Monday, January 21, 2013


Quaker Couple Attend Interfaith Prayer Vigil for Climate Action (IMAC) at the White House

Two Yancey County citizens were among the one hundred-fifty present for a pray-in for climate action at the White House on a cold, rainy day in the nation’s capital on Martin Luther King’s birthday last Tuesday. The prayer vigil was called by Interfaith Moral Action on Climate, a coalition of faith leaders from the Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and Native American traditions.  Dr. Robert McGahey, a retired educator, and Dr. Geeta McGahey, former medical director of the Celo Health Center, joined the group in an interfaith religious service which began in a Presbyterian Church near the White House, hosted by Jacqui Patterson, head of the Environmental and Climate Justice Program of the NAACP.  

After an initial period of worship at the church, including a period of reflective prayer led by Robert representing Quaker Earthcare Witness, the group marched to the White House under police escort behind a sculpted image of the earth held by Dr. James Hansen, celebrated climate scientist and director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.  

At the White House gates, near the review stand installed for the Inaugural Parade, ministers, imams, rabbis and monks spoke and prayed for the president and congress to wake up to what Dr. King called the “fierce urgency of now” before our window of opportunity for a concerted national response to climate change closed. Leaders who spoke to the faithful included Dr. Bob Edgar, former director of the National Council of Churches, and Richard Cizik, head of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good.  

After a rousing commissioning speech by Reverend Lennox Yearwood Jr. of the Hip Hop Caucus, eighteen faith leaders and their supporters moved to the gates of the White House while the names of over one hundred Americans who died during superstorm Sandy were recited, with congregants answering, “presente.” This smaller group, which included the McGaheys, attempted to block access as an act of non-violent civil disobedience.  White House police responded by successively closing two gates.  The group vigiled through part of the afternoon, but were not arrested.  

The McGaheys remained in Washington to lobby for a national summit on climate change hosted by the President to which civic and business leaders, scientists, farmers, and leaders of the faith community would be invited to seek a way forward in combating the threat of catastrophic climate change.  Legislative assistants charged with energy and the environment for both Senators Kay Hagan and Richard Burr were receptive to the idea that pragmatic centrist legislators like their bosses, who both accept the significant threat of climate change, could show leadership in a direction of action that could emerge from such a conference, affirming that our state has many resources to offer towards a greener energy future.  The corresponding aide for newly elected congressman Mark Meadows (R) was ill and could not meet with the Yancey couple.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013


Climate Change in the Light of the Kabarak Call

We have heard of the disappearing snows of Kilimanjaro and glaciers of Bolivia, from which come life-giving waters. We have heard appeals from peoples of the Arctic, Asia and Pacific. We have heard of forests cut down, seasons disrupted, wildlife dying, of land hunger in Africa, of new diseases, droughts, floods, fires, famine and desperate migrations. This climatic chaos is now worsening. There are wars and rumors of war, job loss, inequality and violence. We fear our neighbors. We waste our children's heritage.

All of these are driven by our dominant economic systems, by greed not need, by worship of the market, by Mammon and Caesar.

Is this how Jesus showed us to live?

Thus begins the document, the Kabarak Call to Peace and Ecojustice,  prophetic fruit of a once-in-a-generation world conference of Friends (Quakers) in Nkuru Kenya this spring. Friends worldwide spent two years responding to a query about the moral challenge of global change – not just climate, but all dimensions. Responses were collected and a group of Friends at the world gathering spent a week distilling them into a text presented to almost 900 Friends for final discernment. Those present included the gamut of Friends, from atheists to evangelicals. Most delegates were from Africa; the largest number of Quakers – primarily evangelical - live in Kenya. That this diverse group could come to consensus on a document which powerfully unites the social gospel of Jesus with environmental concerns is a testament to the underlying unity of Spirit which rose to embrace this occasion to salt the groaning world with the Light of Christ.

The Kabarak Call is as timely as it is stirring, for our generation is the one that must act on climate change, or face the consequence of being the species – ecosystem managers whether we like it our not – that failed God, the earth, and ourselves. Climate scientists now agree that we have only about four years left to significantly slow global carbon emissions, or face catastrophic climate change, creating a radically different planet in which higher life - we imagine ourselves its zenith – may not survive.

We are called to see what love can love our neighbor as ourselves Friends General Conference held a gathering a few years ago entitled “Who is my Neighbor?” where we clearly recognized that our neighbors include all species, the whole web, not just 21st century Samaritans. And it includes future generations. To love them, to even give them a chance at the blessings of life in the Holocene era, is to sever our dependence upon fossil fuels. Governments of the world have done little to reverse the status quo, but is now conducting a campaign which is leading students to challenge 192 American universities to divest from coal and oil investments.

We are called to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. To afflict the comfortable is to afflict ourselves. Though I have reduced my personal emissions from near 20 tons of carbon annually- the US average - to 10 or 11, I am still far from the 1-2 tones that would be my limit were I an average consumer of the earth's annual biomass production in 2050 on a crowded planet of 9 billion. My emissions are now average for a European, but one huge variable makes me an Ugly American some years – air travel. If I can limit such travel to one coast-to-coast trip a year, with only one stop, then I can come in near 11 tons. But I rather feebly resist family vacations that require huge outlays of carbon for air travel. I must honestly admit that my present enjoyment of family is more important to me than the survival of civilization, including future generations of this family.

We are called to teach our children right relationship, to live in harmony with each other and all living beings... Who are we to teach? At our current rate, by the time my oldest grandchild finishes college, roughly 2030, we will have used up our carbon budget to hold the temperature rise to 2 degrees C - the max for stopping uncontrollably cascading climate change. And that represents only one-fifth of known fossil reserves. If we don't leave that carbon, and the profits it represents, in the ground, by the time my grandchildren reach old age our planet will be 3.5-6 degrees C warmer than it was in 1990. If you want to know what kind of world that would be, review Mark Lynas' Six Degrees. If you can get past the three degrees chapter, you are tougher than I.

We are called to do justice to all and walk humbly with God, to cooperate lovingly with all who share our hopes for the future of the earth. To walk humbly with God evokes the Quaker testimony of simplicity. Voluntary simplicity in the modern world is a radical act, requiring tremendous focus and the willingness to disrupt patterns as pervasive as driving kids across town to soccer practice. Some of us have tried. I know only one or two First World people who have succeeded. Hopes for the future are linked of necessity to living in a way that acknowledges that our neighbors include future generations. What will we willingly sacrifice so that they might have a future? And what joys await us if we do?

We are called to be patterns and examples in a 21st century campaign for peace and ecojustice..Peace on earth, the call of the season of Christ's Light, requires peace with earth, ecojustice. We need to build the moral argument for stopping our emissions in their tracks. And we need to proceed to support governmental policies that will force, not encourage, us to do so.

Personal acts have helped a little, but living like a European, aided by expensive solar panels and driving a Prius (do you really think a 21st century Jesus would drive at all?), is not sufficient to the monumental task at hand. Cap and trade has no future, for it failed within the Kyoto Accord and is too subject to manipulation by greedy traders. Nor are comprehensive international agreements likely to provide a tough, enforceable framework that will slow emissions fast enough. We need carbon taxes, especially in the biggest countries, and bilateral “clubs” - trade agreements over carbon emissions discussed in my November post - in order to stem the tide.

The deterrents to progress in cutting carbon emissions are huge. The first is the wealth of known reserves that fossil fuel companies hold. The second is our addiction to the comforts that fossil fuels have made available, enabling a non-sustainable lifestyle that is globally emulated. A recent Pew poll showed that while over 70 percent of Americans thought we should reduce our emissions, less than 3 per cent of them had done anything to change their fossil habits. The richest one billion of us, living far richer lifestyles than kings a few centuries ago, use the entire annual biomass production of our planet. Divestment along the lines of's campaign would help, but we need a movement that pushes governments to put laws and taxes in place that will make using fossil fuels prohibitively expensive. We need our addiction redirected by mandate.

Even with that mandate, the radical recast of the social gospel that the Kabarak Call demands necessarily leads to a post-industrial world of appropriate technology, restraint in resource use, and a rebirth of live community, replacing a virtual world which uses real energy.

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