Energy

The Problem of Big and Small

IT'S REASONABLY clear to me that the natural tendency of our society at this moment is toward smallness, localness, and intimacy. After several centuries of constantly extending our supply lines around the world so that our food and our energy and our capital came from every corner of the planet, we find it increasingly pleasing and increasingly necessary to hunker down.

Local food is the best example. Our best restaurants and our sharpest cooks are no longer concerned with copying French recipes; for a generation now it’s been all about what’s close to home. Farmers’ markets have been the fastest growing part of our food economy, and suddenly there are more breweries than there were before Prohibition. It tastes good; it feels neighborly.

Next on the agenda: local energy. All of a sudden it seems weird to be piping stuff in from Saudi Arabia, or even Texas, when there’s plenty of good sunshine to be had close to home, when the wind blows over your house more days than not. In the wake of the financial crisis, there’s even a move toward Slow Money and local banking. It’s possible to imagine how it might all fit together into something quite beautiful—a new/old world that actually kind of works, instead of the careening one we’re used to.

But there’s one small problem. Actually, one large problem—the largest we’ve ever faced. The devastation from climate change threatens to undo every one of these sweet trends (if it doesn’t rain for a month, it doesn’t matter how organic your farm is; ditto if it rains every day). And climate change, given the time that we have, can only be solved on very large scales. Say the United States—greatest of carbon sinners—somehow decided to sober up and get its house in order. Even in that dream world, you’d still need to persuade the developing world to go along.

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Obama's Energy Fail

I'D ALWAYS HOPED that the president’s “all of the above” energy strategy was a mere campaign slogan, a way to avoid riling anyone up as he ran for re-election. But he’s made pretty clear that it’s actually his guiding light.

“The all-of-the-above energy strategy I announced a few years ago is working,” he crowed in his State of the Union address. And indeed it is, if the goal is to drill, baby, drill. In Obama’s time in office, U.S. oil production has increased 50 percent; analysts estimate that by the time he’s gone in 2016, we’ll have literally doubled the amount of oil we produce in this country. The curve for natural gas production has been almost as steep, and though we’re burning less coal in our own power plants the amount we export has hit record highs.

In political terms, Barack Obama holds us environmentalists at bay with pretty words on climate change, but when it comes time to drill he’s the go-to guy. As he told a crowd of cheering oilmen in Oklahoma during the last campaign, “over the last three years, I’ve directed my administration to open up millions of acres for gas and oil exploration across 23 different states. We’re opening up more than 75 percent of our potential oil resources offshore. We’ve quadrupled the number of operating rigs to a record high. We’ve added enough new oil and gas pipeline to encircle the Earth and then some.”

Eighteen of the nation’s biggest environmental groups sent the president a letter earlier this year asking him to back off the all-of-the-above rhetoric, and to change his policies. The only reply came from one of his counselors, who fired back a peevish letter saying he was “surprised” that they would dare challenge the president, since he’d done more than his predecessors to fight climate change. But being better than George Bush is not the point—to do anything about global warming you need to meet the bar that physics sets. And that means leaving coal and gas and oil in the ground.

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What Good Is a Bridge If We Never Cross It?

Rebell/Shutterstock

What good is a bridge if we never cross it? Rebell/Shutterstock

Energy policy and climate change action are inexorably linked, like two oxen in a yoke.

The trouble with this set-up is that while climate action tends to look straight ahead, energy policy is apt to veer off on any number of paths, some of them quite well-meaning, like job growth or “energy independence.”

Last night’s State of the Union address by President Obama was, I’m afraid, one such experience for climate action, which compared to the huge bull of energy issues is a yearling at best. The yoke between energy and climate did get mentioned by the president, but the yoke pressed toward economic growth, the paradigm which many argue is responsible for our ecological crisis in the first place.  It’s enough to strain a vertebra. 

Archbishop Blasts British Energy Companies for Price Hikes

Right Rev. Justin Welby, bishop of Durham, was named the 105th archbishop of Canterbury. RNS photo courtesy Durham Cathedral

Less than three months after he promised to take on payday lenders and create alternative church credit unions, the archbishop of Canterbury condemned Britain’s energy companies for imposing huge price hikes that will hurt struggling families.

Justin Welby said over the weekend that the six most powerful energy supply companies have a “massive” moral duty beyond squeezing customers for maximum profits. The largest of them, British Gas, whose parent company is called Centrica, recorded a 2.7 billion pound ($4.37 billion) profit last year.

The archbishop — a former oil trader — challenged the company’s huge markup of around 9.2 percent.

Walk the Moon: A Fun Pick-Me-Up

Neon Tommy / Flickr

Walk the Moon performed on Thursday in Washington, D.C. Neon Tommy / Flickr

If you’re looking for a pick-me-up, look no further than Cincinatti’s Walk the Moon. The group recently stopped in Washington, D.C., on their world tour and performed in front of an uber-hyped audience.

Their songs blend elements of pop, rock, and dance music — like what you’d expect if you mixed The Strokes, Passion Pit, and sprinkled on some of the overall vibes from the Vans Warped Tour.

Missing Servant Leaders on Corporate Tax Responsibility

We're sorely missing the servant leadership of America's CEOs on matters of corporate taxation.

As Congress contemplates trillions in budget cuts that will worsen poverty and undermine the quality of life in America, consider these findings from a new report that I co-authored, "Massive CEO Rewards for Tax Dodging," by the Institute for Policy Studies.

Last year, the compensation of 25 CEOs at major profitable U.S. companies was larger than the entire amount their company paid in U.S. corporate taxes.

These 25 include the CEOs of Verizon, Boeing, Honeywell, General Electric, International Paper, Prudential, eBay, Bank of New York Mellon, Ford, Motorola, Qwest Communications, Dow Chemical, and Stanley Black and Decker.

When the Earth Shakes

It was over in less than a minute. Three miles below the surface of the earth near a town in Virginia called Mineral, a fault line shifted. As a result, a 5.8 magnitude earthquake was felt from Georgia to New England and as far west as Detroit. The National Cathedral lost several stone spires, the Washington Monument cracked, and Sojourners' office was closed for the afternoon, as our building was checked for structural damage.

Tectonic plates move beneath our feet in the part of the globe that scientists refer to as the lithosphere. Over the course of a year, an average plate will move as little as 3 to 6 centimeters. The speed of their movement is 10,000 times slower than the hour hand on a clock and even slower than the rate of growth of human hair. For decades, sometimes centuries or millennia, a plate's movement might go almost entirely unnoticed. Then, in less than a minute, the world shakes and everything changes.

God's Wrath Caused East Coast Earthquake

I want to beat televangelist Pat Robertson to the jump on yesterday's East Coast earthquake.

Robertson is genius at knowing the mind of God when it comes to natural disasters. He blamed the Haiti earthquake on a God-offending "pact with the devil." Hurricane Katrina was God's pay-back for abortion in America.

Having spent some time with the Lord recently, I feel there is a message for President Obama: It is God's wrath that shook the White House yesterday. This was a 5.8 wake-up call.

Why is God all wrought up this time? What is it that God wants President Obama to do? Well, my friends, the issue is climate change. Global warming. Specifically, the Keystone XL "Dirty Oil" pipeline.

Isn't the Keystone XL Pipeline in Our National Interest?

Won't it reduce our dependence on Middle Eastern oil? Won't somebody else develop the Alberta tar sands if the U.S. doesn't do it -- someone like China, perhaps?

I've been wrestling with many of these issues as I contemplate risking arrest as part of two weeks of sustained protest by leading environmentalists, climate scientists, and faith-based groups at the White House forth to pressure the Obama Administration to block the Keystone XL Pipeline. This pipeline project will connect Canadian tar sands -- containing the second largest and dirtiest oil reserves on the planet -- with the oil refineries in Texas.

10 Ways to Revive a Dying Church

You don't need a ton of proof to know that more and more churches are struggling to survive. It seems churches that are in this predicament have one of two options: revive or die. There are a lot of books, seminars, and workshops given on how to go about reviving a church. However, there is not one cookie cutter, full-proof, and effective strategy in reviving a church. Having said that, it doesn't mean that it is impossible. There are many examples of struggling churches that have successfully revived the congregation, increased the health of the church, and expanded their ministry.

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