Category Archives: climate change

81 Leading Companies Commit to Climate Action

Today, the White House announced that 81 companies have signed on to the American Business Act on Climate Pledge, with specific details. A few weeks ago, we announced that the tally had risen to 34, with huge names like J&J, Nike and Starbucks having added their names. But now, it’s become the Who’s Who of global corporate brands, each making specific commitments of varying degrees to cut climate-warming impacts like carbon & methane emissions, deforestation and waste throughout the supply chain.

The White House announcement summarized the 81 commitments as follows:

These 81 companies have operations in all 50 statesemploy over 9 million people, represent more than $3 trillion in annual revenue, and have a combined market capitalization of over $5 trillion.

By signing the American Business Act on Climate pledge, these companies are:

  • Voicing support for a strong Paris outcome. The pledge recognizes those countries that have already put forward climate targets, and voices support for a strong outcome in the Paris climate negotiations.
  • Demonstrating an ongoing commitment to climate action. As part of this initiative, each company is announcing significant pledges to reduce their emissions, increase low-carbon investments, deploy more clean energy, and take other actions to build more sustainable businesses and tackle climate change.

    Walmart among 81 global companies committed to climate action

    Walmart among 81 companies committed to climate action

In fairness, the commitments vary. They range from Ag giant Cargill (5% energy efficiency improvement by 2020 — begging for more muscle) to Apple (already 100% carbon-free, committing to more clean power). While Congress tries to undermine the Paris commitments before they’re finalized, industry leaders are acting despite government resistance.

Leaders from three signatories — IKEA, Best Buy and PG&E — held a round table discussion today on their plans. It’s clear that they’re way ahead of US lawmakers on the need for bold action. Each agreed that the ultimate success of these plans hinges on some level of government action to place a price on carbon emissions, so that climate pollution is no longer free.

Still, without any legislative action, and despite congressional threats to torpedo global agreements in Paris this year, industry sees what has to be done, and they’re beginning to act. We’ve prayed, and we’ve demanded action. We’re thankful today for hopeful answers.

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

GOP House Climate Resolution: Cheers, and Sighs

And now, some good news from the GOP on climate change. Ten Republican members of the House of Representatives have signed a resolution that acknowledges manmade climate change, accepts that we bear responsibility for adverse consequences affecting vulnerable populations and our children, and commits to working constructively to clean up our mess.

We hear that more Republicans will come on board. But for now, it’s ten – about 4 percent of the Republican House Caucus. It’s a start. If all you’ve heard about the GOP’s approach to caring for the creation is that they’re suing the EPA and trying to defund it, that they’re trying to kill its climate pollution mitigation plans, and that they’re telling world leaders that American commitments on climate change at the global climate summit in Paris this December will be dead-on-arrival in Congress, then surely this offers a ray of encouragement.

Rep. Chris Gibson, R-NY

So we offer special thanks to Congressman Chris Gibson (R-NY 19th District), for leading this effort. And we’re thankful for Pope Francis, whose impending visit must certainly have prompted reflection on the part of politicians whose constituents embrace the pontiff’s appeal to act on climate pollution.

But whatever appreciation we can muster, Gibson’s resolution is still mixed reading. Yes, it goes a long way toward accepting the realities so long denied by the party. At the same time, it also offers a painful reminder of how much silliness must still be endured to garner even a shred of support from the majority in Congress. Just to get signatures from 4 percent of GOP congressional representatives, they had to invoke “American exceptionalism,” promise to oppose anything economically painful, and entirely ignore the effects of climate pollution on those living beyond our borders.

So, is it cheers for Gibson and his colleagues, or sighs for the herculean obstacles he faces? Here’s a sampling of both.

Cheers…

There really is a lot to like about this GOP resolution. It would be churlish to pick at the flaws, and ignore some of the real progress:

  • They acknowledge that it should be a conservative impulse to conserve the creation (“to protect, conserve, and be good stewards of our environment”). Cheers!
  • They admit that extreme weather is getting worse (“more frequent heat waves, extreme precipitation, wildfires, and water scarcity”), and is expected to worsen further (“longer and hotter heat waves, more severe storms, worsening flood and drought cycles, growing invasive species and insect problems, threatened native plant and wildlife populations, rising sea levels”). Cheers!
  • They admit that climate pollution harms the poor (“hitting vulnerable populations hardest”) and our children (“saddling future generations with costly economic and environmental burdens”). Cheers!
  • They admit that climate disruption is a threat to national security (citing military assessments that the effects of climate change are “threat multipliers that will aggravate stressors abroad”). Cheers!
  • And they commit to working constructively to find solutions to human activities that lead to climate change. Cheers!

All good stuff. Cheers for you, Mr. Gibson!

Sighs…

But that’s not the whole story, I’m afraid. It’s clear that the resolution has been labored over to fend off as many objections as possible. And some of that editing looks ominous to those of us hoping for a thaw in congressional obstruction on climate action.

  • There is virtually no acknowledgement whatsoever of harm from our climate pollution on those outside the United States. While they acknowledge the harmful impact on “all Americans” and the “challenges we face as a nation,” you might think that they imagine that the impacts of our climate pollution simply stop at our borders. This point is not academic. Rather, it permits signatories to avoid entirely the moral debt that heavy polluters like the US now owe to vulnerable communities in Africa, the Middle East, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Central America, and island nations. Sigh.
  • Actually, there is one mention of harm abroad. The resolution acknowledges that US military planners view the effects of climate disruption as ‘‘threat multipliers that will aggravate stressors abroad such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability, and social tensions.’’ So yes, they indirectly agree that our pollution does indeed harm other nations, but their concern is specifically limited to the security impact that the resulting chaos will have on us and our military. Sigh.
  • And you’d think that a problem worthy of national and global action would be worthwhile, even if it cost us something. But it’s not just petty nitpicking to note that Mr. Gibson’s resolution stipulates that the solution must be costless: “Any efforts to mitigate the risks of, prepare for, or otherwise address our changing climate and its effects should not constrain the United States economy….” Well, global crises have a nasty habit of constraining economies. WWII wasn’t costless. Our response to polio, cholera or Ebola wasn’t costless. Protecting the ozone layer wasn’t costless. There are some things you do to survive and protect others that have costs. Do they really believe that this is an exception? Sigh.
  • Speaking of exceptions, they feel the need to stress that that’s exactly what we are. They call on the “tradition of American ingenuity, innovation, and exceptionalism” to act on climate. We suspect that American exceptionalism – the doctrine that the United States is fundamentally different from other nations – is inherently corrosive to efforts that call on all nations to begin seeing themselves as a global community to protect a shared inheritance for all of our children. Sigh.
  • Our least significant “sigh” we leave for last. The resolution commits its signatories “to study and address the causes and effects of measured changes to our global and regional climates.” To study climate change. You may wonder if they mean something like 12,000 peer reviewed studies over a period of twenty years? Actually, that’s already been done without them, at an average pace of roughly two such studies per day over a span of two decades. Sadly, those have been almost entirely ignored or rejected by congressional leaders. It could be significant, however, if it meant that they would reverse their votes earlier this year to cut funding for NASA and NOAA related to climate research.

So, we want to applaud anything that this Congress does to protect our Father’s suffering creation. Mr. Gibson’s resolution offers a lot to like, and we pray for his success. But to us, his labored final draft offers a sobering picture of the road ahead for him.

Perhaps we need a miracle, something we pray for earnestly. At the very least, we need citizens willing to speak out like Mr. Gibson is doing. We are pulling for you, sir. May God be with you.

J. Elwood

Exxon: The Evolution of a Denial Financier

In July 1979, Exxon scientists were worried. They delivered a sobering message to the company’s top executives: carbon dioxide from the world’s use of fossil fuels would warm the planet and could eventually endanger humanity.

For the next ten years, Exxon scientists led some of the best research on manmade climate change, leading to the conclusion that estimated a doubling of the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere would increase average global temperatures by 2 to 3 degrees Celsius (4 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit), and as much as 10 degrees Celsius (18 degrees Fahrenheit) at the poles. Rainfall might get heavier in some regions, and other places might turn to desert.

“Some countries would benefit but others would have their agricultural output reduced or destroyed,” concluded one Exxon scientist, in the written summary of a 1978 company presentation.

Some countries would have their agriculture destroyed. That’s what Exxon thought. Destroyed. No food for some countries.

Inside Climate News has chronicled Exxon’s evolution from scientific leadership in the 1970-1980’s, to funding the constellation of climate denial front groups in the 1990-2000’s. It’s a must read for people wondering how America became the last global holdout of skepticism about climate science.

Here’s a quick summary:

Read the entire article here.

J. Elwood

Evangelicals, Catholics and Climate Pollution: The Sleeping Giant is Stirring

This just might be the year.

After a string of losses and frustration spanning more than a decade, this looks like the year that efforts by the Christian faith community to protect the world’s climate systems are starting to pay off. When historians look back to pinpoint the turning point in the battle against climate catastrophe, I’m beginning to believe they will focus on this time – 2015.

Why this year? Well, consider:

  • The world’s two largest economies – the US and China – have finally agreed this year to serious cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, and have called on the rest of the world to do the same.
  • With the global climate meetings planned for early December in Paris, the rest of the world is getting on board as well. So far, fifty-three countries representing the vast majority of the global economy have already submitted plans for cutting climate-warming pollution. Among them, Russia, Japan, and the entire European Union have joined the US and China, committing to significant reductions in carbon emissions.
  • The leader of the world’s largest religion, Pope Francis, has issued an urgent call to action by all Christians to protect the creation in the face of manmade climate impacts that fall most heavily on the poor.
  • And with the pivotal climate summit in Paris only four months away, American evangelical Christians have launched a new community – Climate Caretakers – committing themselves to prayer and action in response to the climate crisis.

Climate Caretakers isn’t remotely the first evangelical foray into the struggle to protect the creation from climate-warming pollution. During the past decade, American Christians issued the Evangelical Climate Initiative, concluding that “Christians must care about climate change….” The 190-nation evangelical Lausanne Movement issued a call to action, finding that “the most serious and urgent challenge faced by the physical world now is the threat of climate change.” The Evangelical Environmental Network gathered many thousands of signatures in support of limits on carbon and mercury pollution from power plants. The National Association of Evangelicals clarified the link between Jesus’ command to love “the least of these” with the duty to protect the environment. The Christian Reformed Church adopted an exhaustive endorsement of the findings of climate science and called on all Christians to take action. And the Orthodox “green patriarch” Bartholomew has issued unrelenting calls for compassionate climate action, as have Anglican and other Protestant denominations.Sign CCC 2

But in launching Climate Caretakers, Christians are offering a simple way that the faithful can commit to pray and act in ways that demonstrate love for their Father by protecting his world, and to love others by protecting the natural systems vital to their survival. They are inviting Christians to do the following:

  • Affirm God’s purpose for his creation to flourish.
  • Confess the harm that we have each done to God’s world and his people.
  • Recognize the cloud of witnesses who testify to the impact of climate disruption upon the poor of the world.
  • Commit to faithful prayer and bold action in pursuit of lasting solutions to the climate crisis.

They envision a world in which delegates from every nation will be prayed for regularly as climate negotiations proceed; a world with thousands of Christians considering daily what it means to be a steward of their Father’s creation; one in which children know that their elders care deeply about the world they will inherit; and where policymakers know that they must answer to a growing movement of compassion for the innocent victims of unrestrained, unlimited and unpriced pollution.

The Climate Caretakers Commitment has been made by pastors, scientists, denominational leaders, educators and lay people. And it’s easy to join them, by signing the commitment at http://climatecaretakers.org .

This could well be the year that the dam of denial and apathy finally bursts under pressure from praying believers. All of us can be among those changing history by our faithful prayers and compassionate action. You are invited to join them.

And yet, the painful reality is that many otherwise compassionate Christians will remain disengaged. Some will be confused by the gaggle of “think-tanks” dedicated to manufactured doubt about climate science. Others will be lulled into inaction by airwaves choked with cheery ads about “clean coal” and “safe” fracking. Others will mistakenly conflate care for God’s creation with liberal politics. Still others will be tempted to give up, because of entrenched politicians smearing science as a “massive hoax” and vowing to scuttle even skeletal efforts at global climate cooperation.

But I believe that this tide too has begun to turn. We’re seeing today that the truth can only be suppressed for just so long. Today, a solid majority of voters in the key swing states support climate action. Politicians who once denied climate science have revised their script to simply assert that they are not scientists, hoping to satisfy their polluting donors while not appearing laughable to voters. Young people, Catholics, and people of color have become especially concerned about the climate crisis.

This may be the year that the tide finally turns. We all have a choice whether or not to engage for the sake of God’s world and his people. Or perhaps we’ll try to just get along. Won’t you join me in one small step? Log on to Climate Caretakers. Make the commitment to pray and act. It might not seem like much at first, but maybe you’ll end up being a hero to your grandkids.

It may take time, but let’s start praying – and acting – now.

J. Elwood

Climate Change: Looking Back at an Alarming Future

“The best qualification of a prophet is to have a good memory.”  George Savile, Marquis of Halifax

A slender volume arrived in the mail yesterday: Naomi Oreske’s fictional history of the late 21st Century, recounted in the words of a 24th Century Chinese historian. Just before midnight, I turned the last page.

You might remember Oreskes. She’s the Harvard geologist and science historian who first showed that almost all climatologists – 97 percent of them – agreed that the Earth is warming, due in large measure to human causes: the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation. After suffering a withering backlash from industry-funded “think tanks,” she discovered that many of the leading “denial experts” were the same characters who were once on the payroll of the tobacco industry, lending a fig leaf of scientific cover to their arguments against the links between smoking and lung cancer. In the case of climate change denial, the strategy turns out to have been the same, and provided the title for Oreskes’ earlier book: Merchants of Doubt.

appOreskes’ new book is a bit less ambitious. Written with Cal Tech historian Erik Conway, it bears a dreary title: The Collapse of Western Civilization. And unlike most fictional dystopias, it is completely devoid of personal drama, thrilling action or heroes. It is simply written as history, recorded far off in the future. It chronicles the Penumbral Age, that dark time beginning in the late 20th Century when the looming shadow (or “penumbra”) of ignorance and denial spread over Western civilization, preventing it from acting on the discoveries of environmental science, and leading to the Great Collapse and Mass Migration of 2073-2093.

Like most science fiction, the value of “Collapse” is that it actually permits us to envision a better world, and identify those forces that might prevent it from happening. Sadly, in this case, almost all those forces in fact prevail, and the world of our grandchildren ends up looking dismal indeed.

How dismal? Well, here’s a short list. Before the end of the 21st Century:

  • Global temperatures rise almost 4oC by 2040, as catastrophic volumes of methane escape from the melting Arctic permafrost in a positive feedback loop long predicted by scientists;
  • Desperate geo-engineering solutions backfire, disrupting the monsoons vital to India’s survival, and the resulting cessation causes a sling-shot effect raising temperatures another 6oC;
  • 60 percent of all known species of animals and plants perish in a Sixth Great Extinction event;
  • The West Antarctic ice sheet disintegrates and melts, raising sea levels five meters, followed by the breakup of the Greenland ice sheet which adds another two meters.;
  • The Netherlands, Bangladesh and Florida slip almost entirely beneath the waves, as do coastal regions everywhere, driving the forced migration of 1.5 billion souls;
  • Only authoritarian governments survive in the face of pressures that demand rapid forced migration of millions of humans; and …
  • … one last thing: Humanity becomes entirely extinct on its two most vulnerable continents, Australia and Africa.

So! I’ve had my horror story a couple of days before Halloween, right? Thank God it’s only fiction! And anyway, who can actually look back on a future threatened by climate change?

Well, actually, in fact, we can. No, I’m not talking about computer models that look forward with increasing accuracy. We can look BACK at climate change. That’s because it has already happened in modern human history. The 17th Century coincided with the peak of the global event called The Little Ice Age. Brought on by a century-long hiatus in sunspot activity, coupled with a rash of mid-century volcanoes and a run of extremely weak El Niño events, the Little Ice Age ushered in more than a century of global cooling, with average surface temperatures falling about 1oC below historical averages.

And so a serious look at the 17th Century – with its one-degree cooling record – might just tell us something about what could be in store for the 21st Century, as we debate whether warming can be kept close to 2oC, or run to 4oC or even worse.

17th Century cold in contrast with today's runaway warming

17th Century cold in contrast with today’s runaway warming

A few months ago, we summarized the global chaos of the 17th Century, as set forth in Geoffrrey Parker’s magnum opus, Global Crisis. Droughts, floods and harvest failures set entire populations on the move in virtually every corner of civilization. Estimates at the time were that the human population fell by roughly one-third. Rebellions and civil wars ravaged Russia, France, England, Scotland, Ireland and Ukraine. Starving Ottomans strangled their Sultan. The English executed their king. The German states fell into the sectarian chaos of the Thirty Years’ War.

But the non-European world suffered at least as badly. So let’s take a quick look at the world’s largest empire, where the Ming dynasty ruled in China. For it’s there where we see how drought and famine drove starving Manchu clansmen from the north into a conquest that led to the suicide of the last Ming emperor, seven decades of warfare, and the death of an estimated 50% of the population. Here are a few notable events from that time:

  • Drought brought on by the weakest monsoons in 2,000 years destroyed Chinese agriculture in the 1620s, giving farmers no choice but to resort to mass banditry.
  • Heavy snowfall blanketed tropical Guangdong Province in the 1630s, further depressing crop yields.
  • Cannibalism ran rampant in the 1640s in numerous provinces, with China’s daughters at particular risk.
  • In 1642, a Ming official reported that “the human price of a peck of rice” – barely enough to feed one person for a week – “was two children.” He reported watching a woman eat her own child outside of the government office.
  • In Manchuria, 1643 brought on the coldest winter in a thousand years, forcing starving Manchus to mobilize a desperate effort to breach the Great Wall and conquer the warmer empire to the south.
  • Total cultivated land fell more than two-thirds by mid-century, and tax rolls declined by as much as 90 percent in some provinces.

In the end, stresses aggravated by climate change in the 17th Century cost about half of Chinese souls their lives, and as many as one in three humans on earth. It was a time we’d much rather not repeat.

And so, whatever we think about the progress we’ve made over the last four centuries – for better (global institutions and scientific advances), or worse (nuclear weapons and extreme environmental degradation) – Oreskes’ fictional “history” just might warrant our attention. We’re often called “alarmists” when we look seriously at the future of a world in which we have disregarded the laws woven by the Creator into his work. But to me, the ACTUAL history of climate change makes Oreskes’ fictional account look plausible, or perhaps worse.

Do you think that maybe it’s time to join the alarmists, and start talking about what we’re doing to our children’s world? It’s not really that far off.

The Washington Post is Wrong on Keystone XL

Reposted with permission from Sojourners, March 7, 2013 
by Catherine Woodiwiss 

A few days ago, the Washington Post dismissed the movement resisting the proposed tar sands pipeline from Canada to the Gulf as “missing the climate-endangered forest for the trees,” Sojourners published this excellent response.

The Washington Post … dismisses the protests against it as nothing more than “knee-jerk” “distractions”. In this, the editors join the cadre of Keystone shruggers – folks whose response to developing events around the pipeline is a cynical “meh,” tinged with frustration at protesters.

A prevailing sentiment among these shruggers is acceptance: it’ll get passed anyway — there’s no way it won’t. And scolding: Come on guys — it won’t be that bad. Stop the silly stuff and go do something important.

Courtesy of Rena Schild, Shutterstock.com

The arguments in favor of the pipeline are dubious at best. For example, it’s estimated that harmful tar sands extraction would fall flat by 2020 if not for the pipeline – which would more than double extraction and establish a harmful precedent for pulling oil from the earth. Serious potential risk to communities and environments along the pipeline’s route have been well documented. And even the State Department’s controversial report estimates the pipeline will have “negligible” impact on the jobs market.

But what really bothers me about this piece from the Post is the degree of resignation, coming from a leading journal, to the politically inevitable. Frankly, I’m tired of it. I’m tired of hearing that climate activists need to be realistic on Keystone. I’m tired of the media’s willingness to publish small vision and run pieces of least-resistance when it comes to climate issues. I’m tired of otherwise politically active, deeply soulful, justice-minded colleagues and friends adopting a posture of disinterest when someone challenges conventional Washington wisdom.

Focusing on the pipeline alone is a narrow vision — and ironically, it’s the shruggers more than anyone who have mistaken the pipeline for the real story. For those protesting Keystone XL, the pipeline is a symbol of inevitability in action…. Read the whole story.

Thanks for reading, and may God bless you.

J. Elwood