Don’t let the media tell you that nothing is going to happen in Washington this year. Sure, Congress may be gridlocked on major legislation as we approach midterm elections, but key decisions are set to be made that will define President Barack Obama’s legacy on climate change. In the coming months, the Environmental Protection Agency is finalizing carbon pollution standards for both new and existing power plants, and the Obama administration will make a final decision on the Keystone XL pipeline.
Because the impacts of climate change, such as drought, more severe weather, flooding, and crop devastation, are more harmful to the world’s poor, these decisions will affect the lives of vulnerable people everywhere. As a Christian, I cannot sit idly by while God’s children are suffering from the devastating effects of irresponsible environmental degradation. I am joining with other people of faith in articulating the moral urgency of caring for God’s creation.
Pipeline projects are moving forward across the country, but a group of tuneful nuns is working to make sure they don’t succeed.
The Sisters of Loretto in Marion County, Kentucky have lived on their rural acreage since the 1800s, serving the poor and enjoying the wide open spaces and forest trails of their home.
With a fracking company proposing a pipeline for pressurized natural gas chemicals through their land, the sisters have sprung into action to protect what they see as their “holy land.” They have refused to allow the fracking company to survey their land for pipeline construction, citing past pipeline explosions and the risk of contamination.
The sisters appeared at a public hearing over the proposed pipelines, singing “Amazing Grace” until they were asked to be quiet. Their unexpected activism has gained them attention locally and across the internet (you can meet the sisters by watching this video.)
The day after the Washington Post announced it was moving its top environmental reporter off the green beat to cover politics at the White House, this op-ed went up toeing an uncomfortably familiar line: by speaking out against the Keystone XL pipeline, environmentalists are “missing the climate-endangered forest for the trees.”
Leaving aside for a moment the uncomfortable irony of being reprimanded for missing the big fight by an outlet that is reshuffling focus on that very front: the editorial board, respectfully, is wrong. Not that it doesn’t have a point, but that point is concrete and incremental – and misses the entire meaning of the forest of protests over the last 18 months.
“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.
Sojourners Associate Editor Rose Marie Berger addresses hundreds gathered near Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C. last week, to protest the Keystone XL oil pipeline.