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Topic: Environmental Justice

Americans, Hang Your Heads in Shame
6/1/2017 4:23:39 PM

Donald Trump today withdrew the United States from the Paris climate accord. When Trump went to see the Pope recently he was seeking moral legitimacy for his presidency. "See, the Pope will meet with me." But the Pope told Trump not to withdraw from the accord. Trump did it anyway. Trump is a naughty little boy, he likes to do what he is told not to do.

We Americans, we should hang our heads in shame. We allowed this man who is really an obnoxious child to be elected. Now he is embarrassing us on a grand scale. On his recent trip there was a moment when Trump shoved others out of the way so he could preen and stand in the front row for a photo. The film clip of this should make every American wince. It's painful to see the leader of this country make such an utter fool out of himself.

Nearly 200 countries of the world agree that actions need to be taken concerning climate change. Now, the United States turns and walks away and says "we don't care." That's Donald Trump, "we don't care" for others, for the earth, for life God gives to all. Americans, hang your heads in shame. Then open your eyes, lift up your heads, and do everything you can to get rid of this president as soon as possible.

It is true that everyone around the world knows that Trump is a disgrace, as the article below indicates. But he can really damage things. He will hamper making the necessary transition in this country to renewable energy, efforts which would also be very good for the economy, providing new jobs, initiatives, and innovations. But Trump has his eyes on the past and he got elected by evoking nostalgia and stoking hatred against minority groups and immigrants. When nations (like individuals) act on the basis of hatred and anger only bad stuff will result, like extreme weather events across the country, especially the South, where so many folks don't even believe climate change is the cause of their extreme weather.

When extreme weather events happen people realize they need one another. But with Trump not caring about climate change there will be more and more hurricanes and tornadoes. People will look around and say, "why is this happening to us?" The answer will be partly, "Donald Trump didn't care." And Americans elected him. In the midst of the devastation, then, Americans will have to hang their heads in shame. They did it to themselves.

Here is some helpful comments in the New Yorker magazine:

After milking the fate of the planet for maximum drama, Donald Trump announced today that the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris climate accord. To reach this decision, the President had to dismiss decades’ worth of research by the country’s most prestigious scientific organizations. He needed to resist pleas from the U.S.’s staunchest allies; ignore appeals from many of its largest corporations, including ExxonMobil; and disregard the counsel of his Secretary of State. All this for, well, what? To shore up his base on the coal-hugging right?

“ANALYSIS: TELLING LITERALLY EVERY OTHER COUNTRY IN THE WORLD TO FUCK OFF WILL PROBABLY CREATE PROBLEMS DOWN THE ROAD,” David Roberts, who blogs about climate policy for Vox, tweeted, as the news of the move began to leak out.

But, if Trump’s decision is evidently wrongheaded, it’s also possible that it won’t make all that much difference. This is in part because the U.S. had already effectively exited the agreement. In part it’s because just about everybody outside the Trump Administration seems to understand that the U.S. is making a world-historical mistake.

New Yorker

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Politicians Can Use Nostalgia to Manipulate the Minds and Hearts of People
3/31/2017 4:19:56 PM

On two different occasions I was asked to serve on panels to assist congregations who were in conflict over whether to keep their pastor. In both of those situations a very large factor was nostalgia. That is, older, long term members were upset that the world had changed, cultural habits had changed, music and language was different, even what kinds of clothes a pastor wore was a big factor in one case. Some congregations have a difficult time with just normal change.

And it can create real anger and hostility as one group lines up over against another group, when each side interprets the other as slighting it or looking down at it. Groups can use nostalgia for past glories to attack current leaders.

And this kind of thing is really affecting politics these days. Paul Krugman has written a column in the New York Times today that talks about how the "idea" of "coal country" has become a cultural symbol, not a description of an actual economy. Very, very little coal is mined in West Virginia and this has been true for generations now. Yet it voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump who promised to bring back coal jobs. Trump knows he is lying, these jobs are not coming back for many reasons indicated by Krugman. But people voted, not on the basis of the facts they themselves see in their own communities every day right now, but on the basis of nostalgic images in their heads about days gone by.

That's the kind of thing that happens in congregations all the time, and is one reason congregations are going away. They have nothing to do with current realities. But it is also sad to see that whole political communities can get caught up in this because it means decisions cannot be made which really can help forge a credible future for the people in those communities.

And if environmental degradation and global warming are actually real, as science tells us, and if health care is taken away, then we may be looking at increasing sickness and death for thousands, and even a civilizational collapse. Krugman says: "So it’s incredible, and terrifying, to think that we may really be about to do all of that because Donald Trump successfully pandered to cultural nostalgia, to a longing for a vanished past when men were men and miners dug deep."

Pastors have responsibility to help people in congregations distinguish between nostalgia and truth, both in faith and politics.
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A Prayer for Standing Rock
11/12/2016 2:18:18 PM

We thank you, Almighty God, for the gift of water;

over it the Holy Spirit moved and blessed it in the beginning of Creation.

As Christians we remember Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, his life as “living water” for our thirsting souls.

Help us to give thanks for water’s sustenance of our physical as well as spiritual lives: less than 1/10th of 1% of Earth’s water is potable, fit for drinking or for growing crops. We humans cannot live much more than 3-5 days without it.

Today we are grateful for those among us who are willing to risk much to protect this precious gift. The Standing Rock Sioux Nation in North Dakota, along with indigenous peoples from around the globe, are protesting the threatened ruination of sacred water by oil. They remind us that water & watersheds are trusts belonging to us all.

A Native American Spiritual Elder prophesies to us: “All life on Mother Earth depends on the pure water, yet we spill every kind of dirt & filth & poison into it. …If you kill the water, you kill the life that depends on it, your own included….Unless you respect the earth you destroy it.”

So we pray for these people who know the sacredness of water—we cannot drink oil! Thank you for these sentinels; let them wake us from our complacency. They are our sisters and brothers; we are united in our love for the Creator and the creation.

We say the Lakota blessing words, mitakuye oyasin, “for all my relations.” We are all one. Holy God, show us how to live this truth.


-- Prayer by Dr. Nancy Corsen Carter of Chapel Hill, NC.

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Pray to be Filled with Awe and Contemplation
8/12/2015 2:10:50 PM

A Prayer from Pope Francis

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Pope Francis Teaches Us about Climate Change and the Moral Imperative to Act
6/20/2015 1:17:27 AM

I encourage readers to read the Pope's new encyclical, Laudato Si, "On Care of our Common Home". Encourage your friends to actually read it. The more people read this and internalize the language and arguments the more we will be create a "climate of consciousness" and awareness which can begin to substantially change the moral ethos of this country to support much more dramatic and radical action on behalf of constraining fossil fuel production and promoting subsidies and infrastructure for clean fuel technologies.

We must begin making a much more serious transition away from fossil fuels. Big oil companies won't change on their own, they must be forced to change not only by government action but by direct citizen civil disobedience in relation to oil trains, oil pipelines, and other infrastructure supporting the continuing pumping of dirty energy through killing machines threatening the earth.

You may want to read more about this at the New York Times to see how the mainstream media is treating this matter.

That page begins as follows:
Pope Francis has written the first papal encyclical focused solely on the environment, attempting to reframe care of the earth as a moral and spiritual concern, and not just a matter of politics, science and economics. In the document, “Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home,” he argues that the environment is in crisis – cities to oceans, forests to farmland. He emphasizes that the poor are most affected by damage from what he describes as economic systems that favor the wealthy, and political systems that lack the courage to look beyond short-term rewards. But the encyclical is addressed to everyone on the planet. Its 184 pages are an urgent, accessible call to action, making a case that all is interconnected, including the solutions to the grave environmental crisis.

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Wendell Berry and Incarnational Theology
10/21/2014 3:05:17 PM

Wendell Berry represents for me a person and an attitude that I associate with the word "real." Many people think religion posits a dualistic world, an earth down here and a "spiritual" world up there or away from earth. Christianity is often associated with that dualistic view, with the implication that this world is not important.

But this view is a distortion of real Christian faith which teaches that God is a God who creates this very real and earthly material world and even in Jesus becomes flesh and blood in the world.

It is a false religion called Gnosticism that the early church resisted that taught this material world was evil. There is a gnostic tendency in much popular religious expression known as the religious right in this country today which yearns for the end of this evil world as if God hates what God created. A true test of biblical faith is whether one believes, indeed, that the divine word becomes real material flesh. The word for this in theology is incarnation. It is what Christians celebrate at Christmas time.

Furthermore, much secular thought now privileges abstractions or mathematical calculations over an actual sense or connection to material reality. Money is mathematics, and as money becomes more and more important both the individual and society become less anchored in the actual material world. That is one reason people are so terribly fearful today, they are untethered from material reality, often from the biology of their own bodies.

The writings of Wendell Berry celebrate the real and the material, the local, that which you can see and taste and touch right in front of you, the natural, the animals on the farm, the earth. It is not romanticized sentimentalism, Berry knows about death and suffering. But he is connected with the earth in a way that gives him a grounded place from which to view a highly technologized economy that puts money and profits first, not real human beings.

So I have placed on the website a brief piece on Wendell Berry. I hope you enjoy it.
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Stop the Oil Train Bombs
10/2/2014 3:55:10 PM

I live in northeast Portland, Oregon, not far from the Columbia River along which trains carry oil from the Bakken fields in North Dakota. It turns out, this oil is explosive, unlike other crude oil. More and more oil is coming through our area, and people are getting very worried about it. It's not only the possibility of explosions, we here in the Pacific Northwest are very concerned for the environment. We especially don't like oil spills damaging our rivers, but with so many trains now coming down the Columbia gorge eventually there will be terrible accidents.

And, of course, many of us have become convinced that the oil itself should just stay in the ground. We need to shift to new forms of energy; fossil fuel has got to go. I went to hear Naomi Klein last night talk about her new book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate. The place was packed. She said that we now face a situation in the climate movement where there are no non-radical answers. Things have got to change, and change big.

Part of what that means is just to stop the oil trains, or the "train bombs" as the video below describes them. Watch this video, then join an environmental group that is actually taking action against oil trains, not one which only talks about it. Too many people in the church want to feel good about their good intentions but don't want to do the hard work of organizing and engaging in direct action where bodies might be bloodied and enemies confronted.

It's time to just declare that these oil trains will be stopped one way or another and then make it happen.

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Coal Train Crisis Abates
4/16/2014 1:13:32 PM

In this space we have talked about proposals for more trains full of coal coming down through the Columbia Gorge. Well, the price of coal has fallen so much that those proposals are not economically feasible. Here is a video with information on what has happened.

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Apocalypse: Life Beyond Empire and Environmental Destruction
9/9/2013 7:59:25 PM

Barbara Rossing speaks about the book of Revelation and environmental justice in the video below. She sees Revelation providing a vision of "life beyond empire" not somewhere else in some spiritualized world, but right here in the midst of our current cosmos. Here is a bible-based critique of the "Left Behind" view of the end-times, a view invented in the 19th century. She will speak at St Mark Lutheran Church in Salem, Oregon, October 3-6, 2013.

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Summer Heat: Elders Called to Engage in Civil Disobedience
7/18/2013 6:36:21 PM

During a speech last night at Clark College in Vancouver, Washington, Bill McGibbon of talked about plans to engage in civil disobedience actions on July 27 to help stop coal trains going through that city or barges loaded with coal coming down the Columbia River. He made the comment that young people probably would not want an arrest record on their resume as they begin their careers. So he said that older folks may want to consider stepping up to the plate, that is, ready to be arrested and go to jail. It is us older folks who have lived through the era when our ways of life have contributed to the heating up of the planet, so we have some special responsibility to now take action on behalf of the young. It has become a fact now: there is no real future for young if we keep burning coal anywhere on the planet. We who live in the Pacific Northwest have a chance now to simply disallow any transport of coal through this territory or on our rivers.

For background on the coal issue, and for moral courage to engage in significant actions, read this article by Wen Stephenson in The Nation magazine.

If you are not quite sure what your religious faith may teach about the issue, or if you are interested to find out how major religions of the world view climate change, read a new book by one of the foremost ethicists in the world today, Larry L. Rasmussen. I have just finished his book, Earth-Honoring Faith: Religious Ethics in a New Key. He says "Earth-honoring faith is an open architecture poised to receive revelation - more truth, different truth, and deeper truth than our present philosophy and conventional wisdom allow." The book is an amazing grace-filled reading of science and a reshaping of how to understand both "faith" and "ethics" in the context of a planet in peril.

Bill McGibbon said he's "just a Methodist" trying to do what's right. Well, whatever our religious tradition, it's time to do something. To connect with this movement go to the website of Portland Rising Tide.
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Business Predators Must Be Forced to Stop Their Damaging Behavior
5/26/2013 8:03:39 PM

I have placed a couple articles on this website which together help explain what I believe is an important ethical approach to contemporary issues having to do with economic and environmental justice. The first is by Geoff Mulgan who discusses Predators and Creators in the Future of Capitalism. He makes a very helpful distinction that we should put into our minds as we think about things today. It is the obvious distinction between good and bad business. We all know there have been some very bad businesses, such as Ken Lay's Enron, which engaged behavior not untypical of many large businesses today. And we also know that without good business we could not eat or get around or enjoy living in our homes, though financial institutions were responsible for the 2008 crash of the economy. What bad business does is take advantage of us and others to maximize their benefit at the expense of others.

An example at the extreme is the Southern plantation. The slave system was a means to completely control one set of human beings, African black people, for the purpose of maximum profit of other human beings, European white people. Through a bloody civil war in the 1860s the North used military power to force the South to change its system of slavery. No amount of debate or polite discussion would have led to a change in the behavior of the South.

Furthermore, it was another one hundred years before the South actually was forced to treat black people as equals. The civil rights movement of the 1960s led to laws and the use of federal government force to compel the South to change its ways of segregation. This also led to the current configuration of political culture. The Republican Party was taken over by white Southerners hostile to the very idea of the use of federal power over states. The Democratic Party represents the idea of equality among the races. Though Republican leaders cannot explicitly express racist language, the extra hatred of the federal government stems from its use of force in the South beginning in the 1960s.

The Tea Party combines this Southern hostility to government with the economic libertarianism of right wing radio, dependent as it is on business advertising. If you go to websites of the Tea Party you will see statements in total support for the "free market," what can be called market fundamentalism, which means that business corporations should be allowed to do whatever they want without regulation by the federal government. There are no distinctions between good or bad business. All business is good, apparently, even when business engages in practices which severely damage the social fabric of the nation and the environment which must sustain life for everyone.

But I believe that it is necessary to think clearly about good and bad business, especially very large corporate business which make decisions to maximize their profits even when their behavior is damaging to society and environment. Such is predatory behavior and governmental force must be used to stop them.

If you don't believe some business can be called predatory just take a look at The Predator State: How Conservatives Abandoned the Free Market and Why Liberals Should Too by economist James K. Galbraith. An Amazon summary of the book reads as follows:
The cult of the free market has dominated economic policy-talk since the Reagan revolution of nearly thirty years ago. Tax cuts and small government, monetarism, balanced budgets, deregulation, and free trade are the core elements of this dogma, a dogma so successful that even many liberals accept it. But a funny thing happened on the bridge to the twenty-first century. While liberals continue to bow before the free-market altar, conservatives in the style of George W. Bush have abandoned it altogether. That is why principled conservatives -- the Reagan true believers -- long ago abandoned Bush.
As even demonstrated by Barack Obama, "liberals" have a hard time actually deciding to use the force of government in domestic policy. They have a tendency to want to talk everything to death. When I was involved in the civil rights movement of the 60s it was those we called "liberals" who were hesitant actually join the non-violent marches and demonstrations. In the mental frame of the time, it was necessary to go beyond liberalism to more "radical" action to force change in the way government dealt with those opposed to civil right for black people.

It is for that reason that I believe the article by Bhaskar Sunkara is especially helpful today. He writes in The Next Left: A Viable Political Strategy for the Multitude, which appeared in The Nation magazine that:
To radicals, the sad state of liberalism comes as no surprise. It represents merely the re-emergence of flaws embedded deeply in its roots, making so much of the social policy that The Nation supports difficult to revive. American liberalism is practically ineffective and analytically inadequate—and a jolt from its left is a prerequisite for its resurgence.

Liberalism’s original sin lies in its lack of a dynamic theory of power. Much of its discourse is still fixated on an eighteenth-century Enlightenment fantasy of the “Republic of Letters,” which paints politics as a salon discussion between polite people with competing ideas. The best program, when well argued by the wise and well-intentioned, is assumed to prevail in the end. Political action is disconnected, in this worldview, from the bloody entanglement of interests and passions that mark our lived existence.
What liberals cannot seem to get clear about is that sometimes force is necessary. If a business is engaging in predatory behavior it must be forced to stop doing what it is doing.

Think of a father who is sexually abusing his daughter. You can talk to the father all day but that is not helpful to the one being abused. What is necessary is to stop the abuse by force, to absolutely not allow the abuse to continue. And that is what must happen to those businesses today who are engaging in predatory behavior, whether financial institutions or oil companies intent on making profits despite that fact that their practices are heating up the planet.

Sometimes force is necessary even if it radical to say so.
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Stop Coal Exports
3/27/2013 4:07:24 PM

A major environmental battle is now ramping up in the Pacific Northwest concerning coal exports. This is not a small matter. If coal companies succeed in getting government permits they plan to load coal onto trains from Montana and Wyoming, carry it to the Columbia River where it would be loaded onto barges, carried down the river to west coast ports, and shipped to Asia to be burned for energy there. We in the United States don't want any more coal to be used in this country because it pollutes our air. We should not allow coal from federally owned lands to be shipped to pollute other people's air either. Eventually that pollution comes right back home. This is a battle which we cannot allow the coal companies to win.

I live just a couple miles from the Columbia River in Portland, Oregon. Those coal barges would pass right near my home. So I have a personal reason not to want to add more pollution from the whole process of transporting this coal. But everyone in this country has a big stake in this issue. The very future of the planet must be considered here. We need to act now for the benefit of our children and grandchildren who will have to live in the world we leave behind.

An excellent website for more information and detailed organizational plans for action is Power Past Coal.

Here is a video which begins to explain the facts:

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Manufactured Landscapes
3/23/2013 7:58:45 PM

Next time you go to Wal-mart or Target remember this:

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