Climate change

God’s Earth is Crying Out; God’s People, Responding, Must Prepare for Jail

People of Faith Join the Forward on Climate Rally, Feb. 17. Sojourners Photo

People of Faith Join the Forward on Climate Rally, Feb. 17. Sojourners Photo

God’s creation is in danger; and to call upon the powers of the world to heal it, God’s people are prepared to go to jail. 

Perhaps most famously in our recent history, the startling sight of a religious leader in jail was embodied in the willingness of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to go to jail more than 20 times in order to embody his religious commitment to racial justice, peace, and nonviolence.

As we approach the Holy Week of Christianity and Passover, we should be aware that this tradition goes back thousands of years. The movement of ancient Israelites seeking freedom from a lethal Pharaoh began even before Moses, when two midwives – the Bible carefully records  their names, Shifra and Puah – refused to murder the boy-babies of the Israelites as Pharaoh had commanded. The recollection of that moment is the first recorded instance of nonviolent civil disobedience.

When that cruel and arrogant Pharaoh, addicted to his own power, refused freedom to his nation’s slaves, his arrogance forced the Earth itself to arise in what we call the Plagues – ecological disasters like undrinkable water, swarms of frogs and locusts, the climate calamity of unprecedented hailstorms. 

Passover has kept alive and lively the memory of that uprising. So it is not surprising that the Gospels record that just before the week of Passover, Jesus led a protest against the behavior of the Roman Empire, its local authorities, and a Temple he and his followers thought had become corrupted from its sacred purpose. 

To protest against the Empire of his era, Jesus chose a time that was both appropriate and dangerous, since Passover celebrates the fall of Pharaoh. His challenge resulted in his arrest and imprisonment, and then his torture and execution.  

Both Judaism and Christianity can trace their origins to acts of nonviolent civil disobedience. Indeed, for several centuries of Imperial Rome, the very persistence of Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity were collective acts of civil disobedience. 

Today, religious folk face modern plagues imposed upon our countries and our planet by a new kind of Pharaoh.

Connecting the Dots

Hurricane Sandy vividly demonstrated the relationship between climate change, poverty, and immigration.

Onleilove (pronounced "Only Love") Alston is Executive Director of Faith in New York, a member of the PICO National Network, as the lead organizer for Brooklyn. Onleilove is also a workshop facilitator, speaker, and writer

State Department's Latest Wrong-Headed Analysis of Keystone XL Pipeline

Map by Laris Karklis/The Washington Post via Getty Images

WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 6: Proposed Keystone XL Extension map. Map by Laris Karklis/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Last week, the State Department issued its next draft  of the supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) assessing the northern route of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline. Officially, the State Department does not make any recommendations on whether the pipeline should be approved or denied. But the summation language is all to the positive — making it clear that the State Department still doesn’t understand global warming and its disastrous consequences.

I’m sure the scientists, policy analysts, and environmentalists among us will soon sort out and explain the hundreds of pages released by the State Department March 1. But until then, here’s the part I found most significant: “The life-cycle carbon footprint, for transportation fuels produced in U.S. refineries, would increase if the project were approved.”

Please note that this information is buried way way way deep in the documents. The general summary by the State Department is favorable toward industry and the pipeline, though there are some conclusions drawn that I think are not supportable.

Climate Rallies and a Golfing President

 Photo by Jim Hall / Dayspring Earth Ministry

Attendees at the Forward on Climate Rally on Feb. 17. Photo by Jim Hall / Dayspring Earth Ministry

This past Sunday an estimated 35,000 people gathered in Washington, D.C., to push for legislative action in response to climate change. In addition to speaking out against the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, the “Forward on Climate” rally organizers urged President Barack Obama to limit U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and transition to larger levels of renewable energy. In addition to the mass assembly near the White House, environmental groups held similar rallies in cities across the nation, including a significant turnout in Los Angeles. All together, some have described the events of the past weekend as the largest collection of climate change rallies in U.S. history.

The president has recently emerged as a potentially strong ally in the struggle against climate change, for his inaugural address included a renewed commitment to environmental leadership, as he stated: "We will respond to the threat of climate change knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.” 

President Obama also addressed ecological concerns during his State of the Union speech, as he said: “We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science – and act before it's too late." While conversation surrounding climate change was notably absent during his recent re-election campaign, the president appears to be making environmental concerns a top priority for his second term of office.

While President Obama seems to be a more visible environmental advocate, many are doubtful of his sincerity and question whether such statements are motivated by political calculation rather than genuine policy priorities. For example, in what can be described as a thought-provoking twist of irony, while thousands marched past the White House to move the president “Forward on Climate,” he was out golfing, which just so happens to be a sport that many environmentalists perceive as an ecological tragedy.  

Keystone Pipeline Will Be Stopped By A Miracle

Sojourners photo.

Sojourners and Young Evangelicals for Climate Action at the Forward on Climate Rally. Sojourners photo.

People of faith are in the 'miracle business.'

An estimated 200 people of faith gathered in Washington, D.C., on Sunday morning in preparation for the Forward on Climate Rally on the National Mall. The brief prayer service preceded the larger rally of an estimated 40,000 people urging President Barack Obama to take action against climate change and to reject the Keystone XL pipeline.

To Dust You Shall Return: In the Meantime — Acting With Gratitude and Conviction

Photo courtesy Rev. Dr Jim Antal

Photo courtesy Rev. Dr Jim Antal

My wrist was cuffed to the White House fence next to the wrist of Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. Our nation’s chief climate scientist James Hanson stood next to me; Daryl Hannah sat in front of us. A few feet away, also cuffed to the fence, Julian Bond stood next to Bill McKibben and Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club. Altogether, 48 of us from all over America obeyed our consciences. The days of safety and silence have ended. The time of pretending is over. Humanity will be held accountable for our desecration of creation. It is happening already. 

And it was Ash Wednesday. When I mounted the platform to address the rally that preceded our civil disobedience, many were unaware that Lent was beginning. In the context of climate disruption, anyone who cares about creation can embrace the significance of Ash Wednesday. It’s a day of conscience, repentance, and conviction; a day when we take stock of our lives and our life together on the planet; a day when we confess our self-indulgent appetites, our intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts, and our obsession with consumption of every kind. For Christians, Ash Wednesday is a day to acknowledge that we are accountable to the God who gave us life and who entrusted the earth to our care.  

Ash Wednesday is a good day to be arrested, I told the crowd. It’s a good day to realign our lives with God's desire to preserve this good creation. I invited any who wanted to receive ashes as a sign of their repentance to approach me on their way to White House.

Climate Change: An Opportunity to Act

Climate change countdown, DeoSum / Shutterstock.com

Climate change countdown, DeoSum / Shutterstock.com

In contrast to the ongoing public and political debate surrounding the legitimacy and urgency of climate change, the global scientific body of knowledge appears to be overwhelmingly clear, as highlighted in The Great Disruption by Paul Gilding:  

"The consensus position on climate change is reflected in the rigorously peer-reviewed journals in which research is presented and issues are debated. One study by Naomi Oreskes, published in the journalScience, demonstrated that of the papers whose abstract contained the keywords global climate changebetween 1993 and 2003, none questioned the consensus position – not one. Oreskes’s subsequent book,Merchants of Doubt, revealed how many who once fronted the tobacco industry’s anti-science campaign to deny the link between smoking and lung cancer are also now prominent and vocal climate change skeptics, and they are often funded to create doubt that has no credible scientific basis."

Call and Response: What the President Did This Week

Charles Dharapak-Pool/Getty Images

U.S. President Barack Obama at the State of the Union Address on Feb. 12. Charles Dharapak-Pool/Getty Images

There is a tradition in the black church named “call and response.” It’s simply the experience of the preacher “calling” and the congregation “responding.” I’ve always loved it. When you’re preaching in a black church, and the congregants begin to actively and vocally respond, your sermon can actually get better, stronger, deeper, and more powerful than it might have been if everyone just sat there. Sermons get interactive. Congregations can be inspired by the preacher — and the other way around. Ideas grow, get taken further, and even develop during and after the sermon. And it can make things change.

After his first year in office, I sent a letter to President Barack Obama humbly suggesting he needed “the political equivalent of the black church’s call and response.” Just talking to and in Washington was never going to get important things done. Washington just sits there and mostly makes sure that things don’t change — and that the special interests that buy, shape, and control this city usually have their way. (That private letter to the president will be published for the first time in my new book about the common good coming out in April.)

I recalled something Obama said right after the 2008 election — that he would need “the wind of a movement at my back” to get anything really important done. He would have to go over the heads of Washington, to speak directly to the people that had elected him and also those who didn’t. He would have to have public debates about the common good and not just debate in Washington. 

I saw him do that in this week’s State of the Union speech.

Sawdust and Mistaken Identity

Ginkgo tree leaves, Tito Wong / Shutterstock.com

Ginkgo tree leaves, Tito Wong / Shutterstock.com

 I had a happy childhood, with few moments of true anguish. One that I will always remember, though, is when they cut down the tree on Euclid Street.

Throughout my early years, I would often take walks with my parents down this street, stopping to play on this tree’s bulging roots and hug its large trunk. On this particular weekday, my favorite tree had been replaced with a stump and some sawdust due to the risk of it falling over and taking out all the power lines its branches had engulfed. My four-year-old self was in shock.

I spent the afternoon wailing, to the dismay of my parents and the neighbor who came over for a play date. To this day, when I walk down Euclid Street and see pieces of the branches still hanging on to the power lines, I remember what it felt like to lose my first friend.

SOTU: Time for Common Ground for Common Good

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

President Barack Obama in the House Chamber during his State of the Union Address. Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

There was truth tonight in the president’s State of the Union message.

There was truth that the rising costs of health care must indeed be addressed by serious reforms in our Medicare and healthcare system — but  that it’s wrong to put most of that burden on vulnerable seniors, while protecting the most powerful special interests. Truth that you should not reduce the deficit by cuts in crucial investments in education, infrastructure, science, clean energy, or programs for the most vulnerable — but leave billions of dollars in tax loopholes and deductions for the wealthy and well-connected. 

Truth in the compassionate and committed words about “poverty” and “poor” children and families who deserve our attention to find ladders up from poverty. Truth that no one who works full time in the wealthiest nation on earth should have to live in poverty but have a living wage. That quality pre-school should be available to every child in America to create stable and successful families. 

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