Climate change

A Problem with the Climate in Texas

Via tristan tan / Shutterstock
Close up of plastic and polystyrene fast food packaging in a river. Via tristan tan / Shutterstock

In the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, there is a Psalm that proclaims: “the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Psalm 24:1). There is no part of this world that God is not aware of, cannot lay claim to, and does not rule. Christians affirm that as people of faith we’re called to be stewards over creation, answering one day for how we’ve treated the earth.

And part of that stewardship means understanding how this world works and what it needs in order to thrive. Unfortunately the din of our political ideologies has too often drowned out the biblical calling to care for creation.

In Texas, the State Board of Education will recommend new textbooks for all its students—and because it has such a large population, what they decide could determine what students in other states learn about science. There are several ideologues submitting textbook critiques to the board and their reviews will factor into each book’s overall score and likelihood of being approved by the school board. These ideologues could block the use of textbooks that teach the reality of climate change for the whole country’s public school students.

The EPA Is Listening: Power Plants and Carbon Pollution

M. Shcherbyna/Shutterstock
M. Shcherbyna/Shutterstock

This week the EPA is holding the last few of its listening sessions around the country — 11 in total by the end of the week – to hear what Americans have to say about the EPA’s plans to tackle climate change.

These listening sessions are our chance to give the EPA our comments in person — everyone can register for a three-minute testimony spot — about the agency’s upcoming rule on carbon pollution from existing power plants.

Your Turn, Harvard

IF YOU WANT to understand why the climate movement missed Tim DeChristopher when he was in jail for two years, you should read the letter he sent recently to the president of Harvard.

Drew Faust—Harvard’s first female president—had just spoken for the establishment (really, the establishment establishment) by publishing a weary, soulless letter explaining that Harvard would not divest from fossil fuels despite the request of 80 percent of its student body. DeChristopher—who was imprisoned for two years after an inspired act of civil disobedience to block a drilling lease auction in his home state of Utah—had just arrived in Cambridge to start at Harvard Divinity School.

“Drew Faust seeks a position of neutrality in a struggle where the powerful only ask that people like her remain neutral,” DeChristopher wrote. “She says that Harvard’s endowment shouldn’t take a political position, and yet it invests in an industry that spends countless millions on corrupting our political system. In a world of corporate personhood, if she doesn’t want that money to be political, she should put it under her mattress. She has clearly forgotten the words of Paolo Freire: ‘Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and powerless means to side with the powerful, not to remain neutral.’ Or as Howard Zinn put [it] succinctly, ‘You can’t be neutral on a moving train.’”

DeChristopher is exactly right. Just as a tie goes to the runner, so “neutrality” goes to the status quo. And given that we’re in a full-on climate emergency—the Arctic melted last summer, for crying out loud—this kind of neutrality is no more admirable than defending the right of poor and rich alike to sleep beneath bridges.

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One Year Later, Examining Climate Change and Hurricane Sandy

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Roller coaster off the coast of Seaside Heights, N.J., after Hurricane Sandy. Glynnis Jones / Shutterstock.com

This week marks the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, the superstorm that decimated metropolitan areas of the East Coast last fall.

Damage from the storm resulted in more than 100 fatalities, with an estimated loss of $65 billion. Thousands of homes were lost, and millions were without power for days. Thousands of flights were canceled along the eastern seaboard, and multiple public transit services were suspended, including Amtrak and New York City’s bus and subway system. Even the U.S. economic structure ground to a halt, with NASDAQ and the New York Stock Exchange closing to buckle down before the deluge.

One year later, we reflect on reconstruction efforts post-Sandy. We also pause to assess the role of climate change, exacerbated by human actions, in the creation and severity of the storm.

Air Pollution Shuts Down Entire City

Unprecedented levels of air pollution effectively closed the city of Harbin in northern China earlier this week. Smog limited visibility in some places up to 30 feet, and measurements of fine particulate pollution skyrocketed a record 40 times higher than the worse safe level set by the World Health Organization, according to the Washington Post.

In the city of 11 million, schools, public bus routes, and the airport were all forced to suspend activities given the unsafe conditions. Hospital admittances of patients with respiratory problems soared an additional 30 percent.

The cause, according to local Chinese news outlets, was the first day of the city’s heating being turned on before winter. China’s air quality has consistently been found to be harmful in the recent decades of the country’s rapid industrial development.

Read more.

Christians Making the Climate Discussion Their Own

Cross in front of a wind farm, BESTWEB / Shutterstock.com
Cross in front of a wind farm, BESTWEB / Shutterstock.com

There’s a debate happening on The Christian Post, and we’re hearing more and more evangelical voices expressing concern over climate change.

Over the summer, talk radio pundit Rush Limbaugh made a comment about people believing in God and manmade global warming: he said it was “intellectually impossible.” It is not, of course, impossible to have faith in God and to agree with 97 percent of scientists that we are harming God’s creation with climate change. And in response to Rush’s comments, Sojourners sent Mr. Limbaugh a letter signed by more than 9,000 people of faith asking him to correct the record (which he has not yet done).

But Rush Limbaugh’s comments also sparked a conversation on the popular evangelical website, The Christian Post. Two prominent climate scientists who are also evangelical Christians, Dr. Katharine Hayhoe and Dr. Tom Ackerman, responded to Rush in an open letter on site. They told Rush that, contrary to his assumptions, they are compelled to work in their field by both their faith in God and their expertise in atmospheric science.

Why the Silence on U.S. Oil Spills?

Oil spill cleanup, Arun Roisri / Shutterstock.com
Oil spill cleanup, Arun Roisri / Shutterstock.com

Occurrences of oil spills in several states have garnered little media attention in the last few years. In some cases, prompt reports are recorded, yet in others, days have gone by before the authorities are alerted and the spill becomes public knowledge.

The most recent episode happened Oct. 15, in Port of Long Beach, Calif. Upon discovery of an oil leak, Exxon Mobil announced that it was temporarily suspending operations of its pipeline system. The pipeline, which connects to the company’s refinery in Torrance, carries up to 155,000 barrels of oil per day. Exxon filed documents with the California Emergency Management Agency that claimed the leak did not affect waterways, although the company was ordered to pay a $236 million fine for contaminating groundwater in New Hampshire this past April.  

Another spill was initially discovered on Sept. 29 by North Dakota farmer Steve Jensen, the Associated Press reported. While harvesting wheat, Jensen discovered the leak in his field “spewing and bubbling 6 inches high.” The rupture was a break in Tesoro Corporation’s underground pipeline. While it remains unconfirmed, early evidence cites that corrosion on the 20-year-old pipeline is the cause of rupture. At least 20,600 barrels of oil flooded the 7-acre spill zone, equal to about 7 football fields.

The delay in making public North Dakota’s oil spill proves as worrisome as the spill itself. It took 11 days after the spill’s discovery for it to become public knowledge. Officials claim they were not aware how extensive the spill was, but critics point to the state’s financial benefits in the recent gas and oil boom as reason for the authorities’ hesitancy in coming down on oil companies. But economic incentives shouldn’t diminish the serious need to weigh environmental risks and costs.

The cases begin to pile up.

NASA's Earthbound Solutions

Illustration by Ken Davis

WITH THE HEAT of mid-year finally over—judging by the fact that Dallas has settled into a sweater-friendly 97 degrees—it’s time to look back and see what we’ve learned from another summer filled with unpredictable weather extremes.

For example, a couple weeks in August were actually extremely comfortable, which was no help to my crusade to convince Fox-loving friends that the earth is warming. Lately, even scientists have been of little use, adamantly refusing to blame rampant forest fires and extreme droughts on climate change. They insist on “analyzing” patterns of weather “over time” to honor “standards of science.” There’s nothing worse than climatologists dragging their feet when there are righteous accusations to be flung. Global warming is behind EVERYTHING wrong! You know it. I know it.

Okay, sorry.

But this summer had way too many examples of the extreme consequences of climate change, including deadly tornadoes, inundating floods, and town hall meetings that brought forth a storm of discontent. Unsuspecting members of Congress had left the comforting gridlock of Washington, D.C., and, failing to first check for a full moon, had innocently invited questions from constituents in their home districts. This is almost always a mistake. You really need to test the water before you just walk into a home district unprepared.

According to many vocal Americans sitting in air-conditioned town halls, climate change is a hoax, President Obama has still not been born in the United States, and he refuses to renounce his Kenyan birthplace. (Even though he wasn’t born there, it would be a nice gesture.) In a related matter, Texas senator and presidential hopeful Ted Cruz—is “notgonnahappenful” a word?—renounced his Canadian citizenship after discovering he was accidentally born outside the United States. It happens.

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Unlawful Entry

OFFICER MARIO normally worked for Homeland Security. On this Friday night he’d been seconded to the Washington, D.C. Metro police, who had their hands full. Not only did they have the usual “drunk and disorderlies,” but now 54 people who looked like card-carrying members of the AARP were filling up their holding cells. Officer Mario, of retirement age himself, was feeling fortunate. He’d been assigned to the women’s side.

“Ladies, ladies, ladies!” Mario said, sauntering in with a mischievous smile. “This must be my lucky night.”

The evening before, we’d all been at St. Stephen and the Incarnation Episcopal Church running role plays on how to “flash mob” the corporate headquarters of Environmental Resources Management (ERM), the firm hired by the U.S. State Department to provide an environmental impact statement on the Keystone XL pipeline. To the disbelief and concern of climate scientists, ERM claimed that TransCanada’s Keystone pipeline would not significantly contribute to climate change. ERM was suspected of “misleading disclosures” regarding conflict of interest and material gain from the pipeline’s completion.

Our white-haired mob of mostly grandparents converged on ERM headquarters at noon to shine a light on such shady dealings. While six silver foxes blocked the elevators by chaining their arms together inside a PVC pipe, I watched two D.C. police lift Steve, age 70, and toss him into the crowd behind me. I knew this nonviolent civil disobedience wasn’t going as planned.

For the next hour the police threatened us with felony charges, and we chanted complicated ditties on Big Oil, Mother Earth, and the merits of transparency in a democracy. Then they slipped plastic cuffs over our wrists and charged us with “unlawful entry.”

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What Happens in Texas Doesn't Stay in Texas: The Battle Over Science Textbooks

Pile of textbooks, Skylines / Shutterstock.com
Pile of textbooks, Skylines / Shutterstock.com

Texas high school biology textbooks battles are once again in progress in Austin, with lines drawn between those who want textbook material based only on established mainstream science and those who are anti-science. As an evangelical Christian and a botany professor at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas, I am all too familiar with the battle for scientific authenticity in our state’s textbooks.

The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) wields an enormous influence over which textbooks are adopted by school districts in Texas. And because the Texas market for public school textbooks is one of the country’s largest, publishers use the curriculum and content from Texas books in those they print for the rest of the nation. For this reason, what happens in Texas doesn’t stay in Texas. This is why it is so important that we ensure that publishers produce books based on mainstream science.

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