Category Archives: Climate

Fridays for the Future #10: My letter from Senator Casey

Posting every Friday at noon is how I act in solidarity with young climate strikers all over the world who want their elders to save their future.

Jews Demand Senator Casey Hear the Call for Climate Action Now! -- Dayenu | PRLog
Click pic for news about the Dayenu demonstration in Philly in September

I wrote to Senator Bob Casey to ask him what he was doing about climate change. I’m not too interested in what he is saying about it. Two months later I received a letter back.  He said:

As a member of the Environmental Justice Caucus, I will continue to work with my colleagues to address the legacy of environmental injustice in frontline communities and to advance bold climate solutions that prioritize the health of our communities.

I looked up the Environmental Justice Caucus. They do have a Twitter account with less followers than I have. But I did not find out too much more. So that might not be going too far.

He also said,

If done properly, our national climate change policy will reduce greenhouse gas pollution to the levels scientifically proven necessary, while strengthening jobs, re-energizing the manufacturing sector in Pennsylvania, and revitalizing our Nation’s and the world’s economies. Please be assured that I will keep your views in mind as I continue to work with my colleagues in the Senate to develop legislation that will help Pennsylvania’s workers, economy, and environment.

National climate change policy?

I researched what the “national climate change policy” might be.

At the EPA  website I discovered Executive Order 14008 from January 27. Biden got going on climate change not long after he was inaugurated. One thing the EPA is doing “pursuant” to Biden’s order is figuring out how to best adapt to the climate disasters in progress such as fires and floods associated with extreme weather.

As far as Congress goes, it might just give me an anniversary present on Dec. 13 when Chuck Schumer intends to bring the Build Back Better bill up for a Senate vote. There is powerful opposition to some of the climate provisions, so we will see what happens. This would be a good time to talk to your senators. Here are some of those provisions:

  • The Clean Electricity Performance Program (CEPP) will pay utilities to switch from greenhouse gas-emitting electricity sources, such as coal and natural gas, to non-emitting sources such as wind, solar, hydropower and nuclear. New gas power plants could still be built if they have costly systems to capture their carbon emissions. But the plan mostly favors renewable and nuclear power. Coal would take the biggest hit. The plan would eliminate coal-fired electricity by 2030.
  • There is $13.5 billion in the bill for more electric vehicle charging stations and for the conversion of trucks to electric. This investment, combined with a proposed $7,500 tax credit for electric vehicles, could mean 61% of total vehicles sales in 2030 would be EVs.
  • There is also a proposed fee on methane, or natural gas, that’s a big concern for oil companies.
Click pic for FoodTank article

Senator Casey?

He is a sure vote for Build Back Better

About a year ago Casey was on a 300-person Zoom hookup sponsored by PennEnvironment, a statewide environmental organization. There were a couple of things he emphasized that show what he is interested in doing:

  • “Agriculture is the top Pennsylvania industry and our farmers are dealing with floods, drought and pests as the front-line managers of land in the state. Forty-eight of the 67 counties are considered rural, so it’s essential to have our farmers at the table and have their support for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”
  • Many participants on the call voiced their opposition to hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” in the state’s Marcellus and Utica shale gas regions (PennEnvironment wants it banned). Senator Casey will not talk about banning it, but said, “I support responsible gas extraction, including tough regulation at the federal and state levels and the resources that that level of regulation requires.” He has repeatedly offered the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals (FRAC) Act for approval since 2009, which would require oil and gas companies to disclose chemicals used in the fracking process and allow the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to regulate and monitor those operations. It has not passed.

This year 

  • Senator Casey introduced the Restore Environmental Vitality and Improve Volatile Economy by the Civilian Conservation Corps of 2021, or the REVIVE the CCC Act (S.2414). He wants to revitalize the 1930s-era Civilian Conservation Corps into a modern-day employment, job training and conservation program. The act would advance efforts to tackle the climate crisis while creating well-paying, quality conservation jobs that “protect and restore waterways, working lands and the health and resiliency of our rural and urban communities. My legislation would renew vital efforts to bring conservation jobs to our communities, invest in our local economies and ensure farmers continue to play a critical role in climate change mitigation. It is past time for us to take action to address the climate crisis and create jobs while we do it,”
  • I was interested in the groups listed as sponsors of his bill. I am especially interested in the two groups of evangelicals and the two groups of farmers.

“The REVIVE the CCC Act is endorsed by: Accompanying Returning Citizens with Hope, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Evangelical Environmental Network, Forest Hills Borough Council, Keystone Research Center, National Wildlife Federation, National Young Farmers Coalition, PASA Sustaintable Agriculture, PennFuture, ReImagine Appalachia Coalition, The Corps Network, West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy and Young Evangelicals for Climate Action.

I hope you already understand more about the process of government than I do. I am convinced that its monopoly on power either helps the planet recover or propels us into deeper disaster. So I am trying to understand.

As a Jesus follower, I think it is my duty to care. So I am wondering how to do that in new ways, since my church does not appear to be super-interested (and that may be typical of most churches). There are many organizations that do care, however. I have already joined a few in a small way. If I want to be part of getting Senator Casey’s attention, it is apparently better to come in the name of a group of like-minded people.

Fridays for the Future #9: The joy of climate action

Posting every Friday at noon is how I act in solidarity with young climate strikers all over the world who want their elders to save their future.

Climate change is like a dark cloud hanging over every week. We try not to see the changes when they roll in like stormfronts; we try to make them coincidental; we are tempted to call all truth about climate change fake news. But it is hard to hold back the flood of reality. Sometimes the truth comes in the form of a 100 year flood, like the one we had five years ago!

Climate change is depressing. But climate action can be full of joy and wonder, even hope!

Stormclouds and lightbeams

I recently read a book called The Sea Is Rising and So Are We: A Climate Justice Handbook by Cynthia Kaufman and Bill McKibben. Kaufman is a community organizer (and she teaches people how to organize!). Along with her several books, she has written about social justice at Common Dreams. Bill McKibben received the Right Livelihood Prize for The End of Nature. He is the founder of 350.org, the first planet-wide, grassroots climate change movement.

Their book is blunt-spoken, succinct and well-researched. They lay out what we are up against with climate change in all its depressing peril and perfidy. But they spend most of the book on what we can do about it. They painstakingly include what fine people are actually doing, all around the world, to fight for the future of the earth.

If you have not read a book on the most important subject in your lifetime, apart from  following Jesus, this would be a good place to start. These two paragraphs give you a good idea of their core message.

Those of us close to the world of climate action know that huge changes are already happening [in response], as cities develop sustainable and egalitarian systems of transportation, as countries invest in renewable energy, and as regenerative agriculture is developing. But we also know that those better systems won’t naturally “outcompete” the fossil fuel–based ones for as long as our political systems remain captured by the forces of free market capitalism. As we will explore further in chapter 2, capitalism is a social arrangement that allows major social decisions to be made by for-profit businesses, those businesses operate through markets which are shaped by those with power, and it allows “externalities,” such as fossil fuel companies being able to use our atmosphere as a dumping ground for greenhouse gases.

We know that to get the changes needed, at the speed and scale we need, governments will have to be captured by those interested in a just transition to a sustainable society which serves human needs. And while that may seem wildly unimaginable, especially in the US, where our government is controlled by the interests of the 1 percent, something like this has happened before and it needs to happen again.

“Sustainable” and “egalitarian” vs. “capitalism” and “1 percent” may cause those paragraphs to feel good to you or feel out of your normality. But it might be time to stop ignoring the realities of the moment and get into the dialogue about what to do. It is a new climate out there and it is changing rapidly. We are living in it, not in a media-induced argument.

The joy of bus rapid transit

One of the many examples of creativity and invention noted in the book comes from the city of Curitiba, Brazil. Mayor Jaime Lerner, a trained architect, successfully argued that expensive subways were designed for the wealthy and the city needed to do something cheaper and better. He famously said, “if you want creativity, cut one zero from the budget. If you want sustainability cut two zeros.” He moved the discussion in his city from the idea of expensive trains and polluting cars, to making buses into something that really work.

Over two million people a day ride Curitiba’s system, and more than two hundred cities in the world now have bus rapid transit. What’s more, in 2018 the country of Luxemburg made all public transportation free. Last week, Joe Biden signed the infrastructure package that includes billions to increase the number of public charging stations for electric vehicles. The package yet to pass includes subsidies for EV purchases. People are doing things!

At the end of their book the authors do a little cheerleading.

The alternative to  playing out our trauma by living online and trying to win the Oppression Olympics, is to focus on the bigger picture of the beloved world we are trying to create and to try as much as possible to enact that world in our work to get there.

I did not note too much overt Christianity in Kaufman’s and McKibben’s book. But that last bit sounds like some pretty good theology, doesn’t it? Jesus followers can look into the future with confidence no matter what happens. That security frees us to be the presence of that future in a troubled world with real joy.

Fridays for the Future #8: U.N. COP26 Climate Summit Ends with a Fizzle

Posting every Friday at noon is how I act in solidarity with young climate strikers all over the world who want their elders to save their future.

COP26: How humans save the planet

Diplomats and leaders from over 200 countries finished up COP26 in Glasgow last week. They met to  save the planet.  Stick with Jesus.

Scientists agree that a change of even 2°C (3.6°F) in average temperatures will have devastating effects. The negotiators all agreed that something must be done, only they didn’t agree on exactly what or exactly when. But if everyone continues to do what they are doing now, the average temperature on the planet will rise by 2.4°C in this century. To prevent catastrophe, all nations need to cut their carbon dioxide emissions in half this decade, beginning immediately. That won’t be easy or cheap, as this photo of coal barges in Indonesia by Willy Kurniawan of Reuters makes clear:

Coal barges in Indonesia; there are a lot of them, and they are absolutely loaded. There must be 500 tons of coal visible in the picture.

The climate talks finished Saturday with a declaration, as they usually do. Some of the main takeaways from the declaration are:

  • A call for a phase-down of unabated coal use and a phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies. (Unabated” means that no technology was used to removed carbon emissions from the air when the coal was used — yes that’s a plan. See this Mother Jones article, too).
  • Rich countries promise to help poor countries deal with the climate-induced change. (Keeping that promise has not happened so far).
  • Rules for carbon offsets have been set
  • Countries are encouraged to revisit their 2030 targets once in a while
  • Some observers think that limiting the planet-wide temperature increase to 1.5°C might be doable

Not everyone is smiling and praising their great work. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres responded by putting out a statement thanking the U.K. government for being lovely hosts. But it went on to say:

Our fragile planet is hanging by a thread.
We are still knocking on the door of climate catastrophe.
It is time to go into emergency mode—or our chance of reaching net zero will itself be zero.
I reaffirm my conviction that we must end fossil fuels subsidies. Phase out coal.
Put a price on carbon.
Build resilience of vulnerable communities against the here and now impacts of climate change.

In short, he feels it is too little, too late. Better something than nothing, but the earth won’t wait until Sen. Joe Manchin (D-Coal) is out of office.

Greta Thunberg told BBC Scotland:

“They even succeeded in watering down the blah, blah, blah which is quite an achievement.”

Political fiddling while the climate burns

The COP26 agreement does have some nice-sounding words though. Phasing out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies sounds good. Does that mean we now need efficient fossil fuel subsidies? How does one measure the efficiency of a fossil fuel subsidy? Of course, phasing out subsidies is not the same as phasing out coal itself. The problem with fuel and other areas is that making changes is very disruptive and expensive and somebody will have to pay for it. People are now going nuts about 6% inflation — imagine energy costs going up enormously! Such increases won’t be popular in Arizona (think: air conditioning in the summer) or Minnesota (think: heating in the winter). The oil companies are in full court press mode to save their profits, not the planet, even though they have the resources to do so. (Did you even know the oil company CEOs were questioned by congress?)

The deal is just words, of course. It is the implementation that matters. In each country, domestic politics will play a huge role. In the U.S., if the Biden administration and a Democratic Congress is replaced in 2025 with a Trump administration and a Republican administration, the implementation might just be a bit different. Currently, the U.S. and the European Union have promised to stop adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere by 2050. China has promised it by 2060. But a Trump administration, under pressure from fossil fuel companies, could just say “climate change is a hoax” and rip up the plan.

Many countries are already seeing the effects of climate change in the form of more wildfires, fiercer storms, flooding, and other effects. But the rich countries can manage those effects better. California will not be depopulated due to more fires. But if the global temperature rises by 2°C, the country of the Maldives will be under water and uninhabitable. So will much of Bangladesh. Florida will, too, but at least Floridians can move to Georgia or Alabama. The Dhivehin and Bangladeshis have nowhere to go. Hundreds of millions of climate refugees will try to escape to other countries. It won’t be pretty. (See my Todd Miller post from Mexico).

The power struggles are killing everything

The current administration will do its best, but the Republicans will undoubtedly do everything possible to block all the necessary steps outlined during COP26 because:

  • climate change is a hoax,
  • the Democrats want to do it,
  • not doing it will own the libs big time,
  • the oil, gas, and coal companies don’t want to do it
  • it will cost a lot of money and that means either new taxes or energy prices will have to rise or both.

If Congress refuses to pass the necessary laws (e.g., banning the operation of coal-fired electric power plants by 20[XX], banning the sale of new gasoline-powered cars by 20[YY], etc.) there is only so much Joe Biden can do by executive order and every step he does take by 20[XO] will be met by an equal and opposite lawsuit and likely a counter-order the next time a Republican is in the White House.

On the other hand, if fighting climate change becomes a dominant issue in 2022, it could help the Democrats since most people—and especially the college-educated suburban voters who pulled the lever for the Republicans in Virginia and New Jersey—believe climate change is real and something needs to be done about it. Calling it a hoax and pooh-poohing it will probably not work well as a campaign issue for the Republicans next year. They are better off trying to make the midterms about parental rights, not climate change.

When I read sentences like those last few, I sit back and take a deep breath and turn my attention to Jesus, who calls me his beloved. I turn to love and then decide how to show it in troubled times. We all need the breath of life: coal-free from without, fear-free from within.

*** I lifted much of this from my favorite news aggregators, pleading jet lag.

Fridays for the Future #7: The Climate Wall

On day five of our learning tour in the borderlands in Arizona we met Todd Miller (toddmillerwriter.com). He has been writing about the borderlands for many years and filled us with useful, if a bit terrifying, info.

Miller wrote Storming the Wall: Climate change, Migration, and Homeland Security in 2017 and co-authored Global Climate Wall last month for the Transnational Institute (tni.org). I was glad to meet him. What follows is a version of what he is trying to get everyone to hear.

Climate change drives migration

Guatemala provides a good example of how the changing climate is impacting immigration and what the wealthy countries are doing about it.

As soon as the floodwaters of Hurricane Eta began to recede in November of 2020 people began to head north. 339,000 Guatemalans were displaced by natural catastrophes in 2020. Many people became desperate. They felt they had to face the walls, armed agents, and surveillance systems deployed by the U.S. — and forced on other countries, starting with the heavily enforced border in southern Mexico, to have a chance to live.

The U.S. Government knows environmental catastrophe and displacement within and migration from Central America are linked, whether caused by flooding or drought. In September 2018, after a year of severe drought in the region, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) commissioner Kevin McAleenan told the press, “Food insecurity, not violence, seems to be a key push factor informing the decision to travel from Guatemala, where we have seen the largest growth in migration this year.”

U.S. climate scientist Chris Castro said Central America is “ground zero” for the impact of global heating impact on the Americas. “It’s a paradigm of the wet gets wetter, the dry gets drier, the rich get richer, the poor get poorer. Everything gets more extreme.” There is an ever-widening swathe of land populated by subsistence farmers where rain has become less reliable.

Then came 2020. At the end of a year dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic came two back- to-back category four hurricanes. By January 2021, the World Food Programme calculated that those experiencing hunger nearly quadrupled from 2018 to 8 million, and 15% of people surveyed were making concrete plans to migrate north, twice the 2016 level. In 2020, in Honduras alone, almost a million people were displaced because of climate-related causes. This was only only a glimpse of what was happening worldwide with over 30 million people displaced by such events, three times more than those displaced by conflict or war in the same year.

Mexican police corral migrants after they cross the Suchiate River in January 2020

The response of big polluters? Invest in border security

In response the climate disaster and the migration it causes, wealthy countries are building security walls. I have now seen the incredible investment in border security at the US border with my own eyes. All over the world, the largest greenhouse gas emitters are also the world’s top border enforcers. Besides the US, countries such as Australia, Canada, Germany and the UK, as well as the European Union and its 27 member states, are constructing walls, deploying armed agents, erecting sophisticated and expensive surveillance technologies and biometric systems, and unmanned aerial systems, often in collaboration with a burgeoning global border industry. Globally, 63 border walls have been built, with 9 new ones announced, up from six when the Berlin Wall fell and South African apartheid was dismantled in 1989. This wall-building has accelerated since 9/11, and particularly since 2010. The US is funding and forcing Central American countries and Mexico to reinforce the US border by militarizing their own.

It seems that there is no limit to spending on national borders and immigration enforcement. US spending on militarizing its southern border and detention and deportation of immigrants has nearly tripled since 2003 from $9.2 billion to $25 billion today. Yet the world’s richest countries have failed to meet even their inadequate promises of money to tackle the impacts of climate change in the world’s poorest countries. The ratio of U.S. Border spending to climate financing, for example, is 11 to 1, based on the annual average between 2013 and 2018.

We are living in a world in which walls, border patrols, Black Hawk helicopters, unmanned aerial systems, motion sensors, and infrared cameras are placed between the world’s highest emitters and the lowest ones (like Guatemala), between the environmentally relatively secure and the environmentally exposed. The U.S. is exporting border protection to Central American countries in an attempt to deter people before they get too close.

This expanding global border regime is increasingly built by private industry. This fuels a lucrative border security industrial complex. Many of the same companies that the US, the EU and Australia have contracted to fortify their borders and detention systems also have been hired by fossil fuel companies in order to protect oil pipelines and other parts of the industry. The company G4S, for example, not only has contracts with the CBP to provide armed and armored transport for migrants arrested near the US–Mexico border, but also provides protection services to Royal Dutch Shell, the seventh largest corporate emitter of green house gas worldwide.

Rhetorically, political leaders from the world’s highest emitting countries are aware that the poor bear the burden of suffering. US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, for example, says he knows that the “consequences are falling disproportionately on vulnerable and low-income populations. And they’re worsening conditions and human suffering in places already afflicted by conflict, high levels of violence, instability.” With such awareness, one might assume that US national budgets would reflect the will to alleviate the suffering Blinken describes. Instead, the United States – and many of the other high-emitting countries – pour increasing money into border and immigration enforcement.

At the end of the day, budgets speak much louder than rhetoric. In the present status quo, tens of thousands of people from Guatemala and beyond will face the armed guards and gates of the United States, as thousands of others face the rough Mediterranean waters around Fortress Europe.

The Bible consistently tells us that how we treat the stranger is a measure of our right relationship with God. How the rich treat the planet creates strangers on their doorsteps. What would the Lord have us do?

Further Resources

One of the big moments of this day on our learning tour was visiting Casa Alitas. This mission started when someone found an immigrant released from custody and wandering around the bus station in Tucson, where they had been dropped. Women, especially, started inviting these strangers into their homes. They got a house where they convinced the authorities to drop released people. They outgrew it and moved into a soon-to-be-demolished monastery. The country eventually gave them a large, unused part of the youth detention center. I was moved to tears by the generosity and service of these inventive, compassionate people! Over 400 volunteers make their mission effective. One of them became an MCC worker and the leader of our tour. You might like to know her:

Katherine Smith  
Border & Migration Outreach Coordinator
West Coast Mennonite Central Committee
Tucson, AZ
Cell: (520) 600-1764
katherinesmith@mcc.org

Valarie Lee James found a manta buried in the desert sand near Tucson. It is the all-purpose cloth Central American women often embroider and then use to keep tortillas fresh or any other regular purpose.  It was a shockingly personal item to find. She then found another and another. She cleaned them, honored the, and turned them into art installations. One of which is in a permanent museum collection in Sweden. She then encouraged migrant women by engaging them in their art. She then realized their art could support them and other causes. Thus, their is an Etsy shop called Bordando Esperanza (hope embroidering/crafting).

Fridays for the Future #6 — Phoenix/Tucson the most unsustainable: It’s about water

Tomorrow I leave with MCC on a pilgrimage to the “borderlands” in Arizona. It is a well-worn trail blazed by caring advocates over decades, most recently by the former Director of MCCUS, Ron Byler.

My parents used to live in Arizona, right on Lake Havasu. To get to their mobile home we had to cross the famous London Bridge. Industrialist Robert Paxton McCulloch bought the bridge from London in the 60’s when the city was going to replace it and reassembled it in the middle of nowhere. Now it is one of Arizona’s main tourist attractions.

Lake Havasu. My parents lived on that island in the bottom right corner.

Talk about infrastructure projects!

Lake Havasu is a gigantic reservoir backing up behind Parker Dam, a project of the Bureau of Reclamation between 1934 and 1938. The dam builders had to dig down so far to reach a bedrock foundation, Parker became the deepest dam in the world. The reservoir holds water for two of the desert-defying aqueducts that make Southern California and Southern Arizona possible

The Colorado River Aqueduct feeding Southern California, where I grew up, was created by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, a consortium of eleven cities, including Los Angeles, Burbank, Beverly Hills, Pasadena, Anaheim and San Bernardino. The cities joined together to ensure a water supply for their booming communities, which had everything a paradise could want, except adequate water. It is quite a feat which includes the 13-mile-long San Jacinto Tunnel, which took six years to build.

The  Central Arizona Project Aqueduct came later after Arizona gained access to the lake through court battles. The backbone of the aqueduct system runs about 336 miles from Lake Havasu to a terminus southwest of Tucson. They called it complete in 1993 even though it has yet to supply water to several Native American distribution systems.

Unsustainable desert cities

Every time we flew into Las Vegas to get our rental car to drive to “Havasu,” I am pretty sure I said, “What in the world is that city doing there?” Without the giant Hoover Dam creating Lake Mead (also damming the Colorado River) the Luxor Pyramid and those miles of tract homes would be impossible.  None of the cities of the Southwest are sustainable with only their local water resources which are now only trickles, for the most part.

Phoenix seems even worse than Las Vegas.  In his 2011 book Bird on Fire, the NYU sociologist Andrew Ross branded Phoenix the least sustainable city in the world [see Guardian article]. But it kept growing. In 2017 Phoenix passed Philadelphia to become the fifth largest U.S. city.  Due to climate change, external water resources are becoming even more unreliable. The Colorado River is drying up. The Western drought has been in the news for the past five years. Westerners were thrilled last week when a bomb cyclone storm dumped snow on the Sierras and promised some water for their reservoirs. The snow in the Rocky Mountains, which feeds the Colorado River, has been up to 70% lower than average, recently. Flights out of Phoenix airport have been grounded because of the extraordinary heat (which is saying something in Phoenix!)– after 116F officials have to make a judgment call about whether the air too thin to take off safely. Putting an urban “heat island” in the middle of desert keeps Phoenix even hotter. Living in Southern Arizona is living on the leading edge of climate change disaster.

The way the U.S. does capitalism makes endless sprawl seem reasonable even if water sources to not presently support it. So Bill Gates purchased land outside Buckeye a few years ago, 36 miles from downtown Phoenix,  with plans to build a smart city the size of Tempe. More cars, more electricity, more waste and a need for more water.

Navajo generating station

Greater Phoenix is good at recycling waste water, but most of it is used for cooling the Palo Verde nuclear power plant to the west of the city, the largest in the US and the only one not on its own body of water. But on the other side of the ecological balance is the fact that the water department is Arizona’s biggest electricity consumer, mainly because it has to pump the water uphill from the Colorado River along miles of canals into Phoenix and Tucson. Most of the electricity it uses comes from the heavily polluting, coal-fired Navajo Generating Station in the north of the state.

The new eco-apartheid

I will spend the night in my brother’s gated community near Tucson. So I will get the feel for how the wealthier people experience the Arizona Sun Corridor. I hope I don’t have an Elysium flashback when I head south toward the border.

Andrew Ross warns of an “eco-apartheid,” whereby low-income neighborhoods on the more polluted south side of the Salt River (which once flowed vigorously through the city of Phoenix and is now a rivulet) are less able to protect themselves from the heat and drought than wealthier citizens. “There’s a stark disparity,” he says. “The resource havens, with their hybrid cars, their solar panels and other green gizmos; and the folks on the other side struggling to breathe clean air and drink uncontaminated water. It’s a prediction of where the world is headed.” I was reminded of moving to San Diego and experiencing to change in atmosphere between desertified Tijuana and water-sprinkled San Diego.

Maybe the handwriting has been on Arizona’s wall for a long time. Ross tells about the Native people named “Hohokam” (“used up”) by archaeologists. They were the original irrigators of the Arizona Sun Corridor. Their society, numbering an estimated 40,000, collapsed in the 1400’s right before the Spanish arrived. Researchers generally believe their advanced civilization fell apart over power struggles related to scarce water.

Climate change is going to result in more immigrants showing up at the border, more income disparity, and more fighting. Our era is an important one for Christians to build resilient communities that not only survive but help others thrive.

 

 

Fridays for the Future #5 — Catalogs lead to plastic

Over the pandemic lockdown we did a lot more shopping online. One result of that shopping is we are now receiving  a whole new load of catalogs. Last week I decided to figure out what to do about my bulging mailbox. My journey led me to some places you may want to know about.

I looked in the catalogs themselves for how to unsubscribe. I did not find anything. It was daunting to think I would have to get into every company’s system to get out of it. So I Googled my problem (since I am WAY into that oppressive system).

CatalogChoice

Right away I found CatalogChoice. They are one of the many great ideas people have had in the last decade to combat climate change and pollution. In their case they are “keeping trees in the ground.” They will help you get off catalog lists.

They are a nonprofit and have no capacity to keep the USPS from doing what it does in service to consumer capitalism, nor can they get you off prospecting lists. They suggest you combine their service with DMA Choice. DMA Choice is another nonprofit that helps you curate the mailing lists you’re on or stop direct mail altogether.

Story of Stuff

Like most of my exploration of how to get into climate action (at least every Friday!) there was an unexpected good consequence of engaging. It turns out that CatalogChoice is an offshoot of the The Story of Stuff Project. I have been passing around one of their videos (The Story of Plastic) for a while.

This group of ambitious inventive people, based in San Francisco, have made a difference in how we make, use, and throw away stuff. They list some big fights their worldwide community has won:

Burning plastic

Jon Stewart’s first new show focused on the burn pits the U.S. Military created, especially in Iraq, that not only polluted the atmosphere but permanently damaged the soldiers who are now fighting for VA benefits. I did not know about that. One of the elements that make burn pits so toxic is plastic.

In The Story of Plastic, one fact caught my attention. The world increasingly uses plastic for fuel in its waste incinerators. Plastic is, after all, a fossil fuel. The European Union burns 42% of its waste, the U.S. 12%. Their expensive incinerator plants, which pollute less if properly equipped and maintained, require a constant source of plastic to fuel the constant burn they need to maintain.

The process is not part of a “circular economy” to which the EU is committed – no disposable products and a goal for all packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable. “When you take fossil fuels out of the ground, make plastics with them, then burn those plastics for energy, it’s clear that this is not a circle—it’s a line,” says Rob Opsomer of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which promotes circular economy efforts.

Another way to convert plastic waste to energy is through gasification, a process that melts plastics at very high temperatures in the near-absence of oxygen (which means toxins like dioxins and furans aren’t formed). A more attractive technology right now is pyrolysis, through which plastics are shredded and melted at lower temperatures than gasification and in the presence of even less oxygen. The heat breaks plastic polymers down into smaller hydrocarbons, which can be refined to diesel fuel and even into other petrochemical products—including new plastics.

Zero-waste advocates worry that any approach to converting plastic waste into energy does nothing to reduce demand for new plastic products and even less to mitigate climate change. “To uplift these approaches is to distract from real solutions,” says Claire Arkin, a campaigner with the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives — that is, solutions that allow people to use less plastic and reuse and recycle more.

It seems to me that continuing to compromise with giant oil companies (who are hurrying to build plastic manufacturing sites as we speak), delays the process of protecting us from climate disaster. They are committed to getting their product out of the ground and sold. As long as we protect that goal, keeping the temperature from rising past the point of no return seems unlikely. Better pray and work!

Fridays for the Future #4 — PGW, the PUC and RNG: How gov’t gets in the way of climate action

Circa 2012

I have a resident expert on sustainability in my life: my friend Paul Kohl, the Director of Planning and Research at the PWD. His LinkedIn page says “PWD” for Philadelphia Water Department and that is the first abbreviation of many in this story. Get ready for PEA, PGW, PUC, RNG, NYC, PJM and maybe more.

It is all government-speak, which often obscures the reality of what is going on (like “Who are we even talking about? And what is ‘sustainability’ supposed to mean?”). These days the torturously slow, maddening pace of government regarding climate change is clogging up the immediate action we need to take.

For instance, I wrote a note to Kenyatta Johnson, the councilman for my congregation’s district in Philly. (I plan to contact everyone, once I find out who is who. I am making you a list). I got a nice phone message from his communications director, Vincent Thompson, who I have met on the street. He told me he was sending me a link for the Office of Sustainability. He said the City Council does not do much about climate change but may pass legislation proposed by the Mayor’s Office in which the Office of Sustainability falls. Kristine Knapp is the director. I am acquainted with her since she used to lead the Passyunk Square Civic Association, I was associated with their board for a hot minute back in the day. She’s great, but if you look at the office’s site, it will be hard to find something that resembles radical action. When Vincent called me again (! — you are on it!) I told him he could have directed me to Emily Shapira at PEA (Philadelphia Energy Authority) which is the brainchild of Darrel Clarke and is an arm of the City Council. It is hard to keep track of all these overlapping agencies. I am not sure they even get along.

Even though it often feels like a dead end, we need to talk to the government, somehow. You can put as many solar panels on your house as you like, which is good. But it is the work of government, not individuals, which is the main problem with the atmosphere. The main corporate polluters have a moral obligation to stop polluting, but the capitalist system under which they function has a deadly logic of its own and needs to be restrained by the government before profit-taking kills us all.

RNG could be part of the picture

My friend Paul knows all about these things as the scientist, engineer, under-affirmed leader and government project manager he has been. He told me a story about PGW (the city-owned energy utility) which demonstrates how government can work but then can be its own problem.

A 2015 report by the Pennsylvania PUC (Public Utilities Commission) found 7,600 total leaks across PGW’s (Philadelphia Gas Works‘) system with more than half being classified as hazardous.  (Good work PUC!) In June of 2021 (yes, SIX YEARS later) PGW announced plans to cut methane emissions 80% by 2050 by modernizing infrastructure and implementing new technology, according to this news release. The leaking methane is a powerful greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming at a rate more than 80 times that of carbon dioxide. There are projects all over the country to cap it or capture it.

The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — quoted report is from 2018) and the City of Philadelphia have committed to reaching carbon neutrality by 2050 to keep warming below 1.5 degrees centigrade.

  • This goal my not be enough, but it is the popular goal.
  • The federal government stalled during Trump’s FOUR YEARS (Rex Tillerson was Sec. of State, for one thing!).
  • The pandemic slowed or stopped some serious work.
  • The City has more fights about people having to come back to the office than they do about the best way to save the planet.

But we press on. The 20% of the methane loss they don’t think they can stop will be “offset” through planting trees or other measures, according to Rob Altenburg, senior director of energy and climate at PennFuture, a well-funded (as in Heinz and Pew and downtown galas) nonprofit focused on leading the transition to a clean energy economy across Pennsylvania.

Part of PGW’s plan is to seek “renewable natural gas (RNG) sources for gas supply, along with other RNG development opportunities.” RNG technology is itching to get going. Advanced anaerobic digestors are the new thing. NYC has some. In Philly, there is a proposed project to capture methane from food waste on an old refinery site that finally made its way through the courts in June of 2021 (report). PGW wanted to be purveyors of such RNG so we can keep the natural gas in the ground.

PA PUC Chair Gladys Dutrieuille

By August of 2021, the PUC stepped in and quashed the pilot project (Inquirer story). They did not disagree with the idea of it. But the law that gives the PUC authority to regulate utilities requires it to make sure consumers get the cheapest possible rates. RNG, at this point, costs about two to five times more than natural gas. So a majority of the board interpreted the law to say the small amount of expensive gas PGW planned to buy to get this industry going was not OK.

And some critics say RNG is not the best solution to methane from landfills and might even cause more pollution (article). And there will always be people saying we need to radically decrease consumption, not just try to change technology fast enough to keep up our destructive pace.

The Inquirer could not resist ending their article on the proposed plant by putting the blame on government: “The Republican-controlled General Assembly has demonstrated little appetite for climate mandates, such as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which might result in higher consumer costs.”

[BTW — I called the PUC to see why there are only three members right now instead of the prescribed five.  Their phone tree let’s you know what they do! They only took five minutes for the call back! But they could not answer my question and sent me up a level. After a minute and a half I was put into voicemail. Haven’t heard anything in two weeks — they must not have a Vincent.]

Paul’s RNG ideas

I would not say Paul is optimistic about the future, but he has certainly become an expert in providing us one as part of the PWD. He was part of the City’s plan for sustainability as represented in the PGW diversification study  and the PWD sustainability plans.

Paul knows how to capture energy from sewage and had a pilot plant running at one point. It successfully gave proof of concept but had technical issues and fell by the bureaucratic wayside. Two treatment plants, one in Bridesburg and one near the airport, run portions of their processes with methane and heat captured from waste.

In the northeast, the system captures both thermal and electrical energy from wastewater gas. Anaerobic digesters process sludge filtered from wastewater to produce biogas, which fuels engines creating heat and power for the plant. In addition, capturing the heat in the water being treated creates on-site energy that would normally be lost in transmission, increasing efficiency. In the southwest, the biogas is used to heat, dry and pelletize the waste. When you pass one of these plants and see the flares burning, that’s wasting the gas. That outlet is more for an emergency than for regular operation. You should call your Council member and ask why we are wasting gas.

Apart from admiring all the good work Paul and others are trying to do, this week’s exploration feels full of bureaucratic roadblocks and lack of cohesion. That probably seems a lot like your family maybe, or your church — people are people. I came away thinking I had better pray! One reason is so I don’t get consumed with anxiety — I think most of us are practicing not knowing too much about climate change because it is too terrible.  The other reason  to pray is so I take some action in the face of painfully slow progress — as usual, if God does not save us, we will not be saved.

Fridays for the Future #3: Lithium is the new secret ingredient

“The climate is changing! We need to do something!” Put that reality into the media grinder and you get a thousand good podcasts enumerating the problems associated with taking action. I appreciated the first episode of a new podcast associated with the NPR Marketplace show called How We Survive. It starts out with the topic of batteries, which are crucial for storing the renewable energy and sustaining alternative technologies to replace using fossil fuels.   We need a lot of batteries and we need them fast if we want to make a difference — do you think we even have ten years left before it is too late? Batteries need lithium and China controls a lot of it. So of course, people in the U.S. are looking for American lithium.

The story of getting lithium is where this podcast begins its journey. As I listened to it, I wished I was binging it, since it made it clear we don’t have time to spend thirteen weeks finding out how we survive! Regardless, I want to give you a taste of an early episode and some of the morsels it provided.

Getting lithium means mining. In the case the podcast highlighted, it means a new mine outside of Orovada, Nevada near Thacker Pass on lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management. On the last Friday of Trump’s administration, the BLM approved it. The new Secretary of the Dept. of Energy, Jennifer Granholm, is a fan of the plan if the lithium is extracted responsibly (Review Journal). The New York Times, at least, thinks such responsibility is unlikely (their take).

George Ireland, Chairman of the Board

The proposed mine is a project of LithiumAmericas. You’ll probably want to look at their “About” page if you, like me, have little awareness of the people who dominate the land and air, and maybe the future. Their plan includes a hole the area of 5000 football fields. Plus, they plan to bring three trucks an hour 24/7/365 through Orovada full of sulfur for making the sulfuric acid needed for processing on site, then leaving with refined product. They promise they will build a fabulous new school away from the soon-to-be busy highway on which it now sits.

Opposition to the lithium mine

There is opposition to the Thacker Pass project. A couple of men associated with Deep Green Resistance are camped out on the pass to make their opposition known. DGR is a radical environmental group (with whom I have a lot of sympathy) which got organized after Derrick Jensen wrote the book by the same name. I first got wind of them in 2019 and here they are in Nevada trying to do something. They have a website and they have a philosophy. They think trucks running night and day, putting a big hole in native land, making millions of electric cars that produce a lot of carbon to make, etc. is a bad solution. They would rather we dismantle consumer society. We can’t build back the environment better by using the same philosophy and tools that ruined it.

If you want to get into this argument you could visit yet another podcast: This Green Earth where Max Wilbert, another spokesperson for Deep Green Resistance talks about a book he co-authored titled Bright Green Lies – How the Environmental Movement Lost Its Way and What We Can Do About It. The book explores the rift between two (stereo)types of environmentalists. The first being the “deep greens,” who want to protect Earth by cutting back on consumption and restoring natural landscapes, and the “bright greens,” who believe improved technology in the form of solar, wind, and battery storage are all we need to roll back climate change. I did not explore how the binary labels originated, but you get the idea.

So up on Thatcher Pass the decamped men look for allies. They have some among the nearby Paiute/Shoshone folks who have a long history with the whole territory. Other Native Americans are delighted with the prospect of the mine producing more jobs. They have been working in mining for decades. Those who have benefited from mining jobs are happy they no longer live in houses without electricity or running water.

My own experience with lithium centers on how it is the main component of a drug used to help people with bipolar disorder. It is a bit ironic that every goal in the U.S. needing  cooperation ends up with people labeling at least two camps that don’t get along — a bit bipolar? You can see why dealing with the climate crisis is not easy.

If each of us just brings it down to how willing we are to change, personally, in order to bring harmony and hope to the present climate crisis, it probably won’t surprise anyone that government-approved LithiumAmericas trucks will soon be displacing school children and various endangered species while locals wonder about property values. I don’t know what you are actually doing, of course, so pardon my disrespect. I just don’t think we are changing fast enough in general, and I do think we know more about property values than we know about lithium.

We named our church Circle of Hope a long time ago. How about yours? It might be “New Life” since that seems popular.  It takes a lot of positive expectation to follow Jesus in this trying time, doesn’t it! I hope you are banded together in your own protest and solution-oriented response to climate change. Nothing is going to be easy but it is certainly a great time to be a serious Christian in a life-giving church! When have true Jesus followers been more necessary?

Fridays for the Future #2 – Running into the commissioner

Do you know who sits on your state’s Public Utilities Commission? (Here’s PA). I still don’t know much about mine, but I have at least figured out they have quite a bit to say about whether my state will take any useful, expedient climate action.

Here is this week’s climate action story.

I decided it would be a service to find out what every elected official is doing about climate change (not just what they are saying). I might write every one of them or call them to find out. Maybe I will visit! In order to do that, I needed to find out who they are. There is so much government I am sure you do not know all the people who are leading the action or lack of action on climate change right now.

I began making a doc which I will eventually share with you (and maybe work on with you!) that lists all the officials, links to their sites and gives a blurb about what climate action they have taken or intend to take. I used the zip codes of each of Circle of Hope’s meeting places, which probably covers where you live if you are local. If you aren’t, this doc making would be a fun project for you and your elementary school kids, right? It is their future burning right now, after all.

First meeting March 25 2021

I brought up Governor Murphy’s info in New Jersey and noticed he had appointed members to the New Jersey Council on the Green Economy in 2021. I have to admit, I was rather unaware of the vast unelected government that either runs things or not. My elected officials are supposed to be leading them, but I have to wonder.  This particular Council falls under the Office of Climate Action and the Green Economy. That’s a new office in the Governor’s Office (not housed in one of the 16 NJ departments). The council is tasked with streamlining climate initiatives currently being pursued by various state agencies and leading New Jersey’s collaboration with federal agencies on climate issues. God bless you.

If you want to talk to someone about climate action in New Jersey, the members of the Council might be a good place to start

Joseph Fiordaliso

Jane Cohen is the Executive Director of the new office under which the Council falls. She used to be at Murphy’s right hand as an advisor on climate change. Shawn Latourette is the acting commissioner of the NJ EPA; he’s on it too. Then there is my man, Joseph Fiordaliso, president of the Board of Public Utilities. He has been a Commissioner since 2006 (Remember Governor Codey, who nominated him? Neither do I). Here is his 2021 report to the NJ Assembly. As you can see, I got fascinated by the board of Public Utilities. They make a difference.

Diane Solomon

The NJ Board of Public Utilities is made up of five commissioners. Here are their bios. Commissioner Diane Solomon is one of them. She used to be Commissioner of the South Jersey Transportation authority and is married to one of the New Jersey Supreme Court justices. She, in particular, caused me to imagine the parties these folks go to, during which they are approached by other powerful people to do these powerful jobs.

It took me hours to get a small feel for the government of New Jersey. It is big, and Joseph and Diane have a lot to say about whether Governor Murphy’s initiatives result in much action and how fast we can see something happen. I wrote to the assistants of these two commissioners . One did not have info listed but a Facebook group did! Here is what I asked: “What is the most important thing the BPU and you personally are doing in the effort to keep warming at 1.5 degrees or less?” We’ll see what they reply.