Clothesline in Winter

Clothesline in Winter

Thursday, December 29, 2011

2011: The Year in Review

It’s just a few days from the New Year!  Throughout 2011, the Clothesline has been observing and reporting – and sometimes engaging in – the struggle to protect our Father’s world and its dependent people.  So, how did things go this year for the precious earth for which we have been appointed stewards?

Well, there were some reasons for encouragement.

  • After twenty years of delay, the EPA finally issued rules under the 1990 Clean Air Act to limit mercury poisoning from coal-fired power plants.  One in six unborn children in the U.S. is exposed to unsafe levels of mercury through their mother’s blood.  Many utilities had long since upgraded their plants to capture mercury emissions, but many others waited till forced.  The furious howls from Congress were predictable:  Electric blackouts would hobble our country; regulatory tyranny run amok is the rule of the day; countless utilities would go bankrupt; etc.  Of course, none of this will happen, and our country – and particularly our children – will be better off.

Clothesline editor Elwood holds aloft message to Obama
  • And after a massive popular outcry, President Obama agreed to conduct a transparent and objective review of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, scrapping a process rife with cronyism and influence from foreign oil interests.  Congress again tried to salvage their oil industry patrons with a last-minute rider to a popular tax reduction bill, but it’s not likely to result in approval unless the President cuts some unsavory deal with oil money early next year.  But thousands of highly-motivated citizens have been mobilized, and nothing will slip by unnoticed.
  • More importantly, the climate change scientific controversy officially ended last year.  97% of climatologists agreed both that the earth is warming, and that human activities contribute to it.  The leading climate-skeptic scientist, Berkeley’s Richard Muller conducted a global temperature study funded by the oil-billionaire Koch brothers, intended to cast doubt on the many temperature records compiled by climate scientists.  Instead, he ended up confirming all their work, and praised all prior research as “excellent.” There remains controversy, but it’s no longer scientific.
  • In smaller victories, the European Union won an important legal decision permitting it to levy carbon offsets for airline flights to and from Europe, in the face of determined opposition from the U.S. and China. And the U.S. Senate repeatedly refused to support House measures designed to prevent the EPA from doing its job.
Let’s not get carried away: These aren’t pivotal victories.  But there’s some cause for encouragement there, right?

And the Clothesline Report had the good fortune of being engaged in many of these struggles.

  • We mobilized scores, and maybe hundreds, of people to write government officials or travel to hearing sites or the White House to oppose the KXL tar sand pipeline.  We testified before the State Department and the EPA in connection with both the mercury rules and the tar sands pipeline.  And we even got arrested for overstaying our welcome at the White House in an effort to speak clearly against the tar sands pollution.
  • We debunked oil industry propaganda regarding job creation and energy independence in their effort to jam the KXL pipeline through a tainted approval process.
    Rosina Phillips: this salt marsh once was a rich bayou
  •  We visited indigenous people in the Mississippi Delta, and exposed the “cultural genocide” besetting these communities from rising sea levels, loss of fresh water, and pollution from oil drilling and the BP Gulf disaster.
  • And we encouraged many of you to reconsider life patterns which can be harmful to the earth.  Our Meatless Monday campaign has helped many of us consider the creation in our food choices, among other lifestyle commitments.
But I’m afraid these accomplishments seem pretty meager when viewed in the context of the larger trends in 2011.

  • First off, 2010, the most recent full year we’ve got, was the hottest year on record, tied with 2005, and worse than the scorcher in 1998. Of the ten hottest years ever recorded, nine occurred since 1998.

  • Atmospheric CO2 concentrations continued their unrelenting climb in 2011, reaching 390.31 ppm in November, up from 388.62 ppm 12 months earlier.  Every single year since measurement began at 310 ppm in 1958, the earth-warming carbon blanket has thickened, to levels 40% above the highest levels in the last million years.
  • With all this heat, no one was surprised to see that Arctic sea ice volume again hit record lows last summer, down a whopping 68% from the average sea ice volume over the last 32 years.  The elusive dream of the Northwest Passage, the holy grail of mariners of the last century, is now a commonplace reality.

  • Extreme weather events again wreaked cruel revenge on the earth’s communities from Pakistan, suffering its second devastating flood in as many years, to Texas, which burned out of control as both heat and drought set new records. Thailand’s floods brought many computer manufacturers to a standstill; record droughts in East Africa starved countless Somalis, Sudanese and Kenyans to death; China, Russia and Australia again suffered severe crop losses.
  • The resulting food shortages drove food prices to desperate levels.  The global FAO food price index rose 39% during the year.  With American farmers dedicating 34% of their corn acreage to subsidized ethanol, global corn prices shot up 79%, enriching American farmers.  Others did less well: In the face of rising food costs, an estimated 44 million more people fell into “extreme poverty” last year, bringing the global total to 1.2 billion souls living on less than $1.25 per day. Food riots broke out in many African countries, and laid the groundwork for the revolutions now known as the Arab Spring.
  • The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant meltdown provided a stark warning to the island nation of Japan, with its 53 nuclear reactors crowded together in one of the most seismically unstable regions of the world.
WV coal-plant emissions
  • The hope for “Clean Coal” finally died in 2011, as several major demonstration projects were abandoned by the industry.  But the loss of substance didn’t affect the PR campaign: You can still see Clean Coal ads any time you turn on the cable news stations.
  • The respected Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) ranked four U.S. cities among the Top 20 global losers to rising sea levels by mid-century.  Miami ranked #1, and New Orleans, New York and Virginia Beach shared the dubious honors.  The projected cost of losses to these four cities totals $7.2 trillion, almost exactly half the amount of the entire U.S. national debt – ignoring the hundreds of smaller coastal communities similarly at risk.
  • The President of the sovereign Pacific nation of Kiribati warned his people that they would have to entirely abandon their homeland in the near future, due to warming oceans driving rising sea levels. They join the Seychelles and Maldives as sovereign states headed for extinction from climate change.
  • In the face of these global warnings, American politicians in Congress hunkered down to retain their oil-industry political funding.  All presidential challengers disavowed former acknowledgments of the threat of human-caused climate change.  Congress passed bill after bill in a campaign to handcuff the EPA.  Of approximately 500 major political parties on the earth, only one – our very own GOP – officially adopted climate denial as a party litmus test.   And finally, the EPA delayed several important rules, including one to regulate CO2 emissions under the Clean Air Act – bowing to intense opposition from Congress.

So the year saw some good things, overwhelmed -- perhaps -- by global-scale degradation, and denial in the industrialized world.  Many of the earth’s seven billion people today are suffering under the weight of our exploitation of God’s good creation – subjected to floods, drought and dire poverty brought on by soaring food costs.  And while politicians here at home continue to deny what is obvious to people the world over, they won’t be able to keep it up for long. The only question is: Will it be too late once we finally decide to act?

For God’s beautiful creation and His beloved human race, we pray that there will still be time to set things right.  The New Year will bring new opportunities to work for environmental justice, and to further challenge our own neglect of God’s good earth.  

We plan to be there, and we hope you’ll be with us.

May God bless you richly,

J. Elwood

Friday, December 23, 2011

Shhh! Baby Jesus is Sleeping!

My little granddaughter, sixteen-month-old Clara Mae, quietly approaches the Nativity scene in the farm house living room. She gently carries away the tiny fabric basket holding the sleeping baby.  Laying him softly on the nearby carpet, she lies down beside the baby, and closes her eyes.

Shhh!  All is quiet.

Nana and I glow inwardly.  Our little darling knows there’s something special about this little fabric baby, surrounded by a mama, daddy, animals and wise men.  But we suspect she hasn’t quite figured out the remarkable story that her parents and grandparents embrace: 
  • That the tiny baby in the Nativity scene is the image of the Creator, returning to redeem and claim his fallen creation…
  • That he comes to say “Mine” of each thing that exists, and especially of each person…
  • That he comes to reconcile to himself all things in earth and heaven, making peace by his own human blood. 

And if ever there was a time we needed Someone good, wise and kind to bring reconciliation to a desperate world, it’s now, isn’t it?  Of course, people have felt this at all times.  War, disease, famine and injustice are the stuff of every age.  Yet the powerful engines of the twentieth century added to these ills unprecedented scale, with global suffering to match.

Was it possible that the new century could be any worse? 
We now know the dreadful truth:  The engines of our own making have permitted us to abuse and consume this beautiful sphere at unimaginable speed.  Our Creator designed it to sustain us and countless others of His creatures. We learn that He made us to be His tenants and stewards.  But we deluded ourselves into believing that we were the rightful owners, free to do what we want with what is Ours.

But it’s not Ours. 
That tiny Baby has come to say “Mine” of all things, including us. Seven billion of us, clinging to the narrowest of margins on this fragile sphere.  And increasingly, we face the consequences of cumulative human exploitation:  floods, drought, famine, and desperate human migration as the natural systems around us falter under our heavy hand.

The future of our home is no longer a matter of distant speculation.  We have already choked the atmosphere with 40 percent more earth-warming gases than at any time in the last million years.  And our country and world show little resolve to alter this disastrous course of conduct. Before my little granddaughter is out of college, business-as-usual will leave us with an increasingly unrecognizable planet. Unless we change things now, we will have pumped enough carbon into the precious air to assure that global temperatures will increase by another 3-4 degrees F. Ice sheets will continue to melt; sea levels will inexorably continue to rise; more life-giving rivers will run dry; and even more farmlands will wither under a new, hotter climate.  And -- unless we act very soon -- it will be irreversible for millennia. 

And so now, Child of Bethlehem, your world desperately longs for you to come and reclaim what is Yours. Oceans, river systems, islands, glaciers, forests, farmlands – and the living creatures who depend on them – we all wait to hear the holy claim: Mine! And even we, your traitorous tenants, we who have seized and disfigured what you made – we look to you to reclaim us again in mercy as your own faithful possession.

To some, you look like a powerless baby in a fabric basket.  But to we who embrace this most improbable of all stories, you are the coming King who reconciles all things to yourself. 

In the enduring hope of the Advent…

J. Elwood

Sunday, December 18, 2011

My Flip-Flop on the Tooth Fairy

It’s true.  There’s no point in denying it.  There were witnesses who heard me.  I used to believe in the tooth fairy, but now I’ve flip-flopped.  Where – you ask – is my consistency?

But it gets worse.  I used to think that men spending their Sundays in plastic armor trying to knock each other’s heads off was fine sport.  But I flip-flopped!  I used to think that SUVs were really cool; that poor people and nations had mainly themselves to blame; that trickle-down economics was a serious idea for helping the poor; that lowering taxes would raise revenues; that the sanctity of life began and ended with abortion.  I used to believe that through my own efforts, I could do real and meaningful good. 

Alas!  Time and time again, I’ve flip-flopped!

Exposed! Serial flip-flopper!
So let me make one thing perfectly clear:  No matter how many of you beg me, I’m not running for President next year.  Nobody wants a flip-flopper.  Especially in this political season, any change in positions over a long career is proof positive of poor character. 

Now, in fairness, many of these criticisms aren’t simply about changing positions. Rather, there’s an implication that the politician in question is insincerely pandering for political gain.  For example, both Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich know perfectly well that human-caused climate change is real, and a serious threat to the earth and its people.  It’s easy to find unequivocal statements by them to this effect on the record.  And despite the political hype, the scientific evidence has only strengthened since they said these things.

But now, Romney is saying that it will take 20 – or even 50 – years before we know whether human activities are responsible for climate change.  And Gingrich has called his public-service ad urging action on climate change “the dumbest single thing I’ve done recently.”

Message to oil lobbyists: Don’t worry about my presidency.  You’re free to pollute without any accountability for decades to come.   But send me the money, please.

How much money?  In 2011 alone, the oil & gas industry is reported to have poured more than $110 million into political war chests, in addition to all those seemingly pointless ads they constantly run on Fox, CNN and MSNBC, telling all of America how wonderful oil, gas and coal are – urging us not to do anything EVER to disrupt the fossil-fuel gravy train. 

Your addiction to carbon and imported oil is just fine!  Keep on drinking! Don't worry about the kids!

But I’ve noticed some changes among people I know in the last year.  People who might have once “checked all the boxes” for a single political agenda have begun asking serious questions about their politicians and the oil (and banking) companies that keep them in power.   In particular, I’ve noted that the congressional war on the EPA isn’t going down all that well with ordinary people who know that environmental degradation is a bad thing, and inherently unjust. For example, I've seen lots of pro-life voters wondering why unborn children should be routinely exposed to unsafe levels of mercury from coal power plants.

So, maybe 2012 might just be The Year of the Flip-Flopper – in this case, voters who change their minds. For starters, why not just watch the cable news for an hour sometime, and pay close attention to the fossil fuel ads.  (You’re not supposed to listen closely, you know.   The music and the pictures will win you over without a fight.)  What are they selling?  What are they claiming?  Do you have any idea if it’s true or not? Do you trust the oil & coal companies making those claims?

Or if you don’t have the time – or stomach – to listen to an hour of cable TV “news,” then just click here, here or here for a sampling of “clean coal,” “oil sands” and “abundant natural gas” propaganda.  Sadly, you won’t find any ads by people advocating justice and care for the creation.  That takes way too much money.
Maybe, just maybe, there’s a flip-flop in your future!

Thanks for reading, and may God bless you!

J. Elwood

Friday, December 16, 2011

Caving in to Big Oil?

Word came in this afternoon that rumors are flying that President Obama was about to cave in to oil lobbyists, and approve the Keystone XL Pipeline.   He had earlier found the approval process to be rife with corruption.  He promised a fair and transparent analysis, using researchers not on the payroll of  the oil industry.  He said the analysis couldn’t be completed till 2013.

But as you know, Ohio Congressman John Boehner jammed a provision requiring immediate approval of KXL into the President’s payroll tax extension bill.  Initially, Obama promised to veto any such bill.  But we warned you: The oil industry -- many of them foreign-owned -- spends $42 million on congressional contributions per year.  Bribery is legal in America.  And common people like us don’t have $42 million to buy our government back.

But we’re doing what we can.  This afternoon, opponents of the Tar Sands Pipeline jammed the White House phone system with their calls.  But now, the phone room is closed for the weekend.

Still, you can email the President.  Please do so!  Simply tell him that our children are at stake. We must get serious about global CO2.  We must not exploit the dirtiest of all fuels.  We must not build the KXL Tar Sands Pipeline.

Sometimes, truth is stronger than money. By God's grace -- and your efforts -- maybe it will prove to be so now.

Click here to write the President.

Thank you, and may God bless you.

J. Elwood

Friday, December 9, 2011

Back Room Politics & the Tar Sands Pipeline

Over the last few months, I’ve worn you out with information about the Alberta Tar Sands, and the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline to carry tar sands oil across the United States heartland.

You’ve watched the tug-of-war between the people and the oil industry – with the Obama Administration in the middle.  You’ve followed me to the State Department, the White House, and even to a Washington DC jailhouse. 
I thank you for your patience with a struggle that has borne distinct political features. It hasn’t been fun, but the stakes for the whole world have been really high.

50 square miles of these "lakes," and growing daily
A few weeks ago, with fear and trembling, I dared to cheer the President’s decision to conduct a new analysis of the pipeline’s merits – this time using independent analysts, and not consultants hired by the oil industry.

Some of you wondered if I was being na├»ve.  It turns out, you were right.  It ain’t over, they say, till it’s over.

As you know, there’s a big fight in government right now over the President’s plan to extend the payroll tax cuts, and to fund them with an increase in taxes on millionaires.  Congress is under pressure, because polls show that most people think this is a good idea, even though most in Congress oppose it. 

So the House Speaker, John Boehner, has come up with a clever plan: He’s approving the payroll tax cuts, but only if the President approves the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline now.   Since almost everyone agrees that the payroll tax plan is a good one, the President’s opponents can either blame him for vetoing his own tax plan, or deliver the tarry goods to the oil lobby as the price of poker.

Now, Boehner’s plan will sail through the House.  But the Senate is another matter, where the leadership opposes the tar sands deal.  The problem is, virtually every senator takes money from oil and coal lobbyists.  And money talks. The President has promised to veto any bill that forces his hand on the KXL Pipeline. But you never know. He too is a politician.

NJ's Bob Menendez: Still deciding?
We need to stop this in the Senate. And your part is easy.

If you have 30 seconds (really!), all you need to do is click here, enter your zip code, and click “send” for a letter to go to your senators.  If you have a couple of seconds, customize it a bit.  But at least, send them the basic letter now.

Some of you have children, and you'll be doing it for them.  Some simply love a child, and you'll be doing it for him or her. Some of you believe in the Creator, and you'll be doing it for his creation.

Because stopping the KXL pipeline is vital to the future of our children, and for the children of the world.  Its approval would mark a course toward imponderable harm to the earth and countless living species – including mankind.

So please, take a moment, and write your senator.  Something so good and so urgent was never so easy.

And may God bless you,

J. Elwood