The ink is barely dry on the latest plan to deal with climate change. One can hardly claim that Lima was a resounding success, but it’s not a complete failure either. With 2014 looking to be the hottest year on record, very fast action indeed is needed to keep a global mean temperature below 2 degrees celsius over pre-industrial levels. Given that people are suffering now from less than 1 percent celsius, it is already too late to avoid some consequences of climate change. However, there is still time to avoid the worst of the scenarios, and Lima at least commits all nations to act, even if the harder decisions are to be made in Paris in 2015. Meanwhile, the clock keeps ticking.
In Australia, things have looked pretty grim for those of us concerned about the future. While I’ve been encouraged as I have gone around speaking at churches and Christian organisations, and seen the enthusiasm for something to be done, our reaction in the public sphere has often been muted. There are sections of the church who could be showing much greater moral leadership on this issue. Climate change is an issue for all Australians — indeed for all of humanity, regardless of ethnicity, religion, or politics. The reality of a drying continent, a longer and more volatile fire weather season, and deadlier heatwaves does not discriminate.
Further, with the removal of the carbon tax, an attack on the Renewable Energy Target, and the continued pushing of coal at state and federal level, we seem to be going backwards, not forwards. It is heartening to see an about-face on the Green Climate Fund, but it simply isn’t enough to play Good Samaritan when you are one of the robbers waylaying the innocent.
A Sojourners exclusive audio reading from Year of the Flood.
Like sifted coal, the dust is settling after the recent election in the “War On Coal” zone in West Virginia and Kentucky. Ungloved fisted hands lifted high in victory, King Coal. Knocked out cold on the canvas, contenders misleadingly accused of having President Obama and his dreaded coal-killing EPA in their corner.
The campaign propaganda was drearily repetitive. The syllogistic script for Republicans, “My opponent is a Democrat. President Obama is a Democrat whose EPA is killing coal jobs. Therefore my opponent will kill your coal jobs.” Democrat candidates protested vigorously, “As top priority, we will fight to bring the EPA to its knees, and bring coal jobs back!”
It’s been decades since any semblance of a coal boom economy. Comparable coal tonnage is still coming out of Appalachian ground. Machines and explosives began replacing most of the miners in the 1950s. In recent years, Appalachian coal commerce has been facing competitive market realities of cheaper coal mined further west along with a natural gas surfeit. With thicker, accessible Appalachian coal veins long mined out, profitability can still be realized by shaving environmental and safety corners and restoring market demand. The Environmental Protection Agency stands in the way, or so mining communities are told.
I turn to the EPA website and read, “the mission of EPA is to protect human health and the environment.” The first listed EPA purpose is that “all Americans are protected from significant risks to human health and the environment where they live, learn and work.”
Sunday night, people of all faiths gathered across the world for interfaith prayer vigils for the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Lima. In 13 countries, participants in #LightForLima prayer gatherings joined together in solidarity for collective song and prayer in hope that the negotiators at the UNFCCC will make decisions that will preserve the state of the earth for future generations.
Organized by the international multi-faith organization OurVoices, groups in Sydney, Ottawa, New York, London, and Washington, D.C., and elsewhere joined together to light up solar lamps and candles to share hope for successful negotiations in Lima. Desmond Tutu provided groups with this powerful prayer which was read at vigils across the globe last night:
Holy God, earth and air and water are your creation, and the web of life is yours.
Have mercy on us in the face of climate chaos.
Help us to be keepers of your Earth:
to simplify our lives,
to reduce our use of energy,
to share the resources you have given us,
to raise our voices for justice
and to bear the cost of change.
We kindle this “light for Lima” as we pray for the climate change negotiations in Lima, Peru.
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
Rivers and trees. The Bible begins and ends with rivers and trees: Genesis 1-2 and Revelation 21-22. Why is this striking fact not more well known among followers of Christ? What might this latter text teach us about hope in Advent 2014?
Within the past three months tremendous strides have been made toward protecting our earth. The People’s Climate March drew hundreds of thousands of people to the streets of New York City to advocate for climate action. The Keystone XL pipeline failed to pass the U.S. Senate. The United States and China passed a joint agreement to limit their greenhouse gas emissions.
This week there is great hope that progress will continue.
The Lima conference is seen as the last-stop in a series of slow moving international conversations leading up to the 2015 UNFCCC conference, which will happen next December in Paris. The ultimate goal of this climate-focused body of the United Nations, which has met for nearly two decades, is to have the nations of the world sign a landmark climate change agreement that drastically reduces greenhouse gas emissions country-by-country.
With Paris a year away, Lima is being called a hopeful stepping stone in this process.
Climate change resulting from the use of fossil fuels poses a grave threat to human and non-human life. Because a real national response to climate change has been stymied by political inaction, cultural inertia, and the concerted effort of fossil fuel companies, environmental organizations have encouraged universities, towns and cities, religious communities and other organizations to divest from fossil fuel investments.
In Judaism, ethical investing is part of traditional Jewish morality. Within the sources are two questions that are central to the issue of divestment:
Is it mandatory to divest from products (like tobacco and fossil fuel) that are not illegal but are, clearly, harmful?
To what degree is a minority shareholder morally responsible for the actions of a corporation when they are unable to exercise any significant control?
Several fundamental Jewish theological concepts bear upon these questions. Firstly, since God created the universe only God has absolute ownership over Creation (cf. 1 Chronicles. 29:10-16). Humans do not have unrestricted freedom to misuse Creation as they are tenants, not owners. Since human ownership of Creation is not absolute, the use of even private property cannot be divorced from morality. A product may be legal, but if it is harmful, its use is not ethical.
Evangelicals are teaming up with environmentalists to support the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan to substantially reduce carbon dioxide emissions from coal-burning power plants.
The Rev. Mitchell Hescox, president and CEO of the Evangelical Environmental Network, submitted comments from more than 100,000 “pro-life Christians” who he said are concerned about children’s health problems that are linked to unclean air and water.
“From acid rain to mercury to carbon, the coal utility industry has never acted as a good neighbor and cleaned up their mess on their own,” Hescox told reporters on Dec. 1. “Instead of acting for the benefit of our children’s lives, they’ve internalized their profits while our kids (have) borne the cost in their brains, lungs and lives.”
Despite recent findings that almost four in 10 evangelicals remain skeptical about climate change, Hescox said the comments he provided to the Environmental Protection Agency reflect a belief that “climate change is the greatest moral challenge of our time.”
Most Americans say they feel a deep connection to the wider world.
But all that spiritual stargazing makes no difference in views about the facts of climate change and global warming, a new survey finds.
Just 5 percent of Americans thought climate change was the most important issue in the U.S. today. And religion was a major dividing point on how much — or how little — they think it’s a matter of concern, according to a new survey by the Public Religion Research Institute.
“We asked about spiritual measures such as being in awe of the universe, and you might think it would correlate with views about the universe. But, in fact, they have very little relationship,” said Robert Jones, CEO of PRRI, which conducted the survey on U.S. adults’ attitudes toward climate change, environmental policy and science.
Last night, the Senate voted on the Keystone XL pipeline — and with only 59 votes, the bill failed. (In the current political climate, it takes 60 votes to make a bill filibuster-proof so that it actually passes.)
Right after the announcement, things got loud on the Senate floor. Someone from the gallery broke out into song. Although the C-SPAN cameras didn’t show them, someone was singing loudly in the Dakota/Lakota language from the gallery up above. That someone was Greg Grey Cloud, a member of the Dakota/Lakota Nation from the Rosebud Sioux reservation.
See, in some ways, the Keystone pipeline is a symbol. If President Obama lets the pipeline pass, it shows us that he isn’t actually the president who cares the most about climate change — even if he makes major agreements on climate change pollution with China or releases the Clean Power Plan for the EPA. If he lets the Keystone XL tar sands pipe be built, he’ll be undoing so much good work, cancelling it out with a fuel even dirtier than oil.
Tonight at 6:00, the Senate is holding a vote on the Keystone XL pipeline. I’ve been so excited lately by all the good thing happening in Congress, but this just might spoil my mood.
Here’s what has happened lately: President Obama met with Chinese President Xi Jinping, and the two of them agreed on a climate pollution-curbing deal. It’s a move that many people never thought possible, and it means big things for international climate talks. Also big news in that arena is Obama’s recent commitment of $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund, making us one of very few prosperous nations willing to help the world’s poor and vulnerable countries grapple with the climate impacts they are already facing – stronger storms, droughts that ravage subsistence farmers, rising sea levels that displace island nations. When the U.S. delegates show up at the U.N. climate talks in Lima two weeks from now, people might actually be happy to see us!
This week is an exciting one on the national level too. This afternoon at the EPA, a group of faith representatives will hand over our thousands of comments from people of faith who support the Clean Power Plan (and want to see the rule implemented well in every state).
But just when things were looking up, enter Congress. Here’s the basic scene:
If Quaker antislavery activist John Woolman were alive today, he would probably be doing everything in his power to resist the fossil fuel industries destabilizing our climate.
Woolman, who in the mid-1700s refused to cooperate with any aspect of the slave trade, would probably divest any ownership interest he had in big oil, gas, and coal companies. To profit financially from corporations that are destroying the planet would be unconscionable.
The divestment movement received a tremendous boost the day after 400,000 people took to the streets of New York City for the People’s Climate March. In advance of the United Nations Climate Summit on Sept. 22, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund — an $860 million foundation built on the oil fortune of John D. Rockefeller — announced its commitment to divest its holdings of fossil fuels.
This was the latest wave in a series of Divest-Invest announcements including the launch of Divest-Invest Individual, which facilitates a meaningful role for individuals in the divestment and reinvestment movements. More than 700 inaugural investors – with investments totaling $2.6 billion – announced their intention to divest from fossil fuel industries and reinvest in clean, renewable energy. Hundreds of individuals have since taken the pledge to stop new investments in fossil fuels and divest from the top 200 carbon-holding companies within five years.
“The destruction of the earth’s environment is the human rights challenge of our time,” said South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu in a video-taped message to the UN Climate Summit. He called on world leaders to freeze further exploration for new fossil fuel sources. “Divest from fossil fuels and invest in a clean energy future. Move your money out of the problem and into solutions.”
Today the House of Representatives is set to vote, yet again, on the Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline. This pipeline would move bitumen, a tar-like version of oil, from the Alberta tar sands in Canada down to the oil refineries and export areas in Texas. The pipeline is controversial because of the high carbon content of tar sands oil, the sensitive farmland, aquifer, and Native American land it passes through, and the risk of pipeline spills.
The Senate will vote on the Keystone pipeline – which would require President Obama’s signature since it crosses an international border with Canada – on Tuesday, but if it passes the House and the Senate, Obama will be faced with a choice: veto or sign. He has been silent on his final decision, stalling as the State Department goes through the review process (which raised conflict of interest concerns, as a contractor working for the pipeline company also wrote State Department’s Environmental Impact Statement).
You can call your Member of Congress to let them know where you stand on Keystone XL – find their phone number here: http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/
This morning, President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping of China made a historic announcement that their countries would limit greenhouse gas emissions.
The United States and China are the world’s two largest consumers of energy and two largest emitters of greenhouse gases. Together, they account for 40 percent of the world’s emissions.
This announcement is a milestone for two reasons. First, this is the first time that China, the world’s No. 1 producer of greenhouse gas pollution, has made any pledge to limit its rapidly growing emissions. Second, this is a major breakthrough in U.S.-China relations that highlights what’s possible when the two superpowers work together on an issue.
Both leaders hope that this statement will inject momentum into global climate negotiations by putting pressure on other major countries to reflect on their own plans for major emissions reductions.
A written statement alone will not alter the course of climate action internationally. However, this announcement has laid a foundation for an international collaborative relationship on climate change. As President Xi told President Obama on Tuesday evening, “A pool begins with many drops of water.” For the sake of God’s creation let’s hope that the drops of climate change collaboration continue to gather.
For more on this story The Hill’s report.
Editor’s Note : This is the first post in a new series about fossil fuel divestment and clean energy reinvestment. We’ll look at how and why people of faith might choose to divest from fossil fuels as a response to climate change.
When you really care about something, it’s important not to give up hope.
If one of the things you care about is climate change and the harm we are doing to God’s beautiful world, it’s pretty hard to keep the hope alive.
After all, the world’s leading peer-reviewed scientific authority on climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, just released its most damning report ever, declaring that climate disruption is at this point “irreversible.”
And then let’s look at Congress. The United States has emitted more greenhouse gases than any other country in the world, and yet it’s been five years since Congress came anywhere near passing a major climate law. (And they failed to pass that Cap & Trade law). After the most recent election last week, Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) — who once called global warming “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people” — is set to become the gatekeeper for all climate legislation.
This should come as no surprise. Fossil fuels – the main driver of our nation’s climate culpability – are a big business. We blow up mountains to get more coal, set up dangerous oilrigs in the Gulf of Mexico, pipe tar through the breadbasket of America, and use California’s limited water supply to hydrofrack for gas. When I say “we,” I mean the fossil fuel industry. The industry spends tons of money each year propping up climate deniers, spreading misinformation, and sowing seeds of doubt about what we are doing to God’s earth. They also fund political candidates on both sides of the aisle, buying silence from elected officials whose constituents are suffering from air and water pollution, historic drought, or stronger hurricanes.
In the face of all this, I have hope — for two reasons.
“The reason I speak to them in parables is that ‘seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.’ With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says: ‘You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes” (Matthew 13:11-15)
Humans shut their eyes to truth.
This week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the final installment of its three-part synthesis report on climate change. According to Rajendra Pachauri, the chairperson of the IPCC, this report is the “strongest, most robust, and most comprehensive analysis” to come out of the IPCC, which has been tracking climate change since 1988. Yet, there are still some who are hard of hearing.
The data that lies within the report is nothing completely new: climate change is happening, humans are responsible for climate change, and fossil fuels are severely damaging our levels of CO2. So, what is different about the newest installment of the IPCC report?
The emergence of one word: irreversible.
Editor’s Note: Global warming means rising sea levels, worsening extreme weather events, and a threat to God’s creation and people. The world has not experienced normal global temperatures since 1985. So while some might call them millennials, anyone under the age of 30 is part of the “Climate Generation.” If you’re under 30, congrats! You’ve inherited a big problem. Bill Lewis has a letter to share, written to his two year old grandson, and to all those who will inherit a changed planet.
Dear Future Generations,
Today, a day that encompasses all that has gone before and precedes all that will come, I write as one whose heart breaks open with joy at an expanse of prairie or Southern Pine flatwoods stretching to the horizon. I write as one who thinks of your life, my little 2-year-old grandson, and what opportunities you might have to know the natural world. I write as one who thinks of this beautiful world that encompasses so much diversity in the creatures, plants, soils, and relationships. At first I was going to tell you what I think you should know. But now it seems that I have more questions than answers. Perhaps as you live into these questions and others that you will ask, you’ll grow in wisdom and stature and awe of God. Will there be any natural areas left? Will you have the opportunity to experience what was once the largest and most biologically diverse forest type in North America – Longleaf Pine? Will you be able to travel on foot away from concrete, autos, electricity? Will you be able to be in places where nature has the power and sculpts the landscape, rather than people?
Editor's Note: Global warming means rising sea levels, worsening extreme weather events, and a threat to God’s creation and people. The world has not experienced normal global temperatures since 1985. So while some might call them millennials, anyone under the age of 30 is part of the “Climate Generation.” If you’re under 30, congrats! You’ve inherited a big problem. Dorothy Boorse is a science professor, a Christian, and a parent, and she has some words for the Climate Generation.
Dear younger ones. You idealistic, smart, and entrepreneurial folks, take courage! I am speaking from an earlier generation, but one with you, caring for each other and our lovely world. I have two sons: one home-grown in the more common way, and one gained through a long process I often call “my paperwork labor.” For one of them, I ate for two, then sweated and yelled in an epic battle to get him out into the world. For the other, I had certificates of health and finances and assessments printed, travelled abroad, and got my husband to write an autobiography. Both were arduous journeys, and both of my sons are loved more than I can describe.