Climate change

A 300-Mile Ride for Climate Justice

Cyclist at sunset, maradonna 8888 / Shutterstock.com
Cyclist at sunset, maradonna 8888 / Shutterstock.com

I just completed my first Climate Ride, journeying 300 miles by bicycle over five days with 200 other climate activists. Climate Ride began five years ago, and the riders raise money for organizations that work on sustainability and climate change. They’re also a way to spread the word about the growing and increasingly determined climate movement. For those of us who take part – by now, thousands of us have – the rides have a deep and lasting impact.

These are my reflections from the last day of the ride; you can read reflections on the first four days of the Climate Ride here.

The Great American Water Crisis

Corporate raider T. Boone Pickens made billions as a Texas oil baron, but he’s betting that the real money will come from mining “blue gold”—water. Pickens owns more water than anyone in the U.S.—he’s already bought up the rights to drain 65 billion gallons a year from the Ogallala Aquifer, which holds the groundwater for much of the Great Plains. Almost all the Ogallala water—95 percent—is used for agriculture, but Pickens plans to pipe it down to Dallas, cashing in on the hotter-and-drier weather from climate change. (The result, according to an Agriculture Department spokesperson: “The Ogallala supply is going to run out and the Plains will become uneconomical to farm.”)

Pickens isn’t alone in his new role as a water baron. Multinationals such as Nestlé are buying up water rights, siphoning lakes, and selling our most precious resource to the highest bidder. Slick advertising has seduced many Americans into the mistaken belief that (expensive) bottled water is “purer” or “healthier” than tap water—and led to the annual consumption of 9.67 billion gallons of bottled water, with underserved Latinos and African Americans having the highest rates of bottled water use. And the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development warns that by 2030 nearly half of the world’s population will inhabit areas with severe water stress.

As our authors explain, cities and towns across the country are in the midst of an epic fight to keep water as a public trust. Communities of faith have joined what they see as a battle for basic justice: Protecting the right of everyone, rich and poor alike, to the crucial stuff of life, water. —The Editors

THE UNITED STATES has one of the best public water supply systems in the world.

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Surprising Stories of Climate Change Here in the U.S.

As the Creation Care campaign associate at Sojourners, my job is to get people thinking about God’s call for us to care about the creation. Usually, I do that from behind a desk in Washington, D.C., but recently I got to do it from a boat out on the bayou in Louisiana, in a tiny community that has been hit by eight disasters in eight years (seven hurricanes and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill). I took 100 people out to the town of Jean Lafitte, less than an hour from New Orleans, to hear from people who live on the front lines of climate change.

One of the obstacles to igniting a passion about climate change is that it feels so abstract; it feels like a future problem, a global problem. But it’s really a here and now problem. We took folks out on the Louisiana bayou to meet with those who are living in the midst of climate change – people who don’t think of themselves as environmentalists, but who can bear witness to the impact that climate change and our use of dirty energy have had on their lives, personally.

The town of Jean Lafitte is an old and diverse town, a close-knit community where faith is important to many people, including the mayor. It’s a town that sounds a lot like the early Christian church. We were told that homelessness is not a problem there – if your neighbor loses her home, why wouldn’t you take her in? We were told that when the state government showed up two weeks after Hurricane Katrina, the town had recovered so quickly that the government thought the hurricane hadn’t hit them. This community comes together, and because it knows how to survive, it often gets forgotten by government responders and by oil companies like BP.

Ecojustice on the Louisiana Bayou

Photo courtesy Wendy Hammond
Photo courtesy Wendy Hammond

I always thought of climate change as something that affected developing countries. Through my work at World Renew, an international disaster response and community development organization, I am well acquainted with the devastating effects of changing growing seasons in Africa and environmental refugees in Bangladesh. I probably shouldn’t have been so surprised to learn that there are ecojustice issues here in the U.S. — but I was.

Last week I had the opportunity to tour the town of Jean Lafitte just outside New Orleans. Hosted by Sojourners, it was one of the “Go and See” options during the Christian Community Development Association conference.

Our tour began with a presentation by the Rev. Kristina Peterson and Mayor Tim Kerner at the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve. There we learned that since the 1930s, Louisiana has lost a football field of wetlands every 38 minutes. At the current rate, the state will lose an area of wetlands the size of Rhode Island by 2050. According to Peterson, 36 percent of the wetland loss can be attributed to the activities of the oil and gas industry — in particular, the canals they carve out.

Building a Collective Identity: 'Drawing the Line' in Communities of Faith

Drawing a line in the sand, Stephen Rees / Shutterstock.com
Drawing a line in the sand, Stephen Rees / Shutterstock.com

In my state of Minnesota, there are literally hundreds of faith-based green teams doing a variety of good works. We’ve collectively tackled solar panels and bike racks. We’ve individually been consuming less, doing energy audits of our homes, and taking action in our neighborhoods. It is important work. And yet when I talk to the lay leaders in these congregations, they report that enthusiasm has waned and that their groups have become stale. As one tired (and yet tireless) leader confided in me: “I don’t know what it is, Julia, but it’s like we are swimming in molasses.”

As the new executive director of Minnesota Interfaith Power & Light I am trying to pay attention. What is this feeling of stuck-ness? If it’s not working, what then is the special sauce that will help these tireless leaders to ignite their communities?

A few observations about humans: 

In Hearing on Obama’s Climate Action Plan, Star Witnesses But Few Meaningful Questions

Air pollution, homydesign / Shutterstock.com
Air pollution, homydesign / Shutterstock.com

This Wednesday on Capitol Hill, the House subcommittee on Energy and Power held a hearing to discuss the Obama administration’s climate change policies and activities. The policies in question were the president’s Climate Action Plan, announced this summer, which has three main pillars:

  • cutting carbon emissions,
  • leading international efforts to combat climate change, and
  • preparing the United States for climate change impacts.

The Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy and the Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz were present to answer questions about the president’s plan, which works with new and existing programs in both agencies to reduce our climate change pollution and increase our resilience to climate change. Some of the programs are required by a recent Supreme Court decision that labeled carbon dioxide a pollutant; others, as Moniz pointed out, would happen to carry the benefit of energy efficiency. 

For some members of Congress, this is a problem because they do not wish to cede any ground to the executive. For others, it is a problem simply because they do not wish to do anything about climate change.

Energy News: What’s Happening This Week

Green energy concept, CarpathianPrince / Shutterstock.com
Green energy concept, CarpathianPrince / Shutterstock.com

David vs. Goliath: Residents in a Colorado city are fighting their local coal monopoly for the chance to move their city to clean energy. The coal company has more money – a LOT more money – but the organizers have more heart. This short 6-minute video is well worth watching

40,000 jobs sound pretty good: According to the new 2013 second quarter clean energy report form Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), clean energy and sustainable transportation projects launched this year created close to 40,000 green jobs in the U.S.

Our First Divinely Appointed Vocation

Garden tools, Christopher Elwell / Shutterstock.com
Garden tools, Christopher Elwell / Shutterstock.com

Editor's Note: The following is an excerpt from Fred Bahnson's new book Soil and Sacrament: A Spirtual Memoir of Food and Faith.

The garden is our oldest metaphor. In Genesis God creates the first Adam from the adamah, and tells him to “till and keep” itthe fertile soil on which all life depends. Human from humus. That’s our first etymological clue as to the inextricable bond we share with the soil. Our ecological problems are a result of having forgotten who we are—soil people, inspired by the breath of God. “Earth’s hallowed mould,” as Milton referred to Adam in Paradise Lost. Or in Saint Augustine’s phrase, terra animata—animated earth.

The command to care for soil is our first divinely appointed vocation, yet in our zeal to produce cheap, abundant food we have shunned it; we have tilled the adamah but we have not kept it.

I Would Walk 100 Miles — Grandparents Lead Climate Allies in Walk to D.C. for Climate Action

Hiking. Photo courtesy PavelSvoboda/shutterstock.com
Hiking. Photo courtesy PavelSvoboda/shutterstock.com

During the week leading up to the “Summer Heat” demonstrations — protesting the Keystone XL pipeline and urging for action on climate change — about 25 people started a hike from Camp David to Washington, D.C. Midway through the 100-mile hike, they were joined by another 50 people at Harper’s Ferry, W.Va. They called their journey the “Walk for Our Grandchildren.”

The name gives away the motivation — the walker’s sense of duty to future generations to leave a healthy planet. When they reached DC, many were arrested in an act of civil disobedience at the offices of Environmental Resources Management, a consulting firm given the task of writing the environmental review of the Keystone XL pipeline — a firm which also works for TransCanada, the energy company seeking to build the pipeline. Many others spent that Friday night at a church, and joined the Summer Heat demonstrations at the White House the next day.

New EPA Leader to Tackle Climate Change

Climate change is expected to take a turn for the better following the Senate's approval of Gina McCarthy to serve as the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency. McCarthy won over the Senate on July 18 in a 59-to-40 vote. The New York Times reports:

The president told Ms. McCarthy that his environmental and presidential legacy would be incomplete without a serious effort to address climate change.

Read more here.

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