Oil

VIDEO: "Prairie Roots"

Our nation has a dangerous dependency on the extraction of fossil fuels, writes Katherine M. Preston in “A Burning Truth” (Sojourners, September-October 2014). When greed for oil leads to hydraulic fracking and pipeline construction, we “forget basic moral issues of justice and caring for our neighbors and the earth.”

Watch actress Pippa White perform her poem, “Prairie Roots,” a tribute to the resiliency of the land despite the harm of humans. However, as Pippa reminds us, without the care of good stewards, deep roots are hardly deep at all.

Credit: Bold Nebraska

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A Burning Truth

BETWEEN 6:30 AND 7 nearly every morning, a dark rumble drifts up through the chilled air from the railroad tracks at the bottom of our hayfield in the Adirondack foothills of New York. A line of more than 100 black tanker cars, mostly full of fracked Bakken oil from North Dakota, rolls southward. They will pass the field where our neighbor’s kids play, then close alongside beautiful Lake Champlain, which defines this region, and on to Albany, where the oil will be put on barges and floated down the Hudson River to New Jersey, to be stored or refined.

Tanker cars like these have been blowing up recently. An accident north of us, over the Canadian border, flattened a downtown and killed 47 people. These cars carry a mix of crude oil and volatile compounds arising from the fracking process, making them dangerously flammable. I worry about my small town’s volunteer fire fighters, all of whom I know personally and admire greatly, who do not have the expertise or the equipment to deal with an accident like that.

Watching the tanker cars, I am also haunted by a scene seared into my memory five months ago. We are driving east along U.S. Route 2 in North Dakota, our small camper in tow, trying to pass through Williston, smack in the middle of the Bakken oil fields.

As the sun sets, we see hundreds of oil and gas rigs flaring excess volatile gases in huge plumes of orange flame. Processing plants spew fumes of God-knows-what. There are row upon row of metal trailers, boxes really, actually used as housing for people. Unrelenting traffic beats a path on the undivided highway under furious construction, with no breakdown lanes or turn-offs for miles. Huge water tankers and oil trucks force us to move onward at 60 mph; there will be no rest for us here, as all campgrounds, gas stations, and parking lots are filled with the rigs of the temporary workers.

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University of Dayton, a Catholic University, Moves to Divest from Fossil Fuels

Another Christian school moves to divest – this time, a Catholic university

Just one week after Serene Jones, President of Union Theological Seminary, announced their decision to become the world’s first seminary to divest from fossil fuels, another first announced. The University of Dayton, a Catholic, Marianist university, will divest fossil fuels from its $670 million investment pool. This is the first Catholic university in the world to do so.

Just as divestment makes sense for Union Theological Seminary and its history of engaging social justice, this choice is in line with Catholic social teachings and the Marianist values of leadership and service to humanity. Marianists view Mary, the mother of Jesus, as their model of discipleship, and their mission is to bring Christ into the world and work for the coming of Christ’s kingdom.

Union and the University of Dayton are the newest schools joining the growing list of U.S. colleges and universities divesting from fossil fuels as a way to stop financially supporting the climate pollution and the public health implications of coal, oil, and natural gas as the dominant sources of energy in the country. Their announcements are unique because they speak not only of the moral choice, but of the Christian choice on matters of financial investment.

At the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly this past week, in addition to the denomination’s decision to divest from three companies in relation to conflict in Israel/Palestine, a decision was made to begin the discernment process on fossil fuel divestment. The fossil fuel divestment conversation is happening in many churches and religious institutions across the country, and Union Theological Seminary and the University of Dayton are clear that they see this as an act of Christian witness for protecting God’s creation and people.

Information is from The University of Dayton’s website.

MAP: The Keystone XL's Path of Destruction

In “The Earth is the Lord’s (and just look what we’re doing with it)” (Sojourners, June 2014), Cal DeWitt writes that “we are Earth-keepers…commissioned to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.” A project that stands in the way of maintaining creation’s integrity, however, is the Keystone XL—a tar sands oil pipeline that would span the U.S from north to south. The pipeline would also drastically accelerate emissions of carbon dioxide.

Take a look at the proposed route of the pipeline, which would wind from Canada to Texas.

Map route information gathered from TransCanada.

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The Earth is the Lord's (and just look what we're doing with it)

WONDERFULLY, WE FIND ourselves very much alive in “a large and beautiful house,” as Cicero called it in his day. We know it was built not only for “the sake of mice and weasels,” or “immortal gods,” but for the entire array of life on Earth.

As we behold the remarkably habitable abode we call Earth, we are left to wonder: What is this grand house in which we live, move, and have our being? What makes it such a habitable abode?

The answer is written elegantly before our eyes in creation itself. And when we join this with reading God’s word, we find the foundation of the answer: “The [geophysical] earth (ge) is the Lord’s and its fullness, the [biosphere] (oikoumene) and everything that lives in it,” as it says in the Septuagint translation of Psalm 24:1.

We discover as grateful dwellers in this most habitable abode that we also are its housekeepers. If we mess it up, it will teach us something about proper housekeeping. And from scripture we learn that we are its Earth-keepers, commissioned, as the Anglican Communion puts it, “to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.”

In the beautiful architecture of Earth, we find the foundations of life in the geophysical earth as well as keystone species in its biosphere. In the architecture of our houses and churches, we find structures of our own crafting, such as foundations, cornerstones, columns, arches, domes, and keystones.

Significantly, one of these architectural features appears in the name “Keystone XL,” the proposed tar sands oil pipeline. Architecturally, a keystone locks together two legs of an arch. If completed, Keystone XL would do much the same.

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An Enormous Sponge

The following reflection is a sidebar for "A Watershed Moment" by Ched Myers.—The Editors

I WORK FOR Kairos Canada, and we are trying to build in Canada and globally an ecumenical movement for transformative change in the areas of ecological justice and human rights. We particularly focus on the impacts of resource extraction on Indigenous communities.

For example, the Athabasca watershed is an enormous sponge that stretches north to the Arctic Ocean. Right in the middle of it is the Alberta tar sands, from which bitumen (a form of heavy oil) is extracted. We don’t know what kind of destruction is being left behind, because we can’t get verifiable, systematic, cumulative studies of the environmental impacts of this 40-year-old project.

What we do know is that traditional ways of life of the Indigenous peoples of the area have been disrupted. I’ve had elders tell me they can’t eat the meat they hunt, because when they butcher the animal the interior organs look really strange. They could be gathering berries or fishing, but because they live in a watershed that’s downstream from this incredible petrochemical industry, they’re terrified to eat it. So they have to eat flown-in food that’s alien to their culture, that’s bad for them, and that they can’t afford.

We have a responsibility to use the Earth’s wealth relationally, not exploitatively. For us in Canada, watershed discipleship in the churches focuses on right relationship with the land and with Indigenous peoples.

Sara Stratton lives in the Humber-Don watershed in Toronto.

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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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Cue the Math: McKibben’s Roadshow Takes Aim at Big Oil

Seth Butler / www.sethbutler.com

Bill McKibben Speaking at Waitsfield, VT Connect The Dots Rally. Seth Butler / www.sethbutler.com

It was game time. The Saturday night crowd on the Vermont campus was festive, boisterous, pumped. People cheered and whooped when told that one of their heroes, climate activist Tim DeChristopher — serving a two-year federal sentence for his civil disobedience opposing new oil and gas drilling in Utah — would soon be back on the field.

When the man on the stage, 350.org’s Bill McKibben, said it was time to march not just on Washington but on the headquarters of fossil fuel companies — “it’s time to march on Dallas” — and asked those to stand who’d be willing to join in the fight, seemingly every person filling the University of Vermont’s cavernous Ira Allen Chapel, some 800 souls, rose to their feet.

McKibben and 350, the folks who brought us the Keystone XL pipeline protests, are now calling for a nationwide divestment campaign aimed at fossil fuel companies’ bottom line. Beginning with student-led campaigns on college campuses, modeled on the anti-apartheid campaigns of the 1980s, they’ll pressure institutions to withdraw all investments from big oil and coal and gas. Their larger goal is to ignite a morally charged movement to strip the industry of its legitimacy.

“The fossil fuel industry has behaved so recklessly that they should lose their social license — their veneer of respectability,” McKibben tells his audience. “You want to take away our planet and our future? We’re going to take away your money and your good name.”

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