Clothesline in Winter

Clothesline in Winter

Sunday, July 31, 2011

220 Congressmen vs. One Teenager

I’m putting my money on the kid.

Did you read Peter Elwood’s post about Kids v. Global Warming yesterday?  This is a group led by 16-year-old Alec Loorz, which has sued 12 states for failing to protect the public trust because they failed to limit climate-warming greenhouse gases.  Basically, they’re kids telling adults: We won’t stand by idly while you destroy the earth we’re going to inherit. (Read Peter's story here.)

Well, I’ve been around lawsuits for a long time, and I frankly didn’t give these ones much of a chance.  But apparently, the majority in the House of Representatives got really worried.  Virtually every one of their party, including my congressman, Rep. Scott Garrett, supports H.R. 2584, a horrific Bill they’re working on to fund, among other things, the EPA next year.  And way down in Sec. 431, the House bill singles out Kids v. Global Warming.  Here’s what it says:
“No cause of action based on Federal or State common law or civil tort (including nuisance) may be brought or maintained, and no liability, money damages, or injunctive relief arising from such an action may be imposed, for (A) any potential or actual contribution of a greenhouse gas to climate change; or (B) any direct or indirect effect of potential or actual or past, present, or future increases in concentrations of a greenhouse gas.”

Translation:  These kids better not sue us (or our oil & coal campaign contributors) for destroying the climate of their world, and if they do and prove their claim in a court of law, we won’t be liable anyway, and they can’t force us to do anything. Take that!
Now, maybe this bill will never be approved by the Senate, and maybe it will never be signed into law by the President.  But if it is, I’m still putting my money on “Kids.”
What little people can do...
Why?  Because these 220 politicians will have to answer for themselves to voters like you in less than two years. And in two years, Alec Loorz and his friends will just be turning 18.

And little people know
When little people fight
We may look easy pickings
But we've got some bite
So never kick a dog
Because he's just a pup
We'll fight like twenty armies
And we won't give up
So you'd better run for cover
When the pup grows up! 
    Gavroche, Les Miserables

Don't give up, kids!

Thanks for reading, and may God bless you.

J. Elwood

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Inter-Generational Justice: Do You Love Your Kids?

Special Young Writers Report
By Peter Elwood, Music Therapy student

"Do you love me?” 

Peter Elwood
It is a question that children ask hundreds, if not thousands, of times throughout their childhood. It is a plea for safety and the search for protection. Today we see the same question being asked by children and young adults with regard to the future of our planet.

Beginning in May of 2011, fifty two separate lawsuits are being filed claiming that the government has failed to protect the public by failing to regulate our country’s carbon emissions. These “public trust” lawsuits are based on the idea that the government has an obligation to protect our natural resources as well as our own lives from present threats. 

It so happens that in this case, the present threat is human-induced global warming. The basis of environmental threats being treated as “public trust” issues is far from revolutionary. Supreme Court rulings have protected bodies of water and wildlife for decades. But these cases involve the atmosphere, and that is a very foreign topic.

Lawsuits began last May in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington. Shortly following the initial cases, Hawaii and our very own New Jersey will be presented with the case. These lawsuits will be followed by petitions sent out in the other 38 states in an attempt to establish environmental policies, and lower carbon emissions.

The logic behind these cases is compelling and if nothing else, it will add an entirely new dimension to the political debates over carbon emissions. However, the most remarkable aspect of these lawsuits is who’s behind them.
You’d think that organizing and directing such a massive judicial procedure must have taken the work of countless politicians and attorneys, right? Surely it was organized by a powerful chairman of an environmental or political advocacy group...wasn't it?
Surprisingly, the mastermind behind these lawsuits is 16-year-old Alec Loorz, founder of Kids vs. Global Warming. Loorz has been passionately fighting to protect our earth since age 12. Believing that “the legislative and executive branches of our government have failed us,” Loorz, with the help of four other teenagers, is attempting to make a change through the judicial branch.

Alec Loorz: Teen earth defender
We are currently living in an age where politicians understand that making a stand on any one issue may lower their chances of re-election. Many find this seeming lack of passionate urgency to be disheartening or frustrating. Yet few view it to be truly threatening. Alec Loorz, however, sees this threat. He is a young man who feels the urgency in his heart. 

Without some sort of political and social action, the world that Alec and I inherit will become increasingly inhospitable. So while our generation has been labeled the “lazy generation” it is very likely that we will have to spend our lives trying to reverse the trends of the generations preceding us.

In 2008, the book, “Do Hard Things” by 19-year-olds Alex and Brett Harris, was written to encourage teenagers to rebel against the low expectations that have been placed upon them. The book reads:

Most people don't expect you to understand what we're going to tell you in this book. And even if you understand, they don't expect you to care. And even if you care, they don't expect you to do anything about it. And even if you do something about it, they don't expect it to last. We do.”
Kids raising sign indicating sea levels from polar ice melt.
Obviously many of my peers will not pursue such a motivated lifestyle. However, it is individuals like Alec Loorz that give me hope for a better future.
As children living in a world in crisis, this “lazy generation” must find new ways to live that not only reduce the damage that has been done to our home, but reverse it. So with that, I give my thanks and admiration to Alec Loorz and the rest of his team who have ignored the assumed restrictions of age and have gone out on a limb to make a difference.

So to you, my reader, I ask you this: Do you love me?  And do you love kids like me, who will inherit your world? When you're choosing which light bulb to buy, or which candidate to elect, do you ever think, “What kind of world do I want to leave for my child?” 

People like Loorz have, and will continue to make a large impact on this world. But for our sake, our children's sake, and our planet's sake, we long for your help.

Go well.

Peter Elwood

Note:  Peter Elwood studies music therapy at Montclair State University in New Jersey, and is the Garden State’s most passionate fan of Liverpool FC.  We look forward to hearing from him again!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

John Stott 1921-2011: Remembering a Radical Disciple

Yesterday morning, the mail brought Rev. John Stott’s final book, “The Radical Disciple.”  Within hours, Barbara brought me the news that Stott was dead.

J.R.W. Stott, disciple of Christ
Not everyone knows Stott.  The more secular readers of the CR, and others of you who follow other religions, might not have heard of him.   But many years ago, when I was a high school boy, two Christian writers stood as pillars of guidance for young people exploring the gospel. Of course, there was C.S. Lewis with “Mere Christianity” and dozens of other works.  But next in line was John Stott, rector of All Souls Church in London, whose “Basic Christianity” became the authority for living in relationship with God.

Forty years later “The Radical Disciple” arrived at my door (see it here).  Writing by hand at age 88 in 2009, and keenly aware of the shortness of time to give us his final, parting guidance, Stott said this:

“Our common way of avoiding radical discipleship is to be selective; choosing those areas in which commitment suits us and staying away from those areas in which it will be costly. But because Jesus is Lord, we have no right to pick and choose the areas in which we will submit to his authority.”

And what are those costly areas of life that Stott insists that we bring under the authority of Christ? He mentions eight. But principal among them is “the care of our created environment.”  Care for creation.

Among the core issues of creation care, Stott puts human-caused climate change as the most important.  “Of all the global threats that face our planet,” he writes, “this is the most serious.”

How can Christians ignore the perils of environmental degradation, and even resist those who labor to protect the earth?  Stott confesses that he doesn’t know. Citing a younger writer, he says:

“It seems quite inexplicable to me that there are some Christians who claim to love and worship God, to be disciples of Jesus, and yet have no concern for the earth that bears his stamp of ownership. They do not care about the abuse of the earth and indeed, by their wasteful and over-consumptive lifestyles, they contribute to it.”

Well, Dr. Stott, we share your bewilderment.  But today, we honor the memory of your life, and the ways you have enriched and guided us.  We thank God for lending you to us all these years.  And we rededicate ourselves to the call to discipleship so close to your heart.

Thanks for reading, and may God bless you.

J. Elwood

Monday, July 25, 2011

Meatless Monday

“When your mum comes, we will cut a chicken!”

Anticipating the arrival of his American friend’s family, young Gonja Saulo excitedly drew his forefinger across his throat to underscore the chicken’s fate, and the happy thought of eating meat sometime soon.

Gonja (left) and friend modelling Nathan's stuff
To my son, Nathan Elwood, a chicken dinner was a lot less novel.  But his neighbors in western Uganda almost never ate meat, except for very special occasions.  And a visit from Nathan’s family meant meat.  One meal, to be shared lavishly with us.

After that visit to East Africa two years ago, the Elwood family started eating a lot less meat.  We aren’t vegetarians, and we’re not even particularly nice to animals that invade our garden or prey on our laying hens.  But we figured that we’d never learn how to embrace the world’s 6.6 billion non-Americans if didn’t rethink our national meat binge in the midst of an ever-hungrier world.

It turns out that we Americans eat a lot of meat.  Not including seafood, the average American eats 208 lbs. of the stuff every year.  That's 60 percent more than Europeans, and four times as much as a person in the developing world, like young Gonja.  In fact, American men eat about twice the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of protein.  For our children, it’s worse: we feed them four times the RDA. Health experts tell us that this pattern of consumption leads to exposure to toxins, and increases the risk of heart disease, cancer and obesity.  And as I posted last week, meat consumption results in much more greenhouse gas emissions per pound consumed than other proteins.

Life cycle CO2 emissions from meat consumption are really high
So a few weeks ago, we decided that Mondays in our household would be meatless.  Meatless Monday.  We thought that – for us – it would be more consistent with the gospel, and might even catch on with others.  So imagine our surprise at reading the Environmental Working Group Report last week and learning that Meatless Monday is a well-established national program already!  (Get the report here.) Better late than never, perhaps?

And what good can Meatless Monday do?  Well, EWG reports that if everyone in the U.S. ate no meat or cheese just one day per week, over a year, the effect on carbon emissions would be like taking 7.6 million cars off the road.  Think of it: 7.6 million cars

What we'll have for you on Monday!
So consider joining us with Meatless Monday.  And if you stop by Good Hand Farm, you’re welcome to join us for as much black beans and rice, eggs and garden veggies as you like.  But if you want meat, you’ll have to come back on Tuesday.

Thanks for reading, and may God bless you.

J. Elwood

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9)

P.S.  Some related, interesting facts:

Trash:          About 20% of U.S. edible meat gets thrown out.  For salmon, it’s 44%.
Cheese:        The yummy stuff is the 3rd most carbon-heavy protein, behind lamb and beef.
Fertilizers:     They generate nitrous oxide, which has 300 times the global warming effect of CO2, making a strong case for organic food.
Manure:         Commercial feedlots generate three times more of it than all human waste; and much of it emits methane, which is 25 times more warming than CO2.
Buying locally:    Local veggies have as much as 25% less related CO2 emissions, due to reduced transport requirements.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Chicken or Beef? Chicken, Please

Like me, you want to preserve the earth and its climate so your children can enjoy the blessings of God’s creation.  But it’s not so easy.  You’ve got no place for solar panels, your landlord prohibits clotheslines, there’s no commuter rail serving your town, and you couldn’t sell your inefficient suburban dream-house if you wanted to.

Relax.  There are a thousand things we can change to take better care of our Father’s world.  How about starting with the food we eat?

Chicken, or beef?
Did you know that your choice of meats and vegetable proteins contributes in a big way to the amount of greenhouse gases (GHGs) you pump into the atmosphere?  A new study by the Environmental Working Group has examined protein foods from lamb to lentils, and has calculated the amount of CO2 and equivalent amounts of methane generated during the entire life-cycle, from field production to your compost pile or landfill (get it here).

The EWG study performed life-cycle assessments of 20 popular protein foods, looking at all phases of their life from “cradle to grave.”  They considered on-farm sources of GHGs, like pesticides, fertilizers and animal raising.  But they also looked at “post-farm-gate" sources, like transportation, processing, spoilage and cooking.  And they even considered the impact of food that gets left on the plate or leftovers thrown out days later.

As you’d expect, meats account for more heat-trapping GHGs than most protein vegetables, like peanut butter and dried beans.  But to me, one of the most interesting findings is the big difference between beef and chicken.  Chicken is way more climate-friendly.

Units CO2 per unit consumed food: beef, chicken, and 18 others
The bottom line is striking:  For every pound of beef that makes it onto your fork, 27.0 lbs. of CO2-equivalent GHGs get released into the atmosphere.  27 lbs!  But if you choose chicken instead, the GHGs from your food choices are reduced by 75%, to 6.9 lbs.  Here’s why:

Beef cows are ruminants, with a special digestive organ that permits them to digest grasses.  In the rumen, a cow’s digestion produces methane in mind-numbing quantities.  And methane is a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than CO2.  So for every pound of meat, a cow produces the methane equivalent of 7.5 lbs. of CO2.  Chicken aren’t ruminants, and produce no methane this way. 

But wait!  There’s more!

Beef cattle also eat about three times more feed per pound of meat than chicken do.  So when you add up the greenhouse gases that go into growing the corn and soybeans they eat, beef’s impact of 4.7 lbs. CO2 is way above chicken at 1.3 lbs.

Add to that the greater amount of nitrous oxide emitted by beef manure, the higher emissions from transporting beef, and the greater amount of methane from cow manure, and beef production is off the charts, compared to chicken.

Raising beef produces methane and nitrous oxide, deadly GHGs
Once the food leaves the farm, the playing field levels out a bit.  The processing of chicken generates a little more greenhouse gases, because of all the water that has to be pumped into the process.  But then comes waste on your plate:  Americans waste 16% of the beef they are served, and 12% of the chicken.  All that GHG pollution, going for food we throw into the trash.

So, what does all this mean?  Well, for starters, caring for the creation in our day might involve passing up the beef more often, and having other proteins instead, like chicken, eggs, milk, nuts or beans.  The EWG report figures that if we eat one less hamburger per week, it’s like taking your car off the road for 320 miles, or line-drying your clothes half the time. 

Remember, you don’t necessarily need to have a wind-turbine above your roof.  Everyone can do something.  And smart food choices are a good place to start.

Thanks for reading, and may God bless you!

J. Elwood

P.S.  If you’re reading this in Kenya, Chile or Uganda, this data might not be exactly applicable.  The EWR Study was based on USDA data from conventional U.S. meat and vegetable production methods, not grass-fed, free-range and organic processes.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Bird That Made Your Morning Coffee

Erik Sandvig
Special Young Writers Report
By Erik Sandvig, Chilean avian specialist

When you buy a bag of coffee, you probably aren’t thinking about the birds which made it possible.  And you might not know that you can do a lot to assure that these creatures survive and thrive to continue their vital service to the earth’s ecosystems.

But you can.  Here’s the story.

It’s not easy to put a dollar sign on birds. But in a world that’s dominated by economics, it’s important to quantify the worth of the ecological processes provided to us (for free) by plants and animals. We refer to them as ecosystem services, like water catchment and filtration by forests, pollination by bees and pest control by birds, just to name a few. 

Ecosystem services have tremendous value to our economy. But in most cases they aren’t accounted for, let alone quantified.  Yet birds are present in almost all ecosystems on earth and thus have a tremendous impact on all sorts of ecological processes happening around us.

Ecosystem services are divided into four categories. Provisioning services provide food, clothing, medicines, tools, or other uses. Cultural services provide recreational opportunities, inspiration for art and music, and spiritual value. Regulating services include pest control and carcass removal. Supporting services, such as pollination, seed dispersal, water purification, and nutrient cycling, provide processes essential for ecological communities and agricultural ecosystems.

Ecosystem services provided by birds aren’t usually the first to come to mind when we think of components of nature that might make sense to factor into the economic equation. The first guess you might have is forests or wetlands, that seem to be shown on the news ever so often. We are told that they catch water and prevent flooding, filter and purify water and prevent erosion. It’s true that these are probably some of the most important services to our economy, but let’s not forget about the ones that pass under the radar.

Red-billed Streamertail protects Jamaican coffee
To illustrate the value that birds have on just one specific business, consider a coffee plantation in Jamaica. It turns out that birds provide coffee growers with vital assistance. Recent studies in Jamaica (see one here ) indicate that birds reduce pest populations, increase saleable fruit, and boost farm income. The studies indicate that birds boosted farm income by as much as $310 per acre/per year. Undoubtedly this can really make a difference to a family or coop-owned farm.

The fact that most ecosystem services aren’t taken into consideration in our economy just goes to show how disconnected we are from reality and how man-made systems have taken over our lives, excluding nature and its fundamental principles. We are stewards of the earth and must guarantee the wellbeing of all creation.

Next time you buy a bag of coffee, a good idea would be to support companies that buy their beans from tree covered plantations (shade grown) that maintain bird diversity like Birds and Bean (

Thousands of daily choices we make may help or harm the creatures and systems we depend on.  Your choices could preserve and save valuable birds.

Erik Sandvig
Valdivia Chile

Note:  Erik Sandvig is the first of the Clothesline Report Young Writer contributors.  Thank you, Erik, for this excellent and informative piece.  We look forward to hearing from you again!

J. Elwood

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Big Coal Pulls the Plug on “Clean Coal”

In this morning’s news, we read that a major American utility is cancelling the country’s most prominent effort to capture CO2 from a coal-burning power plant. 

Stacks at WV's Mountaineer plant
American Electric Power has decided to table plans to build a full-scale carbon-capture plant at Mountaineer, a 31-year-old coal-fired plant in West Virginia, where the company has successfully captured and buried carbon dioxide in a small pilot program for two years.  (Read more here.)

We all knew (didn’t we?) that this would happen.  I predicted it last October in a post on the cleverly-named “Clean Coal” ads.  Carbon capture has been the centerpiece of this huge advertising campaign.  We’ve all seen them on TV: “Clean Coal; America’s Power.”

Here’s the typical ad copy: “I believe in the future,” declares an elderly woman, with the refrain picked up by a bright young man.  They are joined by other actors telling us that they also believe – in protecting the environment, in energy independence, in technology, and in limiting greenhouse gases.  But then comes the core advertising message:

Coal industry's $40 million "Clean Coal" add campaign
New technology permits us to affordably limit greenhouse gas emissions from America’s most abundant fuel: Coal.”

Last October, I posted a blog to clear the smog away from this cheery – and deceptive – message.  In brief:

Coal is the dirtiest fuel on the planet.  The burning of coal emits more sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, mercury, particulates and CO2 than any other fuel.
Carbon capture isn’t being used for commercial-scale electric utility plants anywhere in the world. Not one of 600 U.S. coal-fired commercial-scale electric power plants captures and stores any significant amount of CO2
Electricity from coal with carbon capture is not cheap at all.  According to the U. N. panel, carbon capture and storage costs would increase the cost of electricity from a new coal-fired power plant by up to 91%.
But the coal industry is spending $40 million on the “Clean Coal” ad campaign, plus another $30 million per year on lobbying, to keep the “Clean Coal” fig leaf in place. 

With carbon capture, coal energy costs more than most renewables
The Clothesline Report warned that not one coal company would ever invest in commercial-scale carbon capture unless carbon pollution came with a price tag.  I had no idea my point would be proven so quickly.  Congress has killed all efforts to include the cost of environmental pollution from coal-burning.  (We pollute now for free! Someone else pays later, or elsewhere.)

And now, with their political backers assuring that they’ll never have to pay for their pollution, the coal industry has killed their poster-child cleanup project.

With the loss of the nascent clean coal project, U.S. technology companies have lost their chance to develop commercial technology to capture carbon. (Read here about remaining U.S. carbon capture projects.)  In a few years, when the ravages of climate change make climate-denial impossible for even the most cynical coal-funded politicians, we’ll have the chance to start this again.  And we’ll be able to buy the technology, no doubt – from the Chinese.

In the meantime, do you think the coal industry will rename their ad campaign?  How about this: “America’s Power: Let the Kids Pay the Consequences.”

Thanks for reading, and may God bless you.

J. Elwood

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Update on Airline Pollution Wars…

A couple of weeks ago, I posted on U.S. airline efforts to kill the European plan to limit greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution from air traffic (see it here).  At the time, I thought I had seen the whole story.  But a little more digging showed me how desperate our airlines (and our government!) are to assure that nothing will happen to limit GHG pollution from air travel.

Air travel is the fastest growing transportation segment
You may recall that air traffic accounts for 2-3% of global GHG pollution.  That doesn’t sound like much, at first.  But air travel is the fastest-growing transportation segment in the world, with GHG emissions expected to increase 150% by 2030.  And air travel – per passenger-mile – is by far the most polluting form of travel.  As an example, air travel from New York to Washington generates 3.5 times more GHG pollution than the train, and takes much longer door to door (read more here).

Because they know this, the 27-member-nation EU is preparing as of 2012 to require all flights in, into or out of Europe to generate no more GHG pollution than was generated on average in 2005. Otherwise, polluters would have to purchase credits from companies that have succeeded in reducing their GHG pollution.  U.S. airlines have sued to kill the effort, and the U.S. government has actually sided with them. 

In 2004, air travel was 6 times bigger than in 1970
What could the U.S. government be thinking, you wonder?  Well, the administration has called it "the wrong way to pursue the right objective." The U.S. argues Europe should pursue its goals through the United Nations' aviation agency.

That sounds reasonable, right?  Aviation is global, and many flights travel between countries and over oceans.  The UN agency, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), would seem to be the right place to go for airline GHG pollution limits.  But the Europeans have argued that the ICAO has been stuck in the mud for years, so they’re moving ahead on their own.

I wondered about this, so I checked it out.  What I got was a lesson in how to entirely block all progress anywhere, in the name of making progress everywhere. Here’s what I learned:

In 1997, the Kyoto Protocol assigned responsibility for reducing aviation greenhouse gas emissions to the ICAO and its 190 member nations.  After seven years of deadlocked negotiations, the ICAO gave up, and handed responsibility partially back to each nation.  But debates raged as to whether any country was free to impose its own GHG pollution limits on international flights, given the global nature of the airline trade.  Europe wanted to proceed on its own; the U.S. wanted its air carriers to be free to pollute unless a global deal could be worked out. (Read more here.)

NY to DC: train gets you door to door twice as fast, and saves 176 lbs CO2 per traveler
But to call the U.S. position cynical doesn’t quite capture the reality.  Our representatives insisted that every single one of the 190 member nations would have to agree to any GHG pollution limitations anywhere.  If they didn’t, their airlines would be able to fly into Europe or anywhere else, and thumb their noses at pollution regulations.  This unfair advantage would, of course, kill every pollution control effort anywhere on the earth.

Finally, after 13 years of talking, in 2010, the ICAO reached an agreement in Montreal that the State Department hailed as “an unprecedented global commitment … to limit and reduce carbon emissions from international aviation.”  The State Department press corps called it “the historic agreement … on climate change.”  I wondered.  Ominously, the press release hinted “that further work is necessary to define the path forward on implementation.”  Hmm.  Lofty goals, but no teeth, I wondered?

No.  Not even lofty goals.  Basically, the ICAO set targets of 2% reductions in GHG pollution only after 2020.  NO POLLUTION LIMITS WHATSOEVER BEFORE 2020, while pollution can grow unchecked. And even this weak-kneed declaration had no teeth in it.  It was basically an agreement to keep on talking, which suited the U.S. airlines just fine.  Talk as long as you like, while we keep pumping out GHG pollution.

So the Europeans have gone ahead on their own.  But the U.S. airlines want them to go back into the ICAO torture chamber, where they are sure to do no harm for many years to come.

Incidentally, don’t look for reports about this lawsuit (underway right now) on the nightly news.  After all, Casey Anthony has just been acquitted, and our news outlets will have to spend many hours “analyzing” the verdict.

Thanks for reading, and may God bless you.

J. Elwood