Author Archives: John Elwood

Your Risk of Death from Terrorism

“Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men, doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne….”

Oh, yes. Those mortal men. For us, the death rate is still 100 percent. We all die, don’t we?

Here in the US, more than 2.6 million of us do it every year, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. About half of us (45.9 percent) die of heart disease or cancer. That’s 1.2 million people every year. After those two, the causes vary pretty widely. Respiratory diseases, accidents and strokes each claim about 5 percent of our deaths every year. Then comes Alzheimer’s, and diabetes and pneumonia.

Down at 1.8 percent, we come to suicides. More than 48,000 of us kill ourselves every year.

You have to go way down the list to find the number killed by someone else. A little over 15,000 of us are killed by others – about 11,000 of those by guns.

So, there you have it: Lots of deaths from heart disease and cancer, and a tiny fraction from other people trying to kill us.

Oh, one more thing: Did you ever wonder how many of us are killed by TERRORISTS? After all, our president is telling us that terrorism is cause to worry “bigly.” So how many Americans do terrorists kill per year? Well, in 2014, the number was 17, according to the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism. In 2013, 5. In the ten years prior to that, a total of 31, or three per year.

Almost no terrorist deaths in the United States.    Source: Global Terrorism Index

So let’s see: 2.6 million of us die every year. Half come from a couple of diseases. About 15,000 of us are killed by others. And of those 15,000, maybe a dozen or so are killed by terrorists.

Oh, one really final last thing: Of those dozen-odd terrorist murders per year, the vast majority are committed by far-right extremists (“FRE”) – white nationalists, neo-Nazis and the like. During the decade from 2005 to 2014 FRE’s killed three times more Americas than Islamic terrorists.

So one more time: 2.6 million deaths per year; about 12 by terrorist murders, and something like three of those by Islamic terrorists.

So why do you think the president is going to such lengths to “protect us” from Islamic terror? Wouldn’t you think a smart leader like he is would try to do something about, you know,  heart disease? Or could he have another motive entirely?

#ReichstagFire

Standing Rock Sioux: Endurance, Resistance, Prayer

The Standing Rock Lakota Sioux are still standing tall, despite a new president standing with the oil companies against them. Are we with them, or with the powers once again threatening their shrunken homelands?

To take action, join Call Congress Today, a community devoted to speaking truth to power on a daily basis. Or Climate Caretakers, a community dedicated to learning, praying and acting on climate justice. Or give directly to Standing Rock using links in the video.

Thank you, and God bless you.

Was That Jesus I Saw on Independence Avenue?

The alarm went off at three. It seemed like I had hardly gotten to sleep. But Washington is a pretty fair hike from New Jersey, and Barbara and I – together with two dear friends – needed to be on the National Mall by ten. The Women’s March on Washington was waiting for us.

We could tell something special was brewing even before we crossed into Delaware. Every rest stop in New Jersey was packed with buses. Inside, women sporting pink knit hats were everywhere. Long lines of women snaked slowly into the women’s bathrooms – and the men’s as well. I learned, to my sorrow, that there would not be any real men’s rooms between New York and Washington.

By sunrise, we reached the northernmost station of the DC Metro rail system – usually a quiet spot with plenty of parking. We managed to find one of the remaining spaces for the car, and then squeezed into the station to find a sea of humanity slowly inching toward the dozen-odd ticket machines. Packed trains, packed sidewalks, packed avenues.  Crowds everywhere. Smiles everywhere. The air bristling with excitement.

Independence Avenue and the Mall were jammed from the Capitol to the Smithsonian

The members of our little band were Christians. Christian creation-care advocates for that matter. Coming out of our environmental silo to stand in solidarity with women who had endured a level of misogyny not seen in my lifetime.

We thought that we would be treated to a day full of “women’s issues.” So imagine our surprise as speakers and musicians raised their voices for vilified Muslims, immigrant families fearing being torn apart, the mothers of unarmed young black men gunned down by police. They spoke for climate change action. They spoke for sick people faced with losing their health care.

And, yes, they spoke for gender equity, equal pay, family leave, and access to women’s reproductive services. In my experience, when we come alongside the marginalized, we don’t get to pick and choose from an ideological menu. We had to be prepared to offer solidarity to those raising their voices against the darkness that threatens to engulf their lives – without adding all of our qualifications.

So where was Jesus Christ in all this? As a Christian, I wondered, as I prayed my way up Independence Avenue, where I would see his loving hand at work. We knew of nuns and friars who would be there. We heard some from the podium, in fact. But as we marched toward the Capitol, I looked around me for people of faith. Did God send more than than a few of us into this unnumbered throng?

Suddenly, up ahead I spied a cluster of banners with bible verses on them. Christians! Yes! And they even had their own loudspeaker system! But as we drew nearer, I caught my breath. Something was horribly wrong.

“Murderers!” “Shame on you!” “Murderers!” the loudspeaker thundered. The hateful speech was matched by their banners, now in full view. “Black Lives Matter Are Thugs.” “AIDS: Cure or Judgment?” “Got AIDS?” We hurried on past. We didn’t know what to say. We were ashamed.

The loudspeaker of hate kept going for hours. We could hear it blocks away, despite a crowd around us estimated at more than a half million souls. Around this pocket of condemnation, six or seven concentric circles of women had formed, chanting their own responses: “Love Trumps Hate!” “Black Lives Matter!” “God is Love!” It seems they spent their entire day in an uneven struggle to match amplified vituperation from the handful of religious prosecutors.

Daughter of Latino immigrants addresses the march

I’m afraid that this was what hundreds of thousands got to see of the Prince of Peace that day. This was their image of the Friend of Sinners – sinners like us. Screaming epithets at women marching for their vision of a better world.

No doubt, there were thousands of faithful Christians among our fellow marchers, acting in faith without religious display. But what might the non-Christian world have gleaned about Jesus at the march? Or at least, what did they learn about the kind of people they would have to become, should they ever decide to follow him?

I think that they would be surprised, if they ever read the biblical accounts of the real Jesus. The real Jesus defined his mission in the first sermon he ever preached. “The Spirit of the LORD is upon me,” he began, “to preach good news to the poor.” The poor would be Jesus’ people. But he added more: freedom for prisoners; sight for the blind; and release for the oppressed. The poor, the prisoner, the blind, the oppressed. Care for them would be the marks of his mission. (Luke 4:14-21)

After an election campaign that gave center stage to the darkest impulses of the American soul, I had hoped our presence would accomplish something redemptive. The women marching around me had endured a season stained by racism, xenophobia, sexual assault, lust and lechery, demonization of the press, military jingoism, torture, hatred of sojourners and a parallel universe of imaginary facts.

And we had hoped in some small way to offer the tiniest dose of healing to a world of people who can no longer recognize Jesus – Jesus of the losers, Jesus of the refugees, of the hungry, the sick and the abused.

Did we hope for too much? Maybe we did. But I cannot stop hoping.

Trump’s Cabinet and Invincible “Doubt”

I’ve been doing this for a long time now. Ten years ago, it was clear enough that human pollution was jeopardizing a livable future for my children. Clear enough to lead me to commit before God that I would dedicate what remained of my life to prevent or mitigate tragedy.

There was no honest debate about the facts at the time. The earth was warming. From a scientific perspective, the pace of warming was terrifying. The graph was, in fact, a “hockey stick.” Worse yet, we were pouring more and more of the gases that cause the heating into the atmosphere. For centuries, the atmospheric chemistry had been well understood. More of these gases would cause more warming. And with thicker and thicker blankets of earth-warming gases every year, we weren’t just committing the earth to a continuation of last year’s warming, melting and disruption, we were accelerating the pace.

CO2 concentrations off the charts.      Source: NASA

Then my grandchildren began to come along, adding new urgency to my task. We began to see new record after new record: a hotter world, year after year; faster polar ice melting; accelerated rise in sea levels; more and more extreme weather events; massive die-offs of marine ecosystems; mass human migration from regions beset by epic droughts; a spike in billion-dollar storm events.

It became clearer than ever that I’d chosen the right fight.

But always, always, there were opponents. And they weren’t a few scattered voices. They were everywhere. Certainly, dominating the Republican narrative. But also, the evangelical movement. You’re an alarmist. You’re a tax-happy liberal. This is a big hoax. How else can scientists get rich? Relax, God is in control.

Pruitt, Tillerson and Perry.         Source: Common Dreams

When I started, the claim was that global warming simply wasn’t happening. It was “the world’s biggest hoax.” Scientists were “cooking the books.” When outright rejection of temperature records became completely untenable, then those same records were selectively cited to argue for the “warming pause.”  Yes, it once was warming, but that’s over now.

Of course, that’s now impossible to argue, given three straight years of off-the-charts global heat and polar melting. So the “doubters” changed their tactic. Sure, it’s warming, they said. But no one knows why. Things go up; things go down. Change is inevitable. No one knows why for sure.

But sooner or later, the scientific community would be heard. The U.S. National Academy of Sciences, NASA and NOAA all made it clear, as did every major scientific society in the world: greenhouse gases from fossil fuels are the main contributors to climatic disruptions we’re seeing all over the globe.

For a time, the “doubters” muddled by, insisting that they were not scientists, and couldn’t be expected to answer basic questions on the topic. But this only lasted for a couple of years, till it began to dawn on people that they were also not oncologists, but still got treated for cancer when diagnosed.

And that brings us to today’s new talking points being rolled out by the Trump transition team. Scott Pruitt for EPA, Rick Perry for Energy, Rex Tillerson for State: they’re all reading from the same script:

Sure, climate change is real. Sure, greenhouse gases are a big part of the problem. BUT, we don’t know how much, or what the future will hold. We don’t know for sure the best way to fix the problem. So, we need to keep debating this.

Let’s keep talking, because no one is positively certain what the future will hold.

What’s the common thread in all these arguments over the years? For an economy addicted to fossil fuels, we’ve got wonderful news: We don’t need to do anything. We can stop the global efforts at climate action, while we talk. We can stop the transition to a clean electric grid, while we talk. We can stop helping flooding and drought-stricken countries, while we talk.

And we can talk for a long, long time.

Please, dear friends: Don’t let them talk while our Father’s world – and our children’s only home – flirts with tipping points to runaway heating. What to do? Start by joining Climate Caretakers, and begin to learn, pray and act to protect the creation.

Exxon’s Chairman to Lead Us to a Clean-Energy Future?

Really?

We didn’t think so either. So we’ve written every member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

Dear Senator:

God’s world is in danger from our addiction to fossil fuels. And so I thank you in advance for your leadership in solving the climate crisis we are causing. I ask that you please subject Rex Tillerson, the Chairman of oil giant ExxonMobil, to the most rigorous questioning on his plans to address climate change, and his plans for leadership in strengthening the Paris Accord and raising our levels of ambition in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Please find from him what he believes about the impact of burning all remaining proved reserves of energy companies; what percentage of reserves can be burned while keeping the climate below 2 degrees of warming; what would be the impact on ExxonMobil if only that percentage of its reserves could be produced.

(Spoiler alert: Only about 20 percent of proved reserves can be produced without tipping the world into runaway overheating. Exxon has $800 billion of proved reserves in the ground today. If they had to leave all but 20% of those reserves in the ground, that would be a write-off of $460 billion, or around three times their total net worth, and 20 years’ worth of income.)

In light of this, would you please find out why Mr. Tillerson has continued spending $23 million per year at Exxon to find yet more un-producible oil and gas?

In the end, it seems impossible to me that the world’s leading oil man could lead the transition to a survivable climate, but I would encourage you to lead the charge in finding this out.

Sincerely, …

 

If you want to write or call, here are the members of the committee, with links to their contact information. Check that: Please, write or call! Feel free to cut and paste this letter!

Republicans:

Democrats:

Oppose Trump’s Appointment of Scott Pruitt to Head the EPA

We have just signed a letter making its way around internet sites stating our opposition to the nomination of Scott Pruitt to become the new Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. This is possibly the worst nomination of any seen in a lifetime. The letter itself explains why:

ADD YOUR SIGNATURE

Dear U.S. Senators,

We … urge your strong, unqualified, and robust opposition to Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s appointment to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Pruitt has a record of advocating against any and all protections for our water, air and climate. Allowing him to lead the EPA would not only be a disaster for the environment, but for every person in the United States who drinks water or breathes air.

We could write a book detailing Pruitt’s anti-environmental views – he has bragged about repeatedly suing the agency he is now being asked to run – but here are a few highlights:

  • As Attorney General of Oklahoma, Pruitt campaigned in support of a ballot measure that would have made it virtually impossible for the state to regulate pollution caused by factory farms – pollution which poisons surrounding communities’ air and drinking water. Fortunately, Oklahoma voters have the good sense to reject this measure.
  • Pruitt is a climate denier who has said that the link between human activity and climate change is “far from settled.” He is part of an effort to shield Exxon and other energy companies from accountability over years of misleading the public about the science around climate change.
  • Pruitt opposes the ability of the EPA to regulate carbon as a pollutant, something that is essential to combatting climate change.
  • Pruitt has opposed the EPA’s Waters of the U.S. rule, which strengthened regulations aimed at protecting water from runoff pollution.
  • Pruitt even opposes protecting the environment around our national parks. In 2014, Pruitt unsuccessfully sued the EPA over its Regional Haze Rule, a law designed to foster cleaner air at national parks by reducing coal-fired power plant emissions.
  • As earthquakes caused by fracking and waste disposal have ravaged Oklahoma, Pruitt has done nothing to protect the people of his state or hold the fossil fuel industry accountable.
  • None of this should come as a surprise, given that Pruitt has accepted over $300,000 in campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry.

As the above record indicates, Pruitt as EPA Administrator would be a disaster for the environment. But it’s worth noting that environmental harm also means human harm. When water is polluted by factory farms, it means that people living downstream get poisoned. When air is polluted by power plants and refineries, it means people living nearby get poisoned. When water systems are allowed to deteriorate and there is insufficient federal response – like in Flint, Michigan – it means people get poisoned. When fossil fuel companies are allowed to drill and dispose of waste with impunity causing earthquakes, it means people’s homes are damaged and working people have to pay more for insurance. And when climate change is denied and allowed to accelerate, it means more superstorms, which means significant property damage and possible loss of life for people living in coastal areas.

The environment should not be a partisan issue, and someone with Scott Pruitt’s record should not be allowed anywhere near the EPA, let alone put in a position to lead it. We urge you to not only vote against Pruitt’s nomination, but actively use all the power of your office and position to block it. We urge you to lobby your colleagues on both sides of the aisle to oppose his nomination, to speak out in the media highlighting his egregious environmental track record, and use all procedural means at your disposal to block Scott Pruitt from becoming EPA Administrator.

ADD YOUR SIGNATURE

Thank you for signing! But there’s one more thing: Here’s a list of the Senators whose committee will be considering Pruitt’s nomination to the EPA. Please call just two of them. If any are from your state, by all means, call them. But regardless, please make two calls. You’re entitled to make your voice known to committee members. You’ll be leaving a message with a staffer, or on a recording machine. If you’re not certain what to say, try this:

Senator [Name], Thank you for your service on the committee to consider the nomination of Scott Pruitt as EPA Administrator. I urge you to vote AGAINST confirmation. Pruitt in the EPA would be the fox in the henhouse. Our communities and our children deserve clean air, land and water. [My own community … provide any personal context.] Pruitt’s history makes clear that he would do great harm to all efforts to achieve a sustainable, clean, safe environment. Please, I urge you, vote against his confirmation, and take all steps within your power to see to it that he is not confirmed. Thank you.

Here are links to every member of the committee that must rule on Scott Pruitt’s nomination before it goes to the full Senate for a vote. Call two today! And thank you!

Majority

Minority

Climate Orphans: What You Did For Fokandraza, You Did For Me

“As Donald Trump Denies Climate Change, These Kids Die of It.”

That’s the title of an article written last week by Nicholas Kristof, op-ed columnist for the New York Times. For the article and related video, Kristof travels to Madagascar, the enormous island off the coast of eastern Africa, pictured as a lush paradise in the popular animated children’s movie series. Now, southern Madagascar is little more than a desert wasteland. Major rivers are reduced to muddy puddles. Forests and farm fields are now dust spotted with cactus, where starving children nibble around sharp thorns to put something in their bellies.

So, meet two little boys, Fokandraza and Foriavi, among the millions now dubbed “climate orphans” – their parents having left long ago to find work and money in desperate hopes of feeding the family. They live with their aunt, who can’t afford to feed her own children, let alone Fokandraza and Foriavi.

“If I were smart, I’d go and find a better life,” says the starving boys’ aunt. “But these kids are so sweet, I can’t leave them.”

Kristof asks the boys: “Have you eaten anything today?”

Fokandraza’s stick-thin arms hang limply at his sides. “No.”

Kristof: “Have you drunk water today?”

“No.”

Foriavi can’t even stay awake during the interview.

Kristof: “I don’t blame the aunt. The situation is more my fault than hers. Here’s the paradox of climate change: It’s mainly caused by affluent people. People like us. And those who suffer the most are the poor and vulnerable.”

So maybe we don’t care all that much about climate change here in affluent America. Our president elect certainly doesn’t, and has promised to gut all global and national efforts to deal with the crisis. But now we know Fokandraza and Foriavi, the faces of a world facing runaway climate chaos.

Remember their names: Fokandraza and Foriavi. We will certainly hear them again, when the Son of Man comes again in his glory. “What you did for Fokandraza and Foriavi, you did for me. And what you did not do for them, you did not do for me.” (Adapted from Matthew 25: 31-46)

How will we answer, brothers and sisters? How will we answer?

What to do? For starters, go to the Climate Caretakers website and take the climate pledge — to learn, pray and act on climate. Every week, you’ll receive an email helping you in your prayers. This week, you’ll be praying for Fokandraza and Foriavi, and for Donald Trump.