Monthly Archives: November 2015

Why I’m Going to Paris

Many of you know that I am joining with Christians from many churches, missions and relief agencies in an effort organized by the global evangelical Lausanne Movement in Paris next week.

We’ll be bringing prayerful gospel support and witness to the nearly 200 nations gathered there to forge a plan of action to address the climate crisis. 179 of them have already submitted plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The US – one of the biggest polluters – has pledged to cut emissions 26% from 2005 levels by 2025. Japan and Europe have also promised strong action. And the developing world, led by China and India, is also on board, with plans to cap emissions by specific dates, as they pull their people out of poverty.

These may be the biggest plans the world has ever made together to confront any problem. But they’re still not nearly enough. Without enacting these pledges, the world will likely be 8.1 degrees Fahrenheit hotter by 2100. That’s enough to make a city like New York as hot as Orlando, or Boston as hot as Charlotte.

But even with these plans, the world will be 6.3% hotter by the end of the century, turning Atlanta into Vegas, or Dallas into Phoenix. No one wants to think about what Phoenix or Miami would be like (although Miami is a special case, since it would then be part of the Atlantic Ocean). And no one wants to think about the species and human populations who inhabit all these places, suffering the impact of dramatic changes at unprecedented speed.

Picture2The global goal has been to keep global temperature increases to 3.6 degrees F. So we still have a long way to go. We will have to ratchet up commitments over time, hold our leaders accountable, invest in new energy technologies, and reexamine our lifestyles for the sake of the creation, for millions of species, and for our children. And we will have to fend off efforts here in America to gut even these modest plans, funded by energy companies whose business model presumes an unending oil and coal binge.

This isn’t a problem for technocrats alone. This calls for transformation of people; for what Pope Francis calls “an ecological conversion.” It calls for us to listen to the National Association of Evangelicals, which has called us to renounce destructive consumption habits, and to persuade our governments to address climate pollution.

So I’m going to Paris to listen, to pray, to resist and support. I’m going to communicate in a small way that God’s church cares about His creation with its beautiful but threatened web of interconnected life. I’m going to affirm that the Earth is the Lord’s, and that in Christ He is reconciling all things that are broken and tainted. I’m going to stand with the poorest countries bearing the brunt of environmental disruption.

I’ll be posting on Facebook and Twitter regularly regularly over the next couple of weeks, and on ClimateCaretakers.org. If you want to hear my updates, just respond to this post, or shoot me an email, or “like” Beloved Planet’s Facebook page, and I’ll make sure you’re in the loop. And I would be so glad if you would pray for me and my companions. If you aren’t so sure about prayer, I’d be glad for your kind thoughts, or a word of encouragement.

A Lament for France, in Perspective

Today, two weeks before leaving for the COP-21 meetings in Paris, I am deeply troubled for the people of France. No, I’m not just troubled: I’m furious. I’m angry for those who are mourning the loss of 129 innocent victims, with many more barely clinging to life in French hospitals. I stand with our grieving friends on both sides of the Atlantic. And yet, let me try to set my fury aside for a moment, to offer what I hope may be a useful perspective – to some, at least.

First, on the day of this heinous massacre, there were many other things threatening God’s children around the world. 7,600 other people died prematurely of AIDS on Friday; more than 18,000 died of pulmonary disease and respiratory infections on that day; 3,500 of malaria and 3,266 from vehicle accidents. In fact, 164,000 people died that day prematurely from illness, accidents or violence around the world. The Paris murders are a horror; but there are many, many things to lament, and to fight against by giving and working.

Solidarity: San Francisco City Hall awash with the lights of the tricolor

Solidarity: San Francisco City Hall awash with the lights of the tricolor

Second, I hope we’ll look with caution on those who offer easy fixes for France’s sorrow, and especially those who extol the vision of a gun in every French pocket. On the day France lost 129 souls, the US, with its enormous arsenal of privately-owned guns, suffered 25 gun homicides. The next day, France went back to its normal pace of one death every ten days. But the US suffered another 25 killings; and then another 25 … ad nauseum (the 5th highest killing rate in the world). Please, let’s not turn France’s sorrow into an ad for an even more gun-totin’ world.

Third, it’s almost certain that the leading cause of premature deaths last Friday (and all other days) was air pollution. Among the top ten global killers, five are linked to air pollution. The World Health Organization estimates that air pollution claims 7 million lives every year, or more than 19,000 souls every day, including last Friday. Invisible killers may be harder to hate, but the data suggest that air pollution kills 150 times more people every single day than ISIS did last Friday.

Finally, at moments like these, it’s important to consider the longer term consequences of impulsive and bellicose responses. We want to exact revenge or justice, and we want it to be swift. And surely, severe justice is due to those who have wrought this horror. But many of us have lived through the Tonkin Gulf Resolution (certainly bogus) which spawned the horror of the Vietnam War; and the WMD Scare (also bogus) that almost certainly gave us today’s chaos in Iraq and Syria. These are complex issues. but perhaps they tell us that you’re not weak just because you want to think twice before bombing somebody (and, inevitably, his innocent neighbors). Maybe you’re just wise.

May God look with mercy on his beloved France. And may He give us the wisdom to seek mercy in the face of every threat, whether hunger, disease or hatred and violence.

Evangelical Conversion on Climate Change

When it comes to climate change, the Evangelical community has long been an outlier among American social groups. That all changed dramatically this year. In the short span of six months, evangelicals have swung from a minority of 49% accepting that global warming is happening, to fully 65% acceptance. They are now slightly more likely than mainstream Protestants to believe in climate science, and almost as likely as the average American, 70% of whom affirm that global warming is happening.

The poll conducted by the University of Michigan and Muhlenberg College has been compiled every six months since 2008. While evangelicals initially held beliefs very similar to those of Catholics, Protestants and other Americans, the gap widened in 2012, with evangelicals falling 10-15% below other religious groups.

But as of November 2015, evangelicals now fall squarely in the mainstream of climate science. Of greater importance, evangelicals affirm a moral obligation in connection with climate change. 68% of evangelicals now say that the US has a moral obligation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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The Michigan/Muhlenberg polling organization summarized its finding as follows:

  1. Acceptance of global warming is up among all Americans, regardless of creed. The most notable gains in the last six months, however, have been among Evangelical Christians, whose belief rose 16 points from 49% in Spring 2015 to 65% this Fall, considerably narrowing the gap between Americans of different faiths.
  2. Pope Francis and his call to action on the issue of climate change may have contributed to this rise in acceptance, with 15% of Americans saying they are now more convinced global warming is happening and that we should act to address this matter as a result of the Papal Encyclical.
  3. Americans are more likely to tie their attitudes about climate change to moral convictions, rather than religious beliefs. While less than a quarter (23%) of Americans say their religious beliefs affect their views on how government should deal with the issue of global warming, 75% agree that rich countries like the US have a moral obligation to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
  4. Fewer than half (49%) of Americans think religious leaders should discuss environmental issues within the context of their faith, but most (60%) support Pope Francis’ call to action to address global warming.

Keystone XL Pipeline Decision: Did it Matter?

Near the back of our farm, our level produce fields begin to slope upward into a rocky wooded bluff, before dropping off sharply into the headwaters of the beautiful Pequest River. The bluff is a small wood, with walnuts, sycamores, cedars and maples fending off invasive imports like olive and barberry. Our kids dubbed it Little Round Top, after the Gettysburg bluff famously defended by Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and the 20th Maine Regiment on the second day of the epic Civil War battle.

In truth, our little bluff looks a lot like its namesake — unimpressive, rocky, wooded, and of no particular use to us or most others. But on that sweltering July afternoon some 150 years ago, Little Round Top was the most precious piece of real estate in the country. And that’s because on that hill, the 20th Maine stood at the very end of the Union Army’s left flank. Confederate brigades from Alabama and Texas had made a desperate dash to turn Chamberlain’s flank and roll the Union lines up from behind. And the little band from Maine was the only defense for the exposed regiments from Pennsylvania, New York and Michigan, all the way to General Meade’s center on Cemetery Hill. If he should fall, there would then be nothing between Lee and a defenseless Lincoln in the capitol.

Little Round Top wall hastily built by the 20th Maine regiment

Little Round Top wall hastily built by the 20th Maine regiment

Very literally, the survival of the great American venture rested with the Maine volunteers on that useless little piece of ground – Little Round Top. You know the rest of the story, of course. Exhausted and out of ammunition, the Maine volunteers fixed bayonets and charged, modern weaponry now no more lethal than medieval spears. But upon those spears rested the dream of a United States of America, and they did not fail.

I thought about that little Gettysburg bluff a lot yesterday – the day the US finally rejected a Canadian company’s application to build the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline through the American heartland. For those of us accustomed to losing bout after bout to the big polluters, this day was a rare and precious gift.

The traffic on social media was euphoric: Hallelujah! Praise God! Give thanks! Well done! The back-slapping went on all day long. We exulted that – for once – our country had decided that some fossil fuels simply must be left in the ground.

And yet, from other quarters, we heard a different voice: What’s the big deal? In a world that burns 100 million barrels of oil every day, the KXL pipeline would have carried “only” 800,000 barrels – about one percent of the world’s total. With trains available to carry at least some of the tar sands crude, this one pipeline was hardly worth all the struggle, right?

Like, perhaps, that little hill – Little Round Top. A nearly worthless little piece of Pennsylvania farmland.

Virtually every great struggle has its pivot point. Before El Alamein, Hitler never lost a battle. Afterward, he never won. The same for Hirohito at Midway. And for Lee at Little Round Top.

El Alamein? Midway? Little Round Top? All pretty much worthless ground. But their defense marked the hinge of fate in some of the greatest struggles of modern history.

For me, Keystone may join them in the pantheon of epic milestones, even while its importance is dismissed by pundits at both ends of the political spectrum. From the very outset of this struggle seven years ago, we heard the dismissive narrative. Even the State Department said it: The oil will get out, one way or another. Fighting the pipeline is like fighting laws of physics (or at least of economics). Resistance is essentially futile. And on the odd chance that we might win, we have only stopped a teensy bit of world supply, even if it’s really dirty supply.

Relax. Go home. Do something useful.

Well, we didn’t go home. Evangelical Christians committed to pray daily for Kerry and Obama to reject the pipeline. We joined with native peoples and Nebraska ranchers to protest the Canadian scheme. We walked through the tar sands pits with First Nations in poisoned Alberta communities to testify to the cultural genocide inflicted by the mining. We circled the White House, arm in arm, to let Obama know how strongly we felt. We joined 1,200 others inside Washington’s Anacostia prison in our effort to be heard. We told our stories in thousands of letters to the White House. We joined 400,000 others crowding the streets of Manhattan to voice our lament for God’s creation.

And we kept on praying.

We’ve been losing for a long, long time. Greenhouse gas concentrations are now the highest they’ve been in almost a million years – permanently above 400 parts per million. Drought and flooding have become depressingly commonplace, and 60 million humans have been forcibly displaced in resource conflicts worldwide. Species continue to disappear forever; the oceans have become 30 percent more acidic than ever in human history. And the US Congress is still controlled by those who steadfastly refuse to acknowledge the findings of climate science.

But, for once, we have stood our ground, and prevailed. Keystone XL is dead for now. And just watch. I think we may be seeing a new day dawning. This may be our El Alamein. This may be our Midway.

And for me? I’m headed out to take a walk up our own Little Round Top, sit on a rock, and take a moment to give thanks.