• 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

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

A Wedding on the Edge of the Rising Seas

Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Luke 17:27

I am stuffed from too many hors d’oeuvres. Barbara is nursing sores from all that dancing. Our hearts are warm from celebrating the marriage of one of our favorite young women – she still calls us “Uncle John and Aunt Barb” after many years of surrogate family life. And in my heart is the image of a contented friend, basking in happiness as his daughter begins a new life with a young man he has learned to welcome as a son.

The setting was fantastic. On a beach, in one of our favorite getaway spots – Key West. Lovely harp music. A gorgeous bride. Gaff-rigged schooners plying the waters in a fresh breeze just offshore. Vows and rings exchanged on the sand.

When we received the invitation, my first thought was: I know this place! That very hotel, that little pebbly beach! That end of raucous Duval Street! Those gorgeous sunsets! That lovely island!

But my second thought was this: Maybe this will be the last time – one last visit to Key West, while we still have it.

Beautiful Key West, facing  an ominous future

Beautiful Key West, facing an ominous future

Because, of course, Key West is doomed. Just like all the rest of the Keys. Nothing can now stop the thermal expansion and melting of polar ice sheets which will force the abandonment of this lovely place during the lifetime of this bride and groom.

We can hope for the survival of the massive coral reefs that dwarf these tiny islands, with their bustling communities of billions of creatures. But even that is in doubt, as the world’s oceans absorb more and more carbon from the choked atmosphere, creating an oceanic flood of carbonic acid, which undermines coral and reef health.

No evidence that any of the other guests are aware of any of this this. Many are here for the first time. They don’t notice how much things have changed, even in the couple of decades since we first saw this place. Those waters that used to flow well below street level, now lapping just below the curbs at high tide. That little beach, where I expected the vows to be exchanged, now disappeared beneath the waves. The new “beach?” A little patch of sand spread next to the poolside bar, safely protected from the rising waves by sea walls sea walls and rock levies.

For most of the guests, this is the new baseline. A beach-less island where waters encroach on the town’s infrastructure on sunny, calm days. Maybe it’s always been this way? Who knows?

The Keys from space: dry land is dwarfed by its enormous reefs

The Keys from space: dry land is dwarfed by its enormous reefs

And yet the evidence is everywhere. Of course, not on the ubiquitous hotel-lobby flat screens, where Fox News holds court. But the rest of the world’s new outlets told us just yesterday that 2014 was, as expected, the hottest year ever recorded on Earth, since measurements began more than a century ago. And while it’s a global record, it only just edges out 2010, and 2007, and 2005. In fact, ALL of the last 16 years are among the top 19 hottest global years ever recorded.

And all that heat is warming the oceans, and melting the ice sheets on Greenland and Antarctica, which hold enough water to raise sea levels by more than 200 feet. Not surprisingly, the seas are rising fast – much faster than the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned over the years. In fact, oceans are rising about 60 percent faster than projections. About two or three feet will be enough to finish off Key West, and that will likely happen well before the end of this century.

And the reefs which sustain these islands? Acidic ocean waters – often called climate change’s “evil twin” – are eating away at them at an alarming pace. In the Caribbean, approximately 80 percent of coral reef cover is now dead, victim to the warmer waters of a changing climate, overfishing and pollution. And yes, with oceans now 30 percent more acidic than they were in 1980, corals face more and more difficulty in building their exoskeletons, which form the backbone of these reefs.

These patterns are occurring all over the world. In 2012, 2,600 of the world’s leading marine biologists came together to issue a “state of emergency” for the world’s coral reefs, upon which the entire ocean ecosystems depend. They noted that 3 billion humans depend on marine ecosystems and biodiversity for their livelihoods – roughly half of humanity. And without the reefs, those humans face an increasingly uncertain future.

But the news didn’t stop with record heat and acidic oceans. The screens in the hotel lobby also didn’t think it newsworthy that just Thursday, an international team of 18 experts issued a new warning that climate change and high rates of extinction of animals and plants have pushed the Earth into a danger zone for humanity’s survival. In fact, of nine crucial “planetary boundaries” considered vital to human survival, four have already been crossed, and the remaining boundaries are in danger.

I strongly suspect that no one in this lovely wedding had any inkling of this alarming report. It is, you know, only a bunch of scientists telling us how and why our species could well be facing extinction.

So, we are glad to have come to the Keys one last time. We thank God for our dear friends, and their daughter’s lovely wedding. We pray for this beautiful new family, and all the good that may come from their union.

And yet, we recognize that every good thing happens in a context. This wedding, on an island that is becoming less and less hospitable to human habitation with the passing years. All terrestrial life, in a world whose climate patterns are unraveling at a pace seldom seen in the geological record. Marine life now struggling to deal with rapid warming and drastic shifts in ocean chemistry.

Are we again seeing the days of Noah, as suggested in Jesus’ warning printed above? If so, it will not be due to lack of notice. Virtually all of the world’s scientific disciplines warn that we are flirting with danger, both for ourselves and those loved ones who will follow us. Even now, there is time to salvage much of the damage we are causing. But we will have to look beyond beautiful seaside weddings, like this one, to the rising waters just barely beyond.

Why Keystone XL Must Be Stopped: One Simple Image

So what’s the big deal about this pipeline?

With the Boehner/McConnell Congress setting the Keystone XL as their number-one legislative priority, we’ve spilled a bit of ink showing what it’s NOT about  – namely, JOBS. In the end, the pipeline will create about as many permanent jobs as two new Taco Bell restaurants – unless we’re talking about jobs for environmental cleanup teams dealing with future toxic spills.

[Note: In Alberta, Canada alone, 90 separate pipeline spills occurred during the four-month period July-October 2014. In October alone, 163,000 gallons of toxins were spilled. In fairness, we suppose those might also create some jobs: oncologists treating cancers, truckers shipping in bottled drinking water, lab technicians testing tap water for safety….]

On the other side, we’ve given short shrift to the arguments of some pipeline opponents as well. To be sure, the threat of toxic spills, the seizure of American farmlands by foreign oil companies, the violation of indigenous treaty rights, and the inevitable export of the refined oil onto world markets are very important to the many Americans directly affected.

For us, however, we’ve felt compelled to focus on the harm that affects every living creature on earth. And that’s because the tar sands pipelines – Keystone, Northern Gateway, and several others – are the keys to unleashing enormous landlocked Canadian reserves containing the world’s dirtiest oil. And here, we must do a little simple math together:

  • CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere have hovered around 280 parts-per-million (ppm) throughout human history, a vital blanket of greenhouse gases that have kept the earth’s climate hospitable to millions of living species.
  • In the last two centuries, we’ve burned enough coal, oil and gas to push atmospheric CO2 concentrations upward to 400 ppm, and we’re piling it on at the pace of 2-3 ppm per year.
  • Scientists tell us that 350 ppm is probably the maximum safe level for atmospheric CO2, so we need to slow its growth, and eventually reverse direction. In fact, most recoverable reserves of fossil fuels owned by energy companies can never be produced, without heating the earth more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius), widely considered a tipping point to runaway feedback loops that will imperil natural systems of marine and land-based life.
  • The world’s deposits of fossil fuels contain enough carbon to make the planet unrecognizable to existing species. It’s a given that coal production must stop very soon. There are some 10 trillion tons of CO2 locked up in the earth’s recoverable coal deposits. We can afford to burn no more than one-twentieth of that amount from all fossil fuels, according to the most recent UN IPCC report.  If we should ever lose the “war on coal,” there will likely be no living species remaining on the planet.
  • But coal isn’t the only threat out there. Recoverable reserves of “unconventional oil” contain enough carbon to add another 300 ppm of CO2 concentrations to the atmosphere. Once we burn them, the air will be choked with 700 ppm CO2, more than double the level considered safe for ecosystems. And the lion’s share of “unconventional oils” on earth are the tar sands in Canada. Why tar sands must stay in the ground 2

So keep your eye on the red oval in the chart above. When politicians tell you they’re just trying to give us more jobs, or free us from dependence on “foreign oil,” why not ask if they’ve considered what kind of world we’ll leave our children with 600 billion tons more CO2 in the atmosphere from unconventional oil? Are we sure that there will be ANY survivors from such recklessness?

A better course to creating those new jobs might be to build a couple of new Taco Bells, no?