Climate change

On Scripture: Climate Change and Setting the World on Fire

Chaikovskiy Igor /

Chaikovskiy Igor /

It was Earth Day, 1988. I was in my fifth grade “Earth Science” class, a place where one might expect to talk about the importance of caring for the earth. But this was not what we were talking about that day. At least, we weren’t talking about it until one student asked our teacher about the hole in the ozone layer and whether or not she should stop using hairspray. Our science teacher replied by saying that hairspray wasn’t a problem because the end of the world was coming and the whole earth would be consumed by fire anyway.
While my science teacher did not speak for all people of faith, she also was not a lone voice in the crowd. Caring for the earth is not something Christian churches in the West have been particularly good at. We were late coming to the conversation and have been slow in mobilizing our efforts. This is ironic considering that the foundational stories of our faith, the first words in the book we call holy, commission us to be caretakers of every living thing. In a world where climate change is evidenced in super storms, wildfires, heat waves, droughts and floods, it is urgent that people of faith return to our first responsibility of being stewards of the world in which we live.

A Better Kind of Disaster Relief

 justasc /

Cost Of A Hurricane. justasc /

“We can’t wait any longer,” Sen. Chuck Schumer declared to his colleagues on Monday. “Ninety-one days ago, Sandy struck a body blow against New York. Today, finally, we can strike back and give our people the help they need to get back on their feet.”

Shortly following, the U.S. Senate passed a long-awaited $50.5-billion disaster aid package that was then sent to the White House for President Obama’s signature.

Superstorm Sandy was the largest Atlantic hurricane on record, though it was only ever a Category 2 storm at its strongest and had weakened to a Category 1 storm by landfall. Nevertheless, due to its immense size, incredible amount of moisture, and record-breaking storm surge, it is estimated to be the second costliest storm in the history of the United States after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Video: ‘Developing Tar Sands Means Losing Control of the Climate’

Map by Laris Karklis/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Proposed Keystone XL Extension map. (Map by Laris Karklis/The Washington Post via Getty Images

“If we fully develop the tar sands, we will certainly lose control of the climate. We will get to a point where we can not walk back from the cliff,” says climate scientist Dr. John Abraham. The Keystone XL pipeline is the lynchpin to developing the tar sands in Alberta.

I’ve been paying attention to the Keystone pipeline development since 2011 when it was under review by the State Department. I joined a group of religious leaders to deliver thousands of petitions to Dr. Kerri-Ann Jones, Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, asking her to to stop the pipeline. I said to her, “If this decision about the pipeline was made purely based on the climate science, we wouldn’t be here having this discussion.” She didn’t disagree. The exploitation of tar sands will significantly worsen the climate.

Now, new scientific data shows that developing the tar sands (and the pipeline to carry it) is worse than previously known. The video above shows climate scientists countering the notion that the climate impacts of the Keystone XL pipeline are small compared to total U.S. global greenhouse gas emissions. Nathan Lemphers, a Senior Policy Analyst with the Pembina Institute, details how the Keystone XL is a critical ingredient to significant expansion of tar sands. He dispels the myth being promoted by the tar sands oil industry that tar sands development is inevitable with our without Keystone XL. That’s not true. All other routes are similarly being blocked.

A Path Forward on Climate, Or, Obeying God

Photo: Praying for creation, Tyler Olson /

Photo: Praying for creation, Tyler Olson /

President Barack Obama’s Inauguration Address this week included a bold statement about his vision for addressing climate change. In fact, he redefined the issue of environmental protection as not only morally important but a command from God. After the vacuum of discussion of climate change during the presidential campaign, this proclamation came as a welcome surprise.

Most analyses of Obama’s speech point to the fact that the reason he was able to say what he did is that American public opinion has solidified behind these ideas. Plenty of polls will tell you that the number of Americans who accept the reality of climate change has soared in recent years, perhaps partly due to the natural disasters the president mentioned.

Obama Stalls After Nebraska Approves Keystone XL Oil Pipeline

One day after making climate change a key issue in his inaurugal address President Obama has decided to put off a decision on the Keystone XL Pipeline until April. The issue was thrust to the front of the agenda today when the governor of Nebraska approved the pipeline. The ultimate fate of the project is in Obama's hands. The Guardian reports:

Republicans immediately pushed Obama to approve the pipeline. "There is no bureaucratic excuse, hurdle or catch President Obama can use to delay this project any further," John Boehner, the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, said in a statement. "He and he alone stands in the way of tens of thousands of new jobs and energy security."

Campaigners against the pipeline said Obama should immediately shut down the project. "Approving Keystone XL would make a mockery of the commitment he made at the inauguration to take action on climate change," said, which has led opposition to the pipeline.

Courage for the Common Good: Obama's Second Term

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

President Barack Obama gives his inauguration address. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

I attended the Inauguration Ceremony today. It was thankfully not as cold as last time. But it was one of President Barack Obama's best speeches — strong, clear, even tough, in a good way. My favorite line was: "… history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they’ve never been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth.

In other words, God has made those principles always presented at inaugurals "self-evident" or ordained; but human beings must implement them. The president is saying that it is up to us to do that in our time. He elaborated. He was specific. 

TRANSCRIPT: President Obama's Inauguration Speech

 Alex Wong/Getty Images

U.S. President Barack Obama is sworn in during the public ceremony. Alex Wong/Getty Images

Editor's Note: The following is a transcript of President Barack Obama's remarks following his swearing in during Monday's Inauguration ceremony. 


THE PRESIDENT:  Vice President Biden, Mr. Chief Justice, members of the United States Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow citizens:  

Each time we gather to inaugurate a President we bear witness to the enduring strength of our Constitution.  We affirm the promise of our democracy.  We recall that what binds this nation together is not the colors of our skin or the tenets of our faith or the origins of our names.  What makes us exceptional -- what makes us American -- is our allegiance to an idea articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  

Today we continue a never-ending journey to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time.  For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they’ve never been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth.  (Applause.)  The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few or the rule of a mob.  They gave to us a republic, a government of, and by, and for the people, entrusting each generation to keep safe our founding creed. 


And for more than two hundred years, we have. 


Climate Change at Christmastime: Hug a Tree!

Photo: Family lugging their freshly cut tree, © Lori Sparkia/

Photo: Family lugging their freshly cut tree, © Lori Sparkia/

Some of my environmentally conscious friends have expressed concern about having a real Christmas tree in their house – it seems wasteful to cut down an entire tree just for a month or so of décor. After all, climate change is a huge problem, and its potential impacts on the world (most especially the poor) seem contrary to the Christmas spirit. 

It’s not a new worry – Teddy Roosevelt actually banned the White House Christmas Tree during his time in office, as he was worried about the conservation implications of people running out to cut down the forest. 

We can rest easy, though – the live Christmas tree industry that has developed since that time is actually a benefit to the global climate. Here’s why.