“If we fully develop the tar sands, we will certainly lose control of the climate. We will get to a point where we can not walk back from the cliff,” says climate scientist Dr. John Abraham. The Keystone XL pipeline is the lynchpin to developing the tar sands in Alberta.
I’ve been paying attention to the Keystone pipeline development since 2011 when it was under review by the State Department. I joined a group of religious leaders to deliver thousands of petitions to Dr. Kerri-Ann Jones, Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, asking her to to stop the pipeline. I said to her, “If this decision about the pipeline was made purely based on the climate science, we wouldn’t be here having this discussion.” She didn’t disagree. The exploitation of tar sands will significantly worsen the climate.
Now, new scientific data shows that developing the tar sands (and the pipeline to carry it) is worse than previously known. The video above shows climate scientists countering the notion that the climate impacts of the Keystone XL pipeline are small compared to total U.S. global greenhouse gas emissions. Nathan Lemphers, a Senior Policy Analyst with the Pembina Institute, details how the Keystone XL is a critical ingredient to significant expansion of tar sands. He dispels the myth being promoted by the tar sands oil industry that tar sands development is inevitable with our without Keystone XL. That’s not true. All other routes are similarly being blocked.
President Barack Obama’s Inauguration Address this week included a bold statement about his vision for addressing climate change. In fact, he redefined the issue of environmental protection as not only morally important but a command from God. After the vacuum of discussion of climate change during the presidential campaign, this proclamation came as a welcome surprise.
Most analyses of Obama’s speech point to the fact that the reason he was able to say what he did is that American public opinion has solidified behind these ideas. Plenty of polls will tell you that the number of Americans who accept the reality of climate change has soared in recent years, perhaps partly due to the natural disasters the president mentioned.
One day after making climate change a key issue in his inaurugal address President Obama has decided to put off a decision on the Keystone XL Pipeline until April. The issue was thrust to the front of the agenda today when the governor of Nebraska approved the pipeline. The ultimate fate of the project is in Obama's hands. The Guardian reports:
Republicans immediately pushed Obama to approve the pipeline. "There is no bureaucratic excuse, hurdle or catch President Obama can use to delay this project any further," John Boehner, the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, said in a statement. "He and he alone stands in the way of tens of thousands of new jobs and energy security."
Campaigners against the pipeline said Obama should immediately shut down the project. "Approving Keystone XL would make a mockery of the commitment he made at the inauguration to take action on climate change," said 350.org, which has led opposition to the pipeline.
I attended the Inauguration Ceremony today. It was thankfully not as cold as last time. But it was one of President Barack Obama's best speeches — strong, clear, even tough, in a good way. My favorite line was: "… history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they’ve never been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth."
In other words, God has made those principles always presented at inaugurals "self-evident" or ordained; but human beings must implement them. The president is saying that it is up to us to do that in our time. He elaborated. He was specific.
Editor's Note: The following is a transcript of President Barack Obama's remarks following his swearing in during Monday's Inauguration ceremony.
THE PRESIDENT: Vice President Biden, Mr. Chief Justice, members of the United States Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow citizens:
Each time we gather to inaugurate a President we bear witness to the enduring strength of our Constitution. We affirm the promise of our democracy. We recall that what binds this nation together is not the colors of our skin or the tenets of our faith or the origins of our names. What makes us exceptional -- what makes us American -- is our allegiance to an idea articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Today we continue a never-ending journey to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time. For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they’ve never been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth. (Applause.) The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few or the rule of a mob. They gave to us a republic, a government of, and by, and for the people, entrusting each generation to keep safe our founding creed.
And for more than two hundred years, we have.
Some of my environmentally conscious friends have expressed concern about having a real Christmas tree in their house – it seems wasteful to cut down an entire tree just for a month or so of décor. After all, climate change is a huge problem, and its potential impacts on the world (most especially the poor) seem contrary to the Christmas spirit.
It’s not a new worry – Teddy Roosevelt actually banned the White House Christmas Tree during his time in office, as he was worried about the conservation implications of people running out to cut down the forest.
We can rest easy, though – the live Christmas tree industry that has developed since that time is actually a benefit to the global climate. Here’s why.
The religious implications of climate change are becoming evermore clear, as the topic makes its way into mainstream America.
The Huffington Post reports:
Indeed, what role do religion and theology play in the accelerating conversation about climate change? This has been a banner year for extreme weather events -- from severe drought in the American Midwest to the wildfire siege in Colorado to the "Frankenstorm" of Hurricane Sandy fueled by a warming Atlantic Ocean -- which have helped the reality of climate change to register on the consciousness of most people.
Read more here.
The Huffington Post reports:
In the holiday season, many of us reflect on what it is for which we are thankful. Naturally, we give thanks when things are going well, and even in a disaster we might be grateful that the catastrophe was not worse or that people stepped forward to render assistance. Claudius's poem presupposes a general climatic stability that for several centuries has been conducive to thankful worship.
But how does this optimistic hymn play in the era of radical climate change? How will it sound in the future, when each decade may bring yet more frequent and extreme climate events? What is the providential reading of "God's almighty hand" in a prolonged and life-threatening drought, or in the agrarian disaster of a dust bowl? When we are battered by a Hurricane Sandy or Katrina, how do we understand the majestic line about God in the Navy hymn, "Who bidd'st the mighty ocean deep its own appointed limits keep?"
Read more here.
Delegates from around the world are meeting in Doha, Qatar this month to discuss United Nations’ climate policy. In the past, these meetings were a source of hope for the environmental movement, as governments came together and committed to reducing emissions to collectively try to halt climate change.
Unfortunately, that is no longer the case.
Remember the Kyoto Protocol? Even though the reductions it mandated were nowhere near what’s required for us to reverse the trend we’ve started, we haven’t even come close to achieving those reductions. Oh yeah, and the United States didn’t even sign it.
The Protocol is expiring this year, and the U.N. Framework Commission on Climate Change (the body that created the Protocol — stick with me here) is trying in Doha to extend it for a couple years until they can reach an agreement on how to move forward.
So what’s holding the discussions back?
The Global North and West is addicted to fossilized fuel. Myself included. And we are trying to push our addictions onto the Global South.
Everywhere we look the fossil fuel pushers are in our face, luring us into our next fix.
Not a week after the elections, the American Petroleum Institute launched ads in Alaska, Louisiana, New Mexico, Colorado, Virginia, Arkansas, and North Carolina targeting U.S. senators who are raising the issue of climate change; specifically, the ones calling into question oil company subsidies.
The oil and gas companies try seduction ("fighting for jobs"). They try fear ("we are too big to fail"). They accuse us of being unfair to them ("Discriminatory treatment of the oil and gas industry is a bad idea"). They try bullying and slandering.
Even when our court system recently convicted one of them killing (BP convicted of "manslaughter" for the 11 murdered on Gulf Oil spill rigs), they are not stopped.
Midway through his nationwide, one-month Do The Math tour, Bill McKibben — author, environmental activist, and founder of 350.org — attracted a crowd that packed the Warner Theater in downtown Washington, D.C., on Sunday.
Joined both onstage and by video by a diverse group of speakers, including Rev. Lennox Yearwood of the Hip Hop Caucus, author Naomi Klein, and Archbishop Desmund Tutu, McKibben’s Do The Math tour brings to light the stark numbers of our current climate reality, first brought to the public’s attention in his viral article in Rolling Stone this past summer.
The three main numbers are as follows: 2 degrees Celsius is the maximum level of warming our planet can endure before real catastrophe occurs. To stay below 2 degrees C, we cannot burn more than 565 gigatons of carbon dioxide. But the problem is that the fossil fuel industry has 2,795 gigatons in their reserves — five times the safe amount to burn. As is their business plan, to reap the profit from these reserves, the fossil fuel companies plan on burning all of it, “unless we rise up to stop them” states the 350.org website.
James Balog and Jeff Orlowski, makers of the documentary film 'Chasing Ice' sit down with the "Morning Joe" MSNBC crew to discuss the implications of climate change and arctic ice melt. Check our our Sojo review of the film.
Photographer James Balog has a story for you, and it might be one you haven’t heard before. Starting in 2005, he and a team of adventurous photographers set out to provide visual, undeniable evidence for climate change. What they found he described as “decrepit old men falling into the earth and dying:” glaciers worldwide disappearing at record rates.
The film Chasing Ice is the story of their Extreme Ice Survey as they place time-lapse cameras on glaciers in Greenland, Iceland, Montana, and Alaska, and watch as they disappear. The public does not want statistics, they say. The public is being misled to believe that scientists do not agree on climate change. The public is losing interest but needs to pay attention.
As Balog and his team will tell you, the memory cards in their cameras contain the memories of the landscape, a “limitless universe of forms,” that will never be seen again. Man-made climate change (as documented by ice cores from the very glaciers that may not exist in a few years) is fundamentally altering our geology.
It is not surprising that our purely secular “environmental” movements have played out their ability to change society. For the changes we need to undertake are not only technological and political, but deeper and more difficult. They call on us to shape new institutions and new values.
When God’s Wind shattered Pharaoh’s power at the Red Sea, it was only the beginning of the creation of a new society. It took 40 years of struggle, of transformation and mistake, backsliding and grumbling, to ready a people that could live in a sacred relationship with each other, with the Earth, and with the Breath of Life.
So even if we were to shatter the gross and domineering political and economic power of our modern pharaohs, the giant corporations of Big Oil, Big Coal, Big Unnatural Gas that will not relent from over-burning and overpowering us, we would still need to be growing what religions claim to offer: a new vision of our lives.
As the winds and the rain of Hurricane Sandy settle down, one bit of the aftermath is going to be another round of conversation about how climate change is affecting our world.
It’s not a conversation you have heard much of in the presidential campaign this year. Climate change is one of a quartet of issues that will have a huge impact on the future of this nation that have gotten short shrift by both President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney.
Poverty. Guns. . Drones. Climate change.
Bring up any of those issues and watch the candidates make a quick nod of concern and then scamper away from any specifics. Yet those issues will be with us long after Nov. 6, so it is incumbent on those of us in the faith community to be laying the groundwork now for how we will address them in the coming year.
That work has already begun, of course. The challenge is not to let the post-election exhaustion sweep away those concerns like they were potted palms on a pier in the midst of the hurricane.
Editor's Note: Sojourners offices, which are based in Washington, D.C., will be closed due to the weather. We pray for the safety of our staff, neighbors, and all those affected by this storm.
God, we pray for all those along the East Coast in the path of Hurricane Sandy. Grant safety to all, including the first responders. We pray for all those who will lose electricity and whose homes may be been damaged. But we pray especially for those who have no homes and no shelters in times such as these. We ask that your hand would protect them and keep them safe. May our paths cross with theirs so that we might have an opportunity to love and serve them. Amen.
"O Lord of LIght" by the Innocence Mission
It was game time. The Saturday night crowd on the Vermont campus was festive, boisterous, pumped. People cheered and whooped when told that one of their heroes, climate activist Tim DeChristopher — serving a two-year federal sentence for his civil disobedience opposing new oil and gas drilling in Utah — would soon be back on the field.
When the man on the stage, 350.org’s Bill McKibben, said it was time to march not just on Washington but on the headquarters of fossil fuel companies — “it’s time to march on Dallas” — and asked those to stand who’d be willing to join in the fight, seemingly every person filling the University of Vermont’s cavernous Ira Allen Chapel, some 800 souls, rose to their feet.
McKibben and 350, the folks who brought us the Keystone XL pipeline protests, are now calling for a nationwide divestment campaign aimed at fossil fuel companies’ bottom line. Beginning with student-led campaigns on college campuses, modeled on the anti-apartheid campaigns of the 1980s, they’ll pressure institutions to withdraw all investments from big oil and coal and gas. Their larger goal is to ignite a morally charged movement to strip the industry of its legitimacy.
“The fossil fuel industry has behaved so recklessly that they should lose their social license — their veneer of respectability,” McKibben tells his audience. “You want to take away our planet and our future? We’re going to take away your money and your good name.”