Tag Archives: Paris Agreement

China Poised to Lap U.S. in Race for Climate Leadership

 

This morning, we woke up to the news that President-elect Donald Trump had nominated former Texas Governor Rick Perry to lead the Department of Energy. Social media was instantly abuzz with the irony: In the 2012 Republican primary, candidate Perry had vowed to kill this very agency, although he infamously couldn’t remember its name.

Next came comparisons to the two most recent energy secretaries: Steven Chu, a Nobel laureate physicist, and Ernest J. Moniz, a distinguished nuclear physicist from M.I.T. By contrast, Perry was his class “social secretary” and “Yell Leader” at Texas A&M, on the way to earning a bachelor’s degree in animal science.

But Perry’s nomination is particularly notable in light of the current episode of “Years of Living Dangerously,” which premieres tonight on the National Geographic Channel. With help from Sigourney Weaver and America Ferrera, “Years” examines the diverging climate-response paths of the world’s two largest polluters – China and the US.

Latest episode compares climate responses in U.S. and China

Viewers may be surprised to learn that China is taking enormous steps in transforming its economy onto a post-carbon footing. Whatever we may think about the alleged “War on Coal” here in the States, China makes no bones about it. Just last year, China abandoned construction on thirty new coal plants. Together, those plants would have had a greater generating capacity than all of Great Britain. And they’ve become the largest worldwide producer of solar electric power.

By contrast with A&M “social-secretary” Perry, China has entrusted its energy program to Premier Li Keqiang, the second most senior leader in China, ranked by Forbes as the 12th “Most Powerful Person” in the world.

How are they doing it? “Years” explores China’s new carbon “cap & trade” program which is being rolled out nationwide next year. The CEO of China Power & Light offered Weaver a perspective echoed by virtually everyone she spoke to: “I actually welcome the clarity brought about by a price on carbon. It makes our job much easier….”

Back in the U.S., actor America Ferrera explores a very different struggle. Where pollution is unpriced, it is the poor and powerless who suffer the worst impacts – respiratory diseases and other ills. Ferrera’s trail takes her to Waukegan, Illinois, where one of the oldest coal-fired power plants in the country stands cheek-to-jowl with a Latino and African-American community. In Waukegan, one-third of all children suffer from asthma.

Ferrera follows a citizen action group seeking desperately to address municipal leaders and the plant’s corporate owner, NRG Energy. They’re seeking relief from the pollution that is sickening their community. And we feel the maddening frustration of citizen activists rebuffed by a wall of rejection from those in power. Even their cleverest strategy, becoming small shareholders and packing the NRG annual meeting, produces only empty promises that the CEO will visit Waukegan at some future date.

But in fact, the Waukegan story is repeated in study after study across the US. The United Church of Christ has found over more than 20 years that racial minorities and poorer communities comprise the majority of populations living near hazardous waste facilities. The University of Pennsylvania has shown that African-American communities are twice as likely to suffer toxic accidents as in other places. And UCLA  found that low-income and minority children are disproportionately exposed to hazardous vehicle exhaust. Poor kids and children of color – these are the ones who get the asthma and emphysema, and who live with hazardous toxins.

Waukegan Generating Station.   Source: Midwest Energy News

Despite this depressing tale, we take some real hope from the nexus of today’s news about Gov. Perry and the narrative explored by “Years.”

First, China is moving ahead aggressively on climate, and is becoming the world leader in clean energy. Of course, we all benefit from a world with fewer greenhouse gases, no matter where we live. But of equal importance, competitive impulses will surely lead the US eventually to take steps to salvage some leadership in the energy of the future, rather than squeezing every penny from an aging oil industry.

And second, the looming prospect of an American petro-state cabinet typified by Perry at Energy, Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson at State, and Oklahoma oil champion Scott Pruitt at EPA stands to spur citizen action groups – like those in Waukegan – in every community.

It’s time for citizens to demand that our leaders assert our country’s greatness by moving forward into the clean economy that the world desperately needs. And in the process, to hear the cries – and wheezes – of our neighbors in poorer communities. Maybe then, we can call ourselves “great” again.

Why I Am Devastated by the Election

Reverend Ed Brown is a preacher. And a good preacher knows how to tell a story.

The former missionary to Pakistan is now in the business of caring for God’s creation, and mobilizing the Christian church to join him. And to help us understand the world we now live in, he asks us to imagine ourselves as the crew of a passenger liner at sea, many days from the nearest shore. We all have important jobs to do. Some of us prepare delicious food for the restaurants on board. Some of us manage entertainment for our passengers. Some run children’s programs for families on the trip. Some keep the toilets working. Still others provide medical care to the sick on board.

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“I have some sobering news…”

We are all busy with our callings, and each of them is vital to the success of our voyage, and even the safety of the thousands of passengers under our care.

But on this particular morning, the captain calls us all into a meeting on the ship’s bridge. His expression today is grave.

“I have received some sobering news from the chief engineer today,” he begins. “None of us should panic, but I need you to listen carefully to every word he tells us.”

The engineer steps forward, and lays out the story: During the night, there was an accident in the engine room, and the ship is taking on water. The pumps are running at capacity, but we are not keeping up. The ship is already riding lower in the water. More can be done, but we need everyone’s help for the survival of the ship. He lays out the plan in detail. It calls for our best efforts. If we all play a role, we can make it safely back to port.

“You still have your own jobs to do,” concludes the captain. “Children still need to be cared for. Meals still need to be prepared. Sick passengers still need medical care. But now, you must do your work with this in mind: It will all be for nothing unless we pull together on the engineer’s plan. The voyage, our passengers, and even our own lives hang in the balance. We can spare no effort.”

Rev. Brown’s story is, of course, the story of manmade climate change and Christian mission. Some of us are called to care for the aged. Some are called to relieve hunger. Others provide clean water; or teach children; or reconcile those in conflict. Others, perhaps, are more like the passengers – until now, mainly focused on our own vacation, leisure and appetites.

But whatever we’re doing now, runaway climate change threatens to sink all of our efforts. The hungry, the thirsty, the children, those fleeing conflicts – none will be spared if we don’t rise to the challenge.

But like the ship’s crew, we have a plan. In fact, the whole world has come together and agreed on a response to climate pollution. It’s called the 2015 Paris Agreement, and the 195 nations of the world have all agreed to it. It’s designed to assure that global temperatures don’t rise more than 2 degrees Celsius from those that sustained our parent’s world. Despite an ambitious start, we’re told that it’s not quite good enough to get us there. We’ll have to come back with even more creativity and resolve if we want to keep our planet below that perilous heat threshold.

But let’s go back to the ocean liner. Let’s imagine that the crew had some doubts about the captain’s plan. The entertainment director never had much trust in captains anyway. And he certainly had no time for boring engineers with their oily coveralls and dire warnings.

“The leak is a hoax,” he begins whispering to his shipmates. “We’re being led by stupid, stupid people. I could make this voyage really great, but we need to make some changes at the top.”

And next morning, we wake up to find the entertainer in command on the bridge, and the captain confined to his quarters below deck. The ship is just beginning to list slightly to starboard, but the casino and nightclub are packed. Everyone’s having fun. We’re no longer headed back to port. The children under our care run and play, unaware that the engine room is now almost flooded out.

And that’s the story that began to unfold last week, when voters in the world’s richest and largest economy chose a climate change denier as captain of their ship for the next four years. He has promised to withdraw from the Paris Agreement; to forbid the EPA from regulating CO2 as a pollutant; to abandon the Clean Power Plan; to construct new pipelines to increase the flood of Canadian tar sands crude – the world’s dirtiest oil – through the American heartland to export terminals on the Gulf; to increase fracking for natural gas; to reverse the long-term decline of coal extraction and burning.

ship-21And in case there’s any doubt about how serious he is, he’s appointed one of the most notorious climate change “hoaxers” to lead his transition team at the EPA. The rest of the world has begun to ask if it’s possible for worldwide climate action plans to survive under such an assault. Some are talking about slapping carbon tariffs on anything imported from the US. Others are calling us a “rogue nation,” like North Korea.

Me, I’m watching the children play on the ship’s pool deck. Look! There are my little granddaughters! And my daughter-in-law rocking her new baby! They’re so beautiful. They’re so beautiful. My eyes moisten.

Suddenly, I grab for a rail to catch my balance. The ship is now listing harder to starboard. The little ones don’t notice yet. Ice cream is being served. With sprinkles.

Day One: What Happens to White Evangelicals and the Gospel Now?

I wake at three. After several hours of darkness, the dawn ushers in a gray drizzle. I struggle to breathe.

The pale blue light in my palm chimes and vibrates, bringing me the laments of many friends in short bursts of text. The morning after the polls closed, how could we have done this? Is this who we really are?

Who are we now? Who are we now?                  Source: Business Insider

Who are we now? Who am I now? Do I even belong here? Belong in this national story? In this political affiliation? In this religious tribe?

Friends and children all ask me the same questions: What does this mean for Muslims? For immigrants? For refugees? For the poor? For the disabled? For the uninsured? For political opponents?

But some ask more ominous questions: What does this mean for the survival of our species, for billions of our fellow humans? And what does it mean for countless other species and ecosystems? Could America have just voted humankind onto an irreversible course of decline, dragging an ark-full of other creatures down with us?

And could its white evangelicals have simultaneously sealed the fate of their religious movement?

Surely, no one has ever reacted to an election with such dire warnings. Perhaps I have gone totally overboard? I don’t think so. But you decide.

There is one planetary peril so dire that all 195 nations of the world have decided they must act now. In Paris last year, they came together to finalize an agreement by which we would all take specific steps to prevent the world from warming more than 2 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. Every nation signed, and enough have now ratified it to become binding. The measures included so far aren’t nearly enough to keep warming at 2 degrees. But everyone is expecting future sessions to increase world-wide ambition in reaching this goal.

And why is it so important to avoid 3-4 degrees of warming? For starters, heat waves would be simply unbearable for much of humanity – 100-year heat waves would occur during almost all summer months every year in many regions. Sea levels would rise more than 1 meter by the end of the century, and would accelerate further after that. Food production would decline as hot regions become dryer, and as intense storms destroy farmlands. The collapse of the marine food chain is also likely, as reefs die in warmer, more acidic oceans. And humanity – armed to the teeth with weapons of mass destruction – would have to decide who starves, and who lives.

The story is no fantasy. But it is a nightmare. 3-4 degrees of warming must be avoided at all costs. And the world agreed in Paris to do so.

But now, we have now elected Donald Trump, who has specifically promised to kill the Paris Agreement and the US initiatives that constitute our share of the climate-saving work. Here are a few of the steps he has promised to take:

  • Abolish the EPA as we know it.
  • Forbid any surviving portion of the EPA to regulate carbon dioxide.
  • Halt funding for the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change.
  • Cancel the Clean Power Plan.
  • Build the Keystone XL pipeline and more like it.
  • Stop any carbon tax or pricing mechanism.

So rather than strengthening the Paris Agreement as will be needed, our country has chosen a leader who has sworn to kill the global effort entirely. With the world’s greatest superpower thumbing its nose at its poorer neighbors, coal and oil pollution will continue to rise, as will heat, hunger and sea levels.

Humanity can adapt to changes, you are thinking? Well, for a while, especially the rich and mobile. And the world has seen a temperature change of 4 degrees before, about 100,000 years ago during the last ice age. But back then, the change occurred over thousands of years –not one single century. And time is everything when it comes to climate adaptation. Most species and people cannot adapt, much less evolve to thrive in the breakneck pace of change we’re causing.

Perhaps you aren’t concerned by this last item, but if you’re a Christian and think you have good news to offer the world, maybe you should be. Because white evangelicals were by far the strongest backers of Trump. They backed him by a higher margin than any other candidate in a generation – more than 80 percent.

So as the impacts of runaway climate change wreak havoc on the people of the world, let’s not even dream of the world’s people darkening the doors of our churches. Good news? Really? First you kill my source of survival, and then you offer me good news? If you’ve got a god, he’s the last thing I want to hear about.

For American White Evangelicalism, this looks like it could be the beginning of a very sorry end.

Never-Trump Evangelicals on an Endangered Planet

For many American Evangelicals, this election season is different. Whatever we think about guns, or emails, or Roe v. Wade, or billionaires paying no taxes, or health care – we’ve never seen anything like this before.

Since Reagan in the 1980’s, we’ve been a reliable base for the Republican Party. But not this year. This year, we Evangelicals have been split wide open by the looming shadow of a Trump presidency. With nearly daily pronouncements that would normally send Christians packing, Trump has attracted intense criticism from many religious leaders, and awkward theological contortions from many of the Old Guard. James Dobson and Jerry Falwell Jr. still stand by their man. But many church leaders – from Baptist ethicist Russell Moore, to pastor Max Lucado, to evangelist Beth Moore, to author Phillip Yancey, and even to Pope Francis himself – have criticized the GOP standard-bearer as antithetical to Christian teaching.

Russell Moore: "The damage done to gospel witness this year will take longer to recover from than those 1980's televangelist scandals."

Baptist Russell Moore: “The damage done to gospel witness this year will take longer to recover from than those 1980’s televangelist scandals.”

The Never-Trump Evangelicals are a diverse bunch. But we share with each other allegiance to the risen Savior, Jesus Christ. We believe that he is Lord of all things: All things were created by and for him; he holds all things together; he is reconciling all things to himself; and he has made us agents of his reconciliation toward all things. There simply is nothing beyond the scope of our Lord’s care – and ours.

Of course, this means that we are not misogynists. We struggle against racism and xenophobia. We recoil at threats of torture, and killing the families of our enemies. We are dismayed at the prospect of a president whose entire campaign has earned him the notorious “Lie of the Year” award. We can hardly imagine handing the world’s strongest military into the hands of one who indulges in noxious conspiracy theories, who flirts with inciting political violence, who admires authoritarian rulers, and who threatens to jail his political enemies. And we feel the threat to what remains of our cultural decency from a thrice-married presidential aspirant whose casinos feature strip clubs, and who boasts of grabbing women by the genitals while his third wife is pregnant with his fifth child.

Trump’s “antics,” insisting that, “such insensitivities wouldn’t even be acceptable even for a middle school student body election.”

Max Lucado: Trump’s antics “wouldn’t even be acceptable for a middle school student body election.”

But for some of us Never-Trump Evangelicals, these are trifles, when compared to the most ominous consequences ahead.

Trifles? How can anyone pass off such patent disregard for the foundations of Christian decency as mere trifles?

Here’s how.

While it’s attracted curiously little public debate, Candidate Trump has promised to singlehandedly undo the entire world’s last, best effort to save our common home from runaway ecosystem destruction. For people who take geo-science seriously, Trump’s promises amount to destruction of the creation that sustains our civilization.

Really. We’re not reading between the lines. This is not something he might do. This is what he has expressly promised to do. Considering the stakes, we’d be fools not to take “straight-talking” Trump at face value: He has promised to spare no effort to destroy every national and global effort to salvage a livable climate for us and our children.

Here are just a few targets on Trump’s planetary hit-list:

  • Abolish the EPA as we know it. (Anyone remember Pittsburgh or Cleveland in the 1970’s? Or Beijing today?)
  • Forbid the EPA to regulate carbon dioxide. (Of course, this won’t be necessary once it’s been abolished.)
  • Halt funding for the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change. (As the second-largest polluter in the world, the defection of Trump’s America would bring down the entire 190-nation effort to stop runaway climate change.)
  • Cancel the Clean Power Plan. (The fossil-fuel industry would be free to emit as many greenhouse gases into our common atmosphere as they want – for free.)
  • Build the Keystone XL pipeline and more like it. (Despite historically low fuel prices, the world’s dirtiest oil would be piped through America’s largest aquifers, for refining and export.)
  • Kill federal fracking regulations. (Even if toxic fracking chemicals can destroy community drinking water, that’s not government’s business if oil companies are against it.)
  • Oppose any carbon tax. (The cost of climate disruption should be borne by you and me, not by fossil fuel polluters.)

So what would it mean to us if Trump kept even a few of these promises?

Well, his scheme will trigger the collapse of the global climate initiative aimed at keeping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius. (In case you are skeptical, mega-polluter China has just warned of the danger of Trump’s plans.) Atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases will continue to grow unabated. And while the consequences may sound apocalyptic, they are well understood by experts around the world: polar ice sheets will melt faster in the runaway heat; rising sea levels will inundate coastal cities and nations; the oceans will become too acidic to support marine ecosystems; and extreme weather – droughts, floods, wildfires and tropical storms – will drive mass migration and desperate resource conflicts in a world armed to the teeth.

Pope Francis: "A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian."

Pope Francis: “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian.”

And if that is not enough, the survivors of our recklessness will bear the knowledge that of all the nations on earth, ours will bear unique responsibility for the world’s suffering. At the very moment that the entire planet came together under the Paris Agreement to save our children from runaway climate change, America will have handed the reins of a superpower to the only leader in the world to scoff at the threat of climate change — the one leader whose plans amount to a manifesto for planetary destruction.

Worse yet, our country will have done so with the key backing of leaders of the Religious Right or conservative Evangelicals. Now that’s something to think about.

Because the very name “Evangelical” comes from the Greek word for “good news.” We bear the good news of the gospel – God’s love offered freely in Jesus Christ to an injured world in need of restoration and healing. And yet, perhaps we will have a key hand in destroying the most basic systems that humanity needs for its survival? Really? That’s good news?

No, it’s not. But we Never-Trump Evangelicals know that. Our Lord is not in the business of destroying his creation and his people. In fact, he loved his world so much that he laid down his life to reconcile all of it to himself. And we will do all we can to offer this good news to an injured world.

This is who I am.  This is what I care about.  Other Never-Trump Evangelicals like me agree with this. Maybe you agree too?

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.