Clothesline in Winter

Clothesline in Winter

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Global Weirding Comes to Good Hand Farm

Into every life a little rain must fall.  Or a little drought. Or a little cold snap.  Or a little record heat.

But recent years have been different around here, as they have been all over the world.  There was nothing to compare (so far) to last month, when 15,272 warm temperature records were broken in the U.S. alone.  Many of these affected us here at Good Hand Farm.  Our normal problem in spring is dealing with all the rain and mud, but not this year.  We’ve been running our irrigation pumps nonstop to deal with the hottest, driest spring (and winter) we’ve ever seen. 

And just when you think steady warmth is here for good – Bam! Freezing cold spells.

Frost-blighted asparagus at Good Hand
Despite this, today I ventured up to the asparagus field with high hopes.  Chef Tony from Salt Gastropub – a great neighborhood restaurant – wanted another 10 lbs., and I was sure we would have it for him.  But when I got there, my hopes were dashed:  Bare fields, punctuated by the occasional frost-blighted asparagus shoot.  Worthless. 

I called Tony back, feeling the need to apologize.  All I had was a couple handfuls of shoots suitable only for the chickens.

Just bad luck, perhaps?  Not at all.  We’ve suffered major losses in recent years from unprecedented extreme weather.  Last year, my investment group suffered badly when our hotel – located in the Northeast – suffered its second consecutive year of 100-year floods, damaging property and driving guests away for weeks. 

Nice hotel, if you can get there
We’ve watched with mixed feeling as Texas – home to an entire Congressional delegation of climate deniers – has sweltered and burned under the new normal for the U.S. Southwest.  By September, 213 Texas counties (almost all of them) were USDA disasters; forty-one straight days saw 100-plus heat; and agricultural losses came to $5.2 billion at my last count. Texas wildfires last year alone burned an area the size of Connecticut.  This didn’t persuade a single Texas lawmaker to seriously deal with climate change, as all of them are awash in oil money (check here to find yours).

But ordinary people are beginning – I think – to connect the dots. No amount of oil and coal advertising can blind an entire country to what’s happening outside.  They’re watching ExxonMobil, “Clean” Coal or Vote4Energy tell them that all we need to do is find more fossil fuels and burn them into God’s precious atmosphere, but they’re noticing the extreme heat, floods, droughts and unpredictable weather. They’re realizing it’s not just “warming,” but “weirding.”  It’s broiling when it should be cool; rains fail entirely, until they come with a vengeance and destroy crops, fields, and property. Gardeners know that plant hardiness zones move pole-ward twenty miles per year.  But that doesn’t stop freak cold snaps from destroying early seedlings – or Chef Tony’s asparagus delivery.
Look hard: Can you find any asparagus in our normally-productive field?
So give us a couple of days, and we’ll do our best to fulfill our commitments to our produce customers.  But in this age of “global wierding,” it’s harder all the time.

Thanks for reading, and may God bless you.

J. Elwood

Check out this great video explaining why the weather is both hotter and colder, dryer and more prone to flooding  – generally more extreme – over so much of God’s good earth.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Climate on Steroids: March 2012

  •  I'm sweltering.
    • It's no wonder, with all those blankets you've got on.
  • There you go, talking about blankets again.  I’ve been hot lots of times before.
    • Yeah, but you’ve never had this many blankets.
  • When I was a kid, we had a summer so hot that we spent every day in the pond.
    • Right.  I heard about that.
  • And what’s more, I may have a fever.  There are lots of things that can make you hot, you know.
    • Like, for example, a bed piled high with blankets?
  • Enough with the blankets!  At my age, people have hot flashes all the time. You’ll see when you’re older.
    • Some things, you learn with age.  But it’s common sense that a bed with more and more blankets will make you hotter.
  • Oh yeah?  Common sense? All kinds of things can make you hot, Sherlock.  There’s no breeze tonight. The smog is sealing in the heat. All that new pavement absorbs heat all day long, so our nights are oppressive.  The humidity is terrible. Ever heard of El Niño? Your simplistic notions! It’s more complex than you think.
    • So you don’t think all these blankets you’ve been adding have anything to do with it?
  • Of course not.  Don’t be silly.
    • Well . . . okay. Maybe you’re right. Hmm. I always thought blankets made you warm. But maybe. . . .
  • . . . .
    • . . . .
  • I’m sweltering.

Here at Good Hand Farm, we’ve never seen a winter and spring like this.  On Tax Day, all our windows were wide open.  The peas are already climbing their trellises.  The garlic is already wilting in the summer-like heat.

Climate skeptics can't seem to agree about what is causing the warming – except that it must somehow mainly be something other than human CO2 emissions.

More blankets every year...
Meanwhile, the earth’s natural atmospheric blanket of CO2 is thicker and thicker every year.  Last month, CO2 concentrations reached 394.45 parts per million, up from 200-280 ppm for more than the last million years, and up a steady 3 ppm every single year.

And while we pile up an ever-thicker carbon blanket around the planet, last month we saw some devastating weather records:

  • Last month was the hottest March in the U.S. on record, after 118 years of measurements.
  • The March heat was spread across the entire country. 25 separate states recorded their all-time record highs, and another 15 ranked March among their ten hottest.
  • NOAA reports “there were 15,272 warm temperature records broken in the U.S. in March.
  • It was so hot that March heat records crushed cold records by over 35 to 1, and top scientists and meteorologists said that global warming loaded the dice.
  • There were 225 tornadoes in March, triple the March average of 74 tornadoes. This  tornado rampage cost 40 American lives and more than $1.5 billion in damage.
  • And it wasn’t just one month:  Twenty-five states, all east of the Rockies, had their warmest first quarter on record.
March heat: Red tones are hotter than average; deep red is +15 degrees F.

Of course, climate scientists will tell us that no single weather event can be attributed to climate change with certainty – and we agree with them.  But the overwhelming consensus now is that the combination of these thousands of events could not occur unless we were in fact changing the climate.  Here’s a great short clip from The Weather Channel that sums up our weird weather, and its tragic consequences.

Not everyone believes this.  Like the sweaty guy under all the blankets, many will look for any answer whatsoever, other than the relatively obvious fact that we are pumping out more greenhouse gases year-by-year as we burn more and more coal, oil and gas.  The earth hasn’t seen these CO2 levels in a million years.  And the climate system is faithfully responding to its Creator's laws.

In the stifling heat, it’s hard to remember that this is still early spring.  Give me a month or two, and then look for my post updating you on the weather at Good Hand Farm.  I’ve already picked out the title: I’m Sweltering.

Thanks for reading, and may God bless you.

J. Elwood

Monday, April 16, 2012

R.M.S. Titanic: A Parable for Our Time

"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.” Matthew 23:37

My pastor made a striking statement last Sunday: God’s people always hated, ignored or killed every prophet sent to them.
Did you ever wonder why?  I have.

I suspect it’s because prophets are always telling us to change course, and no one likes that. We are free.  We’ve set our course.  We’ve got important things to do. Who are you to warn us? Do you think we’re blind or something?

This April, we commemorate the 100th anniversary of one of the world’s most infamous ignored warnings.  On April 14, 1912, Captain Edward Smith of R.M.S. Titanic had been receiving warnings all day of icebergs off Newfoundland, where his magnificent ship was running at its top speed of 22.5 knots.  At 9:00 in the black, moonless evening, he retired for the night with his ship still racing at full steam.

Ignored warnings: The Titanic never slowed down
Down in the wireless room, 25-year-old operator Jack Phillips was busy sending the day’s accumulated telegrams to the wireless station at Cape Race, Newfoundland.  At 9:40 a nearby steamship, the Mesaba, interrupted him with warnings of large icebergs in the Titanic’s path.  But Phillips was really busy.  Around 11:00, another ship, S.S. Californian, interrupted him again to report that they had come to a full stop and were surrounded by ice.

All this wireless chatter made it impossible for Phillips to get his telegrams out. "Shut up!” replied the frazzled Phillips. “Shut up, I am busy working Cape Race!"  The Californian complied, and fatefully shut off their wireless for the night.

Forty minutes later, a horrified lookout in the Titanic’s crow’s nest saw something huge dead ahead in the inky blackness.  The doomed ship had only about thirty seconds to react before impact. Within hours, 1,514 men, women and children were dead -- more than two-thirds of all those who had boarded her four days earlier.

In our day, few people have devoted more of their lives to understanding the Titanic than director James Cameron, who gave us the Oscar-winning film about the disaster in 1997.  Last week, Cameron spoke at length with National Geographic Channel, casting the Titanic as a parable for our times. Cameron sees a menacing iceberg in the path of global civilization, and it is climate change.

You can watch the video above, or read the text, but here’s what he said:

Part of the Titanic parable is of arrogance, of hubris, of the sense that we’re too big to fail. Well, where have we heard that one before?

There was this big machine, this human system, that was pushing forward with so much momentum that it couldn’t turn, it couldn’t stop in time to avert a disaster. And that’s what we have right now.

Within that human system on board that ship, if you want to make it a microcosm of the world, you have different classes, you’ve got first class, second class, third class. In our world right now you’ve got developed nations, undeveloped nations.

You’ve got the starving millions who are going to be the ones most affected by the next iceberg that we hit, which is going to be climate change. We can see that iceberg ahead of us right now, but we can’t turn.

We can’t turn because of the momentum of the system, the political momentum, the business momentum. There too many people making money out of the system, the way the system works right now and those people frankly have their hands on the levers of power and aren’t ready to let ‘em go.

Until they do we will not be able to turn to miss that iceberg and we’re going to hit it, and when we hit it, the rich are still going to be able to get their access to food, to arable land, to water and so on. It’s going to be poor, it’s going to be the steerage that are going to be impacted. It’s the same with Titanic.

I think that’s why this story will always fascinate people. Because it’s a perfect little encapsulation of the world, and all social spectra, but until our lives are really put at risk, the moment of truth, we don’t know what we would do. And that’s my final word.

Cameron’s stark assessment of the fate of the world’s poor – in the face of our ignored warnings about climate change – should move all people of goodwill to urgent action, but especially followers of Jesus Christ.  Because even wealthy Christians  know that the worst effects of climate change will not fall heavily on them – like the first-class passengers on the Titanic.  But the man they claim as their own has cast his lot with the hordes trapped below in steerage.

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,” he declared when he launched his ministry, “because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor” (Luke 14:18).

In the end, Christ does have wonderful news for the poor: news of redemption, news of adoption as sons of God, of a new creation, and of cosmic justice.  But I tremble to think of the fate of those whose power and wealth propels today’s ship of state, and who are relentlessly driving God’s most treasured possessions toward catastrophe.

Thanks for reading, and may God bless you.

J. Elwood

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Quick! What’s the Difference Between a Chicken and an Oil Lobbyist?

Farm animals do the darnedest things.  And all too often, those darned things involve the end product of their digestive systems.

Here at Good Hand Farm, our chickens and horses definitely lack politesse when it comes to their excretory habits.  We always find chicken manure in the hen house drinking water. And why can’t the horses steer their hindquarters clear of the feed bowls? We tell ourselves: Thank God people are smarter than farm animals!

Our barnyard brain trust
But recent news from Kids v. Global Warming (“KvGW”) now has us wondering.  You see, the kids at KvGW recently got fed up with government inaction on climate change, and decided to sue to protect their future.  Their leader, 17-year-old Alec Loorz summed up the case like this:

“Today, I and other fellow young people are suing the government, for handing over our future to unjust fossil fuel industries, and ignoring the right of our children to inherit the planet that has sustained all of civilization. I will join with youth and attorneys in every state to demand that our leaders live and govern as if our future matters.

“The government has a legal responsibility to protect the future for our children. So we are demanding that they recognize the atmosphere as a commons that needs to be preserved, and commit to a plan to reduce emissions to a safe level.”

Sounds reasonable, right?  You have the right to poop, Ms. Chicken, but not in the water the rest of need for drinking.  And like drinking water, the atmosphere that sustains the earth’s climate systems is the common heritage of all young people.  You’ll be long gone, Mr. Oil Executive, when we inherit the climate mess you’ve left us with atmospheric CO2 levels not seen in millions of years. That's unjust.

Chickens don’t get this, but humans do, right?

Well, not all humans.  We’ve learned that the nation’s most powerful business lobbying group – the National Association of Manufacturers (“NAM”) – has successfully argued for the right to intervene against the kids.  It’s now the richest oil companies in the world against a handful of teenagers demanding inter-generational justice.

And what is NAM’s argument? Their lawyer said that they have a “legally protected cognizable interest to freely emit CO2.” There are no specific prohibitions on emitting carbon dioxide, so it is permitted, he argued. He said that NAM and its allies may freely emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere without any reference to the public trust.

In other words, because the oil, gas and coal industries have been allowed to use the atmosphere as a pollution dump for free historically, they deserve to keep doing so.
The animals of Good Hand Farm have a farmer who’s in charge of keeping the water and the feed bowls clean, even if they don’t have the sense to do so themselves.   Our kids don’t have a farmer.  They’ve got a government, and a court system.  But now, the most powerful and richest adults in the world are training all their legal and lobbying firepower on them, to preserve the source of their toxic riches.

Maybe it’s time for some other adults to come over to the side of the kids.  You and I can do so, by visiting the KvGW and Our Children’s Trust websites.  Get your credit card out, and join me in supporting their efforts to save the climate systems they’ll inherit after the oil execs make their last few billions.

Farm animals – and, apparently, oil lobbyists – don’t know any better.  But you do. Let’s stand up for the kids!

Thanks for reading, and may God bless you.

J. Elwood

“A good man leaves an inheritance to his children's children, but the sinner's wealth is laid up for the righteous.” Proverbs 13:22

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Why Easter Matters

When I listen to the versions of the Christian gospel that get passed around by some American religious voices these days, I’m not all that surprised that some of my secular friends don’t have much interest.  We recall childhood images of a heavenly Father floating on clouds, and placid angels with harps.  We reassure ourselves about a non-physical life after death, and we tell our bereaved friends that their loved ones are “in a better place."

Some of our readers might be surprised, but these Hallmark-card versions of the Christian gospel have almost nothing to do with the Bible’s message of Easter.

Because on Easter, we affirm the undeniably physical resurrection of the God-man, Jesus of Nazareth.  When the Gospels say that Jesus rose from the dead, they don’t mean he went up into the blue light of the afterlife, or floated off into some spiritual realm.  They mean that his physical body came back to life in a fully physical manner.  He ate fish.  He bore scars from his crucifixion.  He broke bread with his disoriented followers on the Road to Emmaus.

And yet, the Gospels also tell us that Jesus’ risen form was glorious – far more than a restoration of the bodily life that he had once possessed.  Mary fell at his feet when she saw him.  He appeared among his cowering disciples while the door was locked against intruders.  And he ascended into the clouds in glory.

In marked contrast to popular religious notions, the hope of the gospel is principally this: What the creator God has done in Jesus’ resurrection is what he intends to do for the whole world – meaning, by world, the entire cosmos with all its history.[i]  We are not waiting to be whisked away from a decaying physical earth to our home in some disembodied spirit-realm.  We are waiting for the new heavens and new earth to come down to our world.[ii]  And we are praying for “thy kingdom” to come, “and thy will” to be done on earth, as it is in heaven.

The Easter story has little promise for those who are waiting to be taken to their home in the sky.  Because it tells us that the creator is deeply committed to the physical world and physical people he has made.

But many Christians themselves seem to have forgotten this core idea.  We go on and on about “going to heaven when we die,” something almost never mentioned in the Bible.  We treat the created world as though we were Gnostics or Platonists – ignoring the earthy, sweaty, salty, pulsating and beautiful creation, in favor of some disembodied destiny in a “spiritual” afterlife.

Our secular friends are largely right: This version of the gospel deserves their skepticism.

But N.T. Wright, the Bishop of Durham, tells us of a time when the Christian witness was much more powerful, because it was energized by the resurrection vision of Easter:

“It was people who believed robustly in the resurrection, not people who compromised and went in for a mere spiritualized survival, who stood up against Caesar in the first centuries of the Christian era. A piety which sees death as the moment of ‘going home at last,’ a time when we are ‘called to God’s eternal peace,’ has no quarrel with those who want to carve up the world to suit their own ends.

“Resurrection, by contrast, has always gone with a strong view of God’s justice, and of God as the good creator. Those twin beliefs give rise, not to a meek acquiescence in injustice in the world, but to a robust determination to oppose it. It is telling that English evangelicals gave up believing in the urgent imperative to improve society (such as we find with Wilberforce in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries) at the same time that they gave up believing robustly in resurrection and settled for a disembodied heaven instead.”[iii]

Here at the Clothesline Report, we are deeply committed to justice for the most vulnerable in an increasingly degraded world.  And while in this we make common cause with people of all faiths, we are motivated by one vision: Our world belongs to its Creator; he is deeply committed to the physical creation, which he made for his pleasure; he is actively reconciling all things to himself in Christ; and he is returning one day to make all things – people, lands, forests, skies, culture, oceans, ALL THINGS – new under his just and righteous rule.

Happy Easter to you.  The Lord is risen!

Thanks for reading, and may God bless you.

J. Elwood

[i] N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope; p. 91
[ii] Revelation 21:1-5
[iii] N.T. Wright, p. 26