Monday, August 26, 2013


Climate Denialism

I posted last year on the reasons for climate denialism among educated Republicans. This is a less philosophical take, published this week in my local newspaper, The Yancey Common Times Journal.

Locally, public denial of climate change comes almost exclusively from a Confederate re-enactor who has a PhD in one of the subdisciplines of physics. Of course, this individual covers for more covert denialists. Being fair, the editor of this paper will continue to publish his letters. But this does not give equal weight to his arguments. His key assertion is that, contrary to the claims of climate scientists, US temperatures are going down rather than up! He “proves” this via graphs which he manipulates to show false peaks and valleys. If the graphs are incomplete, or falsely labeled, this is easy to do. What enables him to do this is the lack of scientific literacy in the general public. We can be thankful that we have competent science teachers like Chris Bocci to help alter this pattern.

The issue, even for the most conservative politicians – yes, sadly this is about politics, driven by partial and distorted science – is not whether global temperatures are rising, but the cause. The alarming melt of the polar icecaps along with the world's glaciers and the rapid increase in desertification – including the American Southwest – all testify that the world is warming, much more rapidly at the poles than at the center. What these politicians, fueled by a few renegade scientists, claim is that there is no proof that this is being caused by human activity. There is not space here to marshall the data that show that, to the contrary, we are the Flood. More than 95% of the world's climate scientists are convinced by this data, and a steady trickle of deniers among them is shifting. The prime example is Richard Muller, Berkeley scientist who completed a study recalculating 1.6 billion pieces of climate data last year that showed “essentially all of this increase results from human emission of greenhouse gases” (“The Conversion of a Climate Skeptic” NYT op-ed, July 2012). The study's main funder was the Koch brothers, who have heavily supported the climate denialist lobby. Oops!

Why are conservatives in denial? Because they have no doubt that we are the all-powerful king of species, and that anything we might do to curb our power would be willful abdication of our kingship. The paradox is that while we are told in Genesis that we are made in the image of God, godlike. Yet we usurp Him, working more and more against Creation rather than with it. Indeed, a secular pseudo-environmentalist recently wrote a book called The God Species, in which he argues that we are capable of undoing any mess we have created through our godlike creativity.

Are you uncomfortable yet? I am. As a college humanities teacher, one of my favorite teaching texts was the Book of Job. The whole of this magnificent Creation mirrors the glory and power of God, not man. We may be made in His image, but we are also capable of sin. The best path when we recognize our sin is to ask forgiveness and try to right our path, not to enter ever more deeply into it.

We are comfortable (like Job's self-satisfied friends) with the benefits of a fossil-fueled world. Rather than moving away from our personal comforts and the vast corporate profits riding on them, it might be easier to trust technocrats to save us from ourselves and the fossil behemoths. As we approach the point of no return with respect to climate disequilibrium, the most tempting action for the God Species is to seed the poles with sulfur dioxide, which would simulate a global series of volcanic eruptions, cooling the atmosphere by blocking the sun's incoming rays. Leaving aside the multitude of unknowns in this scenario, one thing is clear. If we resort to this desperate move, we will have no more blue sky until we stop injecting sulfur dioxide. How important is blue sky to you? How does it compare to the benefits of the internal combustion engine and unlimited electricity?

The common thread that drives denialists is pride and arrogance. This is true of technocrats from the scientific-industrial complex, the captains of industry and their handmaids on the political right. Only chickens, crying liberals, would turn back when we are on the verge of bioengineering our crops and children, and geoengineering our atmosphere. Right?

Isn't it odd that it's the liberals who align with the New Testament values of social justice? Friends, the “Christian right” is not Christian at all, but cheerleaders for a state religion that has been the bane of the West since Constantine. (And let's not call it “Old Testament” religion, for the Jews have a doctrine called tikkun – the necessity of mending the world that we have broken.) We lack New Testament literacy as well as scientific literacy. We are badly lost, in a state of alienation from our Creator, not only with climate denialism but in the monstrous overreach of the majority in Raleigh - sadly by all three branches of government. But that is another subject, rightfully the domain of folks fired by the social gospel, sponsors of Moral Mondays across our dear beleaguered Old North State.

Friday, August 02, 2013


Grandchildren's Walk, Saturday's Rally

Our walk ended with a lively march, escorted by the police, from St Stephen's Church to Lafayette Park, facing the White House. We were greeted by friendly supporters all along the route. Our message to the President was “Keep your promise” on the Keystone, XL Pipeline, something that recent remarks indicate he is inching towards. Our 75-odd marchers now numbered around 350, swelling to near 500 at the Park, where a lively crowd greeted us. So did a SWAT team, who were there to investigate a bomb threat. Our formal rally was thus delayed by almost an hour, but nobody left.

After the park was cleared and the policeman with the submachine gun who had greeted us left, we held the rally, featuring young folks from iMatter and the march organizers. Appropriately, the twin focus was upon youth and the over-65 generation, the grandparents. The most poignant pleas from the youth were from an Eskimo boy whose entire town had slid into the Arctic Sea due to erosion from Global Warming and a Navaho girl whose family had lost their farm to severe drought and total loss of their water. My young marching friend Alex was there to read from his rewrite of the Declaration as one of Energy Independence, and it was unfurled 175 feet to display the signatures of 75,000, including John Kerry, Barbara Boxer, and yours truly. We were asked to solemnly pledge ourselves to massive reduction in use of fossil fuels, something we were demanding of our government and corporations. This gave me pause, as I've cut back to half the average American, but hit a wall a few years ago. I still fly airplanes, no matter the Prius, which drive more than ever from our remote rural base in the mountains. Busy lives, spewing carbon. But I raised my hand.

The Asheville Green Grannies sang smart lyrics to choice oldies, pointing fingers at the White House as they reminded the President of his promises (the biggest is his 2008 campaign promise: “Let us be the generation that finally frees itself from the tyranny of oil”). All three of the faithful Siler family spoke: young Leigh, repeating her wish that future children be able to enjoy the rich rural life she has; her father Mark, rousing us with all of our slogans, a surprising orator in our midst.

And then came Mahan, whose speech was an arrow straight into my heart. At 79, he was our oldest marcher (Leigh at 11 was the youngest). A retired Baptist preacher, he spoke eloquently about the responsibility of the Boomers present. We have unprecedented life expectancies and wealth – neither of which our grandchildren will have – and an unprecedented challenge. “Don't retire – RECOMMIT!” Then he gave us a fitting image for what was unfolding at this rally. He asked those under 19 to make a central circle, facing out to the rest of us. We reached our hands towards each other, some grabbing hold, others holding shoulders and backs, like a healing. He described two arcs, one of the children reaching up from the earth, a second of the over-65's rising to meet it, forming a Keystone.  

“They are not the Keystone, we are, at this place of meeting. Let's take back this lovely word.” His words and our action said it all.. Friends, may we all answer Mahan Siler's challenge and retake the Keystone, resting the whole butressed rainbow in God's everloving hands.


Grandchildren's Walk: Our Action at ERM

Environmental Resources Management was a good target, and the secret was well-guarded by the walk organizers. On Wednesday evening they gave a detailed briefing on the action, it's general location, and the form it would take (some locking themselves together in the corporate offices while others distracted the guard, still others outside raising a ruckus). I was intrigued, but Geeta and I decided to stick with our original intention to complete the walk. The traveling community, erecting our tent city each evening in a new site, was really growing on me. But I would miss the fellow walkers, some now friends, who were leaving us for the training and action.

The action at ERM was scheduled for noon. The day of the action, a few walkers left at dawn to be able to join it, 13.5 miles distant. Others took rides to the metro with the same intention. The rest of us waited for the day walkers, who had been instructed to join us at nine. About a half dozen did so, with others swelling our ranks as we neared the capital. One cheery young woman calmly emerged from the forested banks of the Potomac, a lovely woodsprite affirming our purpose. As was the case all along the walk, I had probing talks with other walkers, this day with a man who had just joined the movement last fall. When we reached Georgetown, he unfurled his banner, proclaiming the Great Turning and the end of Fossil Folly. On it was written the names of his grandchildren, one just adopted the week before after a long struggle (thus “Hope” was crossed out, replaced by Bryan). More and more of the folks I meet in these actions have never done any kind of activism before. Many spoke of their awakening, and the tempo is accelerating.

Though the company was surprised they were the target, the police arrived swiftly, and it was all over in fifteen minutes or so. They arrived with wire-cutters, paddy wagons, and plenty of plastic handcuffs. As the 54 who were arrested left in their custody, there were huge smiles, cuffed hands raised overhead, and frequent applause. This was a celebration, though at least some would need to return for a court date in mid-August, which could be a problem for my new friend Deborah from Seattle, at her first action. But as my brother-in-law the police dispatcher says, “That's a first-world problem.” This is not Syria, nor Russia, nor Turkey.

We arrived at the site of the civil disobedience around three pm, well after it ended. The police returned from lunch to face a second wave of protesters. We did not see them as the enemy, and when I saw the video footage recording the warning from a company employee that he would call the police if the intruders didn't leave, I heard one woman say “Thank you.” Unlike previous civil disobedience actions, this one was not scripted, since the target remained secret. But each side still knew what to expect from the other. This is a dance we do in our democracy, and without the police doing their part, it would be incomplete, and our message would be lost. As the commander said to Geeta (he looked like a glamorous politician, an impeccable diplomat), “This is not Syria. We are here to protect your right of grievance to your government .” We are blessed to be able to dance our protest and sing out our grievances.

One thing that disturbed me about the action was the rowdy chanting of slogans, both on the street and inside the building. I would prefer dignified silence, punctuated by eloquent signage. Even a clever chant sounds adolescent when amplified by a crowd. I have been part of three acts of civil disobedience, and though we sang, and even chanted some, there was a more dignified tone. The chanting at ERM did not reach the strident pitch which so put me off during the Vietnam War protests, but the more I do activist work, the more I yearn for dignity throughout. That was what I experienced at the Interfaith Moral Action on Climate, IMAC, in January. I am sure the training was thorough, undertaken by some of the same trainers at the same church, St Stephens Episcopal, where we trained for the August 2011 Keystone action at the White House. But I miss the silent witness, the meditative prayer, inviting everyone on all sides to plumb their depths.

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