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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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” it, the 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.
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.
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.
Expressing her opinion that climate change is no longer about energy efficient behavior but rather about national policy, spiritual leader Marilyn Sewell argues the importance of what it takes to preserve the Earth’s atmosphere. Expressing her concerns about the lack of community and church involvement, Sewell insists policy immersion is crucial toward resolving future matters surrounding climate change. The Huffington Post reports:
So where is the parish church in all of this? Mostly silent, it seems. Churches continue to be concerned with individual sin as opposed to systemic sin, even in regard to climate change. Congregants may be admonished to recycle and change their light bulbs, but not to become politically active. The fact is we're way beyond changing our light bulbs. We need to bring that unhappy, startling truth to the pulpits of our land.
Read more here.