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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As Fires and Floods Rage Two Worlds are Colliding

Global realities are profoundly disrupting old norms. There are now two distinct worlds. One is the natural world with its assemblage of plants, animals, soils, minerals air and waters, and the other is the built-world with all the corporate structures, institutions and infrastructures. Far too many are now living in the second world with little regard, connection or interest in the first.

It is hubris or profound ignorance to think we can live in the second world without regard for the first, yet that is where we are. A massive ecological debt is accumulating. Our neglect comes with a high price to all of nature and it will be paid by our children and grandchildren with compounding penalties.

Storm-impacted places like New York City, Houston, New Jersey Coast, North Carolina, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, Mariana Islands, and Mexico Beach, Florida just naming a few are paying heavily. NOAA calculated that just sixteen weather events in 2017 cost about $306.2 billion. Flooded communities and mudslides are a reminder that Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania will not immune to “rain-bombs” and oversized hurricanes.

A year ago, the U. S. Commerce Department estimated the annualized economic burden from wildfires between $71.1 billion to $347.8 billion. Fires in 2018 will surely set new records for death tolls with more than 87 deaths and 500 people still missing in California and untold property losses. California no longer has a fire season, it can burn year-round as a tinderbox with high winds and a single spark. The state has been in a seven-year drought and is just coming off of the hottest summer in record keeping. I was alarmed when I flew over a large swath of California in September and witnessed a brown and severely dried out chaparral and forest landscapes for as far as I could see in all directions. The canyon fires in Malibu Thousand Oaks, for example, were not forest fires but raging brush fires.

This is not so much about forest mismanagement but about climate mismanagement. While fuel culling needs to continue at the interface between the first and second world, no amount of timber management can overcome the fact that Western landscapes are drying out and overheating. Last year, fires in Oregon and Washington claimed an area the size of Maryland. Climate models have long predicted that the West will experience more heat, droughts, and therefore more wildfires. A California climate change assessment warned that California could see a 77% increase in the average area burned this century. The frequency of mega-wildfires burning more than 25,000 acres are likely to increase by about 50%.

This is just the beginning of our troubles. At this pace, the U.S. could soon be experiencing floods, crop and fire losses exceeding a trillion dollars in a single year. The world’s top climate scientists organized through the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have warned that we are running out of time to bend the curve on emissions to prevent dangerous levels that trigger the worst impacts of climate change when the world exceeds the 2° Celsius threshold.

By acting now we can still avoid a an unprecedented global disaster but we need to respond in the same way this Nation responded to the bombing of Pearl Harbor. During World War II, my mother, Margaret Malseed oversaw record keeping on Federal contracts for American Bridge Company. One of a number of Western Pennsylvania companies that devoted its full capacity to National Defense, American Bridge manufactured 199 LST’s, four aviation repair vessels, major components for eleven Essex Class Aircraft Carriers, seventy-seven C Type Cargo Ships, four tankers, twenty cargo lighters, and 348 knock-down barges. American Bridge also built strategic portable bridges for the Allies’ invasion.

Recognizing the full extent of the risks, we must respond with the same war-like footing. We cannot stop climate change by burning different kinds of fossil fuels. We must build a clean energy infrastructure including efficiency, solar, wind and many other market-ready innovations. I drive an electric car and power my home and car with wind and solar and believe we can do this but we need to move fast with aggressive policies and financial assistance for those who need it.

While too many lawmakers continue to deny climate change and refuse to act, there is also a pernicious idea in the political aether on both sides of the isle that we can slow-walk our way to carbon reductions, that we can just move from coal to frack-gas. The truth is, we are not on the path to reduce pollution and many will pay dearly for this failure of imagination.

Many youth are outraged by our inaction. In 2015, twenty-one youth filed a lawsuit called Juliana v. U.S., in the Oregon District Court asserting that the government’s inactions are causing climate change and violate their constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property, and fails to protect public trust resources. U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken in a ruling on a motion to dismiss wrote, “Exercising my ‘reasoned judgment,’ I have no doubt that the right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life is fundamental to a free and ordered society.”

The trial will not begin as originally scheduled because the Trump administration is using every legal tactic to stop the case from going forward. From the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to the Supreme Court, our government seeks to silence the youth and keep climate science out of the courtroom. In their latest attempt to throw sticks into the kid’s bicycle spokes, the Trump administration went back to the Ninth Circuit for a stay. Meanwhile, Judge Aiken indicated she would promptly issue a trial date once the Circuit Court lifts the stay. We must now either support the millennials or step aside so these leaders can create new solutions to long-ignored threats. If left unpaid, our ecological debt will wipe out their rightful inheritance.

*Larry Schweiger is the former President of National Wildlife Federation, PennFuture and Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and author of the award-winning book Last Chance: Preserving Life on Earth


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Bringing Back Gas Guzzlers? Certainly Not Making America Great Again

In 2012, I was honored by the BlueGreen Alliance for my role in establishing the Obama auto fuel efficiency standards. I was the only environmental leader to stand with the then CEO of GM to support the bailout in the spirit of transforming the auto industry. I share this not to take credit for rules that Trump’s EPA administrator Scott Pruitt is currently dismantling but to remind readers that the Obama auto rules will eliminate our need for foreign oil and the wars that they have spawned over the decades. It will also cut carbon dioxide emissions from autos by 50% by 2025 and it will greatly improve the air quality of every American city. Children will have less asthma.

By manufacturing efficient hybrids and electric cars, America would move to the front of the auto industry worldwide and assure jobs for millions of auto workers. In short, these rules were technology-forcing but achievable. By setting clear and firm goals, innovation happens. By setting goals, the auto industry is less driven by the fluctuations in gasoline prices and the uncertainty of an unstable Middle East. By setting goals, America can be the center of innovation with a growing number of jobs. It is important to note that the auto rules have not caused job losses but actually helped to increase the number of jobs in the industry.

The rest of the world is moving to electric cars and setting mandatory targets. The Trump administration doesn’t get this needed transition but we must. Screen Shot 2018-05-23 at 11.42.00 AM


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Replacing the Guardrails


By Larry Schweiger

Note: With so many unfathomable, discordant, and unsettling things emanating from the Trump administration, It is important that the numerous environmental threats and terrible actions summarized herein not get lost in the cacophony. We are losing much and we must work together as never before to find new ways to push back.

A number of years ago, my youngest daughter was driving back to college after her winter break and hit a patch of black ice and slid into the guardrails. I spent $500 replacing a single section of guardrail on I-79. I share this because I am watching the Trump administration ripping down critical environmental guardrails. Watching the loss of guardrail after guardrail the questions I have been wrestling with include: Can the guardrails be repaired or replaced? If so, at what cost? Is there such a thing as being too late?

Until the recent tax bill was signed, the many in the media had been suggesting that Trump isn’t getting anything done. That was simply not true. While Trump was distracting us with his perverse tweets and endless lies, important regulations have been rolled back and many cases, ending completely at an astounding rate. The Trump administration has been demonizing government, reminiscent of Ronald Reagan’s rhetoric but their actions go far beyond Reagan’s. As Steve Bannon once boasted, the Trump appointees are “deconstructing the administrative state” at a pace that is hard to follow and even harder to resist.

At EPA under Scott Pruitt, we are witnessing the abandonment of the Clean Water Rules, the retreat from the Paris Accord, moving to end the Clean Power Plan and the endangerment findings, gutting the highly successful auto rules, the national clean air guidelines and on and on I could go. Harvard University has created an environmental rollback tracker that has identified 40 environmental protections. You can sign up for alerts at (http://environment.law.harvard.edu/…/regulatory-rollback-t…/)

The failure to enforce existing law and the many inadequate settlements of prior enforcement actions coupled with the stripping of publically funded climate science from their websites is and should be a continuing outrage. Despite the legacy of abandoned mines and polluted waterways in virtually every state where coal has been mined, the administration will not require the mining industry to provide financial assurances demonstrating that they have the capacity to clean up any and all pollution caused by mining. We are witnessing a race to the bottom with dark money and its appointed surrogates in charge of the very agencies that were created to protect our environment.

The tax bill got a lot of attention for the way it further advantaged the super wealthy and further concentrated wealth even more at a time when there is already grave inequities. What got very little if any coverage in the midst of this was the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge give away. To buy Senator Lisa Murkowski’s vote for a bad tax bill, the Arctic Refuge was put up for oil development as an offset to some of the tax cuts for the wealthy. This is America’s last remaining pristine Serengeti covering 29,800 square miles of untrammeled wilderness will now be exploited by the oil interests who will destroy the core calving area of the Porcupine Caribou herd that has been finding insect relief along the coastal plain for millennia. The coastal plain is critical mosquito relief habitat considered by the Gwich’in people to be sacred for 20,000 years.

Adding insult to this ecological injury, U. S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has put virtually all of the off-shore waters up for oil and gas leasing. While he was forced by their Republican lawmakers to retreat on the waters off the Florida coast for political reasons, the remaining waters are put at risk while Zinke abandoned all the important rules put in place after the disastrous BP oil spill and he has scaled back the enforcement and monitoring procedures put in place to avoid another massive spill. Lessons learned from the BP spill are soon forgotten.

At the request of Utah’s uranium industry and other special interests, Zinke cut the heart out of two important monuments (Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante) so they can be leased for mineral development. He diminished the size of a total of six monuments including the lifting of fishing restrictions in a critical ocean sanctuary established by George W. Bush.

In another disgusting action, Zinke doubled the cost of entering a National Park to seventy dollars and in seventeen parks the fee will be seventy-five dollars. These fees will be prohibitive for many young families, for minorities and especially for the poor struggling to just make ends meet. Even before the doubling of the fees, only seven percent of the visitors to the parks were black according to a survey commissioned by the National Park Service. Do we really want our National Parks to be restricted to a privileged few?

Nine of 12 members of the Congressionally sanctioned National Park System Advisory Board resigned because Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke ignored the board for a year. The committee established in 1935 has been vital to the Park Service. In recent years the committee has advised the Interior Department on how to deal with global warming, emphasized the need to protect American historical sites and advised the service on how to encourage more young people to the parks.

If that was not enough, Zinke announced on December 22, 2017, that he has come up with a new legal interpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act that strictly prohibits the unregulated killing of birds. Migratory birds landing on toxic waste impoundments often associated with fracking are often killed and have been treated as a violation of the law. The Zinke memorandum reinterprets the Migratory Bird Treaty Act to allow corporations to kill migratory birds outside of carefully established seasons and bag limits contrary to the long-standing interpretation by every administration since 1970.

Trump just put a 30% tariff on solar panels imported from China. This pushes the cost of solar higher. He is just one year in and we must expect more damaging environmental policies. Those of us deeply concerned with the environment must come to the realization that we must become much more active politically and begin to work with those seeking fundamental reforms to restore our democracy.

The environment will not be protected until we address the broken democracy. Environmentalists like so many Americans are shell-shocked. It’s a much more complicated situation and we are forced to dig deeper into our plight and find pathways to recover our floundering democracy. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court took an important first step this week overthrowing one of the most egregious gerrymandered Congressional districts in the country. Much more must be done.

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Save the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: America’s Serengeti

There is another really big reason to oppose the tax break for the corporations and super-rich.

The GOP is buying the vote of Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) by forcing the leases for drilling in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge NWR and because it will produce some Federal revenue, including money for every Alaskan, it is eligible for inclusion in the awful budget reconciliation package that includes Republicans’ tax plan and a repeal of the Obamacare individual mandate.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is America’s Serengeti—it’s our last chance to protect a vast wilderness from the oil industry. Some history of this long fight for the Arctic Refuge. Ross Leffler, one of National Wildlife Federation’s founders, and later the NWF’s elected President during the launch of Ranger Rick and National Wildlife magazines, served in the Eisenhower administration as the first Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks. (President Eisenhower created that title for his long-time fishing companion and respected volunteer conservationist.)

At the urging of his professional fish and wildlife staff and with growing public support lead by a coalition of noted conservationists headed by Margaret and Olaus Murie, Leffler proposed to the President that he establish the Arctic Range Wildlife Refuge as part of his conservation legacy.

Since the first U.S. Geological Survey conducted in 1923 to 1925 hinted at potential oil reserves under the Arctic plain portion of the proposed refuge, oil industry lobbyists expressed interest to the administration in exploring for oil in the Arctic coastal plain. To avoid that fight for the time, it was not included in the original Eisenhower wildlife range designation in 1960.

The coastal plain of the Arctic Wildlife Refuge, is a critical swath of tundra habitat on the northern Alaska coast, as it is home to polar bears and is vital habitat for the porcupine caribou herd. The Gwitchens also known as the Caribou People, consider this a sacred place because they understand it’s critical role in providing insect relief for wildlife. They have protected this area for 20,000 years.

In the late 70’s and during 1980 in a heroic effort led by Tom Kimball, the National Wildlife Federation was a key player bridging sportsmen who were being pulled away by Congressman John Dingell, and the NRA (that was funded by oil interests at the time). Kimball worked tirelessly to secure critical votes in Congress. The passage of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act protecting much of Alaska and expanding the Arctic Wildlife Refuge.

Kimball worked with Congressman Mo Udall, President Jimmy Carter and the Alaska Coalition to pass the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act that protected more lands than any single act in American history with over 100 million acres of new parks and refuges and tripled the size of the American Wilderness system. As part of the final compromise, Congress designated the 19 million-acre area a wildlife refuge in 1980, but it set aside a 1.5-million-acre parcel known in Section 10-02 for possible drilling if future lawmakers approved such a plan. For decades, we have fought back attempts to raid the wildlife refuge for oil.

A study was later authorized and U.S. Geological Survey estimated in 1998 that part of ANWR could hold up to 12 billion barrels of oil but wildlife scientists have long warned that the oil development would have a profound impact on the Arctic Caribou Herd. Trump and the Republicans have called it essential for American fossil fuel “energy dominance” in the face of an overheating world that needs to keep carbon in the ground.

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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.


     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 | |


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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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