Clothesline in Winter

Clothesline in Winter

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Why is Climate Change a Political Issue?

I was invited to a delightful dinner last Saturday by a couple in Chicago: one a long-time friend, and his wife, who I only just met.  They are living proof that love is stronger than politics – he, a conservative Republican, and she, a Chicago Democrat.

Hearing that I was involved in issues of environmental justice, she asked me: “Why is climate change a political issue?”  In essence, facts being facts, why would political affiliation so strongly determine what you think of an established line of scientific research?

I wasn’t anxious to infuse politics into a pleasant evening among friends, so I deferred the matter for an hour or two.  But eventually, the topic came up, and I gave Liberal Wife (LW) my best answer.  At some point, Conservative Husband (CH) commented: “This is where John and I differ a bit.  There is a lot of disagreement about whether the climate really is changing.”

So now the argument was pretty much beyond avoiding.  Allowing for my imperfect memory, here’s how the exchange proceeded:

John:    “Actually, there is very little scientific debate about whether climate change is actually happening.”
CH:      “Yes there is.  I’ve read lots of arguments on both sides.”
John:    “I said, there’s little SCIENTIFIC debate.  Of course there are editorials and blogs.  But the scientific consensus is very strong.”
CH:      “I’ll send you plenty of articles I’ve read.”
John:    “Think of it this way.  Right here in Chicago, you’ve got excellent universities.  Not one of your universities – Northwestern, Illinois, DePaul, U. of Chicago – has an earth science professor who denies that climate change is happening, or that human activity contributes to it.” (In fairness, I guessed at this, because it’s so hard to find a research university professor who holds such a position.)
CH:      “Yes, but those are LIBERAL universities!”

Okay.  There we are: back to politics determining scientific views.  But I wondered:  What about the conservative universities in Illinois?  Did they really deny that the climate is changing?

By a stroke of good fortune, I had just bumped into a student from Wheaton College outside of Chicago, an evangelical Christian school, and nobody’s bastion of liberalism. I figured that Wheaton was probably the most conservative major college in Chicago, and a great place to look for another view of climate science.   My young friend gave me the name of Wheaton’s Environmental Science director, Prof. Fred Van Dyke, so I looked him up.

Wheaton College Prof. Van Dyke:
Alas!  Prof. Van Dyke not only confirms the findings of climate science, he has written a book titled “Redeeming Creation” (find it here) warning that “ominous signals of real climate change are coming in from many fronts.” And he has endorsed an urgent warning about climate change – called the Evangelical Climate Initiative (ECI) – issued by more than 300 prominent evangelical leaders.  The ECI asserts that climate change is an urgent problem and that the Christian faith mandates a strong response to global warming.

Prof. Van Dyke calls the ECI “a very appropriate move in terms of a biblical basis and, in fact, long overdue.”  (Read more here.)

So where are the climatologists that Conservative Husband is talking about?  Well, the Univ. of Illinois did a survey of 3,146 earth scientists in 2009, and found an overwhelming majority affirm that the globe is warming and that human activities contribute to it.  In fact, 97% of climatologists – those who study this question most carefully – agree on these points. (Read about it here.)  I suspect they’re not all liberals, so the political influence must not extend to the scientists. 

Well then, who are the scientific climate doubters?  Well, it turns out that there is a small corner of science where climate skepticism is strong: Only about half of the petroleum geologists agree that climate change is affected by human activities.  Petroleum geologists!  People who work for oil companies. Isn’t that interesting?

Thanks for reading, and may God bless you.

J. Elwood

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Fly Hypocrisy Airlines

Oh, this is rich.  The United States yesterday demanded that the European Union exempt U.S. airlines from rules regulating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.   In fact, three U.S. airlines – United, Continental and American – have sued the EU to block it from regulating carbon emissions on flights to and from Europe.  And now the U.S. government (yes, the Obama administration) is backing them.

Here’s the story:  Europe has had a GHG emissions trading system in place since 2005, recognizing the need to provide incentives to limit global GHG pollution.  In 2009, the EU decided that as of 2012, airlines would be included in the system.  It means that for flights to and from Europe, GHG emissions will have to be no greater than they were on average in 2005, or the airlines will have to purchase credits from emitters that had reduced their carbon emissions.  It applies to some 2,800 airlines worldwide, relating only to their European flights. (Read about it here.)

Airlines emit 2-3% of global GHGs
But the U.S. airlines are indignant.  Their lobbying group, the Air Transportation Association, accused the EU of imposing its judgment on other parts of the world.  “The Europeans,” said an ATA spokeswoman, “are going to have to decide whether they’re playing in the sandbox or not.” 

Aside from indignation, the U.S. airlines have made two important arguments.  First, they don’t want to have to pay for carbon offsets twice.  You see, they argue, our home country recently dreamt of enacting GHG cap-and-trade legislation, which would force us to pay for our GHG pollution here at home.  If we are subject to the European GHG regulations, we might be paying twice!

Does this sound funny to anybody else?  American industries and one of our great political parties killed cap-and-trade two years ago, and most presidential candidates in our country today even deny the validity of climate science.  With the Americans dead in the water on a serious global threat, it’s little wonder that the Europeans have decided to move forward on their own.

But the second argument is more deliciously ironic still.  The U.S. has argued that the European airline standards are a violation of the Kyoto Protocol.  You remember Kyoto, right?  You know, the global agreement signed by 191 countries promising to reduce GHG emissions by specified amounts?  There were two holdouts that refused to sign: Australia, and the U.S.  Last year, Australia changed its mind and came on board.  And that left…

Anyway, the U.S. is now telling Europe – all of whose member states have signed Kyoto – that they can’t regulate airline GHGs because of the Kyoto Protocol.  Picture Madalyn Murray O'Hair lecturing Christian churches on some theological controversy.

Airline GHG emissions are expected to double by 2025
In all this, the message to Americans should be clear.  We live in an interconnected world, in which American oil & coal companies and American politicians don’t control knowledge and opinion.  If we hope to suppress and ignore the vast swell of scientific warnings coming from all corners of the globe, we will bear the consequences.  Eventually, the world will give up on us and act to save their children without our involvement.   

And the resulting economic order will be controlled by those who acted on the facts, not by those who hid from them.

Thanks for reading, and may God bless you.

J. Elwood

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

When Justice is Delayed…

On a summer evening in 1787, a trio of 27-year-olds sat under an oak tree in the Kent countryside south of London.   These days, age 27 is considered awfully young to impact the world.  But these guys were different.  They decided that evening to commit themselves the ending the worst injustice of their time: the African-Atlantic slave trade.

In their day, European ships were carrying African slaves to the sugar and tobacco plantations of the New World at a pace of more than 100,000 per year.  The slaves were part of a great Triangular Trade: European manufactured goods to Africa; African slaves to the Americas; and American sugar and tobacco to Europe.  A lot of people were getting rich, and many more were suffering unspeakable horrors.  Over time, more than 10 million Africans were seized, chained, and dragged ship-board to a life of misery, or death en route.  And more than 40% of them were carried in British ships.

Slaves from Africa were the lynchpin of the Atlantic trade
It happens that all three young men were named William.  Two of the Williams would serve as Prime Minister (Pitt and Grenville).  The other (Wilberforce) would become a tireless crusader against the slave trade, inspired by his new-found faith in the Christian gospel, to confront  entrenched injustice upon which much of British wealth relied.  It’s probably just as well that he didn’t know how desperately the beneficiaries of the trade would fight him, and how much of his life the fight would consume.

It might have seemed pretty easy, at first.  After all, his friend and ally Pitt was a hugely popular Prime Minister (even at age 27), and many newly-awakened Christian churches were beginning to raise their voices against slavery.  When Wilberforce introduced his slave-trade-abolition bill in 1787, Pitt mobilized the Privy Council to assemble data and testimony from many regarding the horrors of the trade. 

As a result, Parliament was confronted with real data on the trade for the first time: the inconceivably cramped conditions aboard ship; mistreatment, rape and killing of slaves at the hands of sailors; the continual use of chains and shackles to prevent overboard suicides; the Caribbean practice of starving aging slaves at the end of their “productive” lives; and other  disclosures unfit for civilized eyes.

This diagram of the slave ship Brookes shocked many Britons into action
But money talks.  The British economy of the day reaped huge benefits from the Triangular Trade.  From the textile mills of Manchester and London to the shipyards of Liverpool and Bristol, the British prospered on the backs of the captive Africans.  In any age, you don't take on the "engines of prosperity" without bare-knuckle consequences.  So perhaps it’s not surprising to hear the arguments marshaled by the establishment:

-  The slaves lived much better in the Americas than tribal princes did in Africa;
-  Slaves sang and danced for their amusement every day aboard ship;
-  Slave quarters were washed and fumigated with frankincense and lime juice every day;
-  Ending the trade would cost 58,000 poor Britons their jobs, throwing countless men, women and children into destitution (our economy will suffer);
-  France and Spain would fill the void if the British outlawed the trade (our enemies will prosper); and
-  A black market in slaves will arise, and the onboard conditions will be worse than with the legal trade (the slaves will suffer even more).

The pro-slave-trade lobby even found churchmen willing to give the slave trade the sanction of divine authority, citing Bible passages that recognized the existence of slavery.  And they persuaded others by redirecting the focus to domestic ills, calling for “reform at home before venturing to make romantic trials of compassion abroad!”

Few Britons ever saw slaves in chains
As the debate wore on the following year, they had persuaded many MP's of the value of collecting more evidence:  Who knew if they could trust the Privy Council testimony?  And once testimony began, filibuster tactics virtually ground things to a halt.

But nothing happens in a vacuum, does it?  Across the Channel, the French had risen up against their king and nobility.  Early English approval turned to disgust and alarm as royal heads began to roll.  Anything looking like a challenge to the status quo began to look like the beginnings of revolution in the British Isles.  And so, when Wilberforce’s vote was finally called in 1891, it failed by a 2-to-1 margin.  And the slave trade continued unabated for another 15 years, before Wilberforce could marshal enough votes to finally kill it.

The delay cost 1.5 million additional human souls their freedom or their lives. 

End Note:
Last Monday, the EPA announced that it was delaying by two months the release of a proposed rule on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and other major pollution sources, in the face of intense opposition in Congress and from industry. 

“The agency said it was pushing back the new greenhouse gas proposal to the end of September to allow more time to consider comments from generators of electricity, environmental advocates and others during public-comment sessions,” reported the NY Times.

But nothing happens in a vacuum, does it?

Thanks for reading, and may God bless you.

J. Elwood

Saturday, June 11, 2011

I’d Drive an Efficient Car, But ...

… We need seven seat belts when Uncle Albert and Aunt Polly visit…
… I’m driving off-road sometime next year…
… I live in (insert your county name) County, and you know how our winters are…
… I want lots of steel and weight protecting my children…
… I surf occasionally, and need an SUV to drive on the sand...

We’ve heard – and thought – most of those excuses, and more.  Occasionally, it dawns on us how silly most  of them are.  People have driven for a century in my county with rear-wheel drive vehicles, let alone modern front-wheel-drive cars; your kids already know that the best thing you can do for their safety is to stop polluting the planet; annual visits from family can be handled by a second car, or a rental van; “off-road” is mostly a marketing illusion, and normal cars do just fine in most cases.  Here at Good Hand Farm, all we’ve got is off-road, and our cars do just fine.

Prius/54 mpg, Jetta/48 mpg for road ; Dodge truck for on-farm work
Yesterday, another excuse went by the wayside.  “I-need-a-big-car-to-pick-up-my-college-student.”  I took the Prius (54.5 mpg actual results) to Columbia Medical in NYC, where Nathan and I loaded it with a year’s dorm-room contents.  Here’s what we schlepped:

Nathan Elwood, Prius, and dorm-room contents
·         Small fridge
·         Microwave oven
·         Small chest of drawers
·         Bedside table/chest
·         Floor lamp
·         Folding shelf unit
·         Bedding and linen sets
·         Complete clothing wardrobe
·         Wall art (4 pieces)
·         Wall mirror
·         Ironing board
·         2 boxes of books
·         Fan
·         Kitchen pots/pans/cooking utensils…
·         … and more

Granted, we left mom, the other siblings and the dog at home, but we did it.  And here’s what’s at stake:
The EPA estimates that the average American car generates 5.5 metric tons (or 12,100 lbs.) of CO2 per year (click here for detailed info).  Over a four year college career, that’s better than 20 tons of CO2!  If you have an SUV, you’re probably emitting more than that – maybe 30 tons.  If you drive an efficient car, like our Prius or Jetta Diesel (48 mpg actual results), you’re doing much better – maybe 10 tons.

You can spare your children and grandkids the effects of 20 tons of CO2 during one college career, even if it means you need to adjust when Aunt Molly shows up.

Something – indeed, many things – need to change.  But we can do this!

Thanks for reading, and may God bless you.

J. Elwood

Friday, June 10, 2011

Young Writers Wanted!

At the Clothesline Report, you read all the time about the need to act to protect the earth for the sake of our children.

Don’t you think it’s about time to hear from young people themselves?  I certainly do.  Many of us old people, sadly, don’t really seem to care that much about the ways we’re changing the earth, its climate and the natural systems upon which you will depend for your lives.  But the earth is your inheritance, and you have the right to be heard.

Speak out!  It's your world too.
For students, writing for the CR could earn credit, provide experience, and help build a solid resume.  All that’s needed is willingness to learn a topic, and share it with our readers.  If asked, I can provide help, suggest topics, and perhaps help polish the work.  I’m glad also to write to a student’s school if credit is at stake.

There are a thousand good ideas out there to write about.  Some are about the effects of harming the earth on people, animals and habitats.  Some are good things people are doing to make things better.  Some are ideas for how we can live more responsibly.  Some might be very personal, while others might be highly practical or educational.

Also, we’d welcome hearing how you feel to be inheriting a world in such dire need of healing.

Our readers need to learn what you know; and they need to feel what you feel.

I used to be young too; with my sons Nathan & Peter
So here’s what you do:  Email me, John Elwood, at or write on my Facebook wall at The Clothesline Report (click here for the link) and tell me you’d like to write.  If you know a topic already, let me know.  If you need ideas, that’s great too. 
And if you’re not so young, but know young people, then PLEASE, send this link to them, so they can have the chance to speak out for the sake of their own futures.

Thanks for writing, and may God bless you.

J. Elwood

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Protect our Homeland! But Not If…

…it displeases my political campaign donors.

Last week, I got an email from Rev. Mitch Hescox, president of Evangelical Environmental Network.  “What are we coming to?” he asked in apparent disbelief.  I wondered what the fuss was about.

Well it turns out that the oil & coal lobbyists were getting a payback for their millions in political contributions to Congress, in a way that openly undermines our homeland security.  Last Thursday, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a funding bill for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).  But at 1:40 in the afternoon, Texas Congressman John Carter introduced a little amendment:  None of the money to fund Homeland Security can be used for the DHS’s Climate Change Adaptation Task Force. 

Hmm.   Why would anyone do that?

Well, as you know, DHS has the job of protecting the American homeland from terrorist attacks and natural disasters.   It includes border protection, immigration, and FEMA – the emergency response agency that deals with floods, hurricanes tornadoes and the like. 

Every Federal agency – including all branches of the U.S. Armed Services – realizes that climate change is linked to cross-border migration, natural disasters, and even terrorism – all the stuff DHS worries about.  The Armed Services are planning for the flooding of coastal bases in places like Norfolk Naval, the Marines’ Camp Lejeune, and Eglin Air Force Base; FEMA is planning for the loss of much of Miami  and New Orleans to rising sea levels; the Army and Navy are planning our responses to the destabilization of countries – due to shortages of food and water – where the U.S. has vital security interests; and the INS is planning for mass migration pressures due to increased drought in Central America.

Not surprisingly, these and other agencies have coordinated these efforts through a single planning arm: the Climate Change Adaptation Task Force.  Hurricane Katrina and 9/11 taught them the peril of failing to coordinate efforts.  If you don’t plan together, responses fail, and Americans die.

9/11 taught us the value of inter-agency coordination
This is so obviously a smart thing to do, you’d think that Rep. Carter’s “thou-shalt-not-plan” amendment would go down in flames, right?  Well golly.  233 Republicans and 9 Democrats thought that forbidding our homeland security to plan for climate change was a good idea.   In their public statements, they talked about cost-cutting.  But the amendment doesn’t cut a penny of spending: it just prohibits spending on anything that acknowledges what virtually everyone knows about the impact of the carbon economy on the earth and its people – including Americans here at home. (To see how your Congressional Representative voted, click here.)

In fact, only two Republicans – one from Washington and one from New York – voted in favor of permitting DHS to coordinate climate change plans with other agencies.  Brave men, no doubt, but only two!

Back to Rev. Hescox:  Like me, he was devastated that carbon money could cause so many to vote against core American values like the security of our homeland.  “With so many states and agencies preparing climate change emergency plans,” he said, “removing Homeland Security from climate change preparation looks like going to war without a coordinated plan of attack.”

Amen, brother.

Thanks for reading, and God bless you.

J. Elwood