“Part of the challenge over these past three years has been that people's number-one priority is finding a job and paying the mortgage and dealing with high gas prices. In that environment, it's been easy for the other side to pour millions of dollars into a campaign to debunk climate-change science. I suspect that over the next six months, this is going to be a debate that will become part of the campaign, and I will be very clear in voicing my belief that we're going to have to take further steps to deal with climate change in a serious way.”
—Barack Obama, in “Ready for the Fight: Rolling Stone Interview with Barack Obama,” April 25, 2012
From April 22-26 there were a series of activities on the climate crisis in Washington, D.C. organized primarily by religiously-based groups. One took place on April 23 in an auditorium of the Old Executive Office Building, right next to the White House. Several Obama administration officials, including Heather Zichal, assistant to the president for Energy and Climate Change, spoke to and answered questions from about 100 people from a variety of groups and parts of the country.
One question, asked several times, was if President Obama was going to be speaking out on the climate crisis in coming months. He has not been doing so, by and large, ever since the December, 2009 international climate conference in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Zichal’s response to this question was unclear. Either she did not know about the Rolling Stone interview, about to come out two days later, or what Obama said in that interview is somewhat provisional, not to be relied on. Hopefully, recent polls that have shown broad support for action on global warming—in the mid- to high-60’s percent range—will help to move Obama and others running for office to reflect that broad support in what they say between now and Nov. 6.
It is clear, however, that if the climate emergency is going to be a major campaign issue, and if, after the election, we are going to get the kind of federal action urgently needed on it, we can’t depend upon Democrat/Republican interactions and messaging. We need to take action so that this and other important issues are visible, out there, difficult to sweep under the rug.
It is good news that a growing number of religious denominations and leaders are doing just that. Among the activities over the past week in D.C. were these:
• an event at the National Cathedral on Earth Day, April 22, honoring Wendell Berry, organized by the National Religious Coalition on Creation Care (NRCCC);
• the meeting next to the White House on April 23 organized by two Christian evangelical student-based groups, Renewal and Restoring Eden, and supported by many other organizations;
• a day-long conference also on April 23 organized by NRCCC on the scientific, religious and Cultural Implications of Global Warming, which included presentations by 24 religious, government, scientific, military, medical and cultural leaders;
• a day-long series of activities on April 24th organized by Interfaith Moral Action on Climate (IMAC), a newly-formed collaborative initiative endorsed by 45 groups and scores of religious leaders. Highlights were:
- an inspiring program at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial early in the morning featuring Bill McKibben, Ibrahim Ramey, Luci Murphy and Sarah James;
- a diverse multi-faith service at the NY Avenue Presbyterian Church with leaders from Christian (Evangelical, Protestant, Catholic), Islamic, Jewish, Baha’I, Hindu and Native American faith traditions;
- a religious procession/march down Pennsylvania Avenue to Capitol Hill led by Native American women from the Onondaga and Mohawk Nations, Buddhist drummers, a Sikh environmental leader and others; and,
- the public announcement of and distribution to every Senator and House member of an “ethical report card” grading the response of Congress and individual Congresspeople to the climate emergency. The overall grade given by IMAC to Congress was an “F.”,
• a Global Day of Prayer for Creation Care event organized by the Evangelical Environmental Network on April 26, the highlight of which was a 3 ½-hour program of music, videos, presentations and prayers by a range of evangelical leaders from the U.S., Europe, Latin America and Africa.
I can’t remember ever participating in so many actions on an issue organized by religiously-based groups over such an extended period of time. It is a very hopeful sign that among people of faith, many different faiths, there is a clear stirring into action on this huge moral issue, this threat to human civilization and the ecological systems that have allowed for its development over the last 10,000 years.
The climate crisis is a deeply moral and ethical issue. To quote from the Call to Action issued by Interfaith Moral Action on Climate: “It is morally wrong to unjustifiably cause human suffering and death. Human-induced climate change is correlated with storms, floods, droughts, crop failures, diseases, and water and food shortages, as well as associated breakdowns in political, economic, social and ecological systems. . . The greatest impacts are falling on low-income people, communities of color, Indigenous peoples and others who have contributed little to climate change. . . To disrupt the climate that is the cornerstone of all life and to squander the extraordinary abundance of life, diversity and beauty of the planet is a moral failure of the first order.”
May the inspiration and power of Earth Week actions continue to grow in ever-widening circles so that all of us, of all religious and spiritual traditions and ethically-based belief systems, act with courage and conviction to create a more secure and sustainable future for all of us, our children and future generations.
By Simon Montlake
For more than a decade, Susan Jane Brown has been battling to stop a natural gas pipeline and export terminal from being built in the backcountry of Oregon. As an attorney at the nonprofit Western Environmental Law Center, she has repeatedly argued that the project's environmental, social, and health costs are too high.
All that was before this month's deadly wildfires in Oregon shrouded the skies above her home office in Portland. "It puts a fine point on it. These fossil fuel projects are contributing to global climate change," she says.
Moderates Feeling the Heat<p>If elected, Mr. Biden has vowed to stop new drilling for oil and gas on federal land and in federal waters and to rejoin the 2015 Paris climate accord that President Donald Trump gave notice of quitting. He would reinstate Obama-era regulations of greenhouse gas emissions, including methane, the largest component of natural gas.</p><p>The Biden climate platform also states that all federal infrastructure investments and federal permits would need to be assessed for their climate impacts. Analysts say such a test could impede future LNG plants and pipelines, though not those that already have federal approval. </p><p>Climate change activists who pushed for that language say much depends on who would have oversight of federal agencies that regulate the industry. Some are wary of Biden's reliance on advice from Obama-era officials, including former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, who is now on the board of Southern Company, a utility, and a former Obama environmental aide, Heather Zichal, who has served on the board of Cheniere Energy, an LNG exporter. </p>
The Push for U.S. Fuel Exports<p>As vice president, Biden was part of an administration that pushed hard for global climate action while also promoting U.S. oil and gas exports to its allies and trading partners. As fracking boomed, Obama ended a 40-year ban on crude oil exports. In Europe, LNG was touted both as an alternative to coal and as strategic competition with Russian pipelines.</p><p>That much, at least, continued with President Trump. Under Energy Secretary Rick Perry, the agency referred to liquified U.S. hydrocarbons as "<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/29/us/freedom-gas-energy-department.html" target="_blank">freedom gas</a>."</p><p>Mr. Trump has also championed the interests of coal, oil, and gas while denigrating the findings of government climate scientists. He rejected the Paris accord as unfair to the U.S. and detrimental to its economy, but has offered no alternative path to emissions cuts. </p><p>Still, Trump's foreign policy has not always served the LNG industry: Tariffs on foreign steel drove up pipeline costs, and a trade war with China stayed the hand of Chinese LNG importers wary of reliance on U.S. suppliers. </p><p>Even his regulatory rollbacks could be a double-edged sword. By relaxing curbs last month on methane leaks, the U.S. has ceded ground to European regulators who are drafting emissions standards that LNG producers are watching closely. "That's a precursor of fights that will be fought in all the rest of the developed world," says Mr. Hutchison. </p><p>Indeed, some oil-and-gas exporters had urged the Trump administration not to abandon the tougher rules, since they undercut their claim to offer a cleaner-burning way of producing heat and electricity. "U.S. LNG is not going to be able to compete in a world that's focused on methane emissions and intensity," says Erin Blanton, a senior research scholar at the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. </p>
Stepping on the Gas<p>In July, the Department of Energy issued an export license to Jordan Cove's developer, Canada's Pembina Pipeline Corp. In a statement, Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette said the project would provide "reliable, affordable, and cleaner-burning natural gas to our allies around the world."</p><p>As a West Coast terminal, Jordan Cove offers a faster route to Asia where its capacity of 7.8 million tons of LNG a year could serve to heat more than 15 million homes. At its peak, its construction would also create 6,000 jobs, the company says, in a stagnant corner of Oregon.</p><p>But the project still lacks multiple local and state permits, and its biggest asset – a Pacific port – has become its biggest handicap, says Ms. Blanton. "They are putting infrastructure in a state where there's no political support for the pipeline or the terminal, unlike in Louisiana or Texas," she says. </p><p>Ms. Brown, the environmental lawyer, says she wants to see Jordan Cove buried, not just mothballed until natural gas prices recover. But she knows that it's only one among many LNG projects and that others will likely get built, even if Biden is elected in November, despite growing evidence of the harm caused by methane emissions. </p>
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