On Scripture: Climate Change and Setting the World on Fire

Chaikovskiy Igor / Shutterstock.com

Chaikovskiy Igor / Shutterstock.com

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.

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 / Shutterstock.com

Photo: Praying for creation, Tyler Olson / Shutterstock.com

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.

A Little Climate Change Pleasure Reading

Man reading in the park, dragon_fang / Shutterstock.com

Man reading in the park, dragon_fang / Shutterstock.com

This winter, fiction revealed truth about climate change.  

As a teacher, I relish the escape provided by pleasure reading before I return to the classroom for the next semester at Warren Wilson College, where I teach environmental education. 

In December, without reading reviews or making a list, I visited my independent bookstore, Malaprop’s and purchased two books: Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior (2012) and Lauren Groff’s Arcadia (2012). I’m a long-time Kingsolver fan and bought her book as a gift, with the goal of reading it before wrapping it. And the cover of Arcadia, with its teal VW bus and field of sunflowers, drew me into purchasing what I thought was my second random choice for recreational reading. 

Both books, it turns out, integrated climate change into the plotline, weaving scientific truths about global warming into the lives of fictional characters. And just as compelling, both works of fiction featured spiritual community at the center of critical decisions about the future of the land and its inhabitants. 

Of note, critics have bemoaned the lack of fiction centered on climate change, a paucity that seemed to mirror our public denial of this scientific reality. In a 2010 blog on openDemocracy, professor and author Andrew Dobson even outlined the components of a  “climate-change novel” that include a grim future, characters who explore ethical choices around global warming, and (no surprise here) extreme weather events. He ended his piece with this challenge: “So there’s the recipe. Who’s going to write the book?” 

Canada PM meets chiefs amid Teresa Spence hunger strike

After a 25-day hunger strike by Attawapiskat chief Teresa Spence, First Nation leaders will meet with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Jan. 11. Spence began fasting to protest a budget proposal that weakens native land rights and environmental safeguards. BBC reports:

On Friday, Mr. Harper released a statement which cited his January 2012 meeting with First Nations leaders and said he would meet with chiefs "in this spirit of ongoing dialogue."

Mr. Harper said the "working meeting" would focus on "the treaty relationship and aboriginal rights and economic development."

While the Attawapiskat leader has continued her fast, First Nations protesters and others have rallied around her, as well as Canadian indigenous rights movement Idle No More, in protest on a range of issues.

Read more here.

Climate Change at Christmastime: Hug a Tree!

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

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

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.

Why I Support Wind Energy

Wind turbine farm, © WDG Photo / Shutterstock.com

Wind turbine farm, © WDG Photo / Shutterstock.com

Nearly one-in-six people in the United States live in an area with unhealthful short-term levels of particle pollution. One in six. I was one of those one in six, growing up with moderate to severe asthma. I was hospitalized several times. My health was poor throughout my childhood and didn’t really show full significant improvement until after college.

It’s something I learned to deal with, not to focus on. Yet the truth is, I grew up in a part of the country with severe pollution. In our drive for cheap energy, society paid a social cost.

Luckily I grew up in a part of the world and during a time in history when medical advances kept pace with asthma, in my case just barely. My father also had asthma, as did his father before him. If I had grown up during my father’s time, I likely wouldn’t be here today. If I grew up in another part of the world I know I wouldn’t be here today.

The Thing From the Oil Company Board Room

The Global North and West is addicted to fossilized fuel. Myself included. And we are trying to push our addictions onto the Global South.

Everywhere we look the fossil fuel pushers are in our face, luring us into our next fix.

Not a week after the elections, the American Petroleum Institute launched ads in Alaska, Louisiana, New Mexico, Colorado, Virginia, Arkansas, and North Carolina targeting U.S. senators who are raising the issue of climate change; specifically, the ones calling into question oil company subsidies.

The oil and gas companies try seduction ("fighting for jobs"). They try fear ("we are too big to fail"). They accuse us of being unfair to them ("Discriminatory treatment of the oil and gas industry is a bad idea"). They try bullying and slandering.

Even when our court system recently convicted one of them killing (BP convicted of "manslaughter" for the 11 murdered on Gulf Oil spill rigs), they are not stopped.

Bill McKibben Leads D.C. March to Stop the Keystone XL Pipeline

Protestors march to stop the Keystone XL Pipeline. Photo by Scot Degraf

Protestors march to stop the Keystone XL Pipeline. Photo by Scot Degraf

Midway through his nationwide, one-month Do The Math tour, Bill McKibben — author, environmental activist, and founder of 350.org — attracted a crowd that packed the Warner Theater in downtown Washington, D.C., on Sunday. 

Joined both onstage and by video by a diverse group of speakers, including Rev. Lennox Yearwood of the Hip Hop Caucus, author Naomi Klein, and Archbishop Desmund Tutu, McKibben’s Do The Math tour brings to light the stark numbers of our current climate reality, first brought to the public’s attention in his viral article in Rolling Stone this past summer. 

The three main numbers are as follows: 2 degrees Celsius is the maximum level of warming our planet can endure before real catastrophe occurs. To stay below 2 degrees C, we cannot burn more than 565 gigatons of carbon dioxide. But the problem is that the fossil fuel industry has 2,795 gigatons in their reserves — five times the safe amount to burn. As is their business plan, to reap the profit from these reserves, the fossil fuel companies plan on burning all of it, “unless we rise up to stop them” states the 350.org website.