Thank You, Mr. President

Tuesday, June 25, 2013. I won’t forget this day.

Because that’s the day we listened to President Obama deliver his climate action speech at Georgetown under DC’s fittingly murderous summer heat. I listened in near disbelief. The President of the United States – arguably the most gluttonous carbon-polluting nation in the world – was outlining a plan for positive global-scale change. Change, for the good of our children and their children. Change, for the good of all nations on Earth. Change, to “keep the planet habitable.”

We’ve been hoping for this day for years. We’ve prayed for our leaders to protect God’s injured creation. We’ve consoled the victims of climate chaos from the Mississippi delta to the degraded farmlands of Kenya. We’ve written countless letters to our political leaders, begging for action. We’ve made our plea repeatedly in Congressional offices. We’ve shrugged off hostility and indifference from many in churches of our faith. We’ve been hauled off to jail in Washington’s sweltering August heat.

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Obama at Georgetown University yesterday

In all this, we wondered if America would ever find the courage to face the truth about our disastrous misuse of our Father’s world and its most vulnerable children – whether human or four-footed, winged or aquatic. We have longed to proclaim the good news to every creature, as our Savior commanded us. But for the most part, we’ve only brought more and more bad news. More droughts; more floods; more violent storms; more acidic oceans; increased extinction of our fellow created species; more severe crop failures; rising food costs; more hunger.

But then, under Washington’s oppressive afternoon heat, the President said much – perhaps nearly all – of what we would hope from our leaders:

  • That our greenhouse gas emissions are imposing a crushing burden on the planet that sustains us and our children;
  • That we risk condemning our children to a planet that’s largely beyond fixing for millions of species and billions of humans;
  • That new and existing power plants will no longer be permitted for free to dump unlimited carbon pollution into the atmosphere that we all rely on;
  • That we will invest heavily – and compete for global leadership – in sustainable energy and efficient technologies;
  • That the Keystone XL pipeline will only be permitted if it doesn’t contribute to greenhouse gas pollution;
  • That the Federal Government will rapidly adopt renewable energy standards, with the goal of 20% renewable energy for its own facilities within seven years;
  • That we will provide robust leadership on a global scale, shouldering our responsibility together with other nations – including the developing world – to fight climate change; and
  • That we will put an end to tax subsidies for fossil fuel extraction.

What a day! What a plan!

And then it hits us like a ton of bricks: How’s the President ever going to get away with this? Sure, it was a great speech; but what about the many powerful snouts that are at risk of being pulled out of the feeding trough? What are we going to do in the face of billions of lobbying and advertising dollars being marshaled as we write this to block implementation of the plan?

Consider: If the Keystone XL pipeline is now in jeopardy, what measures will Exxon, Chevron, Canadian oil producers and the Koch brothers take to bring down the President’s allies who share his concern about carbon pollution from one of the world’s dirtiest fuels?

Consider: If electric utilities are required to limit their greenhouse gas pollution, what measures will these massive companies and their fuel suppliers take to retain their privilege of polluting for free?

Consider: If the EPA is going to finally enforce the Clean Air Act of 1990 with limits on carbon pollution, what will Congress do to starve the agency of funding and leadership?

Consider: If the U.S. is finally going to engage positively in the international arena, instead of obstructing every climate treaty, how will the “American-exceptionalist” politicians move to block ratification of any positive agreement?

And to be fair, let’s not forget: Some environmentalists also will likely hammer the President. His plan includes reliance upon natural gas as a transitional fuel – bringing into focus the controversial matter of “fracking” and it’s potential to contaminate American groundwater. Already, I hear anti-fracking activists voicing their opposition to elements of the plan (though I don’t claim to know whether it’s for better or worse).

So with all this rough sledding ahead, what can you do? You don’t have the money, or the power, or the political clout that this array of opponents can bring to bear on the struggle over God’s creation. How can a single person help to defend the plan to fight climate chaos?

I might start by echoing the President’s first appeal: Make your voice heard. There will be a tsunami of misinformation in the media, in your churches, and among your friends and associates. Until now, sincere earth-keepers in many settings have been intimidated from speaking out. But now, we’ve got to come clean. Many outspoken people are just repeating what they’ve heard on talk radio or cable news stations; most have never had to consider another viewpoint from someone they know. And once they do, the evidence quickly becomes overwhelming.

And there’s another way to speak up, and that’s by contacting your Congressional representative or the President. It’s so easy. And it’s effective.

Consider Barbara Elwood. Every night after the grandkids are tucked in bed, she sits down to write the President on something that has been widely regarded as a lost cause: resistance to the massive Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. For months she has prayed and written – a grandma pursuing a hopeless cause on behalf of her granddaughters.

Well, I don’t know what moved the President to signal concern about the pipeline yesterday. Maybe it was the stream of protesters who besieged the White House in the summer of 2011. Maybe it was the testimony of faith leaders who testified at public hearings all over the country. Maybe it was the crowd who locked arms for miles around the White House in the fall of that year. Maybe it was the 50,000 people who turned out in Washington this spring to urge him not to approve it. Maybe it was the smaller bands in the Midwest who handcuffed themselves to bulldozers clearing the path for the pipeline.

But maybe it was people like Barbara: just praying, and speaking out.

Think about it. It’s not that hard. When you pray “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” maybe this is part of what it looks like.

Thanks for reading, and may God bless you.

J. Elwood

3 thoughts on “Thank You, Mr. President

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