While the mid-Atlantic basks in higher than normal temperatures, it isn’t like that everywhere. Two stories from The New York Times on the struggle for warmth.
In Maine, elderly and often disabled folks who can’t afford heating oil struggle for warmth. The energy assistance program of past years was slashed as part of federal spending cuts, resulting in 65,000 households in this state alone receiving less help, while the cost of oil has risen more than 40 cents a gallon. The basic need for heat becomes a full-time struggle.
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There are a lot of heinously unmerited personal attacks going on in these United States right now, but for some reason I’m most bothered by the ones against Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist and evangelical Christian. As this current Sojourners action alert describes, she’s been targeted by Rush Limbaugh, among others, for her efforts to speak the truth about global warming.
Partly, these attacks get under my skin because I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for evangelical scientists. My dad is one, and my Intervarsity-linked Bible study in grad school was so full of them that, as often the lone humanities student, I jokingly made up a scientific discipline to fit in (“I’m in immunostatistics — I model atypical populations.”)
But mostly, the attacks on Hayhoe sadden me because she’s so genuine and earnest in her desire not just to convey the evidence for climate change, but also to engage in respectful dialogue.
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The legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the reality of climate change are both victims of western culture’s remarkable capacity to accommodate and neutralize that which is most critical of it.
Early in the civil rights movement, Bayard Rustin said to King, “I have a feeling that the Lord had laid his hand upon you. And that is a dangerous, dangerous thing.” Similarly, the FBI once described Martin King as the “most dangerous man in America” – and yet, as Martin Luther King Jr day rolls around again in the United States, we are often presented with a figure that seems more like a cheerleader for the status quo rather than a prophetic challenge to it. Somehow, it seems we have made this dangerous figure very safe.
For instance, in a speech at the Pentagon commemorating King’s legacy, the Defense Department’s general counsel Jeh C. Johnson remarked, “I believe that if Dr King were alive today, he would recognize that we live in a complicated world, and that our nation’s military should not and cannot lay down its arms and leave the American people vulnerable to terrorist attack.”
But to claim that Dr King would be pro-war today is as likely as him being pro-segregation. After all, this is the Dr King who said, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defence than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” And this is the same Dr King who said in his speech on 4 April 1967 (a speech that turned three quarters of American public opinion against him), “To me the relationship of the ministry [of Jesus Christ] to the making of peace is so obvious that I sometimes marvel at those who ask me why I’m speaking against the war.” And this is the same Dr King who said, the night before he was murdered on 4 April 1968, “It is no longer a choice, my friends, between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence.”
Climate change affects the poorest the hardest. Most things do. In the parts of the world where climate change is most prevalent, it is those who have done the least to cause it that are bearing the brunt of its effects.
It is the Malawian farmer whose crops have failed because the seasonal rains didn’t start at the usual time. It’s a Bangladeshi who can see the sea-levels rising around her town year after year, and has nowhere to go. It’s even an American family whose food bill grows ever larger because of the stresses that a changing climate is having on food security worldwide.
These are neither the people nor the organizations that have spent decades turning a blind eye to their responsibility as good stewards of our environment. They are not the people who, in the face of more and more extreme weather patterns, turn an issue of human survival into an ideological war.
It is for them that we must adapt.
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After two weeks of extensive talking, and running hours beyond schedule, a deal to cut global carbon emissions finally has been reached. As the climate conference in Durban, South Africa came to a close last weekend, a treaty known as the Durban Platform emerged, requiring all countries to begin curbing carbon emissions by 2020.
The deal binds all countries — rich and poor — to “hold the increase in global average temperature below 2C or 1.5C above pre-industrial levels,” according to the Framework Convention on Climate Change. Further, plans for enhanced action must be solidified by 2015, with the contracts bearing legal force.
Michael Jacobs, a member of the of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment in London, told the BBC that " by forcing countries for the first time to admit that their current policies are inadequate and must be strengthened by 2015, it has snatched 2C from the jaws of impossibility. At the same time it has re-established the principle that climate change should be tackled through international law, not national, voluntarism.”
But the treaty has its drawbacks.
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The Gubbio Project, which helps churches become refuges for homeless people throughout the U.S., recently earned a new fan: Author Anne Rice. "When I was in San Francisco, I visited St. Boniface Church in the Tenderloin and was moved by the sight of many peaceful homeless people sleeping in the pews of the church," Rice wrote on her Facebook.com page earlier this month. The author of the Vampire Lestat books and most recently the biblically-themed Christ the Lord novels and her spiritual memoir, Called Out of Darkness, provided her "people of the page" as she calls them, a link to the Gubbio Project where they could donate to "this fine work on the part of the Franciscans of St. Boniface in helping the homeless."
As of yesterday, more than 1,009 Americans have been arrested to bring national attention to the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. This is what church looks like. Liturgy means "the work of the people" in service of the common good.
If President Obama permits the Keystone pipeline, thousands more will sit on his doorstep and in front of bulldozers. This movement doesn't have money to match the influence of oil companies, lobbyists, or politicians with conflicts of interest, but we do have our bodies and we are putting them on the line.
Here are what people of faith -- Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Quakers, Unitarians, and more -- are saying about why they have been or will be arrested to stop the Keystone XL pipeline:
Rose Berger from Sojourners magazine spoke to the hundreds of us gathered in Lafayette Park just before we processed to the fence surrounding the White House. She mentioned the irony of building a monument to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by the powerful political forces who disregarded or dismissed his message during his lifetime -- we only honor him after he is safely dead. How ironic also that the dedication of the monument was postponed by the most recent example of significant climate change. Will evidence of climate change begin to also signal political change?
Rose called on us to take up the banner of the Living Spirit of Dr. King within ourselves and allow it to inspire us as we risked arrest by calling on President Obama to take a clear stand to help protect our environment and begin to make a U-turn from the climate change path we are traveling as a nation and culture. We are part of a two-week vigil and civil disobedience action calling the president to deny permission for building the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline from the environmentally devastating tar sands/oil shale development in Alberta, Canada to refineries in Texas.