Clothesline in Winter

Clothesline in Winter

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The 900-Pound Gorilla: Party Politics

Here at the CR, we do our best to maintain our political independence.  Some of our best friends have strong party loyalties, but we’ve always held that we don’t.

Barbara and I recently attended an ethics forum in NYC with Rev. Tim Keller, and we were struck with the simplicity of his message on political opinion. As I recall it, he said: “You can be a liberal or a conservative. But be sure that your ethics aren’t determined by your political affiliation.  Your ethics must be determined by the Bible.”

My only bumper sticker ever: Sojo.
The Bible!  In a day when the media tells us that evangelical Christians are practically owned by one of our parties, that’s a strong call to be careful about political ideology.

And so, as advocates for creation care, we try to “call ‘em like we see ‘em,” without regard to politics.  Most of the vocal Republicans these days mindlessly deny the very facts of climate science, and we don’t shrink from pointing that out.  But we’ve been sharply critical of our Democrat-in-Chief as well, while he waffled on the Keystone XL pipeline.  We blasted Rush Limbaugh recently for his lunacy regarding some maniacal African murderers (that he called Christians); but we followed it with an admiring piece on Republican Bob Inglis and his call to engage climate science and affirm free market economics.

It’s not hard to find things to like or dislike in both parties.  But in our efforts to be evenhanded, we must not make the mistake of talking nonsense.  There’s a 900-pound gorilla in the room, and it’s no good tiptoeing around it.  I’m going to take a deep breath before saying this: If today’s Republican Party had its way, the damage to our Father’s world and its most vulnerable children would be almost incalculable.

Now, now, now, now!  I beg you, give me one moment, please.  After all, the only party I’ve ever been a part of is the GOP.

But we’ve gone a little crazy recently.  Consider the Clean Air Act. Maybe you don’t remember what urban air was like before Republican President Nixon signed this into law in 1970.  But it was pretty toxic stuff.

And in 1990, Republican President George H.W. Bush signed sweeping amendments to the Clean Air Act to deal with interstate movements of polluted air and water.  You see, whatever you think about Vegas, what happens in Pittsburgh doesn’t stay in Pittsburgh. The government – and the Republicans – understood this.

Finally, 21 years later, the EPA has gotten around to writing the regulations to enforce the Clean Air Act.  It’s called the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, issued in July, requiring 27 states to reduce power plant emissions that contribute to ozone and fine particle pollution in other states. They recognize that some states, -- like New Jersey and Delaware – have acted strongly to clean up air pollution, while some upwind states, like Pennsylvania, have not.

“No community should have to bear the burden of another community’s polluters, or be powerless to prevent air pollution that leads to asthma, heart attacks and other harmful illnesses,” said EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson upon issuing the Rule. “This is a long-overdue step to protect the air we breathe.”

You may remember our recent post about the Portland Power Plant in Portland, PA.  It sits downwind of the entire Keystone State, but it sits upwind from our New Jersey church and our members’ homes.  And it emits more mercury than every single power plant in the state of New Jersey – COMBINED. Worse yet, Portland has 13 sister plants in PA, all of which are worse than it is. So they get the electricity, while we get the toxins: mercury, SOX, NOX and soot.

It took a long time, but the watchdog finally barked.

But not everybody is happy with this.  First, in September, the House of Representatives passed the TRAIN Act – a bill to nullify the Cross-State Rule. On its face, the TRAIN Act would have stopped the EPA entirely till 2015; but it also would have handcuffed them from protecting us from upwind cross-state negligence far into the future.

Of course, the TRAIN Act went nowhere in the Senate.  But last Thursday, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) offered a resolution to kill the Cross-State Rule for good.  Thankfully it failed. And so the citizens of my state will eventually be protected from toxins from antiquated coal-fired plants in neighboring Pennsylvania. They will finally have to install the smokestack scrubbers that New Jersey did decades ago.

But did you ever wonder how the political parties came down on these two efforts to kill environmental protection?  Well, in the House, 98% of Republicans voted to kill the Clean Air Act rule, while 90% of Democrats voted – in a losing cause – to preserve it.  And in the Senate last Thursday, 87% of Republicans voted with Senator Paul to kill the protections, while 96% of Democrats voted successfully to preserve them.

What’s going on?  How did we come to a point where one national party could almost unanimously portray a healthy environment as a bad thing?  Only a few years ago, both parties thought that the ideas behind the Cross-State Rule obviously deserved support.  Even the latest Republican President Bush proposed an almost identical rule. But now, a huge majority of the GOP wants to kill it.

Many of us watched Gov. Perry’s funny brain freeze the other night. Remember? He was going to kill three Federal Agencies, but couldn’t remember what one of them was.  And in a spirit of levity, the other candidates began offering him a hand. “The EPA?” someone suggested, and with a chorus of laughter, Perry and much of the rest of the pack repeated: “The EPA!”

What has happened to us?  Republican presidents Nixon, Bush Sr. and even the latest Bush all knew that our people need protection from polluting industries.

And so, here at the Clothesline, we continue our effort to maintain our political independence.  But it would sure be nice if one or two Republicans would stand up and make our job a little easier.  After all, any child can tell you that you don’t throw your garbage into your neighbor’s kitchen.

Thanks for reading, and may God bless you. 

J. Elwood

P.S.  If you liked that bumper sticker, you can get it here.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Did We Actually Win?

Funny thing about losing.  You fight, scratch, claw and struggle – and lose.  You think you’re doing the right thing, but you still lose. You commit your efforts to a sovereign Lord, but it seems you can’t stop losing.
And then, one day, you win. 

It happened in the last century’s epic struggle.  Until El Alamein in November 1942, the Allies never won a battle.  But with victory in this dusty North African outpost, the Yanks and Tommies never lost again.  Soon came Stalingrad, Sicily, the Italian campaign, D-Day and the Bulge – until Hitler finally collapsed.

Well, today, I am in shock.  Like all advocates for creation care, I’m used to losing.  But I read with near disbelief about our El Alamein:  President Obama has directed the State Department to scrap its flawed review of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline from Canada to the Gulf, and start over again.

The truth in a nutshell
This time, the review should be “an open, transparent process,” said the President.  And it should be “informed by the best available science and the voices of the American people.”

The State Department went even further: “Among the relevant issues that would be considered are environmental concerns – including climate change…” in assessing the KXL Pipeline project.

Well, if this can’t be done in back rooms by oil industry lobbyists, if it must listen to the best scientists and the American people, if it has to consider the impact on the global climate, then it’s pretty close to dead. Or so I think.

So did we actually win?  You wrote the president. You prayed for environmental justice.  You signed online petitions.  You traveled to Washington.  And you encouraged others to do the same.

And the impact was dramatic.  A month ago, this was a slam dunk for Big Oil. Energy insiders “virtually all” expected this to be a cake walk.  The pipeline company TransCanada was moving huge quantities of pipe across the border and seizing land by eminent domain, certain that its permit would be granted. They practically ran the State Department’s approval process, using their own consultants and hiring key government staffers. Who could expect to stop them, with their virtually inexhaustible hoard of cash, and so much of Congress in their pockets?

Well, whether you expected it or not, you did. Dare I say it? You stopped them. You won. You won! We won!

And maybe we’ll win again.  We’ll have to, you know. God’s creation remains on the same terracidal trajectory that it was on yesterday.  Defeat of this pipeline did nothing to heal the world’s broken climate systems, our acidifying oceans, our failing rivers, our flooded coastlands and our parched farms.  It only temporarily halted something that would have made it dramatically  worse.

So smile, for a moment!  Give thanks to God for his mercy and kindness.  But pray for the guidance and resolve to struggle again. The richest corporations in the world aren't giving up, so neither can we.

Thanks for your friendship and partnership in caring for the creation. And may God bless you.

J. Elwood

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Surround the White House Photo Album

What we saw last Sunday at the White House was an outpouring of public passion to protect the earth, our country, and indigenous people in Canada.  I had thought we might see 3-4,000 people.  But Lafayette Square Park was teeming with an estimated 12,000 people: students, parents, and grandparents of all walks of life. They carried kids on their shoulders, and wheeled the elderly in wheelchairs.  They wore military uniforms, college hoodies, and traditional indigenous garb.  And they were in full voice: chanting, singing and shouting at the tops of their lungs.

And far from needing  to stretch a thin human line around the White House, we were three ranks deep, shoulder to shoulder.  The spirit was passionate and urgent, although entirely peaceable. 

Will the testimony of so many Americans change the president’s heart?  Will he remember his promises to lead us to a sustainable future for our children? Will he recall his commitment to help us break our oil addiction?  Or will he yield to the oil and coal money that’s incessantly bombarding us with deceptive ads promising jobs and energy security?  

I chose some good pictures to give you a sense of the power behind this protest.  If you have time, take a look at the video as well.  And thanks for following us in this!

I couldn't begin to count the crowd in Lafayette Square. Estimate 12,000
Children:  This is why so many of us came
Remember your promises: Obama seems to have forgotten his
Who would think a pipeline would have galvanized all these people?
Too young to spell: but he knows you don't "brake" your promises
And the old, standing -- if they can -- with future generations
Rev. Jim Wallis: Prophetic Christian voice at the protest
All walks: Christina, violinist; Barbara, home educator; Nathan, medical student
Surrounded!  Look close at the human wall around the President's house.
Close-up of the wall: Humanity's future must not be sacrificed to oil profits

And last of all, here's a short video to give you a real sense of what it was like.

All the money and political power is still on the side of the oil companies pushing this.  But maybe, just maybe, the efforts of the people are starting to pay off.  Please keep up the pressure.  And take a moment to send a note to the President right now (click here).  Your voice matters!

May God bless you.

J. Elwood

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Tar Sands Action: We’re Off!

In an hour, Barbara, Nathan and I head south to Washington.  We’re meeting our favorite musicians, Christina and Ben, and more than 6,000 other people who have registered to join hands around the White House  in opposition to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline: the one that will use the American heartland as a great conduit for the world’s dirtiest crude to reach world export markets.

I’ve talked a lot about the basics on the tar sands, but here’s the nickel version:

  • Tar sands oil emits 83% more CO2 than conventional oil, turning your Hybrid into a Hummer;
  • Tar sands mining totally destroys indigenous lands and waterways – like strip mining, but worse;
  • It has caused outbreaks of rare cancers among native peoples who rely on the Canadian lands where it’s mined;
  • It uses vast amounts of natural gas – relatively clean-burning stuff – to produce the oil, trading clean for filthy, and making it more difficult to replace coal-burning power plants with cleaner gas; we lose a gas-based power-generating alternative, and end up burning more tar sands oil and more coal;
  • The KXL pipeline will carry this highly corrosive, hot and pressurized crude across 1,904 American streams and rivers, and across the massive Ogallala aquifer, threatening the U.S. agricultural heartland;
  • The pipeline is NOT a jobs program – it will likely destroy far more than the 6,000 temporary jobs estimated during construction; and
  • The pipeline does not contribute to energy security; rather, it gives foreign oil companies the ability to bypass the American Midwest and sell their oil on world markets.
Surely, the President is beginning to hear us.  You can help!
Our country desperately needs to develop a sustainable energy future.  But doubling down on the dirtiest crudes is exactly the opposite of what anyone who cares about our Father’s world and our children’s futures would hope for. That’s why we’re headed to DC.

But YOU CAN’T COME!  You’re in Kijabe, or Mundri, or Ann Arbor, or Los Angeles!  You’ve got six patients who need you on tomorrow’s day shift!  You’re teaching Sunday school tomorrow morning! These are important things, and we’re so glad you’re honoring your calling and commitments.

EVEN SO, YOUR VOICE CAN STILL BE HEARD!  In less than a minute’s time, you can write the President and tell him that you stand with us against the KXL Pipeline.  All you have to do is click here, and in no time, you will have doubled and tripled the effect of our efforts.

Maybe we’ll see you tomorrow.  But if not, we’ll be encouraged to know that many of you have joined us in asking the President to set our country on a track that will provide for our needs without sacrificing our children.

Thank you so very much. And may God bless you.

J. Elwood

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Freak Weather, or the New Normal?

These days at Good Hand Farm, there’s no water, no electric power and no heat.  Little more than  a month after the late summer floods inundated the broccoli fields, we now carry water in buckets from the rain barrels, burn candles in the evening, and haul firewood for the woodstove.  We sleep on my daughter’s apartment floor when it’s too cold at the darkened farmhouse. We’ve done this a lot recently. We actually got used to it in last year’s “freak storms.”

Good Hand farmhouse: Charming, and dark
We have a nice local hotel, and we’d consider staying there until the power's back on.  But they’ve endured a rash of floods and power failures the likes of which no one around here has ever seen before.  The municipal government has repeatedly closed roads and evacuated businesses due to the crazy weather.  And the corporate neighbors who comprise the hotel’s core customers are beginning to talk about leaving for higher ground due to the roughly annual occurrence of 100-year-storm events.

The hotel’s bank lenders are beginning to wonder if these “freak storms” are really all that freakish any more, or if they’ve become the new normal.  And if they’re now normal, whether their loan is all that safe, or whether they need to recognize a loss.  And if they have to take a loss, how much less they’ll be able to lend to other businesses….

And last Sunday, we cancelled services at our church due to falling snow-laden trees.  I sharpened the chain saw and headed for our pastor’s home, to cut up the trees blocking his drive.  But all the roads were blocked, with downed power lines and fallen trees everywhere.  I felt lucky to get home again safely, leaving my pastor’s family to fend for themselves.

Banks, hotels, churches, farms and more: all struggling with “freak” weather.

Are these things possibly connected?

We then page through the daily news and see freak storm events all over the place.  Right now, the nine millions residents of Bangkok are struggling with record floods.  And across the world from Bangkok, Thailand's floods are sharply curtailing Honda's manufacturing in the U.S., due to acute shortages of Thai electrical components. Pakistan is awash for the second straight year, in floods disproportionate to any hazard ever visited upon our western lands.  China, Russia, Brazil and Australia suffered massive agricultural losses that drove a 36% increase in global average food costs last year, continuing at a 15% clip as of this September.

Bangkok's streets aren't supposed to look like thi
Back at home, summer tornadoes hit Massachusetts. That's right: Massachusetts, of all places! A record Midwest tornado season was typified by the graphic devastation in Joplin, Missouri.  Or can you count the number of consecutive springs that the Mississippi River system has suffered “record” floods?  And then there was this summer’s record heat wave and drought in Texas, Georgia and the Southwest that burned an area the size of Connecticut

Speaking of poor Connecticut, 831,000 households are without power this week in the wake of last weekend’s storms (added to 750,000 in New Jersey), according the WSJ.  And since we don’t have time to recount all last year's craziness, for a look at that climate chaos, take a look here.

Are these things possibly connected?

If you’re wondering, take a moment and watch this great little video…

 …  Because even though no weather events can be simplistically linked to single causes, the changing global climate system affects things that happen everywhere.  And they just might affect your local food growers, or your bank, or even your church.

These things just might be connected.

Thanks for reading, and may God bless you.

J. Elwood

“When the evening comes you say, ‘Ah, fine weather—the sky is red.’ In the morning you say, ‘There will be a storm today, the sky is red and threatening.’ Yes, you know how to interpret the look of the sky but you have no idea how to interpret the signs of the times!" Gospel of Matthew 16:2

Pakistan pedestrian traffic: Two years of record floods