Environment

Ecojustice on the Louisiana Bayou

Photo courtesy Wendy Hammond
Photo courtesy Wendy Hammond

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 Hearing on Obama’s Climate Action Plan, Star Witnesses But Few Meaningful Questions

Air pollution, homydesign / Shutterstock.com
Air pollution, homydesign / Shutterstock.com

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.

Energy News: What’s Happening This Week

Green energy concept, CarpathianPrince / Shutterstock.com
Green energy concept, CarpathianPrince / Shutterstock.com

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.

My Netflix Love Affair and My Carbon Footprint

I love Netflix. I love that from the comfort of my couch, I can watch almost an endless selection of movies and TV shows. I’m re-watching all of The West Wing right now, along with most of Washington and probably much of the country. My friend Kat told me recently that she and her fiancé are watching it for the fifth time on Netflix, despite it sitting in a deluxe DVD set above their TV. Why get up to switch DVDs when your streaming player automatically starts the next episode for you?

So I wasn’t too happy when I read that my Netflix habit is seriously energy intensive. In a new article on Salon.com, I learned that watching Netflix streaming for an hour a week uses more energy each year than two new refrigerators. In my household we definitely watch a lot more than an hour a week.

Church Gardening As Peacemaking Ministry

The book cover of “Soil and Sacrament” by Fred Bahnson. Photo via RNS.
The book cover of “Soil and Sacrament” by Fred Bahnson. Photo via RNS.

Fred Bahnson’s first bit of advice when he started planning a church garden eight years ago came from an elderly tobacco farmer who grabbed a handful of soil, rolled it around in his fingers and shook his head:

“You don wohn fahm heah,” he said in his deep North Carolina drawl.

Those were not the only discouraging words he received as he planted and cultivated one of the earliest and most successful church gardens, 20 miles north of Chapel Hill.

But Bahnson, a Duke Divinity School graduate and a pioneer in the church gardening movement, had a different view of farming than the older tobacco farmer. He knew that if he gave back to the soil more than he took out — in the form of compost, manure and other soil food — he could create an abundant garden.

Creation is Groaning

Oil spill illustration, fish1715 / Shutterstock.com
Oil spill illustration, fish1715 / Shutterstock.com

In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul writes: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God …” (Romans 8:18-19)

And who are God’s children in the immediate context? Paul explains the “children of God” are those whose spirits cry “father” when referring to God. “For,” according to Paul, “all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” (Romans 8:14) If this is true, then why is creation longing for the children of God (those led by God’s Spirit) to be revealed?

In Genesis 1, the author writes, “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.” The Hebrew words for “very good” are mehode tobeMehode means “forcefully” and in the Hebrew context tobedoes not necessarily refer to the object itself. Rather it refers to the ties between things. So, when God looked around at the end of the sixth day and said, “This is very good,” God was saying the relationships between all parts of creation were “forcefully good.” The relationship between humanity and God, men and women, within families, between us and the systems that govern us, and the relationship between humanity and the rest of creation — the land, the sea, and sky and all the animals and vegetation God created to dwell in those domains—all of these relationships were forcefully good!

Evangelism After the Storm

Hurricane Sandy destruction in Breezy Point, N.Y., Leonard Zhukovsky / Shutterst
Hurricane Sandy destruction in Breezy Point, N.Y., Leonard Zhukovsky / Shutterstock.com

“But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.” 2 Timothy 4:5 (NIV)

On Oct. 28, I was shocked into a cruel reality when I received an urgent text message as I was about to preach my Sunday sermon at Mount Carmel Baptist Church in Arverne (Far Rockaway), N.Y. We were told to evacuate immediately, and that both of the bridges that lead to and from the western portion of the peninsula would be shut down. Hurricane Irene had proven to be a false alarm in 2011, and we mistakenly thought that Sandy would be as well. I instructed all of our parishioners to leave immediately after service. My family and I packed up and headed out to my sister’s place in Bloomfield, N.J.

When I ventured back on Halloween, it took more than five hours to get to Far Rockaway, a peninsula that lies between Jamaica Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. What I saw on the way was sobering, if not devastating: boats in the middle of the street, debris everywhere, no electricity for miles and miles of Queens and Long Island, and homes – hundreds, if not thousands flooded — many destroyed. My own home and church in Arverne took on nearly 7 ft. of water. At Mount Carmel, our offices, fellowship hall, kitchen, and bathrooms were destroyed.

As the World Turns, Congress Stands Still on Climate

Oil refinery emissions, David Sprott / Shutterstock.com
Oil refinery emissions, David Sprott / Shutterstock.com

Forget about future generations – climate change is already hitting poor people around the world, not to mention contributing to natural disasters in the U.S. from New York City to Arizona. Apparently that’s not enough for some members of Congress, who have chosen to use their authority to try to block any and all attempts to do something about the problem.

Earlier this month, President Barack Obama announced a major, comprehensive plan of action on climate change – changes that would do much to protect human health, the poor, and future generations by mitigating some of the worst impacts of climate change. A central part of the plan is to address climate pollution at its largest source: coal-fired power plants.

Unfortunately, many members of Congress are already taking steps to decry the president’s plan as a “war” – on coal, on American energy, and yes, even on America itself. Leaders from John Boehner to Michele Bachmann to Joe Manchin have made it pretty clear that they view attempts to care for creation as an assault on our country.

Surviving the Next Gulf Oil Spill

In an attempt to rebuild the image of the five gulf states — Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas, federal and state officials have joined forces on their journey to replenish the damage from 2010's BP oil-well tragedy. Talks of baseball stadiums, sea walls, and donations to the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council are among the many entities who will benefit from President Obama’s Restore Act signed last year. The New York Times reports:

The money will mostly be split among the states and a new entity, the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, composed of state and federal officials. There are already plenty of ideas among the states for spending the cash, including constructing a sea wall around the city jail in Mobile, Ala., and deepening shipping channels. Biloxi, Miss., is using money already given to the state by BP to build a baseball stadium.

Here’s another idea: the states and the council should require that a nickel of every dollar they control be used to buy and protect coastal marshes and wetlands. It is the most important thing they can do to help the gulf survive the next oil spill.

Read more here.

A Pattern For Change

Climate change illustration, Sangoiri / Shutterstock.com
Climate change illustration, Sangoiri / Shutterstock.com

I’ve believed that climate change is the greatest moral issue facing us, and something I want to work on in my congregation. But how? I asked someone who had conducted a survey in our denomination, and he said that most churches discussed the issue but had little or no concrete action. I talked to activist congregations whose members were experiencing burnout and no longer meeting as a group. In a meeting with concerned congregations, I found that they experienced a big separation between climate-change interest groups and social action groups. In my congregation, we formed a “Green Team” that was concerned with saving energy, but it was reluctant to do any political action. 

After much prayer and many conversations and group meetings, our Social Justice Minister called a group together that he called “The Climate Change Initiative.” Twenty-five of us showed up, and after we introduced ourselves, our minister said he had noticed three groupings emerging: Practical, Political, and Spiritual Action. 

We started to meet in three subgroups, but still collaborated. A year later, I met a leader of a United Church of Christ congregation who had pioneered and formed the UCC national denominational emphasis. She said the same three elements were evident in their congregation work, and that had, she thought, contributed to the pattern for change. 

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