Tag Archives: carbon pollution

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_

A World Where Pollution is No Longer Free?

It’s hard to imagine isn’t it?

We’ve treated so much of our Father’s world as a virtually inexhaustible dumping ground, that actually having to pay for the privilege might seem somehow radical. And even if most of us no longer think it ethical to pour raw sewage into our neighbor’s drinking water, we hardly think twice about what we put into the air that God has given to sustain us and all living things.

But for Christians, our church fathers would never have tolerated such an approach to God’s creation. Almost five hundred years ago, long before Galileo and much of modern science, the great Reformation theologian John Calvin gave us these words in his Commentary on Genesis:

“Let him who possesses a field, so partake of its yearly fruits, that he may not suffer the ground to be injured by his negligence; but let him endeavor to hand it down to posterity as he received it, or even better cultivated…. Moreover, that this economy, and this diligence, with respect to those good things which God has given us to enjoy may flourish among us, let everyone regard himself as the steward of God in all things which he possesses.”

If we expect God’s creation to flourish for us and our children, says Calvin, then we must be its stewards, handing it down better, more fertile, cleaner and better ordered than we found it.

Of course, those of us who take these words seriously have watched with dismay as the earth’s atmosphere has become more and more choked with earth-warming gases, while powerful companies spare no effort to assure that nothing is done to stop the abuse.Picture4

But despite the almost daily litany of terrible news from a groaning creation, the people of the world may be finally waking up. It may be that the era of free and unfettered carbon pollution is at long last coming to an end. Here’s why:

Remember back in 2008, when it looked like “cap & trade” might be approved by the U.S. Congress? It was a system under which major carbon emitters – utilities, manufacturers and the like – were given permits to emit CO2 in amounts that gradually decreased over time. Permit holders could then buy and sell their permits, providing market incentives to reduce pollution. It had been done on a global scale with great success to cut emissions from CFC’s, a chemical compound that harms the earth’s ozone layer. And the carbon bill looked like it was headed the same direction. It actually made it through the House of Representatives, before dying in the Senate.

After that, opponents successfully labelled the idea as “cap & tax.” And with an electorate staggering under the weight of a terrible recession, the U.S. lost interest in just about anything other than near-term economic recovery.

But in case you haven’t been watching, the world has been moving ahead – with or without us. As of today, countries and states that are home to one in three people across the globe have implemented CO2 cap & trade regimes, or are in the process of doing so right now.

Of course, you knew that the European Union had a system in place. But did you know about South Korea, Indonesia, Vietnam or New Zealand (among others)? And more important by far, had you heard that the massive coal-burning economy in China is getting set to implement its own cap and trade system?

Here’s a look at the major players that we’ve been able to find:

Picture3

Don’t miss your fellow Americans on the list. California’s system costs carbon polluters almost $12 per ton of CO2 emissions. And another nine states in the Northeast, including New York, have been selling carbon permits to utilities for the last six years.

Gradually, it would appear, the people of the world are coming to terms with the essence of Calvin’s teaching: “With respect to the good things that God has given us to enjoy,” including the air that we depend on, “let everyone regard himself as the steward of God.”

When our parents were kids, many Americans threw their litter out the car window. Today, almost no one does that. Almost no one now objects to recycling, once seen as the province of tree-huggers. Almost all of us are glad for pollution controls on our cars and factories. And increasingly, we’ve accepted that it’s not cool – nor just – to pour carbon pollution into the air that belongs to all people, and to future generations.

I think John Calvin would be encouraged, don’t you?

Evangelical Leader on EPA Carbon Standards: Do It

Religious leaders came out in force to the EPA early this month to speak from their scriptures and teachings on the call to protect God’s creation from climate injustice. Among them was evangelical leader Rev. Richard Cizik. Here is his testimony:

Rev. Richard Cizik EPA Testimony

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  I speak here today in my capacity as the President of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good; as an ordained Evangelical minister, having served as the Vice President for Governmental Affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals for ten years; and as a citizen activist from the Commonwealth of Virginia on behalf of all Americans who want action to address the devastating health and climate impacts of industrial carbon pollution.

Cizik outside EPA offices, with Sojourners' Liz Schmitt

Richard Cizik outside EPA offices, with Sojourners’ Liz Schmitt

More importantly, though, I speak as a father and parent of a teenage son.  John, now twenty years of age, is a 6’5″ healthy young man with a bright future ahead of him.  Eight years ago, however, he was diagnosed with serious asthma.  On one occasion, before we really understood what was happening, he woke up in the morning unable to breathe.   It’s the kind of frightening experience a parent never forgets.  Fortunately, we got him to a doctor’s office and an exam that would both diagnose his actual condition and prescribe the medicine and inhaler that he still needs to carry with him.

Incidentally, I was attacked later for wanting EPA action based on my son’s asthma alone.  At the time, it struck me as somewhat “sick,” as if no one else gets asthma.  As someone who served as a member of the Virginia Climate Commission, it’s relevant to state that the air quality in the Commonwealth is not the best, and carbon pollution aggravates air pollution, producing thousands of cases of asthma and other respiratory illnesses.

At that time, I was well aware intellectually of the dangers of industrial pollutants in the air, but unaware of their personal impacts on my own health.  When asked by the Environmental Working Group, I consented to be a participant in the “Human Toxome Project.”   In so doing, according to the Project’s Final Report, I had become “one of only a small number of people in the world to know a portion of [my] personal body burden of industrial chemicals, called the human toxome.”

The result is that I can testify to the many industrial chemicals, plasticizers, flame-retardants, Teflon chemicals, and heavy metals that are present in my body.  In fact, I have varying levels of 39 of the 84 industrial compounds, pollutants and other chemicals tested, including chemicals linked to reproductive health.  (My wife and I were infertile for many years.)

I was tested for total mercury and methyl mercury.  Total mercury is the sum of all forms of mercury, including methyl mercury.  My levels of mercury in the blood, 2.2ppb is ‘relatively high to national studies’ (87 percentile nationally, which means only 13% of the public has higher exposure).  Methyl mercury levels were 1.7ppb, lower than the federal safety standard of 5.8ppb set for pregnant or nursing women and young children to protect against damage to a developing brain, but high enough, according to the National Academy of Sciences, for mercury-driven risks for immune disorders and cardiovascular diseases.

Scientists are only beginning to study the health effects of chronic exposures to chemical mixtures. While studies strongly demonstrate the role chemicals play in a host of health problems, risks to an individual are largely unknown.  Genetics, timing, and dose all play a role.

One reality is very clear.  The EPA’s first-ever national industrial Carbon Pollution Standard for power plants is absolutely essential to reduce the impacts of climate change that worsen smog and trigger asthma attacks and other health consequences.  This standard will clean up the coal plant industry that creates the lion’s share of the nation’s carbon pollution and will also help prevent life-threatening air pollutants like dirty soot, toxic mercury, and the smog that triggers asthma attacks.

We all know that our nation’s air can be cleaned up.  No industry that pollutes it with toxic chemicals or carbon emissions should be permitted to profit at the expense of public health.

Let me be very direct.  More and more children, the elderly, and others with respiratory problems will experience increasing life-threatening illnesses, if those in Congress who only care about protecting the special interests who fill their campaign coffers stymie the EPA’s regulatory efforts.

I have been called by God to speak out on these issues and it seems abundantly clear to me that the Carbon Rule being proposed is both needed and a necessary tool to fulfill our social responsibility to carry out what is a biblical call to be stewards of creation.

Please, for the sake of families such as mine, and all others who are at risk, take this needed action.   Do it, and don’t be deterred. Thank you.

The Golden Rule and Limits on Carbon Pollution

Here at Beloved Planet, we present an evangelical Christian perspective on care for the creation. But Christians probably recognize that we’re not alone in hearing the call to creation stewardship. When I testified at the EPA two weeks ago in support of greenhouse gas pollution standards for new power plants, there were plenty of Christians; but there were also people of virtually every faith community — including the Bahá’í faith.

My friend Peter Adriance was there representing his community and his faith. And while we feature his Bahá’í testimony on this Christian site, his statement features Christian glaciologist Richard Alley, who argues for climate justice from the teaching of Jesus Christ: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” Matthew 7:12.

Here is Peter’s compelling testimony:

Peter Adriance, Bahá’ís of the United States

Good morning. I’m Peter Adriance, Representative for Sustainable Development for the Bahá’ís of the United States. I’m pleased to be among the several representatives of faith communities here speaking in support of EPA’s proposed carbon pollution standards for new power plants.

Peter Adriance testifying at the EPA

Peter Adriance testifying at the EPA

I appreciate EPA’s efforts to clean up our environment through these standards, which will reduce dangerous emissions. They will protect the health and well-being of all citizens and the web of life upon which we all depend.

Currently, power plants are responsible for about 40% of US national carbon emissions. The impacts of these emissions are increasingly being felt in communities here at home and around the globe. From extreme weather events to droughts, floods, wildfires, the spread of vector-borne diseases, increased levels of asthma and more, there is growing evidence that carbon emissions are causing chaos and loss of property and life, often in communities ill prepared to deal with the impacts.

Knowing the importance of reducing carbon emissions, then, why would we allow new power plants to be built without any restrictions on the carbon they emit? These standards can help to discourage the investment in infrastructure that will lock us into dangerous levels of emissions for decades to come. The new standards will serve as an incentive to develop clean energy sources, including renewables.

More than purely an environmental issue, the setting of carbon standards is an issue of fairness, equity and justice, as many speaking here today will testify. President Obama has stressed this same point himself. In his words: “We have a moral obligation to future generations to leave them a planet that is not polluted and damaged.” We in the faith community would, of course, agree. But it is not only future generations that will bear the impacts of climate change. They are being felt now, most intensely by those populations around the world who are least able to cope with them. We must act with great conviction and haste to move toward solutions.

The central principle of the Bahá’í Faith is the oneness of humankind. This principle has deep implications for policy in many arenas. It should guide us to seek solutions that are equitable and just, treating all people as members of one human family. EPA’s proposed carbon standards for new power plants represent one way that this principle can be put into action

I was fortunate last week to attend the 14th National Conference and Global Forum on Science, Policy and the Environment. The focus there was on “building climate solutions”. The good news is that solutions are within our reach, and many are being implemented. Several presenters acknowledged the social costs and ethical dimensions of the climate challenge. Renowned climate scientist, Dr. Richard Alley, was emphatic about this. He referred to “the Golden Rule issue” – We must do unto others as we would have them do unto us — but right now our emissions and their impact on others is taking us in the wrong direction. He said, if we take the right steps in limiting our emissions, we’ll bring about a stronger economy, more jobs, enhanced national security, and a cleaner environment. We will also be more consistent with the Golden Rule. If we continue with business as usual, the opposite will result. EPA’s proposed carbon standards for new power plants are an important addition to the mix of solutions we so desperately need.

People of faith across the country are putting their heads and hearts together to address the climate issue. Later this month, people of all faiths, including Baha’is, will take part in the national Preach-in on Climate Change organized by Interfaith Power and Light. In churches, mosques synagogues and Bahá’í Centers around the country, they will be discussing climate change from a faith perspective, taking action to reduce their own emissions, and sending messages to members of Congress asking them to do their part in moving us toward a low-carbon energy future. In order to make real progress, national policies need to be set to address major sources of emissions. Adopting EPA’s proposed carbon standards for new power plants is an important move in that direction.

My hope is that our generation will be able to leave the world directed towards a better future than the one towards which we are currently headed, a world in which all people will be able to lead safe, productive and healthy lives. I thank EPA for its efforts to point us in that direction.

Faith Communities Overwhelm EPA Carbon Hearings

Yesterday, the EPA held its final day of hearings in Washington on its proposed new rules restricting the amount of CO2 that may be emitted by new power plants — per megawatt-hour of electricity generated. Of course, the “clean coal” people were there, as were executives of various utilities, arguing against the standards. On the other side there were the Sierra Club, Greenpeace and other enviros.

But dwarfing them both, by my count, were faith leaders. Evangelicals, Protestants, Catholics, Unitarians, interfaith groups and many others showed up to support the EPA’s standards, and to advocate care for God’s creation. They spoke of the injustice of climate pollution, of the impact on marginalized and poor communities, of the mandate to protect all of God’s creation for His own sake, for other species, for the poor, and for our children. Repeatedly, we heard the themes: The earth is the Lord’s and all its fullness; the sea is his, he made it; God placed the Man in the garden to serve and keep it; the whole creation groans; love your neighbor as yourself….

Rep. Henry Waxman addressed crowd outside the EPA hearings

Rep. Henry Waxman addressed crowd outside the EPA hearings

In the next few days, I’ll post the comments of a number of leaders from various faith communities. Today, I’ll start with mine.

Testimony of John Elwood

My name is John Elwood. I am speaking to you today as an elder and Sunday school teacher in the Presbyterian Church; as editor of the website BelovedPlanet.com; and as a participant in the Environmental Stewardship initiative of the Christian Reformed Church. My farm, in Andover, New Jersey, provides produce for more than 700 families.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to testify in support of the EPA’s standards on carbon emissions from new power plants.

An important question for Christians, and for all people of goodwill, is this: How much carbon pollution should power plants be permitted to dump into the atmosphere – for others to pay for in health, and in climate disruption costs?

From the Evangelical and Reformed Christian perspective, it’s clearly wrong for a buyer and a seller to enjoy all the benefits of a transaction, and then leave a substantial part of the cost for someone else to pick up – the external costs.

The scriptures of the Old and New Testaments don’t speak of “external costs” by that name. But God pronounces judgment on dishonest scales, skimping on the measure, and mixing in the sweepings with the wheat. “The Lord has sworn by himself,” says the prophet Amos: “‘I will never forget anything they have done…. I will spare them no longer.’”

Until recently, we didn’t really know the scale of the external costs of coal burning. But as you know, in 2010, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences quantified these costs in their study titled The Hidden Cost of Energy. Its findings were shocking. Coal burned in a single year by U.S. power plants costs everyone else on the planet another $200 to 300 billion in unpriced external costs.  That’s a tax of about $40 levied on every single human on Earth. Only for U.S. coal. Only for one single year. Borne by men and women, by adults and children, by both the rich and by those earning less than $1 per day.

During these hearings, you’ve heard testimony from people engaged in the coal industry, and you’ve been asked to consider the toll they will bear if new power plants are made to limit their carbon pollution. Christians of all traditions take their plight seriously, and our society must find ways to help affected communities recover. But I would like to ask you to consider the plight of totally innocent communities – both in our country and around the world – which have never had an ounce of benefit from the burning of coal.

Last year, the Christian Reformed Church sent me, and a delegation of other leaders, to Kenya to hear firsthand from people who have borne the brunt of the external costs of carbon pollution. We met with hundreds of small farmers and community leaders. Everywhere, the story was the same. Two reliable growing seasons in years past have shrunk to a single season. And even that single season is now unreliable. Crop yields have plummeted. Water is more scarce than ever.

We also visited with Reverend Peter Karanja, the General Secretary of the Kenyan Council of Churches. Please, listen to what this good man told us:

“We are very concerned,” he said, “especially about America. They are the most obstinate country when it comes to climate change. You have a responsibility to reduce your greenhouse gases which are harming the rest of the world.

“Long after your life is over,” he told us, “your actions will have consequences on us. Many of them will be harmful consequences.”

On behalf of all people who bear the cost of carbon pollution from American power plants – our citizens, our children, the people of Kenya plus many more – I urge the EPA to finally implement standards aimed at reducing carbon emissions by new power plants.

Thank you, and may God bless you for your efforts.

Thank You, Mr. President

Tuesday, June 25, 2013. I won’t forget this day.

Because that’s the day we listened to President Obama deliver his climate action speech at Georgetown under DC’s fittingly murderous summer heat. I listened in near disbelief. The President of the United States – arguably the most gluttonous carbon-polluting nation in the world – was outlining a plan for positive global-scale change. Change, for the good of our children and their children. Change, for the good of all nations on Earth. Change, to “keep the planet habitable.”

We’ve been hoping for this day for years. We’ve prayed for our leaders to protect God’s injured creation. We’ve consoled the victims of climate chaos from the Mississippi delta to the degraded farmlands of Kenya. We’ve written countless letters to our political leaders, begging for action. We’ve made our plea repeatedly in Congressional offices. We’ve shrugged off hostility and indifference from many in churches of our faith. We’ve been hauled off to jail in Washington’s sweltering August heat.

Picture3

Obama at Georgetown University yesterday

In all this, we wondered if America would ever find the courage to face the truth about our disastrous misuse of our Father’s world and its most vulnerable children – whether human or four-footed, winged or aquatic. We have longed to proclaim the good news to every creature, as our Savior commanded us. But for the most part, we’ve only brought more and more bad news. More droughts; more floods; more violent storms; more acidic oceans; increased extinction of our fellow created species; more severe crop failures; rising food costs; more hunger.

But then, under Washington’s oppressive afternoon heat, the President said much – perhaps nearly all – of what we would hope from our leaders: Continue reading

The Courage to Act: Obama on Climate Leadership

“The question is not whether we need to act. Science has now put that to rest. The question now is whether we will have the courage to act before it’s too late. As a president, as a father, and as an American, I’m here to say we need to act. I refuse to condemn your generation and future generations to a planet that’s beyond fixing.” Barack Obama 6/25/13

I’ve just finished listening to President Barack Obama deliver the most important speech of his presidency. I should note that the network and cable news channels tuned out after just a few minutes – there’s a spy on the loose somewhere in Moscow. But 350.org streamed it live, and I watched.

President Obama at Georgetown University. Courtesy Alexei Laushkin

President Obama at Georgetown University. Courtesy Alexei Laushkin

I have to say, I’m stunned. I didn’t believe I would hear an American president deliver such a message. But he did. In the coming days and weeks, you’ll hear all kinds of pronouncements – condemning or praising – about the plan he outlined. But let me just give you a series of unedited snippets from my notes.

  • Scientists have known since the 1800s that greenhouse gases trap heat.  This is 18th century science, and it’s settled.
  • The 12 warmest [global] years in recorded history have all come in the last 15 years. 2012 was the warmest year in our [US] history.  Just last week, a heat wave in Alaska shot temperatures into the 90s. We know no single weather event is caused by climate change… but all weather events are affected by a warming planet. Continue reading