Category Archives: Act!

Why I’ve Decided to Start Writing my Congressman

Causes everywhere ask us to write to politicians. If you’re like me, you seldom do. But unless we’ve all bought into the narrative of implacable political hostility and irredeemable polarization, then we’ll recognize that most people believe they’re doing the right thing, and at some level will be responsive to appeals and persuasion. Here’s my offering today, to my NJ congressional representative, Scott Garrett:

Dear Rep Garrett:

I am conscious that when writing to you, I am speaking to a person who sincerely shares my faith in Christ. Scripture says that makes us brothers in a real way, even in this world of bitter political divisions. As such, I hope to speak to you with optimism and hope, drawing on our shared vision for the rule of God on earth.

Anglican bishop N.T. Wright has given us a clear idea of how Christ-followers are to relate to their ruling officials: “Like the Israelites under their monarchy, chafing at its imperfections and looking for the fulfillment still to come, the followers of Jesus are to live under the rulers of the world, believing them to be appointed by God but not believing that that makes them perfect or that they do not need to be held accountable. On the contrary, because they are God’s servants they may well need to be reminded of their duty, however dangerous and uncomfortable a task that may be.”Picture1

So today, I hope to remind you of a duty, as a brother. I have just returned from two weeks in Paris, where I have joined with numerous Christians from around the world, praying for the success of the Paris summit, and for meaningful global action on climate. What I heard there was hopeful, but also deeply embarrassing to me as an American, and as an evangelical Christian. The narrative from virtually every quarter, including global Christians, is that only America, among all countries in the world, is prepared to sacrifice the interests of the poor to the ravages of climate pollution; and that only the GOP, of all the political parties in the world, is threatening to sabotage action that every country views as necessary to protect their people and their children; and finally, that only American evangelicals, of all the faith groups in the world, are devoted to a political “batch ideology” that lumps willful disregard for climate justice together with its more noble principles.

I know that this narrative oversimplifies the actual facts: that the National Association of Evangelicals has endorsed action on climate change as an outgrowth of care for the creation, a “core element” in the gospel; that 65 percent of American evangelicals now acknowledge the dangers of climate change; that more than half of Republican voters agree on the need for climate action. But all that means rather little if Republican lawmakers and candidates stand in the way of serious action on climate pollution.

And so I would ask you as a brother in our shared faith, to please consider that faith when your party’s leaders call for unified resistance to action so desperately needed by our world today, which are becoming increasingly undeniable with every passing year. Specifically, you could begin this by adding your name to the Gibson Resolution, whereby Republicans are making clear that they, too, recognize the crying need for climate action, on behalf of God’s suffering world and its people.

Thank you. I look forward to discussing this with you in the near future.

If you’d like to read N.T. Wright’s complete essay cited above, you can find it here. If you want to find your Congressional representative’s contact information, you can click here. For more help from Beloved Planet on writing, look here.

Global Companies Commit to Carbon-Free Future

Climate campaigners are used to failure and frustration. Most mornings, it feels like we’re once again putting our shoulder to the boulder and struggling a few feet up the hill, only to be sent sprawling by a finger-flick from the overwhelming moneyed interests arrayed against us.

But not this morning! Because this morning, a group straight out of the Who’s Who of multinational corporate giants has pledged to source 100% of their electricity from renewable sources to reduce CO2 emissions. Goldman Sachs, Johnson & Johnson, NIKE, Procter & Gamble, Starbucks, Steelcase, and Walmart have added their names to the RE100, an alliance of companies committed to carbon-neutral operations.

Starbuck, Nestle, Mars, Walmart and other commit to carbon -free future

Starbucks, Nestle, NIKE, Walmart and others commit to carbon -free future

The RE100 was founded last year by a group of environmentally-conscious companies including retailers IKEA and H&M, insurer Swiss Re, tech giants Philips and Unilever, and consumer products leaders Nestle and Mars. They have attracted 36 signatories over the year, including Infosys, Salesforce, SAP, DSM and banking giant UBS. But today’s announcement of nine giant signatories looks to turn the trickle into a flood.

And it’s not just the companies. We began the week with leaders of American and Chinese governments, from Obama and Xi Jinping down to the mayors of Beijing, Washington, Guangzhou, New York and Los Angeles agreeing to accelerate their carbon reduction plans.

And last evening, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton ended a five-year flirtation with the Canadian Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline. “I think it is imperative that we look at the Keystone pipeline as what I believe it is — a distraction from important work we have to do on climate change,” Clinton said.

What’s more, tomorrow, Pope Francis, pastor to one-fifth of the people on this planet, will address the US Congress with his message of love, justice and stewardship for all God’s creation, including our injured climatic systems, and the poor who suffer most of the consequences.

Can the news get any better? Well, yes. 115 church congregations have now added their names to the list of those committing to reduce their carbon footprints 50% by 2030, and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. They’ve taken the Paris Pledge, available to churches and individuals who want to join these cities, countries and corporations with personal pledges to act in love for God’s creation.

So we may have seen many discouraging days in these last years. But today, I’ve got a song in my heart. The long Narnian winter is beginning to thaw. The log jam is just beginning to break. People know what they need to do. And they’re finally taking the stand to care for God’s creation and its most vulnerable children.

“Now I’ve been smiling lately, thinking about the good things to come
And I believe it could be, something good has begun…” Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam

China-US Collaboration on Climate Pollution

Much has been made of the historic agreement between President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping – representing the world’s two largest carbon polluters – to finally begin cooperating on cutting CO2 emissions. After an initial deluge of sniping from US politicians, the world seems to have concluded that this could be the breakthrough that the Creation has been groaning for.

Ms. Elwood's indoor clothesline

Ms. Elwood’s indoor clothesline

We are thankful for the progress, and hopeful that India will come along next, leading to a global agreement in Paris next summer. But not all cooperation in caring for God’s Creation is between governments. Citizens can make a difference too.

Consider Barbara Elwood, American grandmother and keeper of laying hens. Ms. Elwood has just installed a new indoor clothesline, offering a little more comfort to the wintertime clothes-drying at her home in New Jersey. The grandkids like to pretend that the drying laundry is a jungle, and happily take their afternoon naps beneath the colorful assortment of tee-shirts and boxers.

In a matching gesture of East-West cooperation, Mei Lin Wong of Hong Kong has installed window clothes-drying racks outside her 24th story apartment windows, together with two-thirds of her fellow tenants. On a breezy day, Ms. Wong’s building flutters gaily with the wash hung out to dry, sparing the world thousands of pounds of CO2 pollution every year.

Ms. Wong's laundry hanging form the 24th floor in Hong Kong

Ms. Wong’s laundry hanging from the 24th floor in Hong Kong

In Nearby Guangzhou, Kue Ching Zhao hangs the week’s laundry from the wrought iron of her 4th story balcony, joining virtually all her neighbors in drying the laundry without drawing on China’s coal-choked power grid.

And some thirty miles to the southwest in Macau, Lifen Huang dries the wash for her three daughters on an impressive latticework of iron bars and improvised closet hardware, all suspended three stories above the narrow street below. Ms. Huang reports that, despite the copious loads of laundry drying in the breezes of the South China Sea, she has never lost even a single handkerchief to the winds.

Ms. Zhao's laundry drying on the 4th floor in Guangzhou (l.); Ms. Huang's in Macau.

Ms. Zhao’s laundry drying on the 4th floor in Guangzhou (left, upper balcony); Ms. Huang’s in Macau.

Together, Ms. Elwood and her Chinese collaborators are saving amazing amounts of carbon pollution. In the US alone, some 88 million electric dryers consume 106 billion kilowatt hours of electricity every year, and account for an incredible 109 million tons of annual CO2 pollution. Half of that pollution is absorbed into the oceans, raising acidity, killing off coral reefs and threatening entire marine ecosystems.

“Year by year,” said Ms. Elwood, “people I know are becoming more aware of the impact of climate disruption and carbon pollution. Clotheslines almost disappeared from our households for a time, but they’re making a much-needed comeback. Kudos to my Chinese partners for their remarkable achievements!”

We were unable to reach Ms. Wong, Zhao and Huang for comment. But given the intense pollution of China’s air and water, we’re confident that they feel the pretty much the same.

Note: A 40-foot retractable clothesline of the type used by Ms. Elwood can be had for less than $10 by clicking here.71gPg9RugzL._SL1500_

Clean Wind Electricity for Your Home

It seems the landscape for national and global climate policy just changed pretty significantly this week, didn’t it? With the new Senate leadership, efforts to kill climate-friendly policies are already in gear. And “greatest-hoax” climate denier Sen. James Inhofe is set to take the reins of the Environment and Public Works Committee.

From one point of view, US environmental policies are now largely in the hands of the man who has written: “I stood alone in saying that anthropogenic catastrophic global warming is a hoax.” Not the National Academy of Sciences, or the EPA, or the American Geophysical Union, or the American Meteorological Society – but James Inhofe, who claims that the 97 percent of the world’s climate scientists have simply conspired to pull the wool over the eyes of mankind.

Now, maybe this makes us mad. Maybe we’re depressed. Maybe we’re ready to give up.

Switch your home electric from coal to clean wind!

Switch your home electric from coal to clean wind!

Well, if so, maybe it’s time for us to actually DO something about it. Here’s a suggestion: Let’s stop complaining about oil-funded politicians complicit in the abuse of God’s creation, and take action ourselves. And here’s one big – and easy – thing we can do: SWITCH FROM DIRTY COAL TO WIND ELECTRICITY FOR YOUR HOME RIGHT NOW.

I just did it, and it was simple. Some of you know that solar PV provides lots of our electricity here at Good Hand Farm. Eight years ago, we installed panels that basically run the farm, and that provide about half of our house needs. Earlier this year, we took advantage of an essentially free program to solarize two of our neighbors’ homes.

But the balance of our electric needs – not covered by our solar production – was still filthy. The power we had to buy from our New Jersey utility (JCP&L) comes from coal (43%) and gas (17%) – that’s 60% from fossil fuels. And most of the balance is nuclear.Picture1

So instead of just fuming about oil-funded politicians running congressional policy, I decided to do something. With a few clicks – and one phone call – I found a 100% wind-power producer that my utility accepts, and made the switch. There were a range of options and prices, but I like the choice I made. My previous dirty electricity cost me 9.63 cents per kWh. My new provider, Stream Energy, charges 9.98 cents, fixed for one year.  That might run me about $2.00 per month more than I was paying for coal. Nothing changes on my bill, and my electric utility continues to service everything just as before.

Except for one thing: We no longer use any fossil fuels and greenhouse gases to power our home and farm.

Want to give it a try? Details will vary depending on where you live, so go to this page to find out who covers your area. And if you want to try the choice I made, then just click here, and then choose the “Enroll-Now” option. (If enough of you go this route, I’ll start to get further savings on my bill, and then you can do the same thing with your friends.)

And in the bargain, maybe you can look in the mirror tomorrow, and stand a little taller. Maybe our politicians are bent on the unfettered abuse of our Father’s world, but you don’t have to follow them.

You are not powerless. It may feel that way sometimes, but you can affect what happens on God’s good earth. Take the step, and join me on the road to a cleaner, more sustainable world.

May I Please Have a Water Bottle?

On a recent Sunday morning, September 21, we were packing up with about forty students from Christian colleges as far away as Indiana and North Carolina, headed into New York City for the People’s Climate March. As usual, I bellowed out to everyone as we were walking to the vans: “Make sure you go to the bathroom! Anyone need anything? It’s going to be a long day!”

Sure enough, several of the students did indeed need something. “May I please have a water bottle?”

Oh…. Ah, yes, water bottles.

Let’s be clear. These are absolutely fantastic earth-keeping college students. Many of them are studying environmental biology, or peace and reconciliation issues. Some are just back from studies in post-genocide Rwanda, or are planning organic farming internships for next summer. All of them care enough about God’s creation to have traveled for hours to sleep on the floor for a weekend of climate action. But water bottles?

“You know,” I stammered after an awkward moment, “plastic bottles are something we just don’t use much around here. Um, could we lend you an aluminum canteen?”

Photo by Chris Jordan and The Midway Film Project, who are raising funds to launch a film on Midway plastic pollution.

Photo by Chris Jordan and The Midway Film Project, who are raising funds to launch a film on Midway plastic pollution.

Thank God, awareness of plastic pollution is growing among young people. Many have read about the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch.” They’ve seen images of decomposed sea birds whose stomachs were filled with brightly-colored plastic bottle caps. They’ve seen photos of Midway Island or the Maldives, beset by an unending sea-borne plastic tsunami. These are the remotest places on earth, and our plastic is all over them.

In our family, we kicked the plastic bottle habit years ago. It’s not always easy, but we manage.

And some major jurisdictions are already taking action. California has now banned single-use plastic bags, following the lead of Mexico City, Dehli, Mumbia, Bangladesh and Rwanda. Here in the U.S., Portland and coastal North Carolina also restrict the use of plastic bags.

But for real change to happen, average Americans like us are going to have to change our attitudes toward packaging – bags, bottles, boxes, and all, and especially plastics. Maybe our hearts need to change, and that might happen if you take a moment to watch a trailer for the Midway film about albatrosses and plastic pollution. Or take three minutes and watch the little film below about where our plastic ends up.

Because your plastic water bottle will still be here for your great-great-great grandchild to deal with. Please watch.

Clean Solar Electricity for Your Home

“A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children…” (Proverbs 13:22).

Our neighbor Mary lives in a small house bordering our produce field.  She’s retired, and lives modestly on a fixed income. Like many of us, she’s watched as utility costs have gone up year by year. A few years ago, we replaced her drafty single-pane windows. Last summer, we blew in insulation to make her attic and walls more weather-tight. And in the last few months we’ve insulated her basement ceiling to warm up her floors in winter.

All these efforts have had amazing results. Her daily electric usage has fallen a long way – by 20 percent in the last year alone. And her heating oil usage has come down by about one-third. But despite all these efforts at efficiency, electric costs just keep going up. Over the past decade, average electric charges in this country went up about 4% per year. With almost all its customers affected by back-to-back hurricanes Irene and Sandy, our local New Jersey utility – JCP&L – has repeatedly been granted rate hikes. Mary now pays 18.4 cents for every kilowatt-hour she uses.

Sungevity arrived at Mary's house a few days ago

Solar installers arrived at Mary’s house a few days ago

But all that’s about to change. Just a few days ago, a work crew from Sungevity, a solar power developer, arrived to install solar panels on Mary’s south-facing roof. The system will provide 94 percent of Mary’s electric needs. She’ll be left with a monthly electric bill of about $4.00. So she can relax about ongoing spikes in utility rates.

How much did all this cost? Well, up front, nothing at all. Mary is leasing her solar system over 20 years. The lease payments are just about the same as her current electric bills. In fact, Sungevity projects that she will save $24,866 in utility payments over the life of the lease, but it could be worse as rates keep rising. Her lease payments, which are fixed up front, will total $23,259 – $1,607 less than the utility cost she’s saving.

Panels going up: the roof array at about 50%

Panels going up: the roof array at about 50%

So Mary’s got totally renewable, clean electricity at a savings of $1,600 or more over the life of the lease.

Of course, money isn’t all Mary’s saving. She has two sons and a granddaughter, so the world she leaves them makes a big difference. And with her system, she will reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the next 20 years by 144,548 lbs. That’s more than 65 tons less CO2 for the next generation to deal with.

What does that actually mean? Well, here at Good Hand Farm, we plant a lot of trees. Just two days ago we added eight more peach trees to our backyard orchard. But Mary’s system will have the same effect on atmospheric CO2 as planting 1,685 trees, according to EPA equivalency tables. That’s 1,685 trees! You may not see that many all week.

But there are other useful comparisons as well. According to the EPA, the greenhouse gas savings from Mary’s new rooftop savings will have the same effect as:

  • Taking 13.8 cars off the road for a year.
  • Cutting 23.5 tons of garbage going to the landfill.
  • Driving a car 156,012 fewer miles.
  • Recycling three full garbage trucks, rather than dumping them in the landfill.

And all this comes at no up-front cost to Mary. In fact, she eliminates uncertainty about future utility prices, and saves real money over the term of the lease.

Almost finished! It will provide 94% of Mary's electricity

Almost finished! It will provide 94% of Mary’s electricity

Solarizing your home won’t work for everybody. State incentive programs play a major role in determining whether or not it makes economic sense. You’ll also need a sunny rooftop or an open patch of lawn. And if you rent, your landlord will have to make the final call.

But if it could make sense to you, why not look into a no-cost leased PV system for your home, business or church? If you contact us, we can provide a referral which will reduce your electric costs even further. Do it for yourself. And, of course, do it for your kids.

“Treat the earth well: it was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children. We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children.”  Ancient Indian Proverb

Solar Power Your Home for Free

“… the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness….” Luke 1:78

It’s about time that we celebrated some good news at Beloved Planet!

Yesterday, our family took a step that will save more than 35 tons of CO2 emissions. Woo-hoo! 35 tons! It won’t cost us any money. It doesn’t involve biking to work, or shivering in the winter, or reading by flashlight. We’re not going vegan, or selling our big old farmhouse.

No cost, no work, no sacrifice, but big carbon savings? You bet. You see, we’re leasing a rooftop solar PV system for our neighbor’s house. And it will save more carbon than the average American emits in two years.

As you know, carbon emissions are serious business.  Earth-heating greenhouse gas concentrations are at their highest levels in hundreds of thousands of years. And not by a small margin, mind you. Earlier this year, atmospheric CO2 concentrations ticked over 400 parts per million. That’s 43% higher than it’s been at any time in human history, and headed much higher still in the next few decades. The main reason is the burning of fossil fuels, with clearing of land a distant second.

Courtesy: Skeptical Science.com

Courtesy: Skeptical Science.com

On average, humans today emit a total of 4.7 tons of CO2 per capita every year. We drive our cars, and light our streets, and watch TV, and cool our homes. We fly where we want, and eat lots of meat. We import our groceries from around the world: wines from Australia; bottled water from France, flowers from Israel. And all that burns fossil fuels: coal, gas and oil.

It really adds up. 4.7 tons of CO2 every year, for every person on the planet. Much of it gets absorbed by the oceans, which are becoming dangerously acidic from all that carbon. But some remains in the atmosphere, raising concentrations year by year without fail.

Of course, not everyone emits the same amount. Newly-prosperous Brazilians emit only 1.9 tons per person. In the Philippines, it’s less than a ton. For the 35 million people of Uganda, only 0.1 tons apiece.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are the carbon hogs. Tiny Qatar, with all their oil: an almost incomprehensible 44 tons of CO2 emissions per person. Kuwait’s not far behind, at a whopping 30 tons. At #11, there’s the first big country: Australia, at 18.3 tons. That’s four times the global average. What’s wrong with those people?

And #12? Well, that would be the United States. 314 million people, generating 17.2 tons of CO2 emissions per person. 4.5 percent of the world’s people, emitting 16.5 percent of its earth-heating gases.

We’re so far off the charts, that it seems impossible to fix it. But I don’t think that’s true. People everywhere are improving their energy efficiency, and changing their lifestyles for the sake of their call to be earth-keepers. And some people have homes with sunny southern exposures; if you’re one of those lucky ones, today you can cut your electric bill – and possibly eliminate your home’s carbon footprint – for free. Here’s how we did it:

Our neighbor's house will save 35 tons of CO2

Our neighbor’s house will save 35 tons of CO2

Our neighbor has a smaller home next to our old farmhouse. Her average electric bill is $64, and it’s been going up about 6 percent every year. She’s on a fixed income, and doesn’t like the risk of price spikes related to all the storm damage we’ve been having these last few years. And here in New Jersey, none of us like those Pennsylvania coal-fired power plants upwind that foul our air with sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, mercury and carbon pollution.

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