A bipartisan Call for Climate Action

A Bipartisan Call for Climate Action

By Larry J. Schweiger

Nearly a decade ago, I returned to work at National Wildlife Federation with a commitment to confront climate change. I knew from the latest scientific findings at the time that a change in climate would disrupt historic weather patterns and threaten fish and wildlife with massive extinctions. I also understood that what befalls nature would befall humanity.

Since that time, the scientific warnings have grown much louder, the evidence more definitive and the consequences more menacing. Yet because carbon-polluting industries hold sway in the halls of the U.S. Congress, lawmakers have done little to end the carbon emissions that are triggering the planet’s fastest rate of climate change in 60 million years.

On June 25, I was in attendance when President Obama gave what will one day be seen as his most important speech. “Science, accumulated and reviewed over decades, tells us that our planet is changing in ways that will have profound impacts on all of humankind,” he explained. “The 12 warmest years in recorded history have all come in the last 15 years. Last year, temperatures in some areas of the ocean reached record highs, and ice in the Arctic shrank to its smallest size on record—faster than most computer models had predicted it would. These are facts.”

The president then warned that “all weather events are affected by a warming planet. The fact that sea levels in New York, in New York Harbor, are now a foot higher than a century ago—that didn’t cause Hurricane Sandy, but it certainly contributed to the destruction that left large parts of our mightiest city dark and underwater.”

With the nation experiencing larger forest fires in a longer fire season, “western wildfires scorched an area larger than the state of Maryland,” he added. “Just last week, a heat wave in Alaska shot temperatures into the 90s. And we know that the costs of these events can be measured in lost lives and lost livelihoods, lost homes, lost businesses, hundreds of billions of dollars in emergency services and disaster relief.“

Yet because so many members of Congress are under the influence of polluters, they continue to ignore the overwhelming body of climate science and they refuse to pass any carbon-capping legislation. The president has been forced to use the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) rule-making authority to regulate carbon, setting forth a series of important but insufficient measures that he can take without congressional action to begin addressing this defining threat to life in the 21st century.

On August 1, the president received an unexpected boost for his call for climate action from an unlikely chorus of former EPA administrators who served under presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. Together, they published “A Republican Case for Climate Action” in The New York Times, an op-ed that began: “Each of us took turns over the past 43 years running the Environmental Protection Agency. We served Republican presidents, but we have a message that transcends political affiliation: The United States must move now on substantive steps to curb climate change, at home and internationally…The costs of inaction are undeniable.”

Calling the president’s plan “just a start,” the former Republican EPA administrators—William Ruckelshaus, Lee Thomas, William Reilly and Christine Todd Whitman—urged Congress to put a price on carbon and made clear “(m)ore will be required. But we must continue efforts to reduce the climate-altering pollutants that threaten our planet. The only uncertainty about our warming world is how bad the changes will get, and how soon. What is most clear is that there is no time to waste.”

Despite this stark warning from four of our finest EPA administrators, leaders in the House of Representatives continue to pretend climate change is not a problem. The many bad environmental bills passed by the Republican-led House outrages me as a former Republican committee member from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

In his speech, the president challenged us with these words: “So the question now is whether we will have the courage to act before it’s too late. And how we answer will have a profound impact on the world that we leave behind not just to you, but to your children and to your grandchildren. As a president, as a father and as an American, I’m here to say we need to act.”

Regardless of our political party affiliations, we must heed President Obama’s challenge. We must unite to solve the climate crisis, and demand that lawmakers face reality to protect our children’s future. Are you with me on this?

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A Tribute To Calvin B. DeWitt, PhD

I am so pleased that the Au Sable Institute of Environmental Studies is honoring Calvin DeWitt for his twenty-five years of extraordinary leadership, rich insights, and a spirit of servant-leadership. I thank Fred Van Dyke and the Board for this much-deserved and overdue day of recognition. I am only sorry that I will not be there to celebrate this achievement with Cal and Ruth DeWitt.

Throughout their lives, both Cal and Ruth have demonstrated Christian love, generosity and nurturing leadership to countless students who have passed through Au Sable, sat at your dinner table or learned from your inspiring and passionate role as professor of environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

At Au Sable, Cal carefully recruited top-flight instructors offering much-needed field-study courses in environmental science and ethics to students from Christian schools that lacked capacity for this. DeWitt’s reputation as a steadfast champion of Christian stewardship brought needed attention and prestige to Au Sable among the many affiliated colleges and universities, but most importantly,  Cal has challenged Christians to embrace our role in caring for creation and to reject the flawed teachings of the past.

In his wonderful book, Earthwise Cal taught us about the primary provisions of creation and offered a pathway for hope in the human ability to learn from creation if we only listened to nature’s song.

Au Sable became well-known for its bold leader who willingly challenging flawed political views of far too many conservatives. Cal’s widely-reported presence on Capitol Hill as an Evangelical Christian with an endangered Florida Panther, no doubt, saved the Endangered Species Act from sure destruction. When Vice President Al Gore needed someone to share biblical understandings of creation care with Billy Graham, he turned to you and you taught biblical truths to Billy Graham.

 Cal stood firm on the threat of climate change long before it was embraced by the public and he was the catalyst for the creation of the successful Evangelical Environmental Network that is marshalling thousands of Christians to fight for climate protection to this day. While advocating for nature, Cal has been repeatedly attacked and insulted by dark-money interests as they were threatened that he was making inroads into evangelical understandings, yet Cal persisted in teaching environmental science while emphasizing the primacy of scripture. Cal unabashedly shared truths concerning a much-needed biblical basis for environmental ethics and the praxis of creation care with anyone willing to listen.

Working for various secular environmental institutions over my career, I discovered your many writings and soon found an oasis in DeWitt’s work offering the most thoughtful evangelical Christian perspective on creation care. As a mentor and insightful ecological scientist, Cal possesses a unique ability to tell a vibrant and compelling story bridging the unnecessary gap between biblical wisdom and ecological science. Remembering our visit to Tangier Island in the Chesapeake Bay, Cal has never shied away from creating a dialogue with watermen who need to hear the truth that they were overharvesting blue crabs. For these acts and so much more with a grateful heart, I join with many others in seeing Calvin DeWitt as the rightful father of biblical environmental stewardship.

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A Grandfather’s Lament

A Grandfather’s Lament

By: Larry J. Schweiger

     Standing on a heavily polluted Lake Erie Beach watching what was to be the end of the famed blue pike, I made a childhood promise to God that if given the opportunities, I would spend my life fighting pollution and the destruction of creation. This vow has led me through a series of life choices with progressive responsibility in the environmental field. My early decision also opened opportunities to work with and be mentored by some of America’s greatest contemporary conservation leaders. Together we fought hard and long to make a difference.

When I was a senior in high school in 1968, I read a provocative article entitled: The Tragedy of the Commons by Garrett Hardin in the journal “Science” that greatly influenced my thinking. Hardin described a number of herdsmen who were sharing a public grazing land called the commons. Each sought to get the most grass for their animals without limits and collectively they destroyed the commons. One line in Hardin’s writing has long haunted me, “Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons. Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all.”

One hundred years ago this month, the last passenger pigeon passed from earth. This once impressive bird occupied our lands by the billions. At night they would congregate in roosts by the million in various places. Often, their combined weight was so great that branches would break. It seems the natural world unencumbered by human exploitation was a land overflowing in extravagant abundance. Like the bison, the passenger pigeons were simply extirpated from the land-victims of the tragedy of the commons. The land of milk and honey will soon becomes a land of locusts and thorns.

There should be no doubt that a broad consensus exists within the scientific community regarding the seriousness of the impending threats to humanity and to the global environment. On November 18, 1992 nearly sixteen hundred of the world’s leading scientists issued an urgent warning to humanity   This extraordinary statement on the health of the environment was signed by 1,582 of the world’s leading scientists including a large number of senior officials from National and International Science Academies, a majority of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and top scientists from 69 nations. Signers included most (101 in all) of the then living noble laureates It stated in part:

     “Our massive tampering with the world’s interdependent web of life ‑‑ coupled with the environmental damage inflicted by deforestation, species loss, and climate change ‑‑ could trigger widespread adverse effects, including unpredictable collapses of critical biological systems whose interactions and dynamics we only imperfectly understand… We the undersigned, senior members of the world’s scientific community, hereby warn all humanity of what lies ahead. A great change in our stewardship of the earth and the life on it, is required, if vast human misery is to be avoided and our global home on this planet is not to be irretrievably mutilated.”

In an unorthodox move, the scientists framed their warning in a spiritual and moral realm suggesting a new ethic…

“a new attitude towards discharging our responsibility for caring for ourselves and for the earth. We must recognize the earth’s limited capacity to provide for us. We must recognize its fragility. We must no longer allow it to be ravaged. This ethic must motivate a great movement, convincing reluctant leaders and reluctant governments and reluctant peoples themselves to effect the needed changes… We need the help of the world’s religious leaders. We call on all to join us in this task…”

I have long understood that unchecked, global warming will be the penultimate tragedy of the commons. If more than seven billion people on the planet are free to continue dumping billions upon billions of tons of carbon dioxide, methane, soot and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, we will surely destroy the atmospheric commons that gives and protects all life. The planetary-wide prospect of failing water supplies, drought-stricken croplands, depleted fish stocks and unraveling ecosystems must give rise to personal and societal questions about fundamental choices being made. It is irresponsible to ignore the impending disaster when we have the ability to tackle it with tools that are currently available and cost effective.

 Seek the Truth

         We have been warned long ago yet we don’t hear and accept the truth. “Truth seeking” is an ancient virtue rooted in various faith traditions and philosophies that needs to be dusted off in light of the ongoing struggle to address global warming. In my faith-tradition, the Bible records Jesus as putting a high-value on truth and saying, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”[1] In a moral and just society, truth should be our common goal. As this verse makes clear, truth unburdens us from doubt, confusion and indecision and frees us to do the right things.

A business leader by the name of Brent Hansen sums it this way, “Seek the truth or hide your head in the sand have this in common. Both require some digging.” It’s also been suggested that If you hide your head in the sand, you put your butt in a remarkably vulnerable position. By hiding our heads, we put the entire world in a remarkably vulnerable position.

Many in our world including most of our political leaders have allowed themselves to be misled by greedy people who have a destructive agenda. Stated simply, the greedy obfuscate the truth and reap the rewards, while the entire planet groans under the weight of pollution and exploitation.

Our generation faces a spiritual crisis… an ethical and moral challenge that is unprecedented in human experience yet so many in America’s churches and faith communities ignore or deny it on partisan grounds. Our deep-seated political ideology overrides our theology. In America today, politics trumps faith. Rush Limbaugh trumps Rick Warren. The Tea Party and their wealthy benefactors trump scientists and responsible actors… There is no justice in the land.

Mark 8:18 speaks of spiritual blindness. “Though you have eyes, don’t you see? And though you have ears, can’t you hear? Don’t you remember?” Many biological limitations prevent us from seeing or hearing … even smelling things. Some years ago, I visited Tyrone, a town in a valley that hung heavy with the foulest-smelling paper mill. Asking around town, I soon discovered that the people living there could not even smell the rotten cabbage like pungent air. It turns out that constant exposure to chemical pollutants acts as an olfactory anesthetic-inducing a loss of awareness. This was a sobering, poignant and instructive lesson for me as I sought to engage them in cleaning up the air pollution.

Like that mill town, we cannot see, smell or taste climate-altering pollution. Humans, by our makeup actually receive a very limited amount of input that we can detect through our senses. We are generally unaware of much going on around us that. Our hearing and other sensory inputs are filtered. We can only detect a very limited range of sensory inputs that are potentially available. For example, we cannot see or feel electromagnetic waves that exist with an enormous range of frequencies known as the electromagnetic spectrum. Nor can we see the trapped infrared rays held back by excess carbon because these light forms lie outside of visible light spectrum. Early humans learned of their limitations by observing that wolves had a much fuller range of hearing and sense of smell. To solve their limitations, humans domesticated wolves as dogs for community protection. Today, we have developed many sophisticated devices that can monitor and exploit forces outside of our range of perceptions. With modern research and technology, the truth about the earth’s climate system is no longer beyond our reach.

Beyond our biological limits, spiritual blindness brought on by a hardening of the heart is the single most important reason for inaction. People who walk by faith should understand that we must seek truth beyond the boundaries of our sensory perceptions and we must challenge our most deeply held beliefs.

Once again for the fifth time in recent decades, reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change make it clear that humankind is causing the bulk of global warming. By all reasonable accounts, the core climate science is in with more than 10,000 published studies. However, this truth can be hard for moneyed interests to accept and even harder for the victims to live with. Despite the overwhelming scientific evidence of global warming, it is vehemently challenged because it forces change upon our thinking and into our daily behavior in fundamental ways. Media and policy debates rage on because so many ignore or deny the mountains of scientific findings.

Any policymaker who has not discovered the truth about climate change simply has not sought the truth. Willful blindness is a spiritual matter as it places political expediency over ethical leadership. What often passes for reasoning based on talk radio myths is nothing more than political rationalization based on moneyed interests. Truth must be a cornerstone of any ethical system. In all matters of significance—material, relational, spiritual, or otherwise—we must seek to discover and embrace truth, regardless of where it may lead. As we witness to the impacts of climate change, these consequences obligate us to seek and speak the truth.

The Courage to Act upon Truth

     Some years ago, psychologist Rollo May wrote in his book “The Courage to Create”: “Every profession requires people with creative and moral courage to envision, appreciate, and direct change. The need for courage is in direct proportion to the degree of change the profession is undergoing.” In ministry, as in nearly every other profession, the enormous growth of knowledge and its accompanying tendency toward narrower and narrower specialization has caused us to learn more and more about less and less and to disregard the rest. Sometimes we can get so focused on narrow disciplinary boundaries and responsibilities that we miss the bigger picture. While faith leaders have focused on important ministries, largely unforeseen climatic changes triggered by humankind’s activities have been building. Fast approaching environmental and ecological ruin call upon all to step back and take a broader look.

It must not divide us along religious lines or political “liberal” and “conservative” lines as too many issues and causes do. It’s simply about right and wrong. A growing climate storm should force us to face deeper ethical questions about the flaws that may exist in our theological or philosophical underpinnings causing our inaction. Do we have the right to continue polluting at the certainty of creating complete havoc with the earth’s fragile atmosphere? We each need to examine our ethical understandings to do our part to secure and protect future generations from climatic violations caused by cumulative actions of literally billions of individuals around the globe.

Legacy

     In my Christian faith tradition, I believe our lives will be measured by what we leave behind. Proverbs 13:22 defines a good person in terms of their legacy. “A good person leaves an inheritance to his children’s children… (ISV)

It is not hyperbole to say that there has never been a generation in human existence that has caused greater ecological damage than the generation that ironically launched the first Earthday. As a society, we know that climate change is real but we are largely clueless about the urgency, scope and scale of the climate threat. Poll after poll has shown that while most Americans acknowledge that the earth is being affected by global warming, they do not fully understand the gravity or the urgency. The voting patterns tell us that many church-going people don’t seem to understand what if anything, they can or should do about it.

During the same time that I read The Tragedy of the Commons, I was privileged to have a very wise mentor and scout leader, Ralph Abele who was a conservation leader in my home state of Pennsylvania. Ralph was a clear thinker and a leader with integrity. When facing tough choices in my career, I often ask myself, what would Ralph do at this moment? I find my answer in his writings or in words spoken to me long ago,

“Mankind is not an island… in respect to other men or to other living things, nor even in respect to the non-living or inorganic creations. Without an appreciation of our relationship to nature, without the idea of living with nature, not merely upon nature; we must sooner or later live (or perhaps die) in a world where man will have paid the penalty for doing what he cannot do successfully…that is, think only of himself.”

Ralph died many years ago but his wisdom transcends the grave. Are we thinking only of ourselves? Does climate change have to become the ultimate tragedy of the commons? As rational beings all dependent on the same shared air, can we commit to doing our part by demanding that Congress find a way to phase out carbon dioxide pollution?

As a grandfather I must now ask, can each of us be dedicated to giving our offspring this last chance?

We must each repent of our carbon pollution, and strive to leave a planet inhabitable for the next generation to live upon. This is our moment and perhaps our last chance to right a stupendous wrong. Regardless of your faith tradition or worldview, we must all agree that wrecking the climate system is a deeply moral, profoundly spiritual and intensely ethical issue. There has never been an environmental threat in the history of humankind as profound and far-reaching as global warming.

As the defining issue of the 21st century, its ecological basis as an ethical issue is best expressed in a widely read essay “The Land Ethic,” by Aldo Leopold who explained, “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community, it is wrong as it tends otherwise.”

Climate change is an ecosystem-disrupting agent unlike any other single force in human history. It threatens up to seventy percent of the species on the planet and virtually no ecosystem will survive unscathed. Appropriate for this weekend, Leopold also warned:

“No important change in ethics was ever accomplished without an internal change of our intellectual emphasis, loyalties, affections, and convictions. The proof that conservation has not yet touched the foundations of conduct lies in the fact that philosophy and religion have not yet heard of it.”

One of the most hopeful signs in recent years is the emergence of groups like Faith, Power and Light, the National Religious Partnership for the Environment and the recent clarion warnings from the Pope to stop climate change. While the Pope’s stern warnings were historic, they have yet to filter down through most priests and to lay Catholics. In the same vein, the messages from other faith groups advancing stewardship despite enormous efforts, have failed to make a sufficient dent in behavior and beliefs of local churches, synagogues and temples. Putting aside any theological differences that may divide, gatherings like this one give hope by enlarging the circle of people of faith concerned about climate change, and by encouraging and assisting people of faith to get involved in public policy solutions. I suspect that Aldo Leopold would be pleased with this important turn of events with scientists, regardless of their own world views, willing to work with the faith community to foster a better understanding of the moral and science understandings of climate and ecological stewardship.

My courageous Boy Scout leader, Ralph W. Abele, survived the beaches of Normandy and fought across Europe to liberate Holocaust survivors, inspired me to think and act boldly. Ralph came away from his experience case-hardened to opposition and believing in the virtue and power of stubbornness. Ralph never saw being stubborn as a vice but a virtue if properly channelled. In his last writings, Ralph warned:

“Beware of the cause that you chose for this kind of stubbornness because you will surely prevail.”

I have been haunted by Ralph’s call for stubbornness because I see the same steadfastness in a visionary leader and dear friend former Vice President Al Gore. Al has forced us to turn the corner and see the “Inconvenient Truth” for what it is. Since writing, “Earth in the Balance” many years ago, Al has been vocal, persistent, and unrelenting in his efforts to bring light to this threat. Undaunted by vicious personal attacks from polluters and their surrogates, Al has always stayed focused and makes his points on the facts ignoring those would shoot the messenger. He understands that on matters of moral importance like climate change, an environmental ethic requires action in the face of enormous resistance—doing what is right with humility, moral duty and obligation regardless of short-term personal consequences—to protect the ecological integrity of the earth for future generations.

Ethics in Action

We must each look within ourselves and ask, “Will I find the moral courage to fight climate change and be a voice for future generations and for the nature of tomorrow while there is still time?” By acknowledging the growing insecurity of a destabilized natural world as the Pope recently did, faith leaders must help society overcome spiritual blindness and find a safer and saner path to follow.

While environmental challenges facing the world are obviously complex and arduous, solving global warming is not so much a technical or a financial problem. We must transition towards secure, efficient, and clean energy solutions that are now available at reasonable costs that create durable American jobs and keep energy dollars and our soldiers at home while protecting the nature of tomorrow. We must call the world to abandon the profligate consumption of fossil fuels while there is still hope. We must unite to give voice to this great healing opportunity while there may still be time.

On the 9th of September five years ago, I witnessed the birth of one of my grandsons–Sutton. My daughter Carolyn gave me the honor of cutting the umbilical cord. I watched as Sutton left the safety of his mother’s womb and entered a new world that humans are profoundly altering. The doctor clamped the umbilical cord and handed me the scissors. I confess that it was a tearful and bittersweet moment. Sweet because I witnessed the arrival of an awaited grandson that I hope to spend a lot of time outdoors within the days that we might have together. Sweet also because I know Carolyn will be a great mom.

It was a bitter moment because I was about to sever this newborn from the final vestige of security. He was leaving his mother’s womb and entering a world that is increasingly warming and more uncertain with intensifying storms, deepening droughts, massive forest fires, acidifying oceans and threatened cities. He deserves a safer world and I renewed my vow in that moment that I would do everything possible to stop this insanity. I must have been taking too long with my vow because the doctor, with some frustration in his voice asked, “Are you going to do this or what?”

Sutton’s recent fifth birthday reminds me once again that I can not think only of myself, rather I must be drawn to a higher duty to “leave an inheritance to our children’s children.” What are we doing to Sutton and his generation? I know no parent or grandparent who would knowingly harm his or her offspring. Yet, we are collectively failing to heed strong scientific warnings from the world’s top climate scientists. We are failing to enact carbon pollution controls and we fail to respect and respond to firm deadlines established by nature itself. Let us demand more of international leaders who seek a shared solution to this greatest global threat that will affect us all. It is not enough to lament our failures and thoughtless acts; we must find a new way forward.

You see, in the end, it’s about the common property that is above each of us and that is all around us–our air. The air belongs to everyone on earth–and no one–all at the same time. It certainly does not belong to the polluters even though they continue to act like it does. We each must assert our interest in this matter and end global warming pollution now.

The planetary-wide prospect of failing ecosystems gives rise to fundamental questions about personal choices being made and it should force us to face deeper ethical questions:

Do we have the right to continue polluting the air with carbon at the risk of creating havoc with the earth’s fragile atmosphere?

Can we really be excessive fossil fuel consumers and responsible earth keepers all at the same time?

Should miners or oil and gas drillers be allowed to trample over nature to exploit fossil fuels for our excess consumption?

How about the interests of those living in flooding deltas, coastal and island communities?

Should our addiction to fossil fuels crush our children’s future? Can we continue to advance our bad energy habits over their needs?

It really doesn’t matter what our faith or worldview may be, wrecking the planet and harming our children’s future is an ethical abomination. It must become a universal religious imperative to seek justice and to protect and heal the earth for the whole community of life from the diatoms to our children and their children.

Thank you.

(Note: This will be the basis of my presentation to 200 faith leaders from across the globe coming together to mobilize communities on | September 19-21 | |

http://www.cvent.com/events/religions-for-the-earth/event-summary-acce9de322684b8db91a98466c4f6da9.aspx)

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“A Climate of Conversation: Perspectives on Climate Change and Clean Energy”

by: Larry Schweiger

I recently attended the “Energy Evolution: 2017 Pittsburgh Energy Forum Series” held at the Heinz History Center. This panel discussion was sponsored and presented by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Peoples Gas Company. I have been impressed by Morgan O’Brian the president and CEO of a gas company seeking to have an honest dialogue about climate change and clean energy. I was also pleased that David Shribman who is the executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette moderated a revealing discussion called: “A Climate of Conversation: Perspectives on Climate Change and Clean Energy”.

The size of the public turnout was impressive and very encouraging. The conference center of the History Center was full and the audience was actively engaged with appropriate questions. Highlighting the panel was Michael Mann who is Penn State University’s Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Science Center whose now famous hockey stick warned of the impending non-linear climate change confronting the world.

The underlying issue of the evening circled around the unstated question: in the face of a non-linear climate crisis, what does a sustainability really look like?

This was an evening with divergent perspectives on the matter for sure. On one hand, Michael Mann painted a scientifically-sound picture of the stark realities of climate change complete with the assertion that we need an aggressive clean energy program capable of cutting carbon emissions dramatically to avoid catastrophic climate change.

(On this point, the highly-regarded accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers has been doing audits to measure progress. For the past several years, PWC has been running the numbers on climate change and in 2014 they warned that we’re 20 years away from catastrophe and making it clear that we need to cut global emissions by 6.2 percent to avoid the dreaded tipping point of 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit.)

On the other hand, the solutions were thin to non-existent. The stark contrast between the alarming threat of fast-approaching climate disruption and the profound lack of action could not be starker. While claiming to be a green city, Pittsburgh has failed to deploy truly clean energy. Apart from a handful of corporate leaders like Levin Furniture, PittOhio, PNC, and scattered pioneers like Phipps Conservatory, the Millvale community, and a few private solar powered homes in the city, we are lagging far behind what we need to be doing to avoid climate calamity. The black and gold city needs to be installing clean energy and cutting its carbon emissions by 6.2 percent per year and not just talking about being a green city.

I was particularly troubled by what one of the panellists, Ron Gdovic said. As CEO of WindStax Wind Power Systems said about the solar industry. His lack of knowledge about concentrated solar and battery options were concerning. For reasons that escaped me, Gdovic took a shot at the solar industry that has been experiencing massive growth around the world but not in Pittsburgh and certainly not on Wall Street. In the clean energy mix of the future, there is room for solar, wind and for WindStax. The clean energy community needs to be united and not divisive. The fossil fuel industry would love to divide and conquer. Fortunately, the discussion turned to Michael Mann to conclude with his assessment of the future.

Whether we listened or not, Mann warned that there is much more change coming our way as we overrun numerous planetary boundaries. As Dr Mann suggested, the Arctic deterioration is happening many years earlier than the IPCC scientists predicted and sea-level predictions have been revised upward from the latest IPCC report.

(The Arctic is in massive positive feedback mode as the tundra is a net carbon producer now.  The once frozen methane clathrates are releasing their potent greenhouse gases and the open waters of the Arctic are absorbing energy and feeding heat-trapping cloud formation. As the oceans warm, thermal expansion swells sea-level predictions. Greenland lost one trillion tons of ice in the past four years and Antarctica is readying to shed an ice sheet the size of Delaware.)

Much remains to be done in Western Pennsylvania but this was a good start to daylight the extraordinarily challenging days ahead. We need to be listening to our top scientists like Michael Mann.

I hope this gathering can be a turning point. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette needs to dig deeper into the climate crisis to help its readers understand the enormous threat we face, and journalists must be unleashed to investigate the over-investments in the gas infrastructure by politicians.

Note: I was very pleased when Michael recently joined the board of directors of PennFuture as his knowledge and leadership will be invaluable to our cause.

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In Defence of Science in the face of “Alternative Facts”

We often take certain things for granted in life. One of those for me was the difference between personal opinions and scientifically verifiable facts. I never thought I would have to march to defend the very notion of science itself. Like tens of thousands of others in many cities around the world, I marched with PennFuture’s staff and 20,000 volunteers stretching across ten blocks across Center City Philadelphia to support the scientists who have been under fire from dark-money contrarians, climate deniers, now they are even under attack from the EPA administrator who fired his science advisors and replaced them with corporate special interests. Most alarming in the face of massive glacial melting, dramatic forest fires and increasingly violent storms, President Trump thinks climate change is a Chinese hoax.

Our march started at the Philadelphia City Hall that is crowned with a statue of one of America’s earliest noted scientists-Ben Franklin. It was appropriate that a Franklin look-alike led our march as Franklin was not just a founding statesman, inventor, and author of “Poor Richard’s Almanack”, but he was also one of America’s first scientists. Among his scientific advancements, Franklin charted the powerful Gulf Stream enabling ships sailing for Europe to significantly cut their travel time.

Ben Franklin also launched the American Philosophical Society in 1743 to pursue “philosophical Experiments that let Light into the Nature of Things, tend to increase the Power of Man over Matter, and multiply the Conveniencies or Pleasures of Life.” Franklin knew that the advancement of science and the application of knowledge would greatly benefit society. He also believed that curiosity and experimentation would lead to greater light into the nature of things.

In a modern social system as in Franklin’s day, certain principles and values are inherent to the proper functioning of the community.  Since the 18th century “Age of Enlightenment”, science-based decision-making has been central to nearly every societal advancement. Science leads the world toward greater and greater progress as we find new ways to tackle old problems. PennFuture shares Franklin’s view of science, as we are an environmental organization committed to science-based advocacy for the advancement of a safe, healthy and sustainable society. We depend upon science to provide critical answers to the most vexing air and water pollution problems. Soil science properly applied yields greater productivity while retaining nutrients and sediments. Clean energy built on advancing technologies provides clean, carbon-free energy to meet the demands of a 21st-century society.

The highly-respected astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson said it best: “The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.” Whether policymakers believe in science or not is irrelevant, facts are stubborn and cannot be just legislated away. Should society irrationally abandon authoritative science and turn once again to superstitions and myths then we will certainly drift into the tyranny that created the Dark Ages.

Upon hearing that President Trump wants to cut NOAA’s climate science funding and replace EPA’s science advisory group, the newly elected French President Emmanuel Macron says France wants our top climate and clean-tech researchers to move to France where they will be understood and respected.  The French president knows that science and innovation will underpin the winning nations in the future as it has in the past.

Can we afford to lose our scientific edge and just ignore or discount the warnings of climate scientists? Can we simply publish textbooks that avoid objectionable scientific conclusions and pejoratively label innovators and leading thinkers as “coastal elites”? When a highly vocal chorus of ill-informed voters repeatedly reject basic truths and pursue myths and alternative facts concocted by those who obfuscate, we must ask, perhaps we are a society encountering the very boundaries of human enlightenment. I for one certainly hope not but that is no longer a given.

Franklin was a strong proponent of “enlightened” rationality, we agree. Please help PennFuture carry the banner of enlightenment to confront the myths and disinformation that is causing so many to stumble and threatening the very habitability of much of our planet.

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Environmental Protection in the Face of Governmental Deconstruction

By: Larry J. Schweiger

If you are still wondering why President Trump’s key appointments to vital Federal Agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Education Department, and the Energy Department are nominees who actually despise the very purpose of the agencies they are now running, wonder no more, because it has been made clear that President Trump and Stephen Bannon want to systematically destroy these agencies and gut their regulatory capacities.

Stephen Bannon has purposely maintained the scruffy appearance of one who would be better suited at a neighborhood bar stool, is now in the right-hand seat of power as Trump’s chief advisor and confidant. While Bannon has largely remained in the shadows and rarely speaking publically until his recent comments at the Conservative PAC. It’s now clear that Bannon is a fanatic but he should not be dismissed as a wild-eyed White Nationalist. Bannon has big plans for deconstruction of the Federal government and while it appears to be delusional and grandiose. It is not.

At the recent CPAC convention, Bannon provided a lens into the future that Trump has in store for all of us if we let him. With the clearest explanation for why many of Trump’s cabinet choices are well known mostly for despising and attacking the very Federal agencies they’ve been designated to lead, Bannon made it clear that these nominees weren’t appointed to lead essential Federal agencies like the Energy Department, Education or the Environmental Protection Agency, but to gut them.

Remember then Texas Governor Rick Perry in 2012 promised to abolish the Energy Department when he forgot its name?  Scott Pruitt became head of the EPA an agency despite the fact that he has been trying to shut down the agency with 14 separate lawsuits that we now know from his hidden emails were spawned not in his office but by lawyers representing the oil and gas industry. Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Education, wants American taxpayers to pay for private schools and even poorly regulated “fly-by-night online virtual schools” rather than properly funding struggling public schools.

The Trump administration has hatched an audacious stratagem to “deconstruct” critical elements of our government so special interests especially the fossil fuel industries can run wild as never before. When Bannon brags about dismantling the “administrative state,” what he’s saying is that Trump will be unleashing corporate predation with a wrecking ball; letting polluters do whatever they want, whenever and wherever they want, regardless of their impact on our environment or the direct harm it inflicts on American communities. He’s plotting the complete the absolute elimination of our ability as citizens to constrain their runaway greed or halt corporate and bank malfeasance that crashed our economy in 2008. Little wonder that the stock market has been going wild since the election, the speculators and the barons of industry will be free at last.

At CPAC, Bannon said, “every business leader we’ve had in is saying not just taxes, but it is — it is also the regulation. I think the consistent, if you look at these Cabinet appointees, they were selected for a reason and that is the deconstruction, the way the progressive left runs, is if they can’t get it passed, they’re just gonna put in some sort of regulation in — in an agency. That’s all gonna be deconstructed and I think that that’s why this regulatory thing is so important.”

“Deconstruction” is Bannon’s code word for the shredding of the Federal safety net. This rollback of safeguards has been in the aim of dark-moneyed interests since 1971 when Lewis Powell wrote his manifesto to the U. S. Chamber of Commerce. The Lewis memo inspired a long and deliberate takeover of our electoral process systematically executed by minority interests through such means as voter suppression, sophisticated data-driven gerrymandering and toxic amounts of dark money flooding front groups like the Heritage Foundation, fake news outlets and through super PACs.

The race to the bottom begins… President Trump is creating obfuscation when say he likes clean air, clean water while he recently authorized the Keystone and Dakota Pipelines despite the environmental dangers, and he took steps to dismantle climate pollution rules, repealed coal mine regulations, endangered species protections and clean water rules.

The South Florida Water Management District is seeing their opportunity to ask the Trump administration to unleash the district from an important 1992 consent agreement with the Bush Administration that committed the water district to clean up the phosphorus pollution that is severely degrading the Everglades National Park and the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge. (Remember the massive algae blooms last summer that were killing manatees and choking waterways?)

Meanwhile western Republicans have changed the laws to allow a give-away of our precious public land estate to western states so they can be delivered to special interests for exploitation. Here in Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania General Assembly has launched a study to determine where Pennsylvania’s environmental protections exceed the Federal government so they can cut protections down to the weakened levels being advanced in Washington. This is not how we “make America great again” in fact, the many reckless actions bring America closer to wholesale destruction.

At the CPAC conference Bannon warned: “If you think they are giving you your country back without a fight, you are sadly mistaken.” Let’s prove Bannon right on this point. We must fight those who have set out to destroy our environmental protections. Bannon’s agenda is a clear and present danger to the America we all know and love.

We must demand that our government not only protect existing safeguards but also create a framework for a clean energy economy that is already creating more jobs than oil, coal, and gas combined. Things can rapidly get much worse than any of us could have imagined in our lifetimes. The United States has already set more than 2,800 new record high temperatures this month, 738 new records in this past week alone while we have seen only set 27 record lows. It is time every American demand our members of Congress and Senator Toomey to stand up against the deconstruction of our governmental safeguards and not let society crumble from the effects of climate disruption. Please call each of you lawmakers now. Here’s a nifty trick: Text your Zip Code to 520-200-2223 and you’ll get a text back with the names and numbers of your federal and state representatives and senators. This is an easy way to get the numbers into your phone book for repeated use. From the shape of things to come, we will all need it.

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Rediscovering the Lesson of the Inchcape Rock

By: Larry J. Schweiger

In the 18th century, English poet Robert Southey wrote about a 14th century holy Abbot of Aberbrothok who mounted a bell on a treacherous sandstone reef eleven miles off the east coast of Scotland to warn mariners during severe weather. As the story goes, a notorious pirate Ralph the Rover vandalized the bell and dropped it into the sea on his way to plunder other vessels. Having been gone for a time and on his journey back to Scotland with a ship laden with booty, Ralph the Rover encountered a severe storm and without warning, struck the reef and sank his vessel. Southey writes of the Rover’s final moments as the ship sank:

“But even in his dying fear,

One dreadful sound could the Rover hear;

A sound as if with the Inchcape Bell,

The Devil below was ringing his knell.”

For many generations, “The Inchcape Rock” was taught as a cautionary tale to dissuade those who might seek to destroy warning bells.

The poem and the moral justice of the story have long been forgotten as the incoming Trump Administration and the Republican-led Congress are moving to destroy the warning bells of climate disruption by ending NASA climate research efforts. Trump advisor and former Congressman turned lobbyist working largely for the space industry, Bob Walker wants to purge what he called “politicized science” by ending NASA’s climate change research and shifting the funding to a “deep space” program in a blatant move to eliminate the warning bells of climate science. California Governor Jerry Brown responded that the state of California might even launch its own space program if Trump shuts down the climate satellites and ends NASA’s role in climate science. For the past several weeks, climate scientists have been busy copying Federal climate databases to private servers to prevent their destruction.

Once the warning bells of NASA are silenced, the Trump administration will undo EPA’s carbon pollution regulations and fulfill the promise of abandoning the Paris Accord. These are not idle campaign promises by the Twitterer-in-Chief. Despite the many clear climate-warming signals across the planet in 2016, Trump has assembled an administration for accomplishing his reckless ambitions against climate and environmental protections.

Secretary of State:

His nomination for Secretary of State, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson (Putin’s friend) is ripe for blatant self-dealing over President Obama’s Russian oil sanctions and as he unwinds the Paris Accords. As the head of a global corporation more powerful than many nations, Tillerson has repeatedly misrepresented basic climate science, supported borderless world trade in oil while calling for “a global free market for energy.” Tillerson who has never shown any interest in representing America’s broader National interests in the world will now be our Secretary of State. While ExxonMobil has always had its thumb on the scale of our State Department policies, never before has a CEO of a major oil company ever been suggested for this critically important public office.

Environmental Protection Agency:

I cannot think of a worse choice for EPA Administrator than Scott Pruitt. Pruitt has deep and troubling entanglements with the fossil fuel industry as Oklahoma’s Attorney General. He ignored thousands of Oklahoma homeowners who suffered structural damages from earthquakes-now occurring every 12 hrs.-caused by fracking injection wells. As Oklahoma’s Attorney General, he disassembled the environmental enforcement division and Pruitt led a Nationwide fight against EPA’s efforts to address climate change, toxic air pollution and to protect the waters of the US. I suspect the Koch Brothers are high-fiving over this announcement, as the fox will be put in charge of the chicken coop.

Department of Energy:

At the Department of Energy, Trump is replacing a brilliant Dr. Ernest Moniz with former Texas Governor Rick Perry who is best known for dancing with the stars and for promising to eliminate several federal agencies as a presidential candidate five years ago. When asked to name the agencies, Rick Perry forgot the Energy Department’s name and ended by saying “oops”. Perry’s A&M college transcript consisted mostly of C’s and D’s and contrasts with Moniz who has a Bachelor of Science degree summa cum laude in Physics from Boston College and a Doctorate in Theoretical Physics from Stanford University. Perry apparently hates efficiency and clean energy investments and hopes to abolish the energy department that oversees everything nuclear as well as a large and complex portfolio. What could go wrong with this appointment?

 The Jagged Rocks of Climate Change:

The World Meteorological Organization reported that the global temperature in 2016 is about 1.2C above pre-industrial levels, dangerously close to the 1.5C threshold of the Paris climate agreement. Last year set another new record as the hottest year in record keeping and not surprisingly, 2016 also set new records for severe and devastating weather. According to the American Red Cross: “the American Red Cross provided more assistance to the hundreds of thousands of people impacted by these disasters across the United States than in the past two years combined. In 2016, Red Cross volunteers responded to 180 significant disasters in 45 states and two U.S. territories including wildfires, storms, flooding, Hurricane Matthew and other emergencies…”

Things can only get much worse if the Trump administration pretends that the growing threats from storms, sea level rise, droughts and forest fires don’t exist or if they ignore the consequences of massive volumes of carbon pollution-trapping enormous amounts of heat and acidifying our oceans. Regardless of our political ideology, religion or worldview, there will be a severe price to be paid for silencing the bells of climate science.

 

 

 

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Trump and the Paris Accord

After 21 painful years of negotiations following the sabotaged Kyoto Climate Agreement, 191 countries finally found agreement on a new strategy to confront climate change and agreed to the Paris Climate Accord last December. Since then, the Paris Accord has been ratified by 82 nations with sufficient emissions to trigger the early launch of the Accord. It finally took effect on November 4th.

The goals of the Accord are to reduce greenhouse emissions, help countries adapt to wrenching changes brought about by a warming climate and finance projects in developing nations that repair damage wrought by climate change. The explicit goal is for all nations to work together to hold global average temperature increases to well below 3.6 °F (2 °C) above pre-industrial levels in an effort to avoid the vast damages caused by dangerous climate change.

President-elect Trump has vowed to pull the United States out of this historic agreement, and rescind the Clean Power Plan that requires coal-fired power plants to cut carbon pollution. That would be a tragedy for our country and our families. It would also be a huge lost opportunity to capitalize on the economic advantages of leading the transition to safe, clean energy.

Pennsylvania has a significant responsibility to cut carbon pollution. As the third largest carbon emitter in the nation, Pennsylvania produces about 2 days of the year’s worldwide total emissions. But Pennsylvania has much to gain from aggressively pursuing efforts to cut carbon emissions by committing to an ambitious effort to clean up our energy production by investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Pennsylvania already has 66,000 people working in clean energy industries – more than those employed in the coal and gas industries combined. With the right mix of state policies including strengthening our renewable energy and energy efficiency standards, giving renewable energy full access to the electricity grid, and fairly paying homeowners for the excess power they generate from rooftop solar power plants, we could significantly increase the jobs and the economic impact of clean energy.

But right now, that’s not the path our misdirected state legislature is taking. Under the influence of the shale gas and coal interests, the legislature has repeatedly tied the hands of the Wolf administration and the DEP to work on a rational climate plan or increase our renewable energy standards. They have attempted to significantly weaken our successful energy conservation program.

Pennsylvania clearly risks heading down a blind alley by investing in the wrong energy path promising enormous risks and stranded fossil fuel assets. There are 32 additional gas-powered plants proposed for Pennsylvania in various stages of consideration, development, and construction. The planning assumption going into these new plants is not based on growing urgency for constraining carbon emissions but is based solely on sufficient recoverable gas reserves and traditional capitalization considerations over the expected lifetime of new gas combustion turbines up to about 60 years. These assets along with the new pipelines, compressor stations and other gas appurtenances will not be viable in short order as we approach climate tipping points.

The stakes could not be higher. Thirty-one highly respected American scientific organizations recently came together to warn Congress: “If we are to avoid the most severe impacts of climate change, emissions of greenhouse gasses must be dramatically reduced. In addition, adaptation will be necessary to address those impacts that are already unavoidable.” The well-known former director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, Jim Hansen has gone so far as to warn, “2 degrees of warming is actually a prescription for long-term disaster”.

The Paris Accord is an important first step to move 191 nations in the direction of addressing our common future to avoid a long and growing list of catastrophic climate consequences. The Clean Power Plan offers a specific way forward, and Pennsylvania is in an enviable position to capitalize on the new economic development that a transition to clean energy offers. Working together we can and we must do our part as responsible stewards. To walk away from this vital work is both immoral and stupid. (Follow this on pennfuture.org)

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