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    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.

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

A Lament for France, in Perspective

Today, two weeks before leaving for the COP-21 meetings in Paris, I am deeply troubled for the people of France. No, I’m not just troubled: I’m furious. I’m angry for those who are mourning the loss of 129 innocent victims, with many more barely clinging to life in French hospitals. I stand with our grieving friends on both sides of the Atlantic. And yet, let me try to set my fury aside for a moment, to offer what I hope may be a useful perspective – to some, at least.

First, on the day of this heinous massacre, there were many other things threatening God’s children around the world. 7,600 other people died prematurely of AIDS on Friday; more than 18,000 died of pulmonary disease and respiratory infections on that day; 3,500 of malaria and 3,266 from vehicle accidents. In fact, 164,000 people died that day prematurely from illness, accidents or violence around the world. The Paris murders are a horror; but there are many, many things to lament, and to fight against by giving and working.

Solidarity: San Francisco City Hall awash with the lights of the tricolor

Solidarity: San Francisco City Hall awash with the lights of the tricolor

Second, I hope we’ll look with caution on those who offer easy fixes for France’s sorrow, and especially those who extol the vision of a gun in every French pocket. On the day France lost 129 souls, the US, with its enormous arsenal of privately-owned guns, suffered 25 gun homicides. The next day, France went back to its normal pace of one death every ten days. But the US suffered another 25 killings; and then another 25 … ad nauseum (the 5th highest killing rate in the world). Please, let’s not turn France’s sorrow into an ad for an even more gun-totin’ world.

Third, it’s almost certain that the leading cause of premature deaths last Friday (and all other days) was air pollution. Among the top ten global killers, five are linked to air pollution. The World Health Organization estimates that air pollution claims 7 million lives every year, or more than 19,000 souls every day, including last Friday. Invisible killers may be harder to hate, but the data suggest that air pollution kills 150 times more people every single day than ISIS did last Friday.

Finally, at moments like these, it’s important to consider the longer term consequences of impulsive and bellicose responses. We want to exact revenge or justice, and we want it to be swift. And surely, severe justice is due to those who have wrought this horror. But many of us have lived through the Tonkin Gulf Resolution (certainly bogus) which spawned the horror of the Vietnam War; and the WMD Scare (also bogus) that almost certainly gave us today’s chaos in Iraq and Syria. These are complex issues. but perhaps they tell us that you’re not weak just because you want to think twice before bombing somebody (and, inevitably, his innocent neighbors). Maybe you’re just wise.

May God look with mercy on his beloved France. And may He give us the wisdom to seek mercy in the face of every threat, whether hunger, disease or hatred and violence.

Evangelical Conversion on Climate Change

When it comes to climate change, the Evangelical community has long been an outlier among American social groups. That all changed dramatically this year. In the short span of six months, evangelicals have swung from a minority of 49% accepting that global warming is happening, to fully 65% acceptance. They are now slightly more likely than mainstream Protestants to believe in climate science, and almost as likely as the average American, 70% of whom affirm that global warming is happening.

The poll conducted by the University of Michigan and Muhlenberg College has been compiled every six months since 2008. While evangelicals initially held beliefs very similar to those of Catholics, Protestants and other Americans, the gap widened in 2012, with evangelicals falling 10-15% below other religious groups.

But as of November 2015, evangelicals now fall squarely in the mainstream of climate science. Of greater importance, evangelicals affirm a moral obligation in connection with climate change. 68% of evangelicals now say that the US has a moral obligation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.


The Michigan/Muhlenberg polling organization summarized its finding as follows:

  1. Acceptance of global warming is up among all Americans, regardless of creed. The most notable gains in the last six months, however, have been among Evangelical Christians, whose belief rose 16 points from 49% in Spring 2015 to 65% this Fall, considerably narrowing the gap between Americans of different faiths.
  2. Pope Francis and his call to action on the issue of climate change may have contributed to this rise in acceptance, with 15% of Americans saying they are now more convinced global warming is happening and that we should act to address this matter as a result of the Papal Encyclical.
  3. Americans are more likely to tie their attitudes about climate change to moral convictions, rather than religious beliefs. While less than a quarter (23%) of Americans say their religious beliefs affect their views on how government should deal with the issue of global warming, 75% agree that rich countries like the US have a moral obligation to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
  4. Fewer than half (49%) of Americans think religious leaders should discuss environmental issues within the context of their faith, but most (60%) support Pope Francis’ call to action to address global warming.

Keystone XL Pipeline Decision: Did it Matter?

Near the back of our farm, our level produce fields begin to slope upward into a rocky wooded bluff, before dropping off sharply into the headwaters of the beautiful Pequest River. The bluff is a small wood, with walnuts, sycamores, cedars and maples fending off invasive imports like olive and barberry. Our kids dubbed it Little Round Top, after the Gettysburg bluff famously defended by Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and the 20th Maine Regiment on the second day of the epic Civil War battle.

In truth, our little bluff looks a lot like its namesake — unimpressive, rocky, wooded, and of no particular use to us or most others. But on that sweltering July afternoon some 150 years ago, Little Round Top was the most precious piece of real estate in the country. And that’s because on that hill, the 20th Maine stood at the very end of the Union Army’s left flank. Confederate brigades from Alabama and Texas had made a desperate dash to turn Chamberlain’s flank and roll the Union lines up from behind. And the little band from Maine was the only defense for the exposed regiments from Pennsylvania, New York and Michigan, all the way to General Meade’s center on Cemetery Hill. If he should fall, there would then be nothing between Lee and a defenseless Lincoln in the capitol.

Little Round Top wall hastily built by the 20th Maine regiment

Little Round Top wall hastily built by the 20th Maine regiment

Very literally, the survival of the great American venture rested with the Maine volunteers on that useless little piece of ground – Little Round Top. You know the rest of the story, of course. Exhausted and out of ammunition, the Maine volunteers fixed bayonets and charged, modern weaponry now no more lethal than medieval spears. But upon those spears rested the dream of a United States of America, and they did not fail.

I thought about that little Gettysburg bluff a lot yesterday – the day the US finally rejected a Canadian company’s application to build the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline through the American heartland. For those of us accustomed to losing bout after bout to the big polluters, this day was a rare and precious gift.

The traffic on social media was euphoric: Hallelujah! Praise God! Give thanks! Well done! The back-slapping went on all day long. We exulted that – for once – our country had decided that some fossil fuels simply must be left in the ground.

And yet, from other quarters, we heard a different voice: What’s the big deal? In a world that burns 100 million barrels of oil every day, the KXL pipeline would have carried “only” 800,000 barrels – about one percent of the world’s total. With trains available to carry at least some of the tar sands crude, this one pipeline was hardly worth all the struggle, right?

Like, perhaps, that little hill – Little Round Top. A nearly worthless little piece of Pennsylvania farmland.

Virtually every great struggle has its pivot point. Before El Alamein, Hitler never lost a battle. Afterward, he never won. The same for Hirohito at Midway. And for Lee at Little Round Top.

El Alamein? Midway? Little Round Top? All pretty much worthless ground. But their defense marked the hinge of fate in some of the greatest struggles of modern history.

For me, Keystone may join them in the pantheon of epic milestones, even while its importance is dismissed by pundits at both ends of the political spectrum. From the very outset of this struggle seven years ago, we heard the dismissive narrative. Even the State Department said it: The oil will get out, one way or another. Fighting the pipeline is like fighting laws of physics (or at least of economics). Resistance is essentially futile. And on the odd chance that we might win, we have only stopped a teensy bit of world supply, even if it’s really dirty supply.

Relax. Go home. Do something useful.

Well, we didn’t go home. Evangelical Christians committed to pray daily for Kerry and Obama to reject the pipeline. We joined with native peoples and Nebraska ranchers to protest the Canadian scheme. We walked through the tar sands pits with First Nations in poisoned Alberta communities to testify to the cultural genocide inflicted by the mining. We circled the White House, arm in arm, to let Obama know how strongly we felt. We joined 1,200 others inside Washington’s Anacostia prison in our effort to be heard. We told our stories in thousands of letters to the White House. We joined 400,000 others crowding the streets of Manhattan to voice our lament for God’s creation.

And we kept on praying.

We’ve been losing for a long, long time. Greenhouse gas concentrations are now the highest they’ve been in almost a million years – permanently above 400 parts per million. Drought and flooding have become depressingly commonplace, and 60 million humans have been forcibly displaced in resource conflicts worldwide. Species continue to disappear forever; the oceans have become 30 percent more acidic than ever in human history. And the US Congress is still controlled by those who steadfastly refuse to acknowledge the findings of climate science.

But, for once, we have stood our ground, and prevailed. Keystone XL is dead for now. And just watch. I think we may be seeing a new day dawning. This may be our El Alamein. This may be our Midway.

And for me? I’m headed out to take a walk up our own Little Round Top, sit on a rock, and take a moment to give thanks.

81 Leading Companies Commit to Climate Action

Today, the White House announced that 81 companies have signed on to the American Business Act on Climate Pledge, with specific details. A few weeks ago, we announced that the tally had risen to 34, with huge names like J&J, Nike and Starbucks having added their names. But now, it’s become the Who’s Who of global corporate brands, each making specific commitments of varying degrees to cut climate-warming impacts like carbon & methane emissions, deforestation and waste throughout the supply chain.

The White House announcement summarized the 81 commitments as follows:

These 81 companies have operations in all 50 statesemploy over 9 million people, represent more than $3 trillion in annual revenue, and have a combined market capitalization of over $5 trillion.

By signing the American Business Act on Climate pledge, these companies are:

  • Voicing support for a strong Paris outcome. The pledge recognizes those countries that have already put forward climate targets, and voices support for a strong outcome in the Paris climate negotiations.
  • Demonstrating an ongoing commitment to climate action. As part of this initiative, each company is announcing significant pledges to reduce their emissions, increase low-carbon investments, deploy more clean energy, and take other actions to build more sustainable businesses and tackle climate change.

    Walmart among 81 global companies committed to climate action

    Walmart among 81 companies committed to climate action

In fairness, the commitments vary. They range from Ag giant Cargill (5% energy efficiency improvement by 2020 — begging for more muscle) to Apple (already 100% carbon-free, committing to more clean power). While Congress tries to undermine the Paris commitments before they’re finalized, industry leaders are acting despite government resistance.

Leaders from three signatories — IKEA, Best Buy and PG&E — held a round table discussion today on their plans. It’s clear that they’re way ahead of US lawmakers on the need for bold action. Each agreed that the ultimate success of these plans hinges on some level of government action to place a price on carbon emissions, so that climate pollution is no longer free.

Still, without any legislative action, and despite congressional threats to torpedo global agreements in Paris this year, industry sees what has to be done, and they’re beginning to act. We’ve prayed, and we’ve demanded action. We’re thankful today for hopeful answers.

Who Pays for Smog?

In the lead-up to his 2012 reelection campaign, President Obama faced a ticklish problem. Under the terms of the Clean Air Act, the Environmental Protection Agency was required to issue rules governing industrial emissions of smog, that murky ozone pollution driving an epidemic of respiratory diseases and birth defects in our country. But compliance with the EPA rule would have been costly to coal-fired power plants in key electoral states in the Midwest Rust Belt, and the president needed them to remain in office.

So, in a bow to political expediency, Mr. Obama instructed the EPA to delay finalizing the smog rule for several years. Well, several years is now up. This Thursday marks the court-ordered deadline for the EPA to publish its smog rules. And industry-backed groups are pressing an all-out campaign to make them as weak as possible. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Petroleum Institute, and the National Association of Manufacturers are pushing for a relaxed standard of 70 parts atmospheric ozone per billion. The American Lung Association and environmental groups are advocating a tighter standard of 60 parts per billion.


Thursday deadline for EPA smog rules.

The difference? In health terms, the industry’s proposal would result in 1.5 million more serious asthma attacks per year, and thousands of premature deaths, mainly among children and the elderly.

You might think this would be easy. The Centers for Disease Control reports that 25 million Americans suffer from asthma, and the number is growing rapidly. About half of them experience asthma attacks every year. About 9 people die from asthma every day. And the annual national medical bill for the disease was last estimated at an astounding $56 billion, and that was almost a decade ago.

For each victim of asthma, the personal cost is enormous. Of course, for the 3,600 who die every year, the discussion of cost is hugely ironic. But for the surviving sufferers, average individual yearly medical costs ran at $3,300 a decade ago, and we all know what’s happened to medical costs since then.

But asthma sufferers aren’t the only ones talking about cost. The industry lobby claims that tighter ozone standards will cause electricity costs to soar, as smokestack scrubbers costing tens of millions of dollars will need to be installed in many plants. They’ve been joined by dozens of mayors and governors from both sides of the political aisle in their appeal: It’s too expensive. We can’t afford it.

But this debate illustrates one of our great American industrial illusions, doesn’t it? As long as pollution doesn’t cost me anything, then it must be essentially free. If I can produce electricity at five cents per kilowatt-hour while generating lots of smog, then rules that will cost me six cents are pure losers. Losers to my shareholders. Losers to my customers.

But who are the losers today? Well, there are those 3,600 dead Americans. And there are those 25 million asthma sufferers. There are the families of black children, who have seen a 50 percent increase in asthma rates in the last ten years. And there’s that not-so-tidy sum of $56 billion in US medical costs for asthma, much of which is attributable to ozone pollution.

And – I suppose I should mention – asthma is only one of smog’s ill effects, which also include cancers, neurological birth defects and more. The province of Ontario alone counts 9,500 premature deaths per year from all effects of ozone pollution. There’s that too.

So maybe it comes down to this: Who should pay the cost of smog in a just country? Should it be the children and the elderly? Or should it be the people profiting from its use?

Just like you, we don’t want higher electric bills. But we’ll solve our problems (see below) without asking the kids, the aging and the poor to pay them for us.

Note: At Good Hand Farm, we generate most of the electricity for three houses and field irrigation pumps from solar arrays. The balance, we purchase from wind farm generators. It isn’t always easy, but it’s doable.

Global Companies Commit to Carbon-Free Future

Climate campaigners are used to failure and frustration. Most mornings, it feels like we’re once again putting our shoulder to the boulder and struggling a few feet up the hill, only to be sent sprawling by a finger-flick from the overwhelming moneyed interests arrayed against us.

But not this morning! Because this morning, a group straight out of the Who’s Who of multinational corporate giants has pledged to source 100% of their electricity from renewable sources to reduce CO2 emissions. Goldman Sachs, Johnson & Johnson, NIKE, Procter & Gamble, Starbucks, Steelcase, and Walmart have added their names to the RE100, an alliance of companies committed to carbon-neutral operations.

Starbuck, Nestle, Mars, Walmart and other commit to carbon -free future

Starbucks, Nestle, NIKE, Walmart and others commit to carbon -free future

The RE100 was founded last year by a group of environmentally-conscious companies including retailers IKEA and H&M, insurer Swiss Re, tech giants Philips and Unilever, and consumer products leaders Nestle and Mars. They have attracted 36 signatories over the year, including Infosys, Salesforce, SAP, DSM and banking giant UBS. But today’s announcement of nine giant signatories looks to turn the trickle into a flood.

And it’s not just the companies. We began the week with leaders of American and Chinese governments, from Obama and Xi Jinping down to the mayors of Beijing, Washington, Guangzhou, New York and Los Angeles agreeing to accelerate their carbon reduction plans.

And last evening, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton ended a five-year flirtation with the Canadian Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline. “I think it is imperative that we look at the Keystone pipeline as what I believe it is — a distraction from important work we have to do on climate change,” Clinton said.

What’s more, tomorrow, Pope Francis, pastor to one-fifth of the people on this planet, will address the US Congress with his message of love, justice and stewardship for all God’s creation, including our injured climatic systems, and the poor who suffer most of the consequences.

Can the news get any better? Well, yes. 115 church congregations have now added their names to the list of those committing to reduce their carbon footprints 50% by 2030, and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. They’ve taken the Paris Pledge, available to churches and individuals who want to join these cities, countries and corporations with personal pledges to act in love for God’s creation.

So we may have seen many discouraging days in these last years. But today, I’ve got a song in my heart. The long Narnian winter is beginning to thaw. The log jam is just beginning to break. People know what they need to do. And they’re finally taking the stand to care for God’s creation and its most vulnerable children.

“Now I’ve been smiling lately, thinking about the good things to come
And I believe it could be, something good has begun…” Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam

GOP House Climate Resolution: Cheers, and Sighs

And now, some good news from the GOP on climate change. Ten Republican members of the House of Representatives have signed a resolution that acknowledges manmade climate change, accepts that we bear responsibility for adverse consequences affecting vulnerable populations and our children, and commits to working constructively to clean up our mess.

We hear that more Republicans will come on board. But for now, it’s ten – about 4 percent of the Republican House Caucus. It’s a start. If all you’ve heard about the GOP’s approach to caring for the creation is that they’re suing the EPA and trying to defund it, that they’re trying to kill its climate pollution mitigation plans, and that they’re telling world leaders that American commitments on climate change at the global climate summit in Paris this December will be dead-on-arrival in Congress, then surely this offers a ray of encouragement.

Rep. Chris Gibson, R-NY

So we offer special thanks to Congressman Chris Gibson (R-NY 19th District), for leading this effort. And we’re thankful for Pope Francis, whose impending visit must certainly have prompted reflection on the part of politicians whose constituents embrace the pontiff’s appeal to act on climate pollution.

But whatever appreciation we can muster, Gibson’s resolution is still mixed reading. Yes, it goes a long way toward accepting the realities so long denied by the party. At the same time, it also offers a painful reminder of how much silliness must still be endured to garner even a shred of support from the majority in Congress. Just to get signatures from 4 percent of GOP congressional representatives, they had to invoke “American exceptionalism,” promise to oppose anything economically painful, and entirely ignore the effects of climate pollution on those living beyond our borders.

So, is it cheers for Gibson and his colleagues, or sighs for the herculean obstacles he faces? Here’s a sampling of both.


There really is a lot to like about this GOP resolution. It would be churlish to pick at the flaws, and ignore some of the real progress:

  • They acknowledge that it should be a conservative impulse to conserve the creation (“to protect, conserve, and be good stewards of our environment”). Cheers!
  • They admit that extreme weather is getting worse (“more frequent heat waves, extreme precipitation, wildfires, and water scarcity”), and is expected to worsen further (“longer and hotter heat waves, more severe storms, worsening flood and drought cycles, growing invasive species and insect problems, threatened native plant and wildlife populations, rising sea levels”). Cheers!
  • They admit that climate pollution harms the poor (“hitting vulnerable populations hardest”) and our children (“saddling future generations with costly economic and environmental burdens”). Cheers!
  • They admit that climate disruption is a threat to national security (citing military assessments that the effects of climate change are “threat multipliers that will aggravate stressors abroad”). Cheers!
  • And they commit to working constructively to find solutions to human activities that lead to climate change. Cheers!

All good stuff. Cheers for you, Mr. Gibson!


But that’s not the whole story, I’m afraid. It’s clear that the resolution has been labored over to fend off as many objections as possible. And some of that editing looks ominous to those of us hoping for a thaw in congressional obstruction on climate action.

  • There is virtually no acknowledgement whatsoever of harm from our climate pollution on those outside the United States. While they acknowledge the harmful impact on “all Americans” and the “challenges we face as a nation,” you might think that they imagine that the impacts of our climate pollution simply stop at our borders. This point is not academic. Rather, it permits signatories to avoid entirely the moral debt that heavy polluters like the US now owe to vulnerable communities in Africa, the Middle East, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Central America, and island nations. Sigh.
  • Actually, there is one mention of harm abroad. The resolution acknowledges that US military planners view the effects of climate disruption as ‘‘threat multipliers that will aggravate stressors abroad such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability, and social tensions.’’ So yes, they indirectly agree that our pollution does indeed harm other nations, but their concern is specifically limited to the security impact that the resulting chaos will have on us and our military. Sigh.
  • And you’d think that a problem worthy of national and global action would be worthwhile, even if it cost us something. But it’s not just petty nitpicking to note that Mr. Gibson’s resolution stipulates that the solution must be costless: “Any efforts to mitigate the risks of, prepare for, or otherwise address our changing climate and its effects should not constrain the United States economy….” Well, global crises have a nasty habit of constraining economies. WWII wasn’t costless. Our response to polio, cholera or Ebola wasn’t costless. Protecting the ozone layer wasn’t costless. There are some things you do to survive and protect others that have costs. Do they really believe that this is an exception? Sigh.
  • Speaking of exceptions, they feel the need to stress that that’s exactly what we are. They call on the “tradition of American ingenuity, innovation, and exceptionalism” to act on climate. We suspect that American exceptionalism – the doctrine that the United States is fundamentally different from other nations – is inherently corrosive to efforts that call on all nations to begin seeing themselves as a global community to protect a shared inheritance for all of our children. Sigh.
  • Our least significant “sigh” we leave for last. The resolution commits its signatories “to study and address the causes and effects of measured changes to our global and regional climates.” To study climate change. You may wonder if they mean something like 12,000 peer reviewed studies over a period of twenty years? Actually, that’s already been done without them, at an average pace of roughly two such studies per day over a span of two decades. Sadly, those have been almost entirely ignored or rejected by congressional leaders. It could be significant, however, if it meant that they would reverse their votes earlier this year to cut funding for NASA and NOAA related to climate research.

So, we want to applaud anything that this Congress does to protect our Father’s suffering creation. Mr. Gibson’s resolution offers a lot to like, and we pray for his success. But to us, his labored final draft offers a sobering picture of the road ahead for him.

Perhaps we need a miracle, something we pray for earnestly. At the very least, we need citizens willing to speak out like Mr. Gibson is doing. We are pulling for you, sir. May God be with you.

J. Elwood