Monthly Archives: February 2014

Why I’m (Still) Fighting to Stop the Keystone XL Pipeline

Some things just aren’t worth killing the kids for.

Forgive me, I beg you. The language is crude, and perhaps you feel that I’m judging you. But the debate over energy policy is actually a matter of life and death. And the lives in question are those of our children. And that’s why I’m begging the White House not to approve the Keystone XL pipeline from the tar sand pits of northern Alberta to export terminals in Texas.

The facts are no longer seriously debated among scientists:

  • We must avoid warming the globe more than 2 degrees Celsius if we hope to preserve the Earth’s ecosystems to support the millions of living species God made and loves – including our own. Even if we succeed at that level, we will have consigned more species to extinction than at any time in millions of years.
  • To have any hope of staying below 2 degrees C extra global heat, we must limit total carbon burned by mankind to one trillion metric tons. The problem is, we’ve already burned more than half of that – 570 billion tons. We have a maximum of 430 billion tons left in our carbon allowance.
  • But the world’s reserves of recoverable fossil fuels – oil, gas and coal – contain more than 13,000 billion tons of CO2. Once again, that’s 13,000 billion tons for a world that can only afford to burn 430 billion. Do the math for yourself: More than 95% of recoverable oil, gas and coal simply must stay in the ground.
  • The carbon-heavy tar sands at the other end of the proposed KXL pipeline contain enough carbon to blow through the global budget, consigning future generations to horrors we have never known.
Flood of warnings: Greenland ice melt

Flood of warnings: Greenland ice melt

We face tough choices, but this one isn’t tough. Starting with the dirtiest fuels, we must begin to say “No” to our addiction. And the dirtiest fuels are coal and tar sands oil.

I’m already on record as having enlisted in the “War on Coal,” (I prefer to call it the “War for My Granddaughters”), so the next fight has to be over the second dirtiest fuel: the Alberta tar sands. How much carbon is stored beneath the ground up there? Well, if we burn all the tar sands oil, we will pump another 240 billion tons of CO2 into God’s good sky. More than half of the world’s remaining carbon allowance, from that one source alone. Forget about the Saudis, Venezuela, China’s coal or all the other sources of carbon fuels in the world. Alberta’s tar sands will take us halfway to the edge of the precipice.

No, no. That’s wrong. It will take our children halfway to the edge of the precipice.

Earth's fossil fuels: we've already burned the purple

Earth’s fossil fuels: we’ve already burned the purple. Most of what;s left must stay in the ground.

I’d love to have lots of cheap oil for my house and car. But not at that price. It’s just not worth killing the kids for.

Now, you’ll hear that stopping the pipeline won’t really stop the tar sands. Maybe the big oil companies will find other pipeline routes. Or maybe they’ll put all that toxic gunk onto rail cars. Why fight so hard, when you’re pretty sure to lose anyway?

But God made you for this time, and this place. This is the foxhole you’re holding. This is the flank you’re defending.  Let others defend the next assault, or let us stand against it when it comes. But don’t let anyone tell us that this battle is lost because of sure defeat in other battles yet to come.

If love for your Father’s beloved planet stirs in your heart too, you’ve only got a few days left to tell President Obama how you feel. Please take the simple step of asking him to protect what God owns and loves. Click here, and let him know.

Barbara Elwood spends two days every week looking after those granddaughters I keep talking about. But when she gets home at night, this grandmother has a little more work to do for them. Every night, she goes to the White House website, and pleads on behalf of her beloved little girls.

Won’t you take a moment and join her? Time is getting short.

“It is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.” Gandalf the White, The Return of the King

EPA Carbon Rules in Supreme Court’s Hands: Pray for Justice & Sense

“Confronting climate change should be an issue that unites rather than divides us. And that includes the Supreme Court. Here’s hoping the justices make the right call.” Christine Todd Whitman, former GOP Governor of New Jersey

As we all know, the Environmental Protection Agency has proposed rules to regulate the amount of greenhouse gas pollution that new electric power plants can emit. Not surprisingly, the coal and oil industries have pulled out all stops to make sure they don’t succeed. They’ve lobbied hard against the effort, but their efforts have been overwhelmed by a flood of normal citizens demanding climate action.

So they’ve looked to the courts to protect the status quo of cost-free polluting. So far, they haven’t had much success. They’ve sued – and lost – right up the judicial chain. Last stop was the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, where a panel of judges appointed by presidents of both parties found that the EPA’s plan to limit power-plant greenhouse gas emissions was “unambiguously correct” and “statutorily compelled.”

So now it’s inthe hands of the Supreme Court. You’d think that this would be a simple matter for them. But it’s not. That’s because the industry plaintiffs have focused on an arcane, technical argument that makes this a risky matter in the hands of Justice Roberts’ court. Granted, the Clean Air Act requires the EPA to regulate pollutants. And the Supreme Court has ruled that greenhouse gases like CO2 emissions are clearly pollutants. No one questions that.

But here’s the catch: Back when the Clean Air Act was written, Congress had to establish a threshold for action: Who’s big and bad enough to focus on, and who is so small that regulation would be impossible or intrusive? How to distinguish between major and minor emitters?

Back then, before we – as a country and world – understood the peril of carbon pollution, we thought of pollutants as things like mercury, sulfur and industrial chemicals like HFCs – all emitted in comparatively small amounts. So the threshold for being a major emitter was set at the low level of 100 to 250 tons of pollutants per year. That worked. We got the big guys, and the little ones came along on their own.

Electric plants like this Ohio coal-fired plant emit 38% of U.S. CO2

Electric plants like this Ohio coal-fired plant emit 38% of U.S. CO2.

But then came climate chaos and global-warming emissions. Carbon emissions became the world’s biggest environmental threat. But carbon is different. With the average American individual responsible for 17 tons of CO2 per year, any corner grocery store or elementary school would be a “major emitter” when it comes to climate-changing pollutants under the law as written. So the EPA did the sensible thing, focusing only on those emitting 100,000 tons or more of CO2.

“Foul play!” cried the industry. If you want to regulate us, then you have to show up at every 7-Eleven or Dunkin’ Donuts! It’s there in the law: 100 to 250 tons per year! Who are you to rewrite the rules to focus only on us?

It’s a time-tested strategy for polluters: Set the bar for regulation so low that no agency could ever hope to get started with any regulation whatsoever.

And to hear reports from yesterday’s Supreme Court arguments, it sounds like they’ve got some converts on the bench. The issue isn’t whether climate change is real and caused by manmade carbon emissions. It isn’t whether it’s harmful to human health. It isn’t whether the EPA is required to act. The Court crossed those bridges back in 2007. It’s whether the EPA has the discretion to develop action plans and regulatory thresholds based on unfolding science since the law was passed.

I suspect that the justices would do well to look to America’s faith communities for some guidance here. Christians, Jews and others have long wrestled with today’s application of scriptures written in antiquity. And we’re seldom troubled by rigid literalism.

Consider the prophet Isaiah, revered by Christians, Jews, Muslims and Baha’is. Almost three thousand years ago, he foresaw the reign of peace ushered in by God’s kingdom on earth:  “[God] shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people,” he wrote; “and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation….”

Sword into plowshares. We’ve all heard those verses, haven’t we? But let’s think for a minute: When was the last time we held a sword, let alone used one in anger? And what’s a plowshare, anyway? Is this even relevant today?

Of course, we People of the Book have long since gotten over this sort of problem. We’re prepared to think of God’s kingdom laying down its assault rifles and nuclear arms, in favor of farm equipment and medical supplies. The language of God-breathed scripture is always spoken within a cultural context, but its truth endures to all generations. We don’t rest our oxen on the Sabbath, but we rest our modern means of production. We honor the God who causes the Earth to rotate faithfully every 24 hours, even if our scriptures tell us that the setting sun “hurries back to where it rises.” We take up our crosses, even if crucifixion has mercifully been banned for many centuries.

Perhaps the Supreme Court has a little something to learn from us in this. The Clean Air Act was enacted in a historical context. It demanded that the EPA act limit harmful pollutants. And it permitted it to focus on major emitters, rather than every Tom, Dick and Harry.

Christine Todd Whitman, a Republican governor who ran the Bush Administration’s EPA gets it just about right in an editorial today:

“Climate change is the defining environmental challenge of our time, and there are huge consequences for inaction — whether measured in human lives or economic disruption…. Today, gridlock and partisanship make common-sense action all but impossible…. Far from ‘rewriting’ the statute or bending the law to fit its climate change agenda, the Obama administration simply interpreted the law in the same way as its predecessors — this time to cover greenhouse gas emissions.”

We pray that God gives the Supreme Court the wisdom to understand what’s at stake, and to rule with common sense and justice.

Evangelical Leader on EPA Carbon Standards: Do It

Religious leaders came out in force to the EPA early this month to speak from their scriptures and teachings on the call to protect God’s creation from climate injustice. Among them was evangelical leader Rev. Richard Cizik. Here is his testimony:

Rev. Richard Cizik EPA Testimony

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  I speak here today in my capacity as the President of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good; as an ordained Evangelical minister, having served as the Vice President for Governmental Affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals for ten years; and as a citizen activist from the Commonwealth of Virginia on behalf of all Americans who want action to address the devastating health and climate impacts of industrial carbon pollution.

Cizik outside EPA offices, with Sojourners' Liz Schmitt

Richard Cizik outside EPA offices, with Sojourners’ Liz Schmitt

More importantly, though, I speak as a father and parent of a teenage son.  John, now twenty years of age, is a 6’5″ healthy young man with a bright future ahead of him.  Eight years ago, however, he was diagnosed with serious asthma.  On one occasion, before we really understood what was happening, he woke up in the morning unable to breathe.   It’s the kind of frightening experience a parent never forgets.  Fortunately, we got him to a doctor’s office and an exam that would both diagnose his actual condition and prescribe the medicine and inhaler that he still needs to carry with him.

Incidentally, I was attacked later for wanting EPA action based on my son’s asthma alone.  At the time, it struck me as somewhat “sick,” as if no one else gets asthma.  As someone who served as a member of the Virginia Climate Commission, it’s relevant to state that the air quality in the Commonwealth is not the best, and carbon pollution aggravates air pollution, producing thousands of cases of asthma and other respiratory illnesses.

At that time, I was well aware intellectually of the dangers of industrial pollutants in the air, but unaware of their personal impacts on my own health.  When asked by the Environmental Working Group, I consented to be a participant in the “Human Toxome Project.”   In so doing, according to the Project’s Final Report, I had become “one of only a small number of people in the world to know a portion of [my] personal body burden of industrial chemicals, called the human toxome.”

The result is that I can testify to the many industrial chemicals, plasticizers, flame-retardants, Teflon chemicals, and heavy metals that are present in my body.  In fact, I have varying levels of 39 of the 84 industrial compounds, pollutants and other chemicals tested, including chemicals linked to reproductive health.  (My wife and I were infertile for many years.)

I was tested for total mercury and methyl mercury.  Total mercury is the sum of all forms of mercury, including methyl mercury.  My levels of mercury in the blood, 2.2ppb is ‘relatively high to national studies’ (87 percentile nationally, which means only 13% of the public has higher exposure).  Methyl mercury levels were 1.7ppb, lower than the federal safety standard of 5.8ppb set for pregnant or nursing women and young children to protect against damage to a developing brain, but high enough, according to the National Academy of Sciences, for mercury-driven risks for immune disorders and cardiovascular diseases.

Scientists are only beginning to study the health effects of chronic exposures to chemical mixtures. While studies strongly demonstrate the role chemicals play in a host of health problems, risks to an individual are largely unknown.  Genetics, timing, and dose all play a role.

One reality is very clear.  The EPA’s first-ever national industrial Carbon Pollution Standard for power plants is absolutely essential to reduce the impacts of climate change that worsen smog and trigger asthma attacks and other health consequences.  This standard will clean up the coal plant industry that creates the lion’s share of the nation’s carbon pollution and will also help prevent life-threatening air pollutants like dirty soot, toxic mercury, and the smog that triggers asthma attacks.

We all know that our nation’s air can be cleaned up.  No industry that pollutes it with toxic chemicals or carbon emissions should be permitted to profit at the expense of public health.

Let me be very direct.  More and more children, the elderly, and others with respiratory problems will experience increasing life-threatening illnesses, if those in Congress who only care about protecting the special interests who fill their campaign coffers stymie the EPA’s regulatory efforts.

I have been called by God to speak out on these issues and it seems abundantly clear to me that the Carbon Rule being proposed is both needed and a necessary tool to fulfill our social responsibility to carry out what is a biblical call to be stewards of creation.

Please, for the sake of families such as mine, and all others who are at risk, take this needed action.   Do it, and don’t be deterred. Thank you.

The Golden Rule and Limits on Carbon Pollution

Here at Beloved Planet, we present an evangelical Christian perspective on care for the creation. But Christians probably recognize that we’re not alone in hearing the call to creation stewardship. When I testified at the EPA two weeks ago in support of greenhouse gas pollution standards for new power plants, there were plenty of Christians; but there were also people of virtually every faith community — including the Bahá’í faith.

My friend Peter Adriance was there representing his community and his faith. And while we feature his Bahá’í testimony on this Christian site, his statement features Christian glaciologist Richard Alley, who argues for climate justice from the teaching of Jesus Christ: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” Matthew 7:12.

Here is Peter’s compelling testimony:

Peter Adriance, Bahá’ís of the United States

Good morning. I’m Peter Adriance, Representative for Sustainable Development for the Bahá’ís of the United States. I’m pleased to be among the several representatives of faith communities here speaking in support of EPA’s proposed carbon pollution standards for new power plants.

Peter Adriance testifying at the EPA

Peter Adriance testifying at the EPA

I appreciate EPA’s efforts to clean up our environment through these standards, which will reduce dangerous emissions. They will protect the health and well-being of all citizens and the web of life upon which we all depend.

Currently, power plants are responsible for about 40% of US national carbon emissions. The impacts of these emissions are increasingly being felt in communities here at home and around the globe. From extreme weather events to droughts, floods, wildfires, the spread of vector-borne diseases, increased levels of asthma and more, there is growing evidence that carbon emissions are causing chaos and loss of property and life, often in communities ill prepared to deal with the impacts.

Knowing the importance of reducing carbon emissions, then, why would we allow new power plants to be built without any restrictions on the carbon they emit? These standards can help to discourage the investment in infrastructure that will lock us into dangerous levels of emissions for decades to come. The new standards will serve as an incentive to develop clean energy sources, including renewables.

More than purely an environmental issue, the setting of carbon standards is an issue of fairness, equity and justice, as many speaking here today will testify. President Obama has stressed this same point himself. In his words: “We have a moral obligation to future generations to leave them a planet that is not polluted and damaged.” We in the faith community would, of course, agree. But it is not only future generations that will bear the impacts of climate change. They are being felt now, most intensely by those populations around the world who are least able to cope with them. We must act with great conviction and haste to move toward solutions.

The central principle of the Bahá’í Faith is the oneness of humankind. This principle has deep implications for policy in many arenas. It should guide us to seek solutions that are equitable and just, treating all people as members of one human family. EPA’s proposed carbon standards for new power plants represent one way that this principle can be put into action

I was fortunate last week to attend the 14th National Conference and Global Forum on Science, Policy and the Environment. The focus there was on “building climate solutions”. The good news is that solutions are within our reach, and many are being implemented. Several presenters acknowledged the social costs and ethical dimensions of the climate challenge. Renowned climate scientist, Dr. Richard Alley, was emphatic about this. He referred to “the Golden Rule issue” – We must do unto others as we would have them do unto us — but right now our emissions and their impact on others is taking us in the wrong direction. He said, if we take the right steps in limiting our emissions, we’ll bring about a stronger economy, more jobs, enhanced national security, and a cleaner environment. We will also be more consistent with the Golden Rule. If we continue with business as usual, the opposite will result. EPA’s proposed carbon standards for new power plants are an important addition to the mix of solutions we so desperately need.

People of faith across the country are putting their heads and hearts together to address the climate issue. Later this month, people of all faiths, including Baha’is, will take part in the national Preach-in on Climate Change organized by Interfaith Power and Light. In churches, mosques synagogues and Bahá’í Centers around the country, they will be discussing climate change from a faith perspective, taking action to reduce their own emissions, and sending messages to members of Congress asking them to do their part in moving us toward a low-carbon energy future. In order to make real progress, national policies need to be set to address major sources of emissions. Adopting EPA’s proposed carbon standards for new power plants is an important move in that direction.

My hope is that our generation will be able to leave the world directed towards a better future than the one towards which we are currently headed, a world in which all people will be able to lead safe, productive and healthy lives. I thank EPA for its efforts to point us in that direction.

EPA Carbon Limits Endorsed by 37 Christian Denominations

On February 6, leaders from numerous church and faith communities (including ours) added their voices to the call for the Environmental Protection Agency to implement rules protecting the creation from excessive greenhouse gas emissions from new electric power plants. Among them was Creation Justice Ministries, the creation-care voice of 37 Christian denominations. One notable contribution by CJM was their reasonable observation that creating huge quantities of CO2 from coal plants, and then injecting it into the ground (carbon capture & storage, or CCS) is not a riskless idea, and should not be regarded as a permanent solution without further study.

CJM was represented by Tricia Bruckbauer; here is her testimony:

Creation Justice Ministries

My name is Tricia Bruckbauer and I am here on behalf of Creation Justice Ministries. We represent 37 Christian denominations and their policies relating to creation care. We are a diverse group from mainline Protestants to Baptists, and Orthodox traditions to evangelicals. One of the few things that we all agree on is the need to care for God’s planet and seek justice for those being harmed by environmental carelessness.

triciaI sat in this seat a few months ago to comment on carbon regulations for existing power plants. I am here today to offer our faith community’s response to the rule on new power plants. We view climate change as the moral issue of our time, and feel we have an obligation to reverse the implications of our careless actions. As Christians, we are called to be stewards of the land that was gifted to us and ensure that we leave this planet better for the next generation.

While we have a responsibility to the planet and to honor and maintain the great gifts of clean water, air and land, we also are called to care for our neighbors. Climate change disproportionately impacts vulnerable populations such as communities of color, low-income communities, women, and children. We must ensure that we are doing all that we can to improve the health and quality of life of our neighbors that generally contribute the least to pollution and our changing climate, but suffer the most. Continue reading

Faith Communities Overwhelm EPA Carbon Hearings

Yesterday, the EPA held its final day of hearings in Washington on its proposed new rules restricting the amount of CO2 that may be emitted by new power plants — per megawatt-hour of electricity generated. Of course, the “clean coal” people were there, as were executives of various utilities, arguing against the standards. On the other side there were the Sierra Club, Greenpeace and other enviros.

But dwarfing them both, by my count, were faith leaders. Evangelicals, Protestants, Catholics, Unitarians, interfaith groups and many others showed up to support the EPA’s standards, and to advocate care for God’s creation. They spoke of the injustice of climate pollution, of the impact on marginalized and poor communities, of the mandate to protect all of God’s creation for His own sake, for other species, for the poor, and for our children. Repeatedly, we heard the themes: The earth is the Lord’s and all its fullness; the sea is his, he made it; God placed the Man in the garden to serve and keep it; the whole creation groans; love your neighbor as yourself….

Rep. Henry Waxman addressed crowd outside the EPA hearings

Rep. Henry Waxman addressed crowd outside the EPA hearings

In the next few days, I’ll post the comments of a number of leaders from various faith communities. Today, I’ll start with mine.

Testimony of John Elwood

My name is John Elwood. I am speaking to you today as an elder and Sunday school teacher in the Presbyterian Church; as editor of the website; and as a participant in the Environmental Stewardship initiative of the Christian Reformed Church. My farm, in Andover, New Jersey, provides produce for more than 700 families.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to testify in support of the EPA’s standards on carbon emissions from new power plants.

An important question for Christians, and for all people of goodwill, is this: How much carbon pollution should power plants be permitted to dump into the atmosphere – for others to pay for in health, and in climate disruption costs?

From the Evangelical and Reformed Christian perspective, it’s clearly wrong for a buyer and a seller to enjoy all the benefits of a transaction, and then leave a substantial part of the cost for someone else to pick up – the external costs.

The scriptures of the Old and New Testaments don’t speak of “external costs” by that name. But God pronounces judgment on dishonest scales, skimping on the measure, and mixing in the sweepings with the wheat. “The Lord has sworn by himself,” says the prophet Amos: “‘I will never forget anything they have done…. I will spare them no longer.’”

Until recently, we didn’t really know the scale of the external costs of coal burning. But as you know, in 2010, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences quantified these costs in their study titled The Hidden Cost of Energy. Its findings were shocking. Coal burned in a single year by U.S. power plants costs everyone else on the planet another $200 to 300 billion in unpriced external costs.  That’s a tax of about $40 levied on every single human on Earth. Only for U.S. coal. Only for one single year. Borne by men and women, by adults and children, by both the rich and by those earning less than $1 per day.

During these hearings, you’ve heard testimony from people engaged in the coal industry, and you’ve been asked to consider the toll they will bear if new power plants are made to limit their carbon pollution. Christians of all traditions take their plight seriously, and our society must find ways to help affected communities recover. But I would like to ask you to consider the plight of totally innocent communities – both in our country and around the world – which have never had an ounce of benefit from the burning of coal.

Last year, the Christian Reformed Church sent me, and a delegation of other leaders, to Kenya to hear firsthand from people who have borne the brunt of the external costs of carbon pollution. We met with hundreds of small farmers and community leaders. Everywhere, the story was the same. Two reliable growing seasons in years past have shrunk to a single season. And even that single season is now unreliable. Crop yields have plummeted. Water is more scarce than ever.

We also visited with Reverend Peter Karanja, the General Secretary of the Kenyan Council of Churches. Please, listen to what this good man told us:

“We are very concerned,” he said, “especially about America. They are the most obstinate country when it comes to climate change. You have a responsibility to reduce your greenhouse gases which are harming the rest of the world.

“Long after your life is over,” he told us, “your actions will have consequences on us. Many of them will be harmful consequences.”

On behalf of all people who bear the cost of carbon pollution from American power plants – our citizens, our children, the people of Kenya plus many more – I urge the EPA to finally implement standards aimed at reducing carbon emissions by new power plants.

Thank you, and may God bless you for your efforts.

The World is Getting Hot. So Why am I Freezing?

The results are in, and 2013 ranks as the fourth hottest year for global heat since record-keeping began in 1880. That’s 37 straight years with above-average global temperatures. The last below-normal year was 1976, when I was still in college. All 13 years of the new century have ranked among the hottest 15 ever on record. And nine of the hottest ten on record have all occurred since the millennium.

Wow. I guess it’s really hot, right?

assets-climatecentral-org-images-uploads-news-1_21_14_andrew_10warmestyears-660x372Um, well, let me check. Yup, just like I thought. It’s cold out there, and it’s snowing! With these freak winter storms, the U.S. has registered the second coldest January since 2000, although well short of 2011’s January freeze. And everyone’s talking about that strange new term – the “polar vortex.” It seems something has kicked open the door to the Arctic, and the cold is pouring in everywhere.

Actually, not quite everywhere. While the Central and Eastern U.S. shiver and dig, it’s eerily warm in Alaska and the West. Last Sunday, it was warmer in Homer, Alaska – 55°F – than anywhere in the lower 48, except for South Florida. And last Tuesday, Nome, Alaska, that remotest of Arctic outposts, hit a record 51°F. That’s FIFTY-ONE DEGREES in January! No need for Balto under these circumstances. You could rescue Nome by bicycle.

And it’s not just Alaska. Los Angeles registered average highs of 75°F for the month of January, a full seven degrees above normal. And coupled with the heat, California is in its third straight year of crippling drought, with the state’s reservoirs 30 percent below the long-term average, and widely-publicized forecasts for spikes in prices at the grocery store.

But let’s not quibble. The Central and Eastern U.S. are feeling pretty darn cold just now. After an amazingly warm decade in these parts, what’s up? Are all those scientists still sure about the perils of global warming?

No Question, It’s Been Getting Much Hotter

Both NASA and NOAA – the nation’s twin atmospheric research powerhouses – have compiled the data for 2013, and it was another global scorcher. Using slightly different methods, they ranked 2013 the fourth hottest (NOAA) or the seventh (NASA) – but the difference between the two was a mere 0.02o Fahrenheit. Continue reading