July 2013 Environmental Summary
The weeks since the last summary I sent you have been filled with news about the environment and especially about climate change. I’m sure you are aware of some of the biggest items, such as the President’s major speech about climate change last week, the incredible record-breaking heat in the west and southwest, heavy rains and floods in India, Eastern Europe, and Alberta, and the storms that knocked out power many places on and near the East coast. The Association for Episcopal Deacons conference that I missed was without power for more than 24 hours.
In May the official readings of atmospheric carbon dioxide levels from the Mauna Loa observatory passed 400 ppm for the first time (with 350 ppm or less being the target for sustaining our biosphere). The rapid melting of the Arctic sea ice and its effects not only on the polar region but also on weather patterns in lower latitudes (see record heat in the west, cold and wet spring here and in western Europe, etc.) remains a concern. The film Chasing Ice is now available on Netflix and elsewhere after being shown in theaters and then on the National Geographic channel; it’s a great way to get a feel for the magnitude of the changes taking place at the Arctic. I was able to catch it a couple months ago on the Lied Superscreen at the Hastings Museum, and count it as a deep spiritual experience. If you haven’t seen it and can make the time, I recommend it. Look at the Chasing Ice trailer for a 2.5 minute peek at it. It helped spur me to sign up for the Climate Reality Leadership Corps. I’ll be away at the end of July for that training.
Jeff Goodell wrote a major piece for Rolling Stone, Goodbye, Miami, about the underwater future of Miami. The combination of more intense rainfalls, hurricanes powered by warmer water, and Miami’s geology and geography make it especially vulnerable. The article does a good job of describing what people in Miami may experience by the middle of this century. There is an accompanying article about what some other coastal cities will be facing.
It’s of course only one dramatic example of what coastal cities face to some degree as sea level rise increases.
I’ve been on the board of Nebraska Interfaith Power and Light through its 4-5 year history. We have had some ups and downs in our work as we have tried to get our feet on the ground. Kim Morrow, a current GreenFaith Fellow and pastor at First Plymouth UCC in Lincoln, is working to merge a new religious environmental group she had begun with Nebraska IPL. I hope to make it to Lincoln on July 18 for a meeting to discuss restarting Nebraska IPL and reframing some of its work. Working closely with IPL, especially the national organization, can save us and other faith communities in Nebraska from reinventing the wheel in some areas, and the national organization has some good resources for churches to use.
Mary Pipher launched her new book, The Green Boat. I heard her speak the week it was published, and I was delighted to know that she is thinking from her perspective as a psychotherapist and a grandmother about some of the same things I’ve been thinking about from a spiritual perspective. She talks about facing the realities of climate change and other big, difficult issues in today’s world while keeping ourselves healthy and reasonably happy by engaging in action and staying connected in community. It’s a very accessible book and may reach some readers who wouldn’t pick up any other book about climate change. This morning her group of Lincoln grandmothers, The Apple Pie Brigade, was holding a press conference at the Capitol to announce that they are going global, intending to connect like-minded people across the country.
The Summer Heat actions around the climate are still planned around the country, most for the latter part of July. The Nebraska plan, a joint effort of Bold Nebraska, Farmers Union, and the Sierra Club, is planned as a different sort of advocacy action. Instead of protesting somewhere, the plan is to build a windmill and solar-powered barn in the path of the planned Keystone XL pipeline. The official plan is still to do this on weekends beginning at the end of July, but I’ve heard nothing about either the exact location or dates. I know that Bold Nebraska is still trying to raise money for building materials. Groundbreaking is August 17 with two build dates scheduled in September. Seehttp://boldnebraska.org/summer-heat for details.
President Obama keeps kicking the decision date for the Keystone XL down the road. Now the word is “late fall of 2013 or maybe even 2014” for a decision. Despite what he said in his speech, my guess is that it will get approved sometime. As I’ve said before, my guess is also that it will never get built in Nebraska. TransCanada is losing money on it already because of the delay; the longer it is delayed, the less profitable the project is for them. Best case – but unlikely – scenario is that they cut their losses and withdraw the proposal.
President Obama surprised the environmental community when his big climate speech at Georgetown included these words: “Convince those in power to reduce our carbon pollution. Push your own communities to adopt smarter practices. Invest. Divest. Remind folks there’s no contradiction between a sound environment and strong economic growth.”
It seems I’m not alone in having experienced an internal shift as a result of the extreme weather events in recent weeks and the symbolic though significant reaching of the 400 ppm CO2 readings. Except for those who are able and willing to devote their time and energy to living isolated lives completely off the grid, we are necessarily part of the problem whenever we do anything that requires energy. (And even those off the grid can’t completely escape.) But I do think it is time for the church to consider divesting our portfolios of investments in the fossil fuel industry. I’m obviously not an economist, but along with the morality of the situation, it is inevitable that these investments will cease to be the safe and sure investments we have known as more support goes to better energy alternatives.
This Sunday’s lectionary brought some of these thoughts together for me, and I wrote a little about it in the Green Sprouts blog post Discipleship and Abandoning Business As Usual.
Yesterday the United Church of Christ voted to move toward divestment from fossil fuel companies. GreenFaith is offering a webinar the evening of July 15 on “The Bible, Divestment, and Reinvestment” with the Rev. Richard Cizik and Rabbi Larry Troster. I’ve signed up for it. We may have houseguests that evening, but it will be available as a recording to anyone who signs up for it. I’ll send along the invitation for you to see, and you can add your name on if you might want access to the recording at some point.
Archdeacon Betsy Blake Bennett