Monthly Archives: March 2013

Christians Pray for a Sensible Arms Trafficking Treaty

Currently there are more laws governing the international sale of bananas and iPods than grenade launchers and AK-47s. – National Association of Evangelicals –

The Clothesline Report is about creation care and climate justice, right?  So what are we doing wading into the sordid world of international arms dealers who get rich off the slaughter of villagers in Congo and Sudan?
The answer isn’t really all that complicated: Christians pray daily the Lord’s prayer: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven.” That prayer leads some of us to work for an end to human slavery and child labor; some work for redemptive immigration policies; some advocate for living wage standards; others care for aging parents and vulnerable children.
At the Clothesline, we  encourage our friends to protect the increasingly threatened natural systems that all God’s creatures rely on for food and habitat — including seven billion humans. But we care about God’s justice and mercy toward all things, whether or not they fall into our specific “silo” of focus.
That’s why I decided to spend a few hours yesterday at the Salvation Army in New York City with Galen Carey of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). We met to pray for the success of a new global Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). The ATT would establish common binding standards for international weapons transfers. It would stem the flow of illegal weapons and ammunition to warlords, dictators and terrorists. In short, it would help dry up the flow of machine guns and grenade launchers into conflict zones where warlords use them to terrorize and control civilians.
I thought it was great that the NAE — the main voice of evangelicals in America — was leading the effort. So imagine my surprise at this lineup participating in the prayer meeting: the World Evangelical Alliance, representing 600 million evangelicals in 129 nations; the National Latino Evangelical Coalition; the Salvation Army; New York Divinity School; and the New York City Intercessors. All joined together to pour out prayer for a treaty to help the most vulnerable in conflict zones.

You might think that such a treaty would be universally supported in America, which already has the world’s toughest laws regulating the import and export of weapons. Sadly, it’s not. The NRA has turned this into another 2nd Amendment fight, which is an almost incomprehensible argument. So people of goodwill will have to speak up if the countries of the world are going to act to protect the most vulnerable.
For starters, you’ve got to take two minutes and watch the fabulous little film (above) on the ATT. If you think it’s worth an extra moment of your time, then consider reading a bit more on why evangelicals are so strongly supporting it. Finally, remember how easy it is to write your congressional representatives expressing support.
You already care for God’s creation. Now take a moment to act on behalf of some of His most vulnerable creatures.
Thanks for your love and concern.

J. Elwood

The Washington Post is Wrong on Keystone XL

Reposted with permission from Sojourners, March 7, 2013 
by Catherine Woodiwiss 

A few days ago, the Washington Post dismissed the movement resisting the proposed tar sands pipeline from Canada to the Gulf as “missing the climate-endangered forest for the trees,” Sojourners published this excellent response.

The Washington Post … dismisses the protests against it as nothing more than “knee-jerk” “distractions”. In this, the editors join the cadre of Keystone shruggers – folks whose response to developing events around the pipeline is a cynical “meh,” tinged with frustration at protesters.

A prevailing sentiment among these shruggers is acceptance: it’ll get passed anyway — there’s no way it won’t. And scolding: Come on guys — it won’t be that bad. Stop the silly stuff and go do something important.

Courtesy of Rena Schild,

The arguments in favor of the pipeline are dubious at best. For example, it’s estimated that harmful tar sands extraction would fall flat by 2020 if not for the pipeline – which would more than double extraction and establish a harmful precedent for pulling oil from the earth. Serious potential risk to communities and environments along the pipeline’s route have been well documented. And even the State Department’s controversial report estimates the pipeline will have “negligible” impact on the jobs market.

But what really bothers me about this piece from the Post is the degree of resignation, coming from a leading journal, to the politically inevitable. Frankly, I’m tired of it. I’m tired of hearing that climate activists need to be realistic on Keystone. I’m tired of the media’s willingness to publish small vision and run pieces of least-resistance when it comes to climate issues. I’m tired of otherwise politically active, deeply soulful, justice-minded colleagues and friends adopting a posture of disinterest when someone challenges conventional Washington wisdom.

Focusing on the pipeline alone is a narrow vision — and ironically, it’s the shruggers more than anyone who have mistaken the pipeline for the real story. For those protesting Keystone XL, the pipeline is a symbol of inevitability in action…. Read the whole story.

Thanks for reading, and may God bless you.

J. Elwood 

Keystone XL: Did the State Department Level with Us?

Last week the U.S. Department of State released its Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline. The Keystone XL (or KXL) is a huge proposed pipeline capable of pumping 830,000 barrels of Canadian tar sands bitumen per day across the country and down to the Gulf of Mexico for refining and export. Two years after pulling back their first EIS due to lack of transparency, the State Department has finished a new improved version.

I’ve read a lot of it, and as far as I can tell, there’s virtually no change from the first one, which seemed to be gift-wrapped for a polluting industry. The KXL, they tell us again now, will have no significant environmental impact.
How could that be? 
In light of all that’s been learned about climate and the tar sands in the last two years, I really wondered. So I read the thing, or large chunks of it. And I’m troubled at what I see. I mean no disrespect to the good people from the State Department who worked on this, but it looks to me like they had their answer before they even gathered the data.  Among many flaws, these jumped out at me:
  • The EIS clings to the idea that the tar sands will be fully developed regardless of what we do with the KXL: We can’t do anything anyway, they repeatedly say.
  • The EIS ignores the reality that in the struggle for Earth’s climate, time matters: Opening the carbon floodgates now is much worse than potentially opening them later.
  • And ominously, the EIS uses the lowest numbers of just about anyone in assessing just how carbon-polluting the tar sands really are.
We can’t stop them anyway
I’m really not making this up. The EIS says that if we stop the KXL now, we won’t cut tar sands production by more than 1%. And if every single pipeline proposal from the tar sands is killed, then by 2030, we will have only reduced production by 2-4%.[i]
Currently, the tar sands produce around 1.8 million barrels of oil per day. The KXL would add another 830,000 barrels per day of shipping capacity. That’s an increase of 36% from this one project. The higher upstream emissions alone (not including transporting, refining and burning the stuff) will be equivalent to the annual emissions from 6.3 coal-fired power plants or over 4.6 million cars.[ii]
You and I may think that 36% is a big jump in capacity. But still, the EIS tells us that approving the KXL won’t significantly add to tar sands production and emissions. They cite two reasons. First, there are other pipeline proposals, and – implicitly – they’ll probably be approved.  
In fact, there are four other pipeline proposals in various stages of planning. Two are in application stages, one has just been proposed, and the last one is still conceptual. They all are smaller than KXL, and the most important – Enbridge’s Northern Gateway – has to overcome fierce opposition from British Columbians and the legally-empowered First Nations tribes.  All the others are years away, and face unknown obstacles.[iii]
No matter, the State Department tells us. Even if all the pipelines get killed, tar sands production won’t suffer by more than 2-4% by the year 2030. And none of that decrease is because the “bitumen” (or tar) won’t move: it will be a little more expensive to ship it by train and truck, and that will cut demand a tiny bit.
So we’re wondering, how much do the Canadians plan today to move by rail or truck? Well, there are 2,750,000 barrels per day of proposed projects on the books. Four of them are pipelines (KXL being the largest) and they account for 99.3% of the total. The other is a railroad project, and it amounts to 0.7% of the total. It hardly registers in their plans. But the EIS assumes that this puny effort will swell into a behemoth and entirely replace the pipelines, if we don’t say yes to the KXL.
This seems like an ominous start, doesn’t it? We begin our EIS by assuming that nothing we do will affect the amount of tar sands oil that gets mined and burned, even though the KXL is the biggest and furthest advanced in the application process, the trailing proposals face political and legal obstacles, and the alternative mode of transportation is Lilliputian. Does this have you worried too?
Time doesn’t matter
It takes time to change the world. Sustainable energy technologies take time to develop. International agreements take time to negotiate. And the effects of climate chaos, as devastating as they are, take time to drive home the need for action.
But the EIS seems to hold that a huge increase in tar sands carbon emissions now is no more risky than a potential carbon explosion of equal dimensions in 2030. But this cannot be.
Every year, the cost of solar, geothermal and wind power comes down. Fuel efficiency standards are increasing sharply, reducing demand for the dirtiest oil. This year, CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere have grown to 395.6 part per million; but in 2030, they’ll be about 433 ppm, even if the growth rate doesn’t increase (and it’s increasing). By then, we’ll certainly have had many more Katrinas and Sandys; Texas and Arizona will likely be essentially dry and burnt; coastal communities will no longer debate the reality of rising sea levels; and numerous developing countries will likely be acknowledged as non-viable climates for their people. Most importantly, the Congressional struggle against climate science will likely be little more than a distant memory.
But, on page after page, the EIS falls into the same trap: nothing will change; resistance now will be circumvented later; the world will not find the will to mitigate harm to the climate. When it comes to climate disruptions, time is not our friend: carbon-choked air and acidic oceans take forever to clean themselves. But in this one arena – the public will to act – time certainly works for us. With the passage of time, we can no longer ignore the things we once ignored, before floods ravaged our coasts and droughts burned up our forests. And we haven’t seen a fraction of it yet.
Time does matter. We are struggling to minimize harm to the Earth until people of goodwill everywhere stand up for what can no longer be suppressed.
Choosing the least alarming data
I was surprised to find the EIS asserting that tar sands oil, when measured on a life-cycle basis (or “well to wheel”) is only 17% more carbon polluting than the average oil refined in the U.S. I had seen lower numbers, but only in oil company publicity. And even more notably, the EIS suggested that, as oil supplies everywhere become scarcer, the tar sands’ carbon premium will likely decline, as other sources become dirtier.
I shouldn’t suggest that 17% more greenhouse gases per equivalent gallon is not serious.  If you go out and buy a highly efficient car that gets 40 mpg, gasoline made from 17% dirtier crude oil is like having the emissions of a 34 mpg car. That’s a big drop.
But it’s not nearly as big as most others would tell you.  The Department of Energy reports that the extraction of tar sands oil is 2.3-4.0 times more carbon polluting than conventional oil, resulting in at least a 22% well-to-wheel carbon penalty.[iv]  The EPA has set the tar sands carbon penalty at as much as 37%.[vi]And in Europe, the fuel-quality directorate determined that the average tar sands life cycle carbon intensity is approximately 23% worse than the average conventional crude used in Europe.[vii]
There is much more in the State Department EIS to make earth-keepers nervous. But these alone make me wonder where the administration plans to take us – whatever the president’s public pronouncements. We know that the Canadian government really wants an easy route to the sea for their crude. So do the big oil companies.  And when some 40-50,000 of us showed up at the White House a few Sundays ago to urge Obama not to approve the KXL, he was out golfing with – would you believe it? – oil company executives.[viii]
I’m sure that over the next few months, millions of people will weigh in on this, and urge the president to act to protect the Earth from a massive increase in the most polluting forms of oil. Won’t you consider adding your voice? It’s easy, and you can start by clicking here.
Thanks for reading, and may God bless you.
J. Elwood

[i] Keystone XL Pipeline, Draft Supplemental EIS; ES 6.2 Market Analysis, p. ES-19
[ii] Pembina Institute Backgrounder; Climate Implications of Proposed Keystone XL Oilsands Pipeline;
[iii]Pembina; p. 5
[iv]National Energy Technology Laboratory, Life Cycle Greenhouse Gas Emissions, November 2008; p. 12
[v] U.S. EPA: Letter of Cynthia Giles to Dept. of State; July 16, 2010;$file/20100126.PDF
[vi] U.S. average 2005 baseline was determined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency together with the U.S. Department of Energy. For reference, see EPA (2010), Renewable Fuel Standard Program (RFS2): Regulatory Impact Analysis February 2010, EPA-420-R-10-006
[vii] Adam Brandt, Upstream greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from Canadian oil sands as a feedstock for European refineries, Executive summary (Department of Energy Resources, Stanford University, 2011), 41–42.

U.S. National Academy of Sciences: Guidance on Climate Change

Today marks the 150thanniversary of the creation of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.  It may seem impossible in today’s gridlocked environment, but in 1863, President Lincoln proposed it, and Congress passed the law creating the National Academy (NAS) in a matter of days. Its mission was to advise our government about matters of science and engineering that were beyond the training of politicians. And the Industrial Revolution was expanding exponentially the number and complexity of such issues.

Today, the NAS numbers more than 2,000 elected members from among the country’s most distinguished researchers. These are private citizens who share their expertise with the nation without compensation. It is, without question, the most authoritative voice in the nation on matters of science, engineering, medicine and technology.


NAS climate guidance: Free download
Our politicians, meanwhile, are deadlocked today over the issue of climate change: Is it real? What’s causing it? How severe are its consequences? We hope they’re aware that the NAS has repeatedly weighed in on the subject, and has provided some very accessible guidance. The most useful of these, in our judgment, is a 36-page downloadable booklet titled, Climate Change: Evidence, Impacts & Choices. In the following paragraphs, we summarize this short work with a still-shorter outline of key messages from America’s best climate scientists.
  1. Evidence for Human-Caused Climate Change
    1. How do we know that Earth has warmed?  Widespread measurements of temperature around the world began around 1880. These data have steadily improved and, today, temperatures are recorded in many thousands of locations on the land, over the oceans, and from satellites, ocean sensors and weather balloons. These analyses all show that Earth’s average surface temperature has increased by more than 1.4°F (0.8°C) over the past 100 years, with much of this increase taking place over the past 35 years. 1.4°F is like the difference between the average temperature in Washington, DC and Charleston, SC.
    2. How do we know that greenhouse gases lead to warming?  In 1824, French physicist Joseph Fourier was the first to discover the greenhouse effect. In the 1850s, Irish-born physicist John Tyndall demonstrated the greenhouse effect as scientific fact. In 1896, Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius calculated the warming power of excess CO2, predicting that if human activities increased CO2 levels, climate warming would result. Much research has built on these classics, but they are no longer in doubt.
    3. How do we know that humans are causing greenhouse gases to increase? CO2 is produced and consumed in many natural processes that are part of the carbon cycle. However, once humans began digging up long-buried forms of carbon such as coal and oil and burning them for energy, additional CO2 began to be released into the atmosphere much more rapidly than in the natural carbon cycle. Other human activities, such as cement production and deforestation also add CO2 to the atmosphere. Today, atmospheric CO2 concentrations exceed 390 parts per million—nearly 40% higher than preindustrial levels, and, according to ice core data, higher than at any point in the past 800,000 years.
    4. How much are human activities heating Earth? There are several well-known human impacts on climate: greenhouse gas emissions are the most familiar; emissions from burning fuels also produce small atmospheric particles called aerosols, which have a slight cooling effect; and land-use changes (farming, urban development and deforestation) also have – surprisingly – a slight overall cooling effect. But when these human impacts are taken together, the net climate impact is pushing the earth toward warming.


Ice core data: CO2 and temperature move together
To visualize the extra heat from human climate warming, picture the small Christmas lights that many of us use to decorate our trees or homes over the holidays. Imagine four of them burning brightly in a square meter of space – about the area of your shower stall or bathtub bottom. Now, add four of those same lights to every single square meter over the face of the earth and ocean.  This extra heating equals about 50 times the amount of power produced by all the power plants of the world combined, and that heat is added to Earth’s climate system every second of every day.
    1. How do we know the current warming trend isn’t caused by the Sun? Since 1979, we have measured the Sun’s energy from satellites. These records show that the Sun’s output has not shown a net increase during the past 30 years and thus cannot be responsible for the warming during that period. And since the 1950s, weather balloons have measured temperatures in both the lower and upper atmosphere. More intense heat from the Sun would warm all layers; but in fact, the upper layers have cooled, and the lower layers have warmed. Satellite and weather balloon measurements have been closely scrutinized, and both show a warming trend in the lower layer of the atmosphere and a cooling trend in the upper layer. The Sun is not the cause of today’s global warming.
    2. How do we know the current warming trend isn’t caused by natural cycles? Many natural factors affect the Earth’s climate, including volcanic activity, El Nino and La Nina cycles, and small changes in our orbit around the Sun. Scientists have modeled the impact of these natural impacts on climate over the last 50 years, and have concluded that their combined effects have been largely neutral to slightly cooling. There is a more than 90% chance that most of the observed global warming trend over the past 50 to 60 years can be attributed to emissions from the burning of fossil fuels and other human activities.
    3. What other climate changes and impacts have been observed? Global warming is not uniform all over the globe, and its effects vary from place to place. Major observed impacts include:
                                                               i.      The strongest warming has occurred over land, and most significantly in the Arctic.
                                                             ii.      Heat waves and record high temperatures have increased across most regions of the world.
                                                            iii.      Arctic sea ice cover has decreased 10% per decade, and continues to set new lows.
                                                           iv.      Many of the world’s glaciers and ice sheets are melting.
                                                             v.      Sea levels are rising due to thermal expansion as oceans warm, and because of ice melt.
                                                           vi.      More CO2 in the atmosphere reacts with sea water to form acids. Ocean acidity has increased 30% since preindustrial times, and this is radically altering marine ecosystems.
                                                          vii.      With more water vapor in warmer air, storms are becoming more intense. The Northeast region of the U.S. has seen a 54% increase in intensity of storms over the last century.
                                                        viii.      Species have shifted their ranges pole-ward to adjust to warming climates, or have become endangered due to immobility.
                                                           ix.      Plant and animal behaviors, such as breeding, blooming and migration occur on average 5 days earlier per decade. This affects the timing and severity of insects, disease outbreaks and other disturbances.
  1. Warming,  Climate Changes, and Impacts in the 21st Century and Beyond
    1. How will temperatures be affected?  By the end of the century, the center of the United States is expected to experience 60 to 90 additional days per year in which the heat index is more than 100°F. The ratio of new record high temperatures to record low temperatures currently stands at 2 to 1. But that ratio is projected to increase to 20 to 1 by mid-century and 50 to 1 by the end of the century.
    2. How is precipitation expected to change? Globally, dry areas are expected to get even drier and wet areas even wetter. Some notable details:
                                                               i.      The subtropics, where most of the world’s deserts are concentrated, are likely to see 5-10% reductions in precipitation for each degree of global warming. Mexico and the American Southwest are likely to get much drier.
                                                             ii.      Polar and temperate regions are expected to see increased precipitation, especially during winter.
                                                            iii.      Extreme rainstorms are likely to intensify by 5-10% for each 1°C (1.8°F) of global warming, resulting in more intense flooding, even in regions that will be drier.
                                                           iv.      Wildfires will become more intense and widespread. For every degree of warming, the forest area burned is expected to increase by a factor of 2x to 4x.
    1. How will sea ice and snow be affected? In the Arctic, sea ice will decline 25% for each 1°C (1.8°F) in global warming this century. In the Antarctic, sea ice is expanding due to the stratospheric “ozone hole” which developed because of the use of ozone-depleting chemicals; this effect is expected to wane as ozone returns to normal levels by later this century. In many areas of the globe, snow cover is expected to diminish, with snowpack building later in the cold season and melting earlier in the spring. Each 1°C (1.8°F) of local warming may lead to an average 20% reduction in local snowpack in the western United States; reduced snowpack will restrict summer drinking water supply and hydropower production.
    2. How will coastlines be affected?  Sea-level rise is projected to continue for centuries in response to human- caused increases in greenhouse gases, with an estimated 20-39 inches of mean sea-level rise by 2100, and more beyond. However, there is evidence that sea level rise could be much greater, due to unexpectedly rapid melting from glaciers and ice sheets. If sea levels rise by 39 inches this century, many parts of the U.S. coastline will be impacted (see map below). In any event, global “hotspots,” including the Mississippi, Ganges and Mekong River deltas will be seriously affected.
    3. How will ecosystems be affected? Species are adapted to specific climatic conditions in their ecosystems. As the climate changes, many species will be forced to migrate. But this threatens many species with limited mobility. Special stress is being placed on cold-adapted species on mountain tops and at high latitudes, which cannot move higher or further pole-ward. Shifts in the timing of the seasons and life-cycle events such as blooming, breeding, and hatching are causing mismatches between species, disrupting patterns of feeding, pollination, and other key aspects of food webs.
Large losses to American cities from 39” sea rise (pink shading)
In the ocean, warmer surface waters are mixing less with cooler, deeper waters, separating near-surface marine life from the nutrients below and ultimately reducing the amount of phytoplankton, which forms the base of the ocean food web. Ocean acidification, brought on as the oceans take in more of the excess CO2 will threaten many species over time, especially mollusks and coral reefs.  Ocean acidification will continue to worsen if CO2 emissions continue unabated in the decades ahead.
    1. How will agriculture and food production be affected?  Warmer weather and increased CO2 do not necessarily mean a decline in food production. However, temperature increases above 1°C (1.8°F) will reduce yields in almost all of the world’s staple foods, a result of water stress and temperature peaks. Local results will also vary, with a projected 40% yield decrease in a broad cross section of California crops by 2050. Growers in prosperous areas may be able to adapt to some climate threats. However, adaptation may be less effective where local warming exceeds 2°C (3.6°F), and will be limited in many poorer countries and the tropics, where crop yields are restricted principally by moisture.
We are glad that for the last 150 years, so many of America’s brightest researchers have been willing to donate their expertise for the sake of our country and its leadership. President Lincoln had the foresight to see the value of such an enterprise. Let us pray that today’s leaders will show similar wisdom.
“Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14).
Thanks for reading, and may God bless you.
J. Elwood
Further Resources