The Climate Majority
by Jon A. Krosnick
Read Full Article in The New York Times
God Blessed Them First
By Ken Wilson
Maybe it’s time for us to take a step back from the shrill voices of the culture war, and consider the wisdom of the ages.
As the engineers seek to contain the gusher in the Gulf of Mexico, how do we get our hearts around what’s happening there? An ancient take on the world around us might help. Few people seem to notice that in the creation account of Genesis, chapter one, God blessed the sea creatures and the birds of the air—the very creatures affected by the British Petroleum oil spill—first. Yes, before any other blessing had been uttered over this blessed planet, God blessed them first. “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth….God blessed them and said, ‘Be fruitful in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.’ “ (Genesis 1: 20, 22-23, TNIV) Anyone familiar with the Hebrew concept of blessing knows that any subsequent blessing cannot impinge on this first blessing. The second blessing, of course, is ours: “God created human beings in his image…God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the sky” (Genesis 1: 27-28) For better or worse, we are the dominant and dominating species on this planet. For better or worse, we rule. Increasingly, the other creatures thrive, survive or suffer, in the space we allow them. Our rule over the sea creatures and the flying birds in the Gulf of Mexico has missed the mark of our calling. We were the ones chanting “Drill Baby Drill” when the price of oil started to rise. We were the ones looking out for our own interests first, the blessed interests of the other creatures be damned. Maybe it’s time for us to take a step back from the shrill voices of the culture war, and consider the wisdom of the ages. What does it mean that God blessed them first?
Read the original article in the Salem-News.
Why helping the planet helps the poor,
and why helping the poor requires helping the planet.
by Marah Hardt, Research Fellow, Blue Ocean Institute
By definition, the poor have less: less food, less shelter, less clean water. Those in poverty cannot afford to buy basic necessities from the store, and the poorest live in regions where there are no stores. The poor depend, instead, on what nature provides for free, through farming, fishing, hunting, logging, etc. Thus, the poor depend directly on the environment for their survival, and in the poorest regions of the world, their survival rests on the margin. There is nothing to buffer them when the environment changes: no stock pile of canned goods, no back-up bottled water, no air conditioners to run when the temperatures rise. The developed, wealthier world is insulated from these effects, but the poor are not. So when we change the climate of the planet, we disproportionately harm those who have the least capacity absorb the impact.
Farmers in the Sahal in Africa already live right near the edge of producing a bare minimum—changes in rainfall and temperatures affect their crops and tip them over the edge from sustenance to starvation. Residents of small low-lying islands in the pacific struggle against rising sea levels which already have caused flooding of centuries-old farmlands and tainted water supplies. Similar effects occur in areas such as Bangladesh, threatening the farmland and freshwater supply of millions of people.
The poor in the Andes and regions of China and Southeast Asia, totaling over 1 billion people, rely on the meltwater of glaciers for their water. There are no city water systems that pump in the water, there are no grocery stores to supply bottled water. As temperatures rise, glacial meltwater changes its flow patterns, melting sooner and faster in the spring. This results in less water to quench the thirst of the people, water their crops, or provide for their livestock throughout the long, hot summer.
In addition, deforestation causes flooding and erosion which pollutes the rivers. Fertilizers from farms also poisons these natural freshwater supplies. All this disproportionately affects those who have no other options for obtaining clean water.
Developed nations pay poorer nations to access their waters and strip the oceans of their sea life. These industrial fishing fleets use destructive fishing methods that destroy the habitat of species as well as scoop up far more fish than the fish populations can replace by reproducing. It is like tapping the principal in a bank account, rather than just taking the interest: eventually, there’s no cash left.
As the habitat is destroyed and the fish are removed, small, poor fishermen can no longer catch enough food to feed their families. This is a major problem along the coasts of Africa, where African governments have allowed developed countries into their territorial waters for small fees, which the developed countries happily pay. In exchange, the developed countries take all the fish and sell it abroad for big profits. Often, the fish harvested are small species that were the main protein source of local fishermen. Now, rather than feeding the local people, these small species are ground up and shipped as fishmeal to feed farmed fish, which are sold as expensive seafood for the elite abroad.
In cities, smog and air pollution affects everyone, but the wealthy have air conditions and air filters. Or the option to move. Often, poorer sections of cities are subjected to worse air quality because of close proximity to power plants and waste treatment facilities.
The unborn will be burdened with fewer natural resources, and more polluted ones, due to our actions. This will make their lives more difficult, as the total amount of available food, water, etc. declines due to environmental deterioration and fuels political and social unrest and strife. We also rob them of the opportunity to witness the full spectrum of beauty in nature, by accelerating extinction rates of species, and making foul the waters that once ran clear.
We are also harming those who contribute little the problem, but are baring the brunt of the consequence. Mercury poisoning from coal plants reaches the far northern regions of the Artic, where it enters the food web, accumulating in the animals at the top of the food chain. Inuit communities rely on marine mammals and fish for protein, but their food supply has been tainted by the coal power plants that we fire to support our high-consumption culture. Today, the toxins have become so profuse that Inuit mother’s breast milk is poisonous to their infants.
The technologies already exist to shift us away from fossil-fuels. We do not need to wait. A combination of wind farms, solar, and geothermal heat could supply the world’s energy demands, especially if the wastefulness of energy consumption was decreased (i.e. no more SUVs, switching to CFL bulbs, supporting public transportation investments to reduce automobile use, etc.). So, the time is now to begin this shift. All that is needed is the will and the recognition that our earth is finite, and that we can help care for ourselves and the poor, by caring for that which supports us all.
With regard to supporting the US economy and the poor, there are some really great initiatives that are geared towards creating “green jobs” that address multiple problems- see www.greenforall.org for a good example. Basically, the argument is we can provide poor people with high-quality, high-tech, healthy jobs in a new green job economy, which helps the US economy grow, helps lift people out of poverty, and addresses climate change and environmental degradation all at the same time. The focus of this movement is on how to help the poor by helping the environment, and vice versa. The two are not separated causes, but one.
A recent article, The Right War, by U.N. Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon emphasizes the inextricable links between achieving worldwide socio-political stability, eradicating poverty, and protecting/restoring the environment.
Etta, the ER, and Asthma
by J. Matthew Sleeth, MD
Throughout my childhood, I knew of only one schoolmate with asthma. Now on a hazy day, dozens of kids in every school reach for inhalers to aid their breathing. God did not design the air to make us short of breath. It was meant to sustain us.
When I speak in a church, I often bring along a case of efficient lightbulbs to give to people. I refer to the Energy Star Web site (www.energystar.gov) which says that if every household changed its five most used bulbs to compact fluorescent lightbulbs, the country could take twenty-one coal-fired power plants off-line tomorrow. This would keep one trillion pounds of poisonous gases and soot out of the air we breathe and would have the same beneficial impact as taking eight million cars off the road. A decrease of soot and greenhouse gases in the air translates into people who will be spared disease and death. Some sixty-four thousand American deaths occur annually as a result of soot in the air.
The Harvard School of Health looked at the impact of one power plant in Massachusetts and found that it caused 1,200 ER visits, 3,000 asthma attacks, and 110 deaths annually. Nationally, the soot from power plants will precipitate more than six hundred thousand asthma attacks. These are just numbers, albeit large ones. For me, those numbers boil down to one young girl early in my medical training.
It was a triple “H” day in the nation’s capital—hazy, hot, and humid. A dome of smog hung over the city and extended far beyond the capital beltway. The weatherman told those with illnesses to stay indoors, but eight-year-old Etta Green and her brother went to a neighborhood playground. I began my afternoon shift in the ER wing of the children’s hospital while Etta and her brother were running through a sprinkler to cool off.
As Etta exerted herself, her airways began reacting to the smog. The muscles that line the bronchioles of her airways involuntarily contracted, while the mucous cells began a pathologic overproduction of thick fluid. Within a few seconds, this fluid buildup became what we call an asthma attack. Etta’s brother ran back home for her inhaler, and bystanders called 911. Within a few minutes, a rescue unit was on-site and began treating and transporting Etta. They radioed ahead that things were not going well. To one side of the ER, we had a room with eight beds set aside specifically for asthma cases.
On that afternoon fifteen children occupied the area—receiving oxygen treatments, inhaler treatments, and IV medicines. The growing anxiety of the EMTs in Etta’s ambulance made it clear that she was too ill for this area. A nurse flipped on the lights in a trauma room, and we assembled there. The doctor in charge of the team called out what he wanted everyone to do. I was given the job of intubating Etta, if needed. The ambulance crew arrived. She was being “bagged,” meaning that the paramedic was trying to oxygenate her with a mask over her mouth and nose and an Ambu bag that forced air into her lungs. Her thin, limp body was quickly transferred to our trauma gurney.
Etta’s pulse was ominously slow, and her oxygen saturation level was barely readable. The Ambu bag was hard to compress because of the resistance in her clogged airways.
“Matthew, go ahead and intubate. Tammy, get an art [arterial] line in; I want her paralyzed too,” the leader called out. I lifted Etta’s small hand and held a few endotracheal tubes next to her little finger. Then I selected the one closest in diameter to her finger, a trick I’d been taught for quickly getting the correct size. I paused a second to lean down and whisper in Etta’s ear, which is the only way to communicate with a patient in a crowded, noisy room.
“Etta,” I whispered, “I’m Dr. Matt. I’m going to put a tube in your mouth and get you breathing right.” I looked into her frightened eyes. “I’m not gonna let anything bad happen to you, sweetheart,” I promised. Her left hand still rested in mine, and I thought I felt a weak squeeze.
Two images from that scene still haunt me. The first was her little finger held next to those plastic endotracheal tubes. That hand was so small and vulnerable in my oversize palm. The second image came thirty seconds after I intubated Etta.
The team leader yelled for quiet. He held his stethoscope on her chest. “Give her a breath,” he ordered, and I squeezed down on the bag. Etta had on a bathing suit the color of a fluorescent green hula hoop. Pictured on its front was a happy, smiling whale blowing a spout of water into the air. Etta must have loved that bathing suit. One couldn’t help but smile at the frolicking whale. Trying to lift that whale by forcing air into her lungs is my second haunting memory. Despite the rescue squad, and despite the best efforts of an entire pediatric emergency department, I broke my promise to Etta. She died of air pollution on that summer day.
It is tempting to point to others and blame them for one of the sixty-four thousand annual deaths from airborne soot. But what about me? What about us? Remember the lightbulbs? By changing lightbulbs, hanging clothing on the line, taking fewer trips to the mall, carpooling, and owning more modest homes, Christians can save lives—not statistical lives but little children like Etta.
Jesus relentlessly urges us to observe the plight of our less fortunate neighbors and take steps to help. We all need to consume less and conserve more—for the sake of our own grandchildren and, just as importantly, the lives of people we will never meet.
The Bridge at the Edge of the World*
by James Gustave Speth, Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies
Many of our deepest thinkers, and many of those most familiar with the scale of the challenges we face, have concluded that the changes needed to sustain human and natural communities can only be achieved through the rise of a new consciousness. For many, it is a spiritual awakening–a transformation of the human heart. For others it is a more intellectual process of coming to see the world anew and deeply embracing the emerging ethic of the environment and the old ethic of what it means to love thy neighbor as thyself. But for all, it involves major cultural change and a reorientation of what society values and prizes most highly.
In the past, leadership for environmental change most often came from scientists, economists, and lawyers like myself. Today we need instead the preachers, the philosophers, the psychologists and the poets. In one poem, W. S. Merwin said “On the last day of the world/I would want to plant a tree.” And in another: “I want to tell you what the forests were like/I will have to speak a forgotten language.” Most prominently, the new consciousness can be seen in the growing worldwide endorsement and adoption of the Earth Charter.
Yes, the poets and philosophers are important, but I am especially hopeful for the preachers! Mary Evelyn Tucker is absolutely right that “no other group of institutions can wield the particular moral authority of the religions,” and that “the environmental crisis calls the religions of the world to respond by finding their voice within the larger Earth community. In so doing, the religions are now entering their ecological phase and finding their planetary expression.” Religions played key roles in ending slavery, in the civil rights movement, and in overcoming apartheid in South Africa. And now the cause must be saving God’s green earth before it is too late. Religious organization can help us see that the challenges we face are moral and spiritual and that sin is not strictly individual but is also social and institutional, you call us to reflection, repentance and resistance.
It’s time to engage again in the ancient struggle against Mammon. Mammon has achieved unprecedented earthly power. Materialism, consumerism, commercialism hold unprecedented sway. Yet more and more people sense at some level that there’s a great misdirection of life’s energy. We have channeled our desires, our insecurities, our need to demonstrate our worth and our success, our wanting to fit in and to stand out increasingly into material things—into bigger homes, fancier cars, grander appliances, exotic vacations. But at some level we know we’re slighting the precious things that no market can provide—that truly make life worthwhile.
We sense that we are hollowing out whole areas of life, of individual and social autonomy, and of nature and that, if we don’t wake up, we will soon lose the chance to return, to reclaim ourselves, our neglected society, our battered world, because if we are not more careful soon, there will be nothing left to reclaim, nothing left to return to. We sense that possibility and we shudder. We reject it, and in our best moments we aspire to transcend it. In one survey, 83 percent of Americans say society is not focused on the right priorities; 81 percent say America is too focused on shopping and spending; 88 percent say American society is too materialistic; 74 percent believe excessive materialism is causing harm to the environment. If these numbers are anywhere near correct, there is a powerful base on which to build. There is ample ground for hope.
*adapted from The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability
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