Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Water Will Come

Climate change is already costing the world dearly. But it is not just money that will be lost.

Also gone will be the beach where you first kissed your boyfriend; the mangrove forests in Bangladesh where Bengali tigers thrive; the crocodile nests in Florida Bay; Facebook headquarters in Silicon Valley; St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice; Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina; America’s biggest naval base in Norfolk, Virginia; NASA’s Kennedy Space Center; graves on the Isle of the Dead in Tasmania; the slums of Jakarta, Indonesia; entire nations like the Maldives and the Marshall Islands; and, in the not-so-distant future, Mar-a-Lago, the summer White House of President Donald Trump. Globally, about 145 million people live three feet or less above the current sea level. As the waters rise, millions of these people will be displaced, many of them in poor countries, creating generations of climate refugees that will make today’s Syrian war refugee crisis look like a high school drama production.

The real x-factor here is not the vagaries of climate science, but the complexity of human psychology. At what point will we take dramatic action to cut CO2 pollution? Will we spend billions on adaptive infrastructure, to prepare cities for rising waters – or will we do nothing and wait till it’s too late? Will we welcome people who flee submerged coastlines, and sinking islands – or will we imprison them? No one know how our economic and political system will deal with these challenges.

Jeff Goodell: The Water Will Come  http://amzn.to/2z50Jtq

Standing Rock Reflections: It’s All One Struggle

Hi. This is John. I promised you that I would report from my time last week in North Dakota, where I was among those supporting the Standing Rock Sioux. You already know a lot about the events in Standing Rock:

  • How some 10,000 unarmed people – indigenous and immigrants alike – have placed their bodies in the way of the “Black Snake” – the $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipe Line – as it advances toward completion under the Missouri River.
  • How police have fired on them with nearly every conceivable non-lethal weapon, including water cannons in subfreezing temperatures, concussion grenades, rubber bullets and mace that have injured hundreds.
  • How thousands of American veterans have swelled the ranks of the indigenous protesters, to place their lives on the line once again – this time facing the weapons of American police.
  • And how – for now – the US government has decided not to issue necessary permits for the DAPL pipeline to slice further into Sioux treaty lands.
The sprawling Aceti Sakowin Camp near the front line of the DAPL pipeline resistance.

The Aceti Sakowin Camp near the front line of the DAPL resistance. The pipeline runs along the ridge beyond..

For now, the pipeline appears to be stopped. For now, the military muscle and corporate might behind this enormous project seems to have been overcome by a modern day incarnation of Gideon and his tiny remnant of unarmed soldiers. But friends, it’s not nearly over. It’s only just begun. More on that in a few days…

But for starters, you’ve asked for my impressions from first-hand experience among this peaceful resistance. I can only tell you how my personal biases have been challenged, and my vision has been focused. So without pretense of any special wisdom, here are some of my take-home thoughts from the stance of Standing Rock Sioux:

  • The struggle for a survivable climate will not come away clean from other struggles for justice, like indigenous rights, racial justice and inequality.
  • Indigenous treaty rights are not a closed book, as though we can just shrug and blame it on Columbus, or Adam, or something else in the distant past.
  • Christians must engage with indigenous spirituality, without fear, without prejudice, and with confidence in the presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit.
  • Many of us prefer to look honestly at unjust laws in our history books, rather than in our newspapers. But there are laws on the books today that are not worthy of our obedience.
  • Many Christians insist on seeing their ethics in black and white. But following Jesus into the arena of injustice may challenge our comfortable purity.

It’s All One Struggle

The struggle for a survivable climate will not come away clean from other struggles for justice, like indigenous rights, racial justice and inequality. We are fighting for each other now.

In America, it’s a tragic fact that climate action is largely a Caucasian passion. We see Latinos facing the onslaught of mass deportation from the xenophobic spirit of the age. African-Americans are facing mass incarceration under a system of justice that seems designed with them uniquely in mind. Muslims are fearful of being registered, monitored or interned because of their faith. The poor and sick are afraid of losing their only lifeline to decent medical care. Marginal communities are being bullied, harassed and hated on subways, in stores and in schoolyards.

But in this dark era, suburban middle-class whites have the “luxury” of caring about climate change – something that can multiply virtually every other problem, and ultimately threaten world civilization, but probably not for another few decades.

So they’ve got their issues, we say. We’ve got ours.

But among the thousands at Standing Rock, it’s becoming clear how firmly bound together these threats really are. You’re worried about migration? Climate disruption is driving millions on a desperate search for food and stability – like we’ve already seen in Syria, Somalia and Darfur. We wonder why black lives don’t seem to matter to so many of us? And yet people of color know they are many times more likely to suffer the effects of polluted water, air and soil than white people. And they’re more likely to need related medical care, whether or not they can afford it. We’re worried about religious tensions between Muslims and Christians? Yet much of Muslim Middle East and North Africa is being rendering nearly uninhabitable by desertification and epic droughts.

And finally, the beleaguered survivors of the American indigenous genocide turn out to be the closest thing we’ve seen to the “sons of God” for whom the injured earth is groaning (see Romans 8:19).

My fellow white Christian earth-keepers, if I’m learning anything from Standing Rock, it’s this: Whatever right I once thought I had to ignore marginalized communities in the name of environmental focus, it’s too high a price to pay. If I want God to hear my cries for his creation under the lash of the consumerist petro-state, I’m going to have to heed his call to bind the wounds of my suffering neighbors on the Jericho Road.

End note: Friends, please come back tomorrow to consider Indigenous Treaty Rights. I went to Standing Rock thinking that broken treaties were unfortunate artifacts of history. Not so much anymore.

How Our Coasts Will Disappear

They say that doom and gloom is sure-fire method of driving away readers. But if sea levels are rising, as seven in ten Americans acknowledge, then it’s worth asking just how – and when – my favorite coastal spot might be gone. Believe me, I know you’d rather not wade into this swamp. But it’s important. Please, take a second to look.

Just this August, Louisiana suffered historic flooding, causing more than $10 billion in damage, 80 percent of it uninsured. It was dubbed the most destructive storm to hit the country since Super Storm Sandy.

Hardly a month later, another storm barely grazed the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, and left behind comparable damage, still being assessed in the range of $6-9 billion.

Big storms, no doubt. But here’s the thing: Neither one involved a hurricane making landfall on U.S. soil. Louisiana merely suffered from an intense rainstorm. And American Easterners nervously watched an advancing hurricane’s trail of destruction and death in Haiti, but breathed a sigh of relief as it sliced eastward into the open Atlantic.

Still, the storm wreaked many billions of dollars of damage, and more than fifty fatalities.

Of course, these storms produced the usual claims and denials about the connection to climate change, as always. But more instructive to me was the picture of what coastal inundation will look like in an age of climate chaos. Here’s why:

For the large majority of Americans who accept the findings of climate science, I suspect we tend to view sea-level rise as a linear phenomenon. Mapping websites abound where you can zoom in on your home, select a hypothetical level of ocean rise, and see whether you’re safe or not. For Louisiana, here’s what it looks like for two feet, well inside many estimates for the current century.capturelouisiana

Look! The blue incursions make New Orleans look pretty dicey, but Baton Rouge and Lafayette are still okay, right? And here’s a look at the Carolinas at two feet. Sure, the Outer Banks, Charleston and Wilmington are all gone, but Goldsboro, Wilmington and Raleigh are pretty good.capture

Okay, admittedly it’s bad, but we can find a way to manage, right?

Actually, no, we probably can’t. Here’s why: These maps may be accurate, for what they’re being asked to do. One a calm, sunny day, the communities shown in the green may be, in fact, above water. But take a look at what happened during the Louisiana non-hurricane – before any further sea-level rise at all:

picture1

Lafayette was inundated. Baton Rouge was a virtual island, with flooding on all sides. It wasn’t supposed to happen this way, was it? New Orleans would slip away first, and Mardi Gras would set up shop Baton Rouge. Except Baton Rouge was flooded out first. (And that’s with today’s sea levels, not an extra couple of feet.)

The Carolinas tell a similar story. After Tropical Storm Matthew slipped past, Goldsboro and Lumberton – each about 80 miles inland from the Atlantic beaches – were completely awash, together with hundreds of other inland communities.picture2

For nearly ten years now, we’ve been warning our fellow beach-lovers: Visit as often as you like, enjoy the sun and surf. But please, please, don’t invest the nest egg in sea-side property. Even now, that’s probably sound advice. But the picture is actually much worse. In a world of increasingly dire climate chaos, you’re hardly safe in low-lying inland communities either.

What should you do? Well, what if we started by living like people who understand that the future of our world, and especially our children’s, depends on lower carbon emissions. Cut our carbon footprint, and offset what we can’t cut.

But whatever our individual efforts, there are many things that we can only accomplish together — as a country, or as an entire world. We can each drive smarter, but most of us can’t develop our own electric car. We can insulate the house, but most of us can’t build our own wind farm. These things depend on concerted national action. So find out what your Congressional representative is doing about climate change. And look at where the Presidential candidates stand.

The consequences of ignoring climate change may seem to be a long way off. But for many on our lowland coasts, they’ve already arrived.

I know, I know. Donald Trump once claimed that climate change was a hoax developed by the Chinese to scam American manufacturers. But come on. He recently argued that his Scottish golf course needed a sea wall to protect it from rising seas due to climate change. In the end, we assumed, he’s not insane, and would not sacrifice our children’s future on the altar of climate denial.

But Wow! Have you seen all the nutso climate stuff he’s put out for years now? I’m beginning to think he actually believes what he says. The League of Conservation Voters has assembled a list of his climate pronouncements and Tweets, and it’s terrifying reading from someone who is that close to the Oval Office.

Consider this little one: On New Year’s Day 2014, Trump tweeted: “This very expensive GLOBAL WARMING bullshit has got to stop. Our planet is freezing, record low temps, and our GW scientists are stuck in ice.”

So, according to Trump. global warming was “bullshit.” Where did he get that? Well, for the record, 2014 turns out to have been an all-time record hot year for the planet, a record broken only 12 months later by 2015.

2013, which is probably what Trump was thinking of, was among the top five hottest years on the global record. But it was downright chilly in New York on that New Year’s Day. It’s cold! Right here. Right now. So global warming science must be “bullshit.” Who needs the scientists when you can take the escalator down, step out onto 5th Avenue and see for yourself?

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Trump has sworn to cancel the Paris Climate Agreement endorsed by all the world’s nations. He would renegotiate it “at a minimum,” even though the entire thing was made voluntary so that the U.S. Congress couldn’t kill it. American military planners should not be allowed to plan for climate threats, even though all naval bases are threatened by rising sea levels.

In the waning days of 2015, he told a campaign rally: “It’s a hoax. I mean, it’s a money-making industry, okay? It’s a hoax.” Three months earlier he told the Wall Street Journal “I don’t believe in climate change.” He criticized Pope Francis for warning the world about climate risks. “Where the hell is GLOBAL WARMING?” he tweeted on a cold winter day in 2015.

The U.S. Senate is about half full of people so addicted to oil money that they block climate action at every opportunity. What if they had someone with this mindset in the White House?

What Will My Congressman Do About Climate Change?

You wouldn’t have expected to find a New Jersey produce farmer at the global climate change “COP-21” summit in Paris last December.

But there I was, among Christians from countries all over the world, praying, learning and speaking out – all in support of action to combat the climate pollution that is threatening so many communities worldwide today.

I was amazed at the strong voice in Paris from Evangelicals. The World Evangelical Alliance, representing some 600 million Christians, sent their Secretary-General, Bishop Efriam Tendero, a tireless advocate for poor. The National Association of Evangelicals provided a video message from their President, Rev. Leith Anderson, encouraging and blessing those of us on the ground. The Lausanne Conference on World Evangelization was there too, on behalf of evangelical Christians representing the church in 190 countries.

Christian speakers at Paris Climate Summit: Dave Bookless (A Rocha), Caroline Pomeroy (Climate Stewards), Bishop Tendero (World Evangelical Alliance), Katharine Hayhoe (Texas Tech. Univ.)

Christian speakers at Paris Climate Summit: Dave Bookless (A Rocha), Caroline Pomeroy (Climate Stewards), Bishop Tendero (World Evangelical Alliance), Katharine Hayhoe (Texas Tech. Univ.)

And virtually every other Christian community – Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants and Anglicans – were there as well, all declaring that “the earth is the Lord’s,” and appealing for all to “tend and keep” this injured earth as God’s stewards.

After two weeks of intense activity, I returned home to my farm in Andover, New Jersey. My first act was to sit down to write my congressman – Rep. Scott Garrett – asking him to join with a group of Republicans who are breaking ranks with party leadership in its opposition to climate action. I told him that every country in the world has now agreed to take bold steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and that they are supported by ecumenical alliances representing virtually everyone on earth who holds to the Christian faith.

Rep. Garrett sent me back a polite note, with the disappointing news that he is opposing the Administration’s plans to fight climate change, especially the Clean Power Plan, the centerpiece of our nation’s commitment to reduce carbon pollution. Even so, Rep. Garrett assured me: “Like you, I support responsible, balanced environmental policies that protect the natural landscape and beauty of our nation.”

Well, I was disappointed, of course. All those awkward questions from Paris came back to me in vivid relief: Why do your politicians remain willfully blind to the cost that we all bear for your pollution? Why do you insist on the right to pollute the air we all share? Can’t you see what’s happening to the world’s climate?

Rep. Scott Garrett, NJ 5th District

Rep. Scott Garrett, NJ 5th District

And they’re talking about my own congressman, no less.

But Rep. Garrett’s reassuring words about his desire to protect the environment made me curious: What specific “responsible policies” does he actually support? So I asked him: “Please be specific: What ACTUAL policies do you support to reduce carbon pollution to reduce the harm of climate change?”

Well, this time, Rep. Garrett’s response didn’t come so promptly. I waited more than a month. Nothing.

Three weeks ago, I summoned up my hopes and wrote Rep. Garrett again: “You have assured me that you share my concern for the creation that we have been entrusted. Please tell me then, what do you propose to do about the alarming increase in greenhouses gases that are dangerously heating the planet that our children will inherit from us?”

Once again, silence.

Well, Rep. Garrett, the world has finally decided to act on climate pollution, and to solve the threat to our children and the poor of our world. Democrats in our country are mostly on board. Some Republicans are speaking up as well. Two Florida congressmen – one from each party – have formed the Climate Solutions Caucus for bipartisan cooperation on climate action.

It’s okay with me if you don’t want to answer my letters. But would you at least consider joining them? Our kids are depending on you to protect the world we will leave them.

John Elwood owns Good Hand Farm in Andover, NJ, and serves as an elder in the Presbyterian Church.

Why We Doubt Science: Maybe We Know Enough Without It!

As anyone knows, climate change – or global warming – has become an amazingly controversial topic in America. This is especially true, it turns out, among communities that identify with Evangelical Christianity. It seems to matter little that almost all climate researchers agree that it’s happening, as a result of human activities; or that only an infinitesimal fraction of science journal papers question manmade climate change (one out of 2,258 in 2013); or that virtually all of the science academies of the Developed World have warned of the need for urgent climate action; or that a solid majority of Americans also accept these conclusions.

Despite all of this, only 49% of white American Evangelicals accept the scientific consensus that the Earth is warming due to human activities, according to a Public Religion Research Institute survey conducted in 2014. Indeed, of all religious categories surveyed, white Evangelicals were the least concerned about climate change. Not surprisingly, we Evangelicals help vote into office politicians who also ignore all warnings about climate change, effectively blocking global action to address the problem.

In the face of overwhelming evidence, why do we continue to doubt? And with the cacophony of cries from the global victims of drought, flooding and sea-level rise, why do we resist compassionate action? For years, this question has been repeated as a matter of rhetoric, or anguished outbursts from activists. But recently, behavioral scientists have turned the tools of science toward the phenomenon of climate denial. Yes, old science v. faith narratives may play a role; and yes, corporate-funded “think tanks” and politicians may sow doubt as they did during the Tobacco Wars.

But it’s beginning to look like there is much, much more going on in human minds, which makes climate inaction – from Evangelicals or anyone else – much more likely. Today, we address a surprisingly overlooked truism: We all feel like experts about weather.

We Feel Like We know

You’d think that dire warnings from experts would catch our attention, wouldn’t you? If more than 97 percent of structural engineers warned that a bridge was unsafe to cross, we’d find another way around, wouldn’t we? If a similar majority of oncologists told us we had cancer, we’d almost all seek treatment.

So, why do we doubt the warnings of climate science? There may be parallels between structural engineering and cancer diagnosis, on the one hand, and climate science on the other; but there are also differences. And one key difference is this: In a field normally dominated by technical specialists, weather events appear to be well within the range of laypeople’s personal expertise. We might be in no position to judge the levels of trace greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, or sea levels, or the extent of glaciers, but we all think we know about the weather.[i]

In February, the East was frozen, while the West sweltered

In February, the East was frozen, while the West sweltered

And what we know about the weather is informed by what we’re experiencing, right here, and right now. In June 2013, President Obama took to an outdoor stage at Georgetown University in a brutal summer heat wave to announce his climate change plans. Virtually everyone who sweltered with him seemed to agree with his perspective. On the other side, early this year, Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) tossed a snowball onto the Senate floor in an unseasonably cold winter, ostensibly as justification for his unrelenting opposition to climate action. Again, to some, the severe weather seemed to justify the senator’s conclusion.

Of course, when we stand back to examine these episodes, we can agree that the local weather on any particular day has little or no bearing on global climate trends. But research shows that we seldom actually think that way. In 2013, researchers at the University of New Hampshire proved it. In a survey of 5,000 voters, they found that on especially warm days, 70% of Independents in New Hampshire affirmed belief in human-caused climate change. On unseasonably cold days, the number dropped to 40%.[ii]

So whatever we think about Sen. Inhofe’s snowball antics, the research shows that his reaction may be closer to home than we might like to admit. For many of us, whether we take climate change as a serious concern may depend on whether it’s hot or cold outside, right here, right now.

If this is true – and it seems to be – the planet’s weather systems have played a cruel joke on humanity in the past year. Global politics are dominated by the one remaining superpower – the U.S. – and the U.S. is heavily influenced by its densely populated Eastern states, with major cities like New York, Washington, Boston and Atlanta. And the East has spent all winter and spring in the grip of unrelenting cold – a consequence of the chaotic “polar vortex” that has attracted so much attention in recent years. Virtually the whole world is seeing abnormal heat, but we’re still very chilly.Picture2

And the data suggests that if we’re feeling chilly, then we’re likely to ignore the heat that’s becoming the norm everywhere else. Because, after all, we all feel like we understand the weather pretty well. It’s not rocket science, or cancer research or anything. Or maybe it is. Or at least, maybe we should consciously remind ourselves that there are better ways to learn about what we’re doing to our Father’s world than looking out the window.

Of course, it’s vital that we do so. Because by the time our local weather leaves no more doubt in our complex minds, it may be too late to save many people and other creatures from the ravages that science is warning us about.

J. Elwood

[i] From Marshall, George; Don’t Even Think About It; p. 13; Bloomsbury Press

[ii] Hamilton, L.C., Stampone, M.D. Blowin’ in the wind: Short-term weather and belief in anthropogenic climate change. (2013) Weather, Climate, and Society, 5 (2), pp. 112-119.

99-to-1: Senate Admits Climate Change is Real

The United States Senate voted yesterday to make it official: Our government has now joined every other country in the world – sort of – in affirming that climate change is real. The Senate voted by the lopsided margin of 98-1 to adopt the truism that “climate change is real and not a hoax.”

98-1? What about 99-1? Well, Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) was undergoing eye surgery at the time of the vote. While he couldn’t cast a ballot, he’s on record. It’s 99 senators admitting what the rest of the world has long known.

My favorite tweet of the day came from the well-known Christian climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe: “Today the US Senate voted on whether climate change is real and human-caused. Tomorrow, they’ll vote on gravity. I’ve always wanted to fly!”

Sad to say, the Senate’s action is almost totally meaningless, other than giving some climate-denial politicians a fig leaf to hide behind in the next election. That’s because they also REJECTED, by a vote of 50-49 , a more meaningful amendment declaring that “humans significantly contribute to climate change.” (60 votes were needed for passage.)

For 48 Republican Senators (the 49th voted NO to both amendments), they got everything a politician could want: YES, they can tell the world that they’re on record as believing what climate scientists tell us about global warming trends; but NO, they can also tell their oil company donors that they refuse to believe those same scientists when they tell us that we’re the culprit, and must do something to change course.

The political messaging is pitch-perfect: “Of course the climate is warming! But, sorry, since we don’t contribute to it, why on earth would I vote for futile efforts to do something about it?”

It’s worth noting that five GOP senators broke ranks and joined all 45 Democrats in voting for the “humans contribute to climate change” amendment. They are:  Lindsey Graham (SC), Lamar Alexander (TN), Kelly Ayotte (NH), Susan Collins (ME) and Mark Kirk (IL).

So it was a notable day on Capitol Hill. For starters, we can now be a little less mortified when foreigners ask us about fatuous congressional climate denial. On the other hand, too many politicians still won’t jeopardize their political funding by admitting that it’s our problem to fix. But there are a few Republicans, at least, who have sent a signal that they might be willing to help with efforts to responsibly address a huge problem of our own making.

God answers prayer, and he directs us to pray for those in authority — all of them. It’s not hopeless. Hang in there!