Climate change

Keystone XL: Ambiguity is the Enemy of Progress

Photo by Liz Schmitt / Sojourners
Photo by Liz Schmitt / Sojourners

The U.S. needs to quit its crude oil habit. TransCanada needs to see the individuals whose health is directly threatened by Keystone XL. The president and legislators alike need to act for the welfare of not only this generation but for the generations to come, if we indeed want to see the flourishing of future generations. We need to admit to our addiction to oil and identify its harmful ecological impact for what it is.

As a person of faith, I want to see our landscapes, waters and skies restored to wholeness. I am compelled by the love I’ve received from God and God’s people to work alongside others for the common good of all. Having experienced the crisp June evenings of Minnesota as well as the asthma-inducing smog of Hong Kong, I know both the beauty of fresh air and green spaces and the dullness of pollution and gray skies. The chances of enjoying the former are quickly dwindling at our current rate of oil consumption, but we still have time to prevent further environmental degradation, if not for future generations then at least for those of us who still look forward to the rest of their lives, no matter our age.

State Department's Final Review of Keystone XL: Negligible Impact?

Forward on Climate Rally, Photo by Scot DeGraf
Forward on Climate Rally, Photo by Scot DeGraf

Friday at 3 p.m. ET, the State Department released their long-awaited final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement of the Keystone XL pipeline extension, a proposed project from TransCanada to build a new pipeline for transporting tar sands crude oil from Canada to a refinery in Texas where it will likely be exported internationally.

Environmentalists and concerned citizens on the pipeline’s pathway have been waiting for the State Department to address previously ignored issues like the pipeline’s impact on climate pollution. President Obama said in a climate-focused speech last year that he would only approve Keystone XL if it did not pose a significant risk of climate pollution, so although State Department looked at other environmental risks as well (such as the 1,692 pipeline spills or incidents that occurred from 2002 to 2012 in the United States). This review concludes that the number of U.S. jobs to be created – once estimated in the tens of thousands – will actually be 50 operations jobs, with only 35 permanent. The rest (the touted 42,000 number) are all temporary construction jobs.

Talking to Evangelicals About Climate Change

IN 2013, Sojourners commissioned a messaging study to contribute to the creation care movement—the Christian response to climate change. We polled nearly 1,100 people, oversampling for evangelical Christians, since evangelicals can be politically effective when activated on justice issues, as they have been on immigration, HIV/AIDS, and human trafficking.

Our goal was not only to learn evangelicals’ attitudes about climate change, but also to explore which messages are most compelling so we can better communicate on the issue and make an effective difference for God’s creation.

The first thing we learned was that many of the common stereotypes about evangelicals and climate change simply aren’t true. For one thing, the majority of evangelicals we surveyed (60 percent) agree that climate change is happening, and most say that human activity plays a role.

Second, one’s position on climate change is better predicted by political affiliation than by religion but, interestingly, evangelical Republicans are more likely to support action on climate change than non-evangelical Republicans. Young evangelicals are also more receptive to climate change messages than non-evangelical young people. And for those who don’t agree with us on climate change, there is a low level of certainty: Twenty-five percent of evangelicals are in the moveable middle, either “somewhat sure” that climate change isn’t happening or undecided. This means there’s a good chance that they already care, or that their opinion could be changed.

SO IF YOU have the opportunity to talk with someone about the greatest threat facing the health of God’s Earth and the people living on it, how do you have that conversation? To find out, we tested 10 different arguments in favor of taking action to reverse climate change.

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What Good Is a Bridge If We Never Cross It?

Rebell/Shutterstock
What good is a bridge if we never cross it? Rebell/Shutterstock

Energy policy and climate change action are inexorably linked, like two oxen in a yoke.

The trouble with this set-up is that while climate action tends to look straight ahead, energy policy is apt to veer off on any number of paths, some of them quite well-meaning, like job growth or “energy independence.”

Last night’s State of the Union address by President Obama was, I’m afraid, one such experience for climate action, which compared to the huge bull of energy issues is a yearling at best. The yoke between energy and climate did get mentioned by the president, but the yoke pressed toward economic growth, the paradigm which many argue is responsible for our ecological crisis in the first place.  It’s enough to strain a vertebra. 

Obama's Two Faces on Climate Change

PHYSICS IS IMPLACABLE—it won’t bend even to politics.

Which is why it comes as bad news to see the charts on U.S. production of fossil fuels. During the Obama years, even as the president has been touting his administration’s success in reducing our domestic carbon emissions, it turns out that we’ve been drilling, mining, and fracking for more oil, coal, and gas than ever before. In fact, we’ve passed Saudi Arabia in oil production and are about to pass Russia in oil and gas output combined; meanwhile our coal exports have reached new highs. We’ve become the world’s biggest fossil fuel producer.

Which means that, precisely in the years when it’s become clear how much damage climate change is doing—the years of Midwest drought, of Hurricane Sandy—the United States has been bucking physics. We’re going in exactly the wrong direction.

The White House might make two arguments in response. One, it’s not their fault: The oil boom in places like North Dakota is all private enterprise. But in fact Obama’s done much to grease the skids for this boom: He’s opened up big offshore tracts for drilling, and even let the oil companies into the Arctic. His Interior Department has held auctions for vast piles of Powder River Basin coal.

In truth, when he’s being frank, the president has acknowledged this. Obama, who made it through his re-election barely mentioning global warming, has boasted again and again about his efforts to boost oil production. Here he is in 2012 in Cushing, Okla., against a backdrop of oil pipes:

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Cowboys, Indians, and Reconciliation?

THE DOMINANT cultures of North America have long struggled to take responsibility for the suffering and injustice inflicted upon the Indigenous Peoples of the continent. The archetypal “us/them” story of cowboys and Indians remains at the core of North American national identities, from derogatory sports mascots and symbols such as the Washington “Redskins” and the “Chief Wahoo” character of the Cleveland Indians to the ignorant “redfacing” by non-Indigenous partygoers and trick-or-treaters in contrived Indian outfits. And this situation is nowhere near ending, despite many years of cultural sensitivity training and education.

Such overt racism should never be acceptable today. Yet it persists in regard to Indigenous Peoples. Why is this? As one friend remarked to me, most modern-day Americans believe injustices done to Indigenous Peoples to be a thing of the past.

But are they? Steve Heinrichs, director of Indigenous relations for the Mennonite Church in Canada, has brought together nearly 40 theologians, activists, writers, and poets—half of whom are Indigenous—to create Buffalo Shout, Salmon Cry: Conversations on Creation, Land Justice, and Life Together, a challenging anthology on Indigenous-Christian relations, stolen land, racism, and the impending environmental crisis that we all must face together.

Buffalo Shout, Salmon Cry isn’t easy reading. It’s a Jonah-like warning that should unsettle us and change our perspective. And that’s exactly what needs to happen. Its contributors offer a wide range of views, but agree on at least one thing: “the controlling culture is violently sick, devastating peoples and lands. The need is urgent: repent, resist, do something.”

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Rooted in Faith

BALLS THUMPED against the walls, jump ropes scraped the asphalt, and shrieks filled the air: The kindergarten and first-grade students of Holy Ghost Catholic School in Albuquerque, N.M., were at recess on a chilly December day. The sun was shining and the kids bumbled around in their jackets, oblivious to the cold. Also oblivious were the rows of leafy greens in the two raised-bed gardens just outside the classroom windows. The sun, plastic covers, and just enough water (which the students figured out after a failed crop or two) made for a perfect little garden oasis in the midst of winter.

Seeing me headed toward the gardens, dozens of children made a beeline for the structures, simultaneously shouting “Miss! Can I see?” “Miss, I’ll water them!” They helped me lift the cover to reveal a jungle of rainbow chard, kale, spinach, salad greens, a few radishes, and basil—a kaleidoscope of greens, golds, pinks, and yellows.

“Miss, can I have chard?” Mateo looked at me hopefully, chubby fingers pointing to the rainbow chard. “Sure!” I exclaimed, gently breaking off a leaf. “If you can name it, you can taste it!” Suddenly there were 15 hands in front of me, along with a litany of names: “The pink one!” “Chard! Chard!” “Can I have that spinach?!”

Not everyone was as enthusiastic. “Yuck,” Lenaia said when I offered her a piece of spinach. “I don’t want to eat it, but I’ll water it.”

These plastic rectangular boxes had been the source of so much new life at our school—in the shape of tiny seeds carefully planted by small hands, in the hope represented by the two leaves first to sprout from the dark soil, in the gentle spray of water from the hose and the smell of damp earth, in the curiosity and fascination awakened in the students as they tended their gardens.

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It's Been a Whirlwind of World-Changing Work

Jim Wallis prays with members of Congress during the #FaithfulFilibuster and the government shutdown. Brandon Hook/Sojourners

In the short three months that I have been at Sojourners as the director of individual giving, I’ve been humbled and inspired by the countless social justice activists who make up our community.  In these three months, I have witnessed activism for immigration reform, a vigil for those most affected by congressional dysfunction, organizing for climate change, a prophetic stand for racial justice, the launching of a new campaign to empower women and girls, and much more.

Latinos Ready to Battle Climate Change, But EPA Must Include Them in the Fight

Zurijeta/Shutterstock
Hispanic children are nearly two times as likely to be hospitalized for asthma as white children Zurijeta/Shutterstock

I was raised bilingual and bicultural in New Mexico, the state with the highest percentage of Latino population, nearly 50 percent. In addition to working as an environmental advocate, I am also a member of the rising Latino generation, the fastest growing young demographic in the country. Fifty thousand Latinos turn 18 every month. To put this in perspective, Pew Research Center estimates that by mid-century, Latinos will comprise nearly 30 percent of the U.S. population.

When I was 18, I had just graduated from high school with several years of soccer at Santa Fe’s 7,000-foot elevation under my belt. I was on my way to college, and would go on to complete a master’s of science in an interdisciplinary environmental sciences program.

What my experiences do not include are those that are far too common among Latino 18-year-olds who are disproportionately affected by carbon pollution. Carbon pollution contributes directly to climate change, in turn endangering Latinos due to the resulting health and environmental repercussions. One expected climate impact in the U.S. is more smog in areas with poor air quality, translating to more asthma attacks for our young people. In fact, the Latino community is one of the hardest hit: Hispanic children are nearly two times as likely to be hospitalized for asthma as white children. Other illnesses related to poor air quality, such as chronic bronchitis, are also prevalent within Latino communities, yet nearly half of all Latinos in the U.S. live in counties that often violate ground-level pollution standards

'Testifying to the Truth': EPA Testimonies (Part One)

Joey Longley/Sojourners
Liz Schmitt testifies to the EPA. Joey Longley/Sojourners

Editor’s Note: This post contains two of many testimonies given at an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) listening session at EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C. The EPA held sessions in 11 regional offices across the country to allow the public to comment on the agency’s plans to begin regulating carbon dioxide emissions — one of the heat-trapping pollutants that contributes to climate change — from existing coal and natural gas-fired power plants. The public was invited to share up to three minutes of spoken testimony to an EPA panel for the agency’s consideration. We also have multiple other testimonies in parts two and three.

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