2011: The Year in Review

It’s just a few days from the New Year!  Throughout 2011, the Clothesline has been observing and reporting – and sometimes engaging in – the struggle to protect our Father’s world and its dependent people.  So, how did things go this year for the precious earth for which we have been appointed stewards?

Well, there were some reasons for encouragement.
  • After twenty years of delay, the EPA finally issued rules under the 1990 Clean Air Act to limit mercury poisoning from coal-fired power plants.  One in six unborn children in the U.S. is exposed to unsafe levels of mercury through their mother’s blood.  Many utilities had long since upgraded their plants to capture mercury emissions, but many others waited till forced.  The furious howls from Congress were predictable:  Electric blackouts would hobble our country; regulatory tyranny run amok is the rule of the day; countless utilities would go bankrupt; etc.  Of course, none of this will happen, and our country – and particularly our children – will be better off.
Clothesline editor Elwood holds aloft message to Obama
  • And after a massive popular outcry, President Obama agreed to conduct a transparent and objective review of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, scrapping a process rife with cronyism and influence from foreign oil interests.  Congress again tried to salvage their oil industry patrons with a last-minute rider to a popular tax reduction bill, but it’s not likely to result in approval unless the President cuts some unsavory deal with oil money early next year.  But thousands of highly-motivated citizens have been mobilized, and nothing will slip by unnoticed.
  • More importantly, the climate change scientific controversy officially ended last year.  97% of climatologists agreed both that the earth is warming, and that human activities contribute to it.  The leading climate-skeptic scientist, Berkeley’s Richard Muller conducted a global temperature study funded by the oil-billionaire Koch brothers, intended to cast doubt on the many temperature records compiled by climate scientists.  Instead, he ended up confirming all their work, and praised all prior research as “excellent.” There remains controversy, but it’s no longer scientific.
  • In smaller victories, the European Union won an important legal decision permitting it to levy carbon offsets for airline flights to and from Europe, in the face of determined opposition from the U.S. and China. And the U.S. Senate repeatedly refused to support House measures designed to prevent the EPA from doing its job.

Let’s not get carried away: These aren’t pivotal victories.  But there’s some cause for encouragement there, right?

And the Clothesline Report had the good fortune of being engaged in many of these struggles.
  • We mobilized scores, and maybe hundreds, of people to write government officials or travel to hearing sites or the White House to oppose the KXL tar sand pipeline.  We testified before the State Department and the EPA in connection with both the mercury rules and the tar sands pipeline.  And we even got arrested for overstaying our welcome at the White House in an effort to speak clearly against the tar sands pollution.
  • We debunked oil industry propaganda regarding job creation and energy independence in their effort to jam the KXL pipeline through a tainted approval process.
    Rosina Phillips: this salt marsh once was a rich bayou
  •  We visited indigenous people in the Mississippi Delta, and exposed the “cultural genocide” besetting these communities from rising sea levels, loss of fresh water, and pollution from oil drilling and the BP Gulf disaster.
  • And we encouraged many of you to reconsider life patterns which can be harmful to the earth.  Our Meatless Monday campaign has helped many of us consider the creation in our food choices, among other lifestyle commitments.

But I’m afraid these accomplishments seem pretty meager when viewed in the context of the larger trends in 2011.
  • First off, 2010, the most recent full year we’ve got, was the hottest year on record, tied with 2005, and worse than the scorcher in 1998. Of the ten hottest years ever recorded, nine occurred since 1998.
  • Atmospheric CO2 concentrations continued their unrelenting climb in 2011, reaching 390.31 ppm in November, up from 388.62 ppm 12 months earlier.  Every single year since measurement began at 310 ppm in 1958, the earth-warming carbon blanket has thickened, to levels 40% above the highest levels in the last million years.
  • With all this heat, no one was surprised to see that Arctic sea ice volume again hit record lows last summer, down a whopping 68% from the average sea ice volume over the last 32 years.  The elusive dream of the Northwest Passage, the holy grail of mariners of the last century, is now a commonplace reality.

  • Extreme weather events again wreaked cruel revenge on the earth’s communities from Pakistan, suffering its second devastating flood in as many years, to Texas, which burned out of control as both heat and drought set new records. Thailand’s floods brought many computer manufacturers to a standstill; record droughts in East Africa starved countless Somalis, Sudanese and Kenyans to death; China, Russia and Australia again suffered severe crop losses.
  • The resulting food shortages drove food prices to desperate levels.  The global FAO food price index rose 39% during the year.  With American farmers dedicating 34% of their corn acreage to subsidized ethanol, global corn prices shot up 79%, enriching American farmers.  Others did less well: In the face of rising food costs, an estimated 44 million more people fell into “extreme poverty” last year, bringing the global total to 1.2 billion souls living on less than $1.25 per day. Food riots broke out in many African countries, and laid the groundwork for the revolutions now known as the Arab Spring.
  • The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant meltdown provided a stark warning to the island nation of Japan, with its 53 nuclear reactors crowded together in one of the most seismically unstable regions of the world.
WV coal-plant emissions
  • The hope for “Clean Coal” finally died in 2011, as several major demonstration projects were abandoned by the industry.  But the loss of substance didn’t affect the PR campaign: You can still see Clean Coal ads any time you turn on the cable news stations.
  • The respected Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) ranked four U.S. cities among the Top 20 global losers to rising sea levels by mid-century.  Miami ranked #1, and New Orleans, New York and Virginia Beach shared the dubious honors.  The projected cost of losses to these four cities totals $7.2 trillion, almost exactly half the amount of the entire U.S. national debt – ignoring the hundreds of smaller coastal communities similarly at risk.
  • The President of the sovereign Pacific nation of Kiribati warned his people that they would have to entirely abandon their homeland in the near future, due to warming oceans driving rising sea levels. They join the Seychelles and Maldives as sovereign states headed for extinction from climate change.
  • In the face of these global warnings, American politicians in Congress hunkered down to retain their oil-industry political funding.  All presidential challengers disavowed former acknowledgments of the threat of human-caused climate change.  Congress passed bill after bill in a campaign to handcuff the EPA.  Of approximately 500 major political parties on the earth, only one – our very own GOP – officially adopted climate denial as a party litmus test.   And finally, the EPA delayed several important rules, including one to regulate CO2 emissions under the Clean Air Act – bowing to intense opposition from Congress.
So the year saw some good things, overwhelmed — perhaps — by global-scale degradation, and denial in the industrialized world.  Many of the earth’s seven billion people today are suffering under the weight of our exploitation of God’s good creation – subjected to floods, drought and dire poverty brought on by soaring food costs.  And while politicians here at home continue to deny what is obvious to people the world over, they won’t be able to keep it up for long. The only question is: Will it be too late once we finally decide to act?
For God’s beautiful creation and His beloved human race, we pray that there will still be time to set things right.  The New Year will bring new opportunities to work for environmental justice, and to further challenge our own neglect of God’s good earth.  
We plan to be there, and we hope you’ll be with us.
May God bless you richly,
J. Elwood

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