Monthly Archives: September 2011

Alberta Tar Sands: Please Don’t Look!

You watch the TV news, so you hear it every day:  Cheery, attractive people telling you the great news that Canadian “oil sands” will assure our energy security with just about the same emissions as “many other oils.”  If you trust the good folks at ExxonMobil, believe the ads, and look no further.
But in case you’re not so sure, I’ve copied a simple post from RethinkAlberta.  Also, don’t miss the short video below.  You might not believe your eyes.
Alberta Facts

  1. The Tar sands are the second largest oil reserve in the world.
Alberta’s crude bitumen oil reserves total 170.4 billion barrels, second in the world only to Saudi Arabia which is 264.2 billion barrels.
It’s the water.  Four barrels lost per barrel of oil. And toxins leak out daily.
  1. The Tar Sands will destroy or degrade an area the size of England.
Tar Sands underlie 140,200 square kilometers. England is 130,410 square kilometers. While only a portion has currently been disturbed, the entire area is vulnerable to Tar Sands expansion.
  1. The Tar Sands will threaten millions of migratory birds and other wildlife.
“Combining the various estimates of the loss of birds from mining and in situ operations, this report projects a cumulative impact over the next 30 to 50 years ranging from a low of about 6 million birds lost to as high as 166 million birds lost.”
They send us the oil.  Indigenous people (and ducks) get to keep this.
  1. The Tar Sands consume up to four barrels of water to produce one barrel of oil.
Approximately 12 barrels of water are required to produce each barrel of oil from bitumen. Up to 70 percent of this water is reused, but that still means two to four barrels of water are used to produce each barrel of oil from oil sands mining operations.
  1. The toxic lakes cover an area of 170 square kilometers.
Fifty square miles of these “lakes.” You can see them from space.
  1. It’s estimated that tailings lakes leak up to 11 million liters of contaminated water every day.
  1. Downstream native communities suffer from rare cancers linked to the same toxic compounds found in the tar sands.
The Alberta Health Services report on the incidence of cancer in Fort Chipewyan there was a 30% increase in cancers over the last 12 years. Leukemia and lymphomas were increased by 3-fold. Bile duct cancers were increased by 7-fold. Other cancers, such as soft tissue sarcomas, and lung cancers in women, were also elevated.
  1. The Tar Sands are the largest contributor to the growth of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada.
The Tar Sands are expected to rise from 4% of national emissions in 2006 to 12% in 2020, and account for 44% of the total increase. This makes them the largest contributor to growth in Canada’s GHG emissions.
President Obama has to decide before the end of the year whether or not to permit the massive Keystone XL Pipeline, which will give rise to huge vast new tar sands mining and exploitation.  Before he does, take a look at this video and see what might be doing, on our behalf:  
On November 6th, we’ll be at the White House again – legally this time – to show the president how many Americans think this is unconscionable.This time, won’t you join us?  Learn more here.
Thanks for reading, and may God bless you.
J. Elwood

My Treasure, Floating Down the River?

Special Young Writers Report
By Elizabeth Hohnecker, Bergen Community College Student

Elizabeth Hohnecker
The day after Hurricane Irene hit the East Coast, I was at a friend’s house near the Ramapo River in Northern New Jersey. We took a walk down his road to see some of the damage caused by the flooding. Having lived in the Northeast my whole life, I had never seen waters this high after a flood.  Almost whole houses were underwater. Boats were floating down a river that once was someone’s backyard. Street signs were barely peeking out from under the water. 
Shocked by what I saw, I began to think about my possessions and what I value most in life. What if my home was destroyed?  What would I mourn losing?
When I was 13 years old, I spent a week working at a church in a blighted neighborhood in Brooklyn, NY. While there, the leaders had us partake in “Poverty Day.” We were each given one quarter to spend on food and a survey to fill out while we ventured around the city looking for answers to some of the questions, such as: “Where is the closest homeless shelter or food pantry?”
Some of the survey was more personal, and one section stuck with me to this day. We had to calculate how much our bedroom was worth. Now, I have a pretty small room and I would never have considered my family very “wealthy.” But let me tell you, after adding together my electronics, clothes, furniture, and just “things” I’ve accumulated over the years, my room is worth a lot.
These use to be treasures, in New Jersey

What is my point in telling you these two stories? Simply this:  Seeing massive loss of possessions to the flood drove home how easy it is to treasure wealth, amidst a sea of global and local poverty.  I wonder if we could stop for one moment and think: What is our treasure in this life? Where is our heart? What riches do we desire to gain, you and I?

We are rich. Don’t believe me? Well, I’m writing this – and I bet you’re reading – while sitting on a comfortable chair, on an expensive computer, in a home that keeps the heat and cold out, with a stomach filled – probably beyond what it needs to be satiated.  But think about these statistics: 
Against this backdrop, I’m seeing more people of my generation who are linking a life of reasonable simplicity with the call to live in a world where so many are poor. This means to live with a strong sense of gratitude, not wanting more, but living simply and humbly in view of God’s great riches he has given to us through Christ. In the words of Kenneth Boa, from his book, Conformed to His Image: “A mindset of simplicity helps us resist the cultural endorsement of extravagance and consumption that entices us away from gratitude, trust, and dependence on the Lord.”
What does this simplicity look like in action? In my opinion, we start with disposing of what we don’t NEED. Before I go out shopping for new clothes, I like to sort through the ones I have already. Nine times out of ten, I end up donating clothes I don’t need instead of buying more because I come to the realization that I could clothe an entire family with what’s in my dresser alone. There are countless organizations, or even people you may know, that will be more than happy to take hand-me-downs. Once I get rid of the excess “stuff” in my life, I feel more appreciative of what I have.
Rethinking:  What do I need? What can I give?

Once you have a real sense of how much you have, look for needs that others have. The apostle James writes in his letter to the twelve tribes of Israel, “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warm and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?”

If we claim to love God, we must love others, and if we claim to love others, we must show it through our actions. Just as our Lord Jesus has blessed the poor and the needy, should not we also show that same love and compassion to those whom he has put on this earth? What makes us more deserving than anyone else? Does our living in this rich country make us somehow entitled to live selfish lives? While we ignore the reality of the sin of gluttony, we stuff our faces, while a large portion of God’s children are starving.
I’m learning that there are consequences to all our life choices. We must learn to use what resources we’ve been given to feed the poor and take care of the needy.   We must not overlook the glorious riches that we have in Christ, because of the material riches that will fade so quickly. Because, as Jesus said:  “Where you treasure is, there your heart is also.”
I wonder:  If what I possess in my room is my greatest treasure, will it one day be found floating on the river?
Elizabeth Hohnecker
“For where your treasure is, there your heart is also.” Matthew 6:20

I’m Afraid My Child’s Got Cancer

I’ve consulted 100 doctors.  97 say it’s cancer, and her only chance is to start treatment immediately.  Two aren’t sure.  One says the others all just want my money.
So what do I do now?
Well, what would you do, if you faced this hypothetical crisis?  Maybe you’d wait till the three holdouts agree with the near-unanimous diagnosis.  After all, why should you put your little girl through all this when “the science isn’t settled?”
And have you seen the cost of cancer treatments lately?  In times like these, who can even talk about incurring these costs, especially when there’s doubt about whether she’s sick in the first place?
Okay, okay then. Maybe I’ll just give her chicken soup for another year.
Really???  You’re thinking, of course, that I’m nuts.  Someone else should have custody of my child.  Who would ever sacrifice the most precious things on earth – their children – to save a little money, justified by a thin veneer of scientific doubt?
Who would?  We would, that’s who.
That’s right.  We would.  Just look at the warnings we’re getting about the future of the earth’s ecosystems.  97 of 100 climate scientists agree that the earth’s climate is changing dangerously due to human emissions of greenhouse gases from burning oil and coal, as confirmed in a 2009 peer-reviewed Univ. of Illinois survey of 3,146 earth scientists.
Warning! Ralph Cicerone, Pres. of Nat’l Acad. of Science
Not satisfied with 97% of climatologists?  Okay, then how about the U.S. National Academy of Sciences?  This august body was established by Abraham Lincoln, precisely because political leaders need expert scientific advice.  Last year, they issued the following warning: 
“There is compelling, comprehensive, and consistent objective evidence that humans are changing the climate in ways that threaten our societies and the ecosystems on which we depend.  Many recent assaults on climate science and, more disturbingly, on climate scientists by climate change deniers, are typically driven by special interests or dogma, not by an honest effort to provide an alternative theory that credibly satisfies the evidence.”

Still opting for chicken soup?  What if all the Academies of Science from all the developed countries got together and issued a combined, comprehensive and urgent warning about human-caused climate change?  Now that would be convincing, wouldn’t it?
Well, they did.
In May 2009, the National Academies of developed-world-leading G8 countries, plus five other major countries, published a joint statement.  “The need for urgent action to address climate change is now indisputable,” they said. And then they confirmed what people like me dreaded to hear:
“Climate change is happening even faster than previously estimated; global CO2 emissions since 2000 have been higher than even the highest predictions, Arctic sea ice has been melting at rates much faster than predicted, and the rise in the sea level has become more rapid. Feedbacks in the climate system might lead to much more rapid climate changes.”

But despite all these warnings, none of the nine Americans who want to be our President for the next four years are willing to take a stand to save our children from the dire consequences the scientists are warning us about.  For starters, the GOP and its oil & coal financiers have virtually blacklisted anyone who doesn’t blindly deny the overwhelming evidence regarding climate change (see my last post on this).  And our Democratic President, while speaking eloquently about the threat of climate change, has repeatedly backed down in the face of pressure from the polluters, and is even now poised to approve the massive Keystone XL tars sands pipeline, linking our economy to the filthiest fuel on the planet for a generation.
Some people just aren’t listening.  And CO2 continues it’s steady march.
So the politicians are willing to settle for chicken soup for your sick child.  But you aren’t.
Are you?
You know, you can do something. You can help stop the Tar Sands Pipeline (here). You can pull out your electric bill, and schedule an energy audit of your home with your utility, or do your own (here). You can write your congressperson (here or the President (here) and demand action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And you can start talking to your friends and co-workers.
It’s time to get serious.  You see, this is like your child’s got cancer.
Thanks for doing something, and may God bless your efforts.
J. Elwood

The Non-Political Post About the Presidential Challengers

These are weird times for observers of global environmental trends.  Here in America, we’ve got one political party that almost unanimously denies the warnings of climate science regarding man-made global warming, and one that almost unanimously accepts the science in virtual secrecy.
You might think that’s normal, or even healthy.  One says yes, one says no.  Call it 50/50, right?
Actually, no.  Here’s why:  As much as we love America, it’s pretty much all alone when it comes to climate denial among politicians.  I did some rough calculations this morning, and found that fourteen countries with 60% of the world’s population had 79 major political parties, and about 250 mid-majors.  Extrapolating to the rest of the world, we’ve got 132 major political parties, and around 500 including the smaller ones.
Long, long ago: McCain ’08 supported carbon limits
Let’s call it 500 global political parties.  How many of them do you think dismiss human-caused climate change?  Well, I couldn’t find a single one, except our very own GOP.  And I’m not alone.  Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, says that although other countries’ parties may occasionally contain pockets of climate skepticism, there is “no party-wide view like this anywhere in the world that I am aware of.”
Wow!  Just to make sure we’re on the same page, that means 99.8% of all political parties in the world are looking at American primary debates and wondering: What could they possibly be thinking?  How did the wealthiest nation in the world end up with one of the most powerful political parties in existence denying a body of scientific evidence that the rest of the world acknowledges?
Now, wading into politics is a sure-fire way to lose friends, I know.  But the CR isn’t shilling for any party.  Consider:  I am registered as an Independent; the only party I’ve ever been a member of is the GOP; and two weeks ago I spent the afternoon handcuffed in a sweltering police paddy wagon for protesting on a Democratic President’s front steps. 
Maybe I have about an average level of credibility in assessing where the candidates stand on global warming, no?  Here’s a look at the GOP contenders:
The Pure Climate Deniers
Perry shooting record Texas wildfires from far above
Rick Perry:  “The ‘theory’ of climate change is a hoax concocted by data-manipulating scientists to keep research money coming in to their projects.”  No matter that Perry’s home state is breaking every climate record possible. No matter that every Texas climatologist tells him otherwise. He’s sure.

Michelle Bachmann:  The big thing we are working on now is the global warming hoax. It’s all voodoo, nonsense, hokum, a hoax.”  This language doesn’t leave her much wiggle room, does it?

Herman Cain: “It’s a scam … scientifically manufactured results. This is conclusive.” No further information necessary.

The Converts to Climate Denial
Newt Gingrich:  In 2008, Gingrich and Nancy Pelosi sat on a loveseat, and filmed a call for action on climate change.  He now has wriggled out of his “loveseat predicament” with this semi-confession:  “Obviously it was misconstrued, and it’s probably one of those things I wouldn’t do again.”
Ron Paul:  In 2007, Paul argued that climate change pollution was an important matter of property rights, and that carbon polluters should be taxed.  But now he calls climate science a fraud: “The greatest hoax I think that has been around for many, many years if not hundreds of years has been this hoax on the environment and global warming.”
Sarah Palin:  In 2007, as Alaska Governor, Palin formed a sub-cabinet to prepare and implement a climate change strategy for the state.  And in 2008, VP-candidate Palin said:  “A changing environment will affect Alaska more than any other state, because of our location.”  But now, she calls climatology “junk science and doomsday scare tactics pushed by an environmental priesthood that capitalizes on the public’s worry.”

The Believers who Promise no Action

Mitt Romney:   “I don’t speak for the scientific community, of course, but I believe the world’s getting warmer,” Romney said in June.  “And number two, I believe that humans contribute to that.” In response, Rush Limbaugh pronounced Romney’s political death:  “Bye-bye, nomination,” said Limbaugh. “Another one down.”  (Note:  Romney is still opposed to any effort to put a price on carbon pollution.)

Huntsman warned GOP against anti-science extremism
Jon Huntsman: “All I know is 90 percent of the scientists say climate change is occurring. If 90 percent of the oncological community said something was causing cancer, we’d listen to them. I respect science.” 
But now he’s joined the rest of the GOP field by repudiating his 2008 support for solutions: “A carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system….”  No action on climate until the economy is better, he now says.

So there you have it:  three pure deniers, including the front-runner; three converts to climate denial; and two believers who oppose any action to address global warming.
In fairness, the GOP isn’t entirely closed to believers in climate science.  Republican strategist Marc Morano summed up the party reality this way:  “You can believe in the science of global warming … if you keep your mouth shut about it and you advocate no quote-unquote solution to the problem.”  

Well, I guess that rules me out as the surprise candidate to oppose Obama next year.  I suppose I’ll have to stick to writing the Clothesline Report till 2016.
Thanks for reading, and may God bless you.
J. Elwood

On Earth as it is in Hell

The sign in the middle of an Austin intersection said it all:  “Satan Called.  He wants his weather back.”
Yes, Texans have been suffering, and some perhaps are praying that the Devil would go back to hell with his fires, drought, and blistering heat.  They’re not alone, are they? Virtually everywhere, we are dealing with increasingly extreme weather, and it’s costing us heavily. But Texas is a special case.
Sign in Austin, TX street
How bad is it?  The statistics are numbing.  How fast can you bake cookies on a car dashboard in Waco?  How many consecutive days over 100 in the state?  How many billions in farm drought losses? How many counties declared disaster areas by the USDA?  How many cattle starved or destroyed? How many Texas wildfires visible from the International Space Station? How many hundreds of Texas homes destroyed by fire?

The answers are discouraging.  213 counties (almost all of them) are USDA disasters.  Forty-one straight days saw 100 plus heat.  $5.2 billion in agricultural losses, and counting. Texas wildfires this year have burned an area the size of Connecticut.  Since last Sunday, 1,626 homes have been destroyed in one Texas county alone. 
But maybe it’ll better better tomorrow, right?  Um, wrong.  Texas’ State Climatologist tells us it will likely be worse next year.  “I’ve started telling anyone who’s interested,” says Texas A&M’s  John Nielsen-Gammon, “ that it’s likely that much of Texas will still be in severe drought this time next summer, with water supply implications even worse than those we are now experiencing.”
135 years of TX heat/rainfall records: 2011 is the runaway winner (loser?)
Not everyone is interested, as Texas’ governor reminds us in his speeches.  But how long will he be able to ignore the scientists?  Not long, because there’s a word for drought that lasts multiple years: Dust Bowl.  In fact, “dust-bowl-ification” has become standard lingo among climatologists.
And if you think Texas scientists are simply wallowing in pessimism, I’ve got sobering news.  Research by scientists at the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) now tells us that we can’t reverse these weather effects of green house gas concentrations for more than 1,000 years.
There’s no soil moisture left to create rains or slow fires
“Our study convinced us that current choices regarding carbon dioxide emissions will have legacies that will irreversibly change the planet,” said NOAA senior scientist Susan Solomon.  The result will be persistent and irreversible weather that is “comparable to the 1930s North American Dust Bowl in .. southwestern North America.”  That means Texas, among others.
And there’s a word for a Dust Bowl that stays around for 1,000 years:  Desert.
In case this hasn’t sunk in, 1,000 years is about 50 generations.  Fifty!  Name one terrible thing you can do today that your descendents will still be suffering for in fifty generations.  Not that easy, is it?
As you know, many of us pray this prayer every day: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  What a shock to look up from our prayer and find that our super-sized Western lifestyle has contributed to the conditions for hell on earth for us and for our distant descendants?
Is it too late to give Satan his weather back?  For the sake of countless generations to come, we must find an answer to that question. And perhaps we might rethink our prayer for God’s will on earth, as it is in heaven.
Thanks for reading, and may God bless you.
J. Elwood

‘Our Heavenly Father, may your name be honored; May your kingdom come, and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day the bread we need, Forgive us what we owe to you, as we have also forgiven those who owe anything to us. Keep us clear of temptation, and save us from evil.’   Jesus’ prayer, from Matthew 6
More Images from Texas drought
Blackened skies over Texas, burnt homes
Drop the garden hose and run
Fenced livestock can’t escape
Measures of soil dryness at top of scale for almost every Texas county

You Are Now All Under Arrest …

“… No one may leave the secured area.”
With that, U.S. Park Police Lt. Marshall snapped off the megaphone, and walked back to the armored SWAT truck.
137 of us stood or sat completely still, in five ranks, with our backs to the White House’s iron pickets.  The time was 11:31, Thursday morning.  Ministers, retirees, college students, programmers, and farmers among many others awaiting search, handcuffing, and the paddy wagons bound for Anacostia and processing.  The first to go was a wheelchair-restricted woman named Lolly, who was taken away to thunderous applause of all of us awaiting our own turn, and of the hundreds of onlookers across the avenue in Lafayette Park.
Lolly, the first to be arrested

Next to me stood my brother, Christopher Elwood, a Presbyterian minister.  For the next three hours, our steadily diminishing band hoarsely belted out familiar tunes, reworked on the spot with lyrics to urge President Obama not to approve the Tar Sands pipeline from Canada to the Gulf.

The tar sands have been called the world’s filthiest fuel.  NASA’s lead scientist has warned that if the pipeline is built and the tar sands are mined, then for the global climate, “it’s game over.”
We were at the White House for many different reasons.  Most of us were older with kids, and nearly half could have been grandparents.  Most said they were there for them: the kids and grandchildren.  (For me, it was a little beauty named Clara Mae.)
137 lawbreakers demanding the President protect the earth

There were indigenous people who testified to skyrocketing cancer and illness rates in the tar sands region.  They told of hunting elk and moose which were covered with sores from toxic waste.  They told us of the utter destruction of their lands and waterways.

There were Midwesterners who rely on the Oglala Aquifer, over which the proposed pipeline will carry the toxic diluted bitumen.  They recounted the dozens of spills which have already plagued a smaller pipeline carrying tar sands fuel.  And they told of the Republican governor of Nebraska who has just come out against the tar sands for similar reasons.
Clothesline Report editor John Elwood

But all of us are indigenous to the earth that God has made for us.  And some of us were keenly aware that we are only tenants, and that this planet belongs to Him.  Even more, the Christians among us affirm that the earth is not principally our inheritance, but Christ’s.  We stood at the White House gates out of allegiance to the Savior to whom all things belong.

One placard captured a reality seen by all: “There is no Planet B.”
It took about three hours.  One by one, we were led away.  132 was Ted, a father from Portland; 133 was Tony, a recent college grad from Colorado.  Then the officer pointed at me.  As the plastic cuffs were tightened behind my back, I heard a few hands clapping, and my brother’s voice:  “Well done, John.”
Rev. Christopher Elwood

I looked back, and there stood Chris, solemn, smiling.  Two young men stood beside him: Sam, a college sophomore from Ohio; and Jeff, a systems programmer from DC. The final three to be taken.

As they led us to the wagon, the crowd behind the police barricade sang: “It’s the hammer of justice, it’s the bell of freedom, it’s the song about the love between my brothers and my sisters….”
Thanks for reading, and may God bless you.
J. Elwood
More Tar Sands Action Photos 
All photos courtesy of Josh Lopez and Shadia Fayne Wood

Protesters crossing Lafayette Park to the White House
There’s a law against this: Standing for climate justice
All kinds of people come together against tar sands pollution
Women first:  They arrested the men last
Dignity: Charles, a foreign affairs expert in his 70’s
Never stop singing: Young man added his voice to ours while led away
Behind the barricade: Onlookers demanding a stop to the pipeline