises that you inevitably have to make as a politician with the ideals you hold as a Christian?” In his reply, Sen. Hatfield pointed to the difference between compromises of principle—which he said he would never make—and the tactical compromises necessary to make progress in a pluralistic society. Without the latter, the senator said, politics is nothing but an ideological shouting match.
These days, it’s clear that most far-right Republicans, including those in the party’s leadership, take a slightly different approach to inter-party cooperation than did the late Sen. Hatfield. They seem to see it less as building bridges for the sake of governing a varied society and more as sleeping with the enemy.
There’s probably no better recent example than the issue of health care. The Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, is the law of the land—passed by Congress, signed by the president, and ruled constitutional by the Supreme Court. But none of those legal niceties seem to matter to the raw-meat GOP. Their attempts to circumvent or undercut the law range from the inane (such as 67 failed tries—count them: 67—to overturn the ACA by congressional vote) to downright bullying.
'Simple is the New Chic'
RIGHT FROM THE beginning, John Carr saw Pope Francis as a “great sign of hope.”
Carr, who spent more than two decades as the U.S. bishops’ top peace and justice officer, was home, working at his kitchen table, when the white smoke came up announcing the selection of the new pope. “I thought, ‘Oh, my,’ and this guy I didn’t recognize came out,” Carr said. “When he said the name ‘Francis,’ I thought ‘it’s going to be okay.’”
As executive director of the Department of Justice, Peace, and Human Development at the U.S. Catholic bishops’ conference, Carr carried a rather large portfolio. He often tells the story of being introduced by a man who said, “He’s in charge of social development and world peace.” The man’s wife, in Carr’s telling, looked at him and said, “You need to do a better job.”
Since leaving the bishops’ staff last year, Carr has launched a new initiative, based at Georgetown University, aimed at helping lay people “become more informed and engaged in their vocation to be ‘salt, light, and leaven’” in public life. Carr, who visited Sojourners’ office this spring, is encouraged that the election of Pope Francis “has provided incredible visibility, urgency, and passion” around social issues. “When he was going to be elected, his friend said, ‘Don’t forget the poor,’” Carr explained. “A church that moves to the edge to care for the weak and vulnerable is a church you want to be a part of.”
Our Dolls, Our Selves
WHEN MY DAUGHTER, Jessica, was 7 years old, some of her best friends had American Girl dolls, so of course she desperately needed one as well. We asked three or four family members to chip in—these were expensive dolls—and got her one for Christmas.
Her doll, “Addy,” came with a story, as did each in the American Girl line. Addy and her mother had escaped from slavery in the American South, and they “followed the drinking gourd” north to Philadelphia, where they were eventually reunited with the rest of Addy’s family. It was a gripping story, especially for a 7-year-old. And the fact that Addy was about my daughter’s age made it all the easier for her to connect.
“It wasn’t so much that I learned ‘facts’” about slavery and race from the Addy stories, Jessica, now 27, told me recently, “but they made it all more personal. Addy was young, like me—I could relate to it.”
Other women who grew up with the dolls echoed that sense of connection with the various American Girl stories. Janelle Tupper, campaigns assistant at Sojourners, was around 7 when she received the “Kirsten” doll, a Swedish immigrant to the U.S. “My most distinct memory from the stories was that, on the boat, her best friend dies of cholera,” Tupper said. “Reading that passage was pretty devastating to me as a kid.” Other books in the American Girl series addressed issues of the day, from child labor to women’s suffrage. And while Tupper said she wasn’t aware as a child of the social justice themes in the stories—“I was just imagining life in the different time periods through the eyes of a character I identified with”—she now sees the series as addressing “societal change in terms that an 8- year-old can understand, often told through the characters’ friendships and family stories.”
Future's So Bright
EARLIER THIS YEAR, 14 solar panels were installed on my roof. Each day since—in fact, multiple times a day—I've eagerly checked our online meters, as the sun replaces coal and nuclear plants as the provider of my home's electrical needs.
I've waited a long time for this. I attended my first energy conference in the late 1970s, when I joined several other students from the hunger action group at our Jesuit college, Seattle U., for the 20-hour van ride to Denver—even then, the connection between poverty and energy issues was clear.
That conference was one of several conducted by the U.S. Catholic bishops to gather input for what became a major and still-relevant document published in 1981 under the unassuming name "Reflections on the Energy Crisis." The statement noted that "solar power can help open the way to permanent energy security, pointing beyond the end of fossil fuels."
So last summer I was thrilled to sign a contract with a company called SolarCity, which installed the solar panels on my rooftop under a lease arrangement—they own the panels, and I buy solar power from them whenever the sun shines. And there's sure a lot of sunshine to tap: Every hour of daylight on earth, the sun releases the amount of energy consumed by the entire population of the planet in one year.
From the Archives: May 1990
IN THE summer of 1969, then-Sen. Gaylord Nelson was on a conservation speaking tour of the West when he visited the beaches of Santa Barbara, at that time despoiled by one of the worst oil spills in U.S. history. The devastation affected him deeply. Later, while reading an article about the teach-ins organized by anti-Vietnam War activists, Nelson asked himself, Why not have a day for a nationwide teach-in on the environment? Thus was born Earth Day 1970.
The original Earth Day was marked by a massive public outpouring of concern for the environment. Earth Day helped spawn new laws such as the Clean Air and Water Acts and the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, but it did little to staunch the more serious wounds of our dying planet. ... Much of the activity during the 20th-anniversary celebration of Earth Day this April 22 will focus on individual acts. ... But there is a danger in an overemphasis on personal acts, when the most grievous assaults on the natural world come from corporations and nations whose self-interested policies of acquisitiveness and greed have brought us to the edge of ecological cataclysm.