• sunset

    FAITH ... And God saw all that he had made ....

  • glacier

    SCIENCE ... and behold, it was very good.

  • girl-holding-hand

    JUSTICE ... As you did for the least of these brothers of mine...

  • people-holding-buckets

    ACTION ... you did it for me.

  • banana-leaf

    RESOURCES ... books, videos and online tools for earthkeepers

Exxon’s Home-Run Investment in Governor Christie

We hope someone is around, one day, to record what happened to American democracy.

Never a perfect system, its death spiral could have been obvious to anyone who knows how to use a calculator. First came the super-PACs with their millions of dollars for attack ads, always under the veil of nominal independence from any particular candidate.  Then came the “charitable” super PACs, which hid from scrutiny the identity of the political puppet-masters. Then came the billionaires, like Charles and David Koch, buying virtually any election they pleased, and neutralizing the millions of citizen contributors who could pitch in twenty or fifty bucks to their favored candidates. Then came congressional redistricting, which made it all but impossible to replace incumbents. Then came the gutting of the Voting Rights Act, and a host of state-backed measures to discourage voting by marginalized communities.

And most of this was made possible by the highest court in the land, which enshrined as “free speech” the use of unfathomable wealth by the richest corporate “persons,” to make sure that democracy didn’t infringe on their profits.

The energy industry featured prominently among those big spenders. In 2012, they gave $143.7 million to political candidates, with 80 percent of it going to Republicans. Of course, that doesn’t count the soft “issue-spending,” on things like fracking, offshore drilling, mountain-top-removal mining and the Keystone XL pipeline.Picture1

And if $144 million sounds like it might buy an election or two, get ready for much, much worse. The biggest energy-industry political bankers, Charles and David Koch, have announced plans to spend nearly $900 million in the 2016 election cycle – almost a billion dollars from two unfathomably rich oil guys. That $20 click you made to some worthy cause last year is about to be overwhelmed 45 million times over.

American voters: You never stood a chance. Against this money, your candidates are being swept away, or are cutting their own deal with the devil.

And with that much money being poured into politics, you can be sure that it’s getting a fair return. Consider Exxon Mobil.

Exxon had a problem in New Jersey. For decades, they had poisoned Newark Bay and Arthur Kill, plus more than 1,500 acres of wetlands, from their two refinery sites in Bayonne and Linden. Eventually, the state sued the oil giant for $8.9 billion in damages. The lawsuit went forward under the administrations of four different governors. Exxon denied any wrongdoing. But the court saw through the denials, and found the company liable for the pollution. All that remained was for the court to settle on the numbers.

Now, $8.9 billion is a pretty big loss, even for Exxon. And even if the award were cut by half or even more, it could spoil their whole afternoon. But Exxon lays out a lot of money to influence lawmakers. In 2014, they spent $12.7 million on political lobbying (admittedly, way down from the $29 million they spent in 2008 when faced with the threat of an Obama presidency).

Exxon's Bayonne Refinery : "Staggering and unprecedented environmental damage."

Exxon’s Bayonne Refinery : “Staggering and unprecedented environmental damage.”

It’s worth noting that in 2014, New Jersey’s governor, Chris Christie, was the head of the Republican Governor’s Association, charged with raising money to elect GOP gubernatorial candidates. Of course, Governor Christie was also in charge of New Jersey’s huge lawsuit against Exxon, although it was being handled by the state’s attorney general and career state employees who had developed the case over years. So at first, no one gave much notice to the $500,000 donation that Exxon gave to Christie’s GOP governors group.

But then something really amazing happened. Christie’s own chief counsel took a sudden interest in the case, and reportedly muscled aside the attorney general, to cut a deal with Exxon. The judge was believed to be ready to announce the amount of the award against Exxon. But the Christie administration asked him to defer his ruling while they worked on a settlement.

Settlements happen all the time. Exxon was guilty. Naturally, they’d rather settle than be hit with unknown billions in damages. So maybe this would be all for the best for New Jersey’s beleaguered taxpayers.

Well, for Exxon, it was definitely all for the best. Better than their wildest dreams. The Christie administration settled for a mere $250 million – on an $8.9 billion claim. On a claim where Exxon had already been found guilty. That’s three cents on the dollar. Three cents.

Now, in order to send someone to jail, you’d have to find a direct link between Exxon’s $500,000 pocket change for Christie, and Christie’s $8.65 billion claim release. And they’re way too smart for that. But the message to the state’s taxpayers was cruelly clear: Polluters, come to our state and do whatever you want; as long as you take care of our politicians, we’ll pick up 97 percent of your clean-up costs. The profits are for you; the costs are for us. So long as you keep the campaign funds rolling in.

At Beloved Planet, we’re not out to enshrine anyone’s national myths. But much of what was once noble about the American experiment is now at risk of being drowned in a flood of political cash. Our water, our atmosphere, our wetlands – these things belong to all people and all God’s creatures. But with the collapse of virtually all limits on cash to control our lawmakers, we fear that these common blessings are in peril as never before.

Sooner or later, those who believe that this world belongs to God – and not to the rich and powerful – are going to have to take a stand. God help us.

There’s a Little “Flat-Earther” in All of Us

You might have heard in elementary school that Christopher Columbus proved to a darkened medieval world that the Earth was round. You probably heard accounts of terrified seamen straining their eyes in the night watch for some great waterfall just beyond the bows that would carry them all to destruction.

Of course, this was all nonsense.

In fact, long before 1492, educated people knew quite well that the Earth was a globe. As much as two- thousand years before Columbus, Pythagoras established this fact. Later, Aristotle, Euclid and Ptolemy essentially removed all doubt. Columbus himself sailed with a copy of Ptolemy’s book titled “Geography” – then already 1,300 years old – which considered the idea of a round Earth to be simple fact.

Fantasy map of a flat earth

No, mariners like Columbus did not fear sailing over the edge of a flat Earth

So you might be surprised to learn that the idea of a flat earth still had a popular following four hundred years after Columbus, not in some remote jungle outpost, but right here in the United States. A South Dakota Professor named Orlando Ferguson popularized a detailed model of a “Square and Stationary Earth,” not exactly flat, but in a sort of bowl carved out of square stone, with angels perched on the four corners. A caption on his map proclaimed: “Four Hundred Passages in the Bible that Condemns the Globe Theory, or the Flying Earth, and None Sustain It. This Map is the Bible Map of the World.”

How could this be, you wonder, right here in one of the world’s most “enlightened” countries? When all scientific doubt has been removed, how can reasonably informed people continue to embrace notions long since debunked? That’s what Yale Law School psychology professor Dan Kahan has been puzzling over, and his research has pointed to some startling findings. They are presented in the current issue of National Geographic, and the article is definitely worth reading.

In essence, Kahan tells us that as a rule, people aren’t convinced by facts. Rather, they tend to use scientific knowledge to reinforce beliefs that have already been shaped by their world-view.

In the case of Professor Ferguson and his 19th Century adherents, a world-view formed by the perceptions that we all have in nature – the earth feels motionless, the sun and moon seem to rise and set – and a strictly literal reading of ancient scriptures caused him to attempt to cram a trove of spherical-earth facts into his flat-earth grid, more than two millennia after educated people knew better.

Prof. Orlando Ferguson's flat-earth map, two millennia after the debate was over

Prof. Orlando Ferguson’s flat-earth map, two millennia after the debate was over

Yale’s Dr. Kahan sees the same trends in similar debates today. He makes note of the persistent ideas that the moon landing was a fake, that vaccines cause autism, and that flourides in the water supply are harmful. But the debate over climate change illustrates his findings like no other dispute.

To begin with, there is no lack of factual information on what’s happening in the world’s climate. National Geographic sums it up this way:

“Last fall the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which consists of hundreds of scientists operating under the auspices of the United Nations, released its fifth report in the past 25 years. This one repeated louder and clearer than ever the consensus of the world’s scientists: The planet’s surface temperature has risen by about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit in the past 130 years, and human actions, including the burning of fossil fuels, are extremely likely to have been the dominant cause of the warming since the mid-20th century. Many people in the United States—a far greater percentage than in other countries—retain doubts about that consensus or believe that climate activists are using the threat of global warming to attack the free market and industrial society generally. Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, one of the most powerful Republican voices on environmental matters, has long declared global warming a hoax.

“The idea that hundreds of scientists from all over the world would collaborate on such a vast hoax is laughable—scientists love to debunk one another. It’s very clear, however, that organizations funded in part by the fossil fuel industry have deliberately tried to undermine the public’s understanding of the scientific consensus by promoting a few skeptics.”

But if the skeptic response is “laughable,” then why the huge public controversy? Dr. Kahan’s answer goes something like this, according to National Geographic:

“Americans fall into two basic camps. Those with a more ‘egalitarian’ and ‘communitarian’ mind-set are generally suspicious of industry and apt to think it’s up to something dangerous that calls for government regulation; they’re likely to see the risks of climate change. In contrast, people with a ‘hierarchical’ and ‘individualistic’ mind-set respect leaders of industry and don’t like government interfering in their affairs; they’re apt to reject warnings about climate change, because they know what accepting them could lead to—some kind of tax or regulation to limit emissions.

“In the U.S., climate change somehow has become a litmus test that identifies you as belonging to one or the other of these two antagonistic tribes. When we argue about it, Kahan says, we’re actually arguing about who we are, what our crowd is. We’re thinking, People like us believe this. People like that do not believe this. For a hierarchical individualist, Kahan says, it’s not irrational to reject established climate science: Accepting it wouldn’t change the world, but it might get him thrown out of his tribe.”

My experience tells me that there’s a lot of truth to this notion. I would admit that in recent years, I’ve developed a much more “communitarian” world-view. I’ve learned to pray our Father, not my Father; give us this day, not give me this day; forgive us our debts, and so on. And so the idea that the atmosphere belongs to all of us feels natural, even though I’ve burned things into it all my life. And so the science that tells me that burning fossil fuels into the atmosphere harms billions of people and uncounted species does nothing to threaten this world-view.

But I also know many people with a strongly “individualist” ethos. In my experience, most would rather not talk about climate change. But those who do tend to be largely impervious to new scientific facts, as I report them from time to time. When confronted with findings of the National Academy of Sciences, NASA or the American Geophysical Union, they tend to come back with blog posts by “wattsupwiththat.com” or quotes from Oklahoma Sen. Inhofe’s book: The Greatest Hoax. As recently as 2012, they often denied that the world was warming. But since that simply can no longer be defended with a straight face, they now admit that it may be warming, but maintain that it’s not mankind’s doing. New facts. Same conclusion.

I keep making the mistake of thinking that they just need a few more facts (which, by the way, are available in abundance at our fingertips). But perhaps I should be listening to the deeper narrative in my friends’ responses: I don’t want the larger society limiting my individual rights; I don’t like regulations, especially when they purport to mitigate harm that may be felt far away or in the future; and I certainly don’t want to be ostracized by those around me who think this way.

But maybe it’s time I began to focus on another narrative. Many Christians in America  seem to be completely unaware of the radical individualism that has crept into our religious mindset. We have a “personal savior,” we say; we “come to the garden alone” in our hymns; and like Jesus, we “walk that lonesome valley” by ourselves. And yes, in fact, there is genuine substance to these notions that cannot be ignored.

But as the individualist narrative takes hold, much of the Christian gospel becomes almost unrecognizable to us. How can God promise to “bless” Abraham, when the reward won’t come to him at all, but to his offspring many generations to come? How can Moses allot land to every person equally, and periodically restore landless and indebted descendants? How can Jesus tell us to pray to the Father using only plural pronouns – our, us and we?  And how can He tell his followers that love for Him will be demonstrated principally through the lens of love for “the least” of other people?

Maybe it’s time American Evangelicals began to reclaim the communitarian elements of the gospel story. God so loved “the world” – not just heaven, or a handful of human souls, but the world. God was in Christ reconciling “all things” to God – not just a individual people, but everything there is. In the culmination of history, Jesus will make “all things new.” And when we pray “give us this day our daily bread,” God’s full answer doesn’t come when I’ve had something to eat, but when all of us are satisfied.

And maybe then, if Yale’s Dr. Kahan is right, American Christians will be able to stand with their global brothers and sisters in looking squarely at the mountains of evidence pointing to the dire peril of global climate disruption.

National Geographic concludes in the clearest terms: “There aren’t really two sides to all these issues. Climate change is happening. Vaccines really do save lives. Being right does matter—and the science tribe has a long track record of getting things right in the end. Modern society is built on things it got right.”

To that I would add: The earth is not flat, even if there’s a little “flat-earther” in all of us.

The Pipeline, the Speaker, and the Anarchist Grandmothers

Pretty much everyone loves my Barbara. Her doors are always open to countless house guests every year. She does the laundry for at least two families. Her chickens provide eggs for much of the neighborhood. When their world darkens, our little granddaughters come running to “Nana.” And our grown kids are still glad to find “Mama” whenever there’s a need.

But the Speaker of the House of Representatives has another name for my partner of thirty-six years. To him, she’s a “left-fringe extremist and anarchist.”  Really. Kids, one of the country’s most powerful politicians thinks that Nana is an anarchist.

I really wish Speaker John Boehner would get to know her. I think he’d find that she’s a really nice person. She does have some suspect habits, it’s true. Most every day, she dares to pray that God will move our leaders not to approve the construction of the Keystone XL, a new pipeline designed to carry enormous quantities of some of the world’s most polluting oil across our entire country, from the Canadian tar sands to export terminals on the Gulf of Mexico.

Nana working with one of her employers

Nana working at her favorite job.

And most every night, she sits down to write President Obama, begging him to protect her granddaughters, and others who will be harmed by pollution from the tar sands pipeline. She writes for native Canadians whose families are being poisoned by tar sands mining; for Kenyan farmers facing chronic drought and crop failures; and for Bangladeshi delta dwellers beset by encroaching sea water. And she writes for our little girls, whose world will be choked with levels of greenhouse gases unknown for millions of years.

She takes pretty seriously the words of the prophet Micah:  “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

But that’s not what Speaker Boehner sees. With a presidential veto now all but certainly awaiting the  just-passed Keystone pipeline bill, he’s lashing out the chorus of voices asking our country to rethink our mindless oil binge.

“Instead of listening to the people,” Boehner said yesterday  , “the president is standing with a bunch of left-fringe extremists and anarchists. The president needs to listen to the American people and say ‘yes, let’s build the Keystone pipeline.’”

In fact, one of the more persistent of those “anarchist” voices is Nana, who has hardly given the president’s mail-readers a day’s rest during the last year. And then there’s me. And my brother Chris, a Presbyterian minister. And his daughters. And my kids. And my doctor. And the farmer in the yellow house across the road. And many, many other normal Americans.

But to the Speaker, Obama is listening to “left-fringe anarchists” (like Nana?). It won’t do for him to admit that normal people who care about justice are asking our country not to double down on the dirtiest fossil fuels. He has to dehumanize them with labels suggesting danger or lunacy.

But in his frenzy to push ahead with this pipeline, the Speaker may have missed where our country’s people are heading. Sure, under the barrage of oil-funded advertising campaigns promising jobs, jobs, jobs, you can find plenty of people who think the pipeline is okay. A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC poll found that 41% of respondents said they supported the pipeline, but 57% said they didn’t know enough to have an opinion, or that they opposed it. Significantly, public support for the pipeline has eroded seriously over the last year. In November 2014, a Pew Research poll found that support for the pipeline from Democrats had fallen by 11 points (54 percent to 43 percent) since March 2014. Among independents, support declined 12 points (70 percent to 58 percent).

But even more important than the narrow question of whether to build a single pipeline, Americans now agree in overwhelming numbers that climate change is serious, manmade, and in need of national action. The New York Times and Stanford University recently conducted a poll that found 77% of Americans supporting “substantial” federal action to limit climate change. And while a partisan divide stubbornly persists, even 48% of Republicans agreed.

And when asked: “Should the federal government limit the amount of greenhouse gases that U.S. businesses put out?” fully 60% of Republicans joined the 78% majority who said yes.

The story is considerably different, however, for Republican politicians in Congress. Just last week, 49 of 54 Republican senators voted against a non-binding resolution declaring that “climate change is real, and human activity significantly contributes to climate change.”

So Mr. Speaker, we’ve heard you’re not a scientist, but facts are stubborn things. The evidence of manmade climate disruption is now overwhelming, and widely available even to laymen like us. Among climate scientists, military planners, coastal engineers and marine scientists, you don’t even argue if it’s true, but how best to respond to it. And normal people are waking up to this reality in growing numbers.

They are not fringe radicals. They are not anarchists. And some of them are just grandmothers who are fighting for the world their little girls will inherit. They don’t control billions of dollars to pour into your political campaigns. But when the future of their granddaughters is at stake, they’re not giving up.

Sooner or later, Mr. Speaker, you’re going to have to deal with Nana.

Fossil-Fuel Divestment: I Did it for My Soul

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:21

Some years ago, I was assigned the task of cleaning up a struggling company burdened with millions in unpaid debts. Along with numerous business contracts and operations, I was handed a portfolio of life insurance policies on former executives of the company. If any of them should happen to die, I would have my hands on millions in insurance proceeds that could be used to address pressing company problems.

Well, it happened that one day, word came that one of those executives had fallen seriously ill, perhaps near death.  This man was struggling for his life. But for me, those tantalizing insurance proceeds blinded me to the unfolding mortal drama. I had money at stake, and a job to do. His death – shockingly, in retrospect – would be my gain. I had money invested in a man’s death.

As I look back on this sordid episode, the teaching of Jesus becomes clearer to me than ever: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Stated another way, what we invest in will shape the deepest core of our identity, what the Bible calls our souls. They shape what we love, and what we fear; and what we believe. They get us up in the morning, and keep us awake in the wee hours.

Investments shape souls. Jesus tells us so.

After coming to my senses, I swore that I would never invest in death again. I am too morally fragile to tether my fortunes to the harm of others. My soul cannot bear the danger.

Over the years, this commitment has kept me away from the “merchants of death” and conflict minerals, and steered me toward ethical products of many sorts. In recent years, however, a more sinister and pervasive threat has come into focus. Climate scientists in 2014 warned that energy companies like Exxon, Shell, PetroChina and Chevron – which derive their value from enormous reserves of recoverable fossil fuels – will have to leave about 80% of those precious reserves in the ground, if the world is to have a chance of avoiding global climate mayhem.

The divestment campaign is gaining strength. 350.org

The fossil-fuel divestment campaign gaining strength globally. 350.org

That means that four out of every five barrels of oil, or tons of coal, or cubic feet of natural gas that these companies have discovered and developed must eventually be written off.

The market value of fossil fuel reserves today – including the 80% that can’t be burned – is valued at around $27 trillion, a sum which dwarfs the famous U.S. national debt. This means that there is a very, very bad day of reckoning ahead for someone. Either all of humanity will endure unspeakable suffering or worse, or those who invest in the fossil-fuel companies will suffer huge losses.

It became clear to me that investing in fossil fuels is no longer a retirement strategy, or a way of mitigating market risks. It is a decision whether or not to align my soul with unfathomable harm to virtually all of humanity and to all of God’s beloved creation. If I’ve got my own personal slice of those carbon reserves (whether by buying a share of ExxonMobil or by investing in a mutual fund that does), I make money, or avoid losses, only if the entire creation groans and suffers under the weight of climate calamity.

The Bible tells us, in Romans 8, that the whole creation “waits with eager longing” and has been “groaning together in the pains of childbirth,” waiting for a day when something really special begins to happen. And what, specifically is the world is waiting for? You don’t have to look hard: It’s waiting for “the revealing of the sons of God.” You know, women and men like us, who have been adopted as “sons,” who have been given “the spirit of sonship,” who come into the Creator’s presence and boldly call him “Father,” and follow him with the allegiance of family.

Now, Christians have many views about how and when the redemption of the Creation will ultimately unfold. But all of us can agree on this: What God promises to do ultimately, he requires his children to work for in their own time. Yes, God is reconciling all things to himself in a broken world, but he’s appointed his children as “agents of reconciliation.” It’s no good telling ourselves that we can abuse the creation now, since God will renew it at some future “restoration of all things.” Of course, it’s possible that this may be true, but a dreadful surprise almost certainly awaits those of us who knowingly flout God’s purposes in reliance upon divine intervention at a later time

And that brings me back to my promise not to invest in death.  If my Father’s suffering creation really is waiting for the intervention of someone like me, what if I show up with a heart molded by treasures invested in the creation’s harm? In a world on a strict carbon budget, what if I’ve made a bet with my life-savings that we’ll blow through that budget – not once, but five times over? What if my retirement or my prosperity depends on catastrophe for everything that waits for my help?

“God can still save his world,” perhaps you say? Well, certainly. But what about me? What about my soul?

There are lots of good reasons why Christians are choosing to get out of the fossil-fuel business. I did it for myself. For my truest self. I did it for my soul.

Okay, let’s go carbon-free. But how?

It’s one thing for an individual saver to decide to get out of harmful energy investing. But, I’ve found, doing it is another matter entirely. First of all, before selling your existing investments, you’ll have to consider the tax effects. Some will have unrealized taxable gains in their existing holdings, which will be triggered upon sale. So in April a year from now, you may be faced with taxes you weren’t expecting, unless you have offsetting losses.

And then, for small investors like most of us, we can’t just call our investment department like the Rockefellers do (yes, they’re divesting!), and give the order. Most of us will look for sustainable mutual funds, whether we do them on our own or with the company selected by our employer for our 401(k) or 403(b). And here’s the problem: They can be expensive, they can lack diversification, and some aren’t that well-rated. But there are a number you can choose from, and the Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment has compiled lists of sustainable mutual funds and account managers with fossil-free indexes that you can use to start your own research. I narrowed down my list based on my own needs and long talks with my advisor, and settled on three:

  • Parnassus Endeavour Fund (PARWX): Large-cap US equities; growth stocks; no energy shares; 1.07% gross expense ratio (GER); Morningstar 4x; 5-yr. return 16.29%
  • DFA Sustainability Core 1 (DFSIX): Mid-cap US equities; growth & value stocks; selections based on proprietary environmental assessment; 0.33% GER; Morningstar 4x; 5-yr. return 15.94%
  • DFA International Sustainability Core 1 (DFSPX): Large-cap non-US equities; growth & value stocks; selections based on proprietary environmental assessment; 0.52% GER; Morningstar 3x; 5-yr. return 6.66%

For me, the process took several months. I had to overcome my own misgivings, and a degree of skepticism from advisers. I had to prayerfully consider the potential impacts on savings I had cultivated over decades. But in the end, I made the changes.

My choices were sensible by financial metrics. But as a follower of Jesus Christ, I realized that there were far more important issues in play than risks and returns. I think that’s what Jesus had in mind when he asked: “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36)

Yes, gain and loss may well hang in the balance. But for me, so does my truest self. And I’m not going to forfeit that for anything – least of all, for harmful oil profits.

Note: Some other sustainable funds:

  • Green Century Balanced (GCBLX)
  • Green Century Equity (GCEQX)
  • Pax World Growth A (PXGAX)
  • Portfolio 21 Global Equity R (PORTX)

The Bogus Conversion of the U.S. Senate

 “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.” James 2:18

The U.S. Senate announced last week that they’ve finally come to faith. After years and years of denying the threat of a warming planet, virtually all of the senators have now admitted what the global Christian church has accepted for years: Climate science is no hoax, and the world is getting dangerously hotter.

In a lopsided vote of 98-to-1, the Senate – all Democrats and almost all Republicans – approved a nonbinding “sense of Congress” stating that climate change is real and not a hoax. Even GOP Sen. James Inhofe (OK) – who literally wrote the book on climate denial (a conspiracy-flogging thing called “The Greatest Hoax”) — surprised everyone by co-sponsoring the bill.

So what’s going on, you wonder? Have American politicians finally cast off the shackles of oil & gas money, and acknowledged the overwhelming evidence for man-made climate change? Does this mean they’re prepared to act on limiting carbon and methane emissions into the planet’s fragile atmosphere?

I wish it were so. But no, almost nothing has changed. In a deft move, the Senate climate-deniers have abandoned their old line – “It’s a hoax! It’s not happening!” – and pivoted to a new mantra – “Okay, the climate’s changing, but it’s not our fault, and we can’t do anything!”

Senator Inhofe summed their new position like this: “Man cannot change climate,” Inhofe said. “The hoax is that there are some people that are so arrogant to think that they are so powerful that they can change climate.”

So I wouldn’t get carried away with delight at the Senate’s newfound belief in the findings of science. When it comes to lawmakers, it’s fair to ask: “Who cares what they believe anyway? Tell me what they’re doing!” And in the wake of this conversion of sorts, the bottom line is unchanged: Whatever we say we believe, we’re not doing anything.

There is one small word of encouragement. There are five GOP senators who joined all the Democrats on a more meaningful statement. Fifty senators in all went on record as affirming climate science both when it tells us that the climate us heating up, and that it’s happening because of human impacts and emissions. Those five Republicans are:  Lindsey Graham (SC), Lamar Alexander (TN), Kelly Ayotte (NH), Susan Collins (ME) and Mark Kirk (IL). Of course, 49 other Republicans voted to deny any link whatsoever between human actions and climate change.

But that leaves us with a tiny majority affirming basic science in a field where overwhelming consensus prevails. Sadly, in the Senate, you need 60 votes to do much of anything. Until hearts and minds are changed, that block of 49 deniers will be enough to stop most anything that the Creation might need our country to do.Picture3

On the bright side, I suppose, we can now forget about all those Congressional efforts to discredit scientists who measure rising global temperatures. But for the foreseeable future, I’m afraid we’ll be dealing with the “not-our-fault” narrative. Of course, this has also been thoroughly rebutted by the overwhelming majority of scientists. (The National Academy of Sciences has summarized: “It is now more certain than ever, based on many lines of evidence, that humans are changing Earth’s climate.”

What’s next from the Senate? I fear: “Maybe it was our fault, but it’s too late now!” If so, then we lament for the children, for countless species, and for every creature who will inherit the earth we leave them.

99-to-1: Senate Admits Climate Change is Real

The United States Senate voted yesterday to make it official: Our government has now joined every other country in the world – sort of – in affirming that climate change is real. The Senate voted by the lopsided margin of 98-1 to adopt the truism that “climate change is real and not a hoax.”

98-1? What about 99-1? Well, Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) was undergoing eye surgery at the time of the vote. While he couldn’t cast a ballot, he’s on record. It’s 99 senators admitting what the rest of the world has long known.

My favorite tweet of the day came from the well-known Christian climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe: “Today the US Senate voted on whether climate change is real and human-caused. Tomorrow, they’ll vote on gravity. I’ve always wanted to fly!”

Sad to say, the Senate’s action is almost totally meaningless, other than giving some climate-denial politicians a fig leaf to hide behind in the next election. That’s because they also REJECTED, by a vote of 50-49 , a more meaningful amendment declaring that “humans significantly contribute to climate change.” (60 votes were needed for passage.)

For 48 Republican Senators (the 49th voted NO to both amendments), they got everything a politician could want: YES, they can tell the world that they’re on record as believing what climate scientists tell us about global warming trends; but NO, they can also tell their oil company donors that they refuse to believe those same scientists when they tell us that we’re the culprit, and must do something to change course.

The political messaging is pitch-perfect: “Of course the climate is warming! But, sorry, since we don’t contribute to it, why on earth would I vote for futile efforts to do something about it?”

It’s worth noting that five GOP senators broke ranks and joined all 45 Democrats in voting for the “humans contribute to climate change” amendment. They are:  Lindsey Graham (SC), Lamar Alexander (TN), Kelly Ayotte (NH), Susan Collins (ME) and Mark Kirk (IL).

So it was a notable day on Capitol Hill. For starters, we can now be a little less mortified when foreigners ask us about fatuous congressional climate denial. On the other hand, too many politicians still won’t jeopardize their political funding by admitting that it’s our problem to fix. But there are a few Republicans, at least, who have sent a signal that they might be willing to help with efforts to responsibly address a huge problem of our own making.

God answers prayer, and he directs us to pray for those in authority — all of them. It’s not hopeless. Hang in there!

Dear Skeptics: Please, We Recommend Reading …

Most Americans accept the foundational conclusion of climate science – that the earth is warming due to human activities. Last November, when the Public Religion Research Institute asked how to account for the severity of recent weather patterns, 62 percent of Americans named climate change as the cause. And Christians as a whole were solidly in agreement. Catholics agreed by the exact same majority – 62%. Black Protestants even more strongly, with 73%. White mainline Protestants, a very close 61%.

But then we come to white Evangelical Protestants, and here the picture changes a bit. Only 49% of them (or should I say, of us) agreed that climate change is the cause of the rotten weather. Somehow, white Evangelicals are a bit more skeptical than Christians of other races and traditions.Picture1

So it’s not surprising that here at Beloved Planet, we get our share of “skeptic” reactions from our fellow Evangelicals, since as many as half of us are still doubters. And if the responses we’ve seen are at all representative, then most of those doubters have gotten the idea that climate change is a matter of ongoing dispute among scientists. We were curious where this notion would come from, since we know of virtually no climate research that supports it.

Of course, there’s Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News (neither an Evangelical mouthpiece nor, of course, a science journal). And until recently, there was also Murdoch’s other big outlet, the Wall Street Journal. (Just last week, WSJ reversed its longstanding “skeptic” stance, admitting that the American Southwest is drying because “climate change affects rainfall.”)

So, Fox News only? Other than the fringe bloggers, we couldn’t think of any other climate denial proponents whom Evangelicals might listen to.

But sometimes, listening to cable news channels won’t get you very near to scientific reality. So we sat down at the library today, and opened a stack of science journals, to faithfully report what’s really being said by actual researchers. We had number of journals to choose from, but we settled on Scientific American, one of several respected science magazines easily accessible to laymen.

Our survey: unanimous endorsement of climate science

Unanimous endorsement of climate science

From the huge stack on the shelves, we chose the most recent seven months’ worth of issues, from August 2014 through February, 2015. In them, we found 17 articles directly or indirectly about climate change. Here’s the thing: Every single one of them reflected the belief of scientists that climate change is real, and the cause of very real problems. Of equal importance, not one suggested any doubts or controversy, or made reference to contrary opinions.

But don’t take our word for it. Read on for a glimpse of what’s actually being reported:

February 2015

  • A puzzle for the planet: “Lake Mead could dry up completely by 2021 if the climate changes as expected….” p. 63
  • The steady disappearance of polar ice: “… visibly diminishing in response to warmer temperatures.” p. 82

January 2015

  • Will we still enjoy pinot noir? “… trying to preserve taste as climate change alters flavors of grapes.” p. 60
  • Search for super-habitable planets: “Solving the problem of CO2-dependent greenhouse effects on more massive planets than Earth.” p. 30

December 2014

  • Extreme summers and winters could become the norm: “Humans have kicked the climate system hard, and physics demands that weather patterns change as a result.” p. 68
  • Conspiracy central: “Why so many Americans believe in conspiracies, from government-ordered school massacres to concocting climate science.” p. 94
  • Keeping up with the Times:  A boast that Al Gore, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, has written on climate change for the journal. p. 96

November 2014

  • When evidence melts away: “Climate scientists race to sample melting cave ice before it’s too late….” p. 23
  • Solar wars: “The struggle between solar homeowners and utilities could re-shape how climate-friendly the grid will be.” p. 66
  • Sea levels “rising at an accelerated pace.” p. 84
  • How long can the human race survive “… in the face of apocalyptic threats like climate mayhem?” p. 84

October 2014

  • Cultivated coffee trees under serious threat from climate change: “Coffee rust is a crisis hanging over coffee in our era of global warming.” p. 68
  • An inconvenient ice: “Methane hydrates could make global warming worse. If warming oceans destabilize the hydrates so they release methane, the gas could hasten a climate catastrophe.” p. 82

September 2014

  • Climate shocks: “Swings between wet and dry landscapes pushed some of our ancestors toward modern traits, and killed others off.” p. 48

August 2014

  • Sickness in the Arctic: “As climate change heats the world’s highest latitudes faster than almost anywhere else, animals on land, as well as the sea, are getting sick….” p. 58
  • Climate apocalypse! “Global warming is, of course, real, and caused by human activity.” p. 79
  • Graphic science: “Animals across the tropics will bear the brunt of climate change.” p. 84

That’s one small sample, but at 17-for-17, it illustrates what we see in the scientific literature every day. You don’t find articles here trying any more to “prove” that climate change is real. Instead, vintners are working to salvage the taste of grapes, psychologists are working to understand the neurology of climate denial, glaciologists are racing against time to collect ice samples, sea-bed geologists are struggling to unlock the mysteries of climate-threatening methane hydrates, marine biologists are tracking new warm-water disease and pest vectors – each in scientific disciplines where the reality of climate change is now clearly understood.

Popular Science survey: one “skeptic” v. 9,136 research authors

You’ve heard, of course, that 97% of climate scientists agree on manmade climate change, and that’s true enough. But the reality is actually much more compelling: Popular Science magazine recently surveyed 2,258 peer-reviewed scientific articles about climate change, written by 9,136 authors, published between Nov. 12, 2012 and December 31, 2013. Of all those hundreds of papers and thousands of researchers, Popular Science reported that it found one article, authored by a single scientist, which attributed climate change to something other than human actions (published in a Russian journal).

That’s one climate skeptic out of 9,136 peer-reviewed authors.

By comparison, for us white Evangelical Protestant Christians, it seems to be one skeptic for every two of us.

There have been times in history when the best work in science was led by men and women of our faith. For the most part, that leadership was based on an understanding that all truth is God’s truth, and that there can be no conflict between the World God made and the Word God spoke. The Psalmist tells us that “the heavens are telling the glory of God.” And St. Paul teaches that God’s qualities can be clearly understood from studying his creation.

And so, I beg my brothers and sisters: please don’t permit one of the world’s most powerful news magnates to interpret the sciences and the creation for you. There are scientific journals in abundance, and they speak for themselves with crystalline clarity.

For the love of God and his world, please read.

Suggested “readable” science magazines:

  1. National Geographic
  2. Popular Science
  3. Scientific American
  4. Smithsonian
  5. Discover
  6. American Scientist