One World House (July 28, 2013)
During the first year of my life, Martin Luther King, Jr. published an essay titled “The World House” in which he called on all of us to work together to eradicate the evils of racism, poverty, and war. In that essay, he wrote these words, “We have inherited a large house, a great ’world house’ in which we have to live together—black and white, Easterner and Westerner, Gentile and Jew, Catholic and Protestant, Muslim and Hindu—a family unduly separated in ideas, culture and interest, who, because we can never again live apart, must learn somehow to live with each other in peace.” – (Martin Luther King, Jr., from his “World House” essay in Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community, 1967.)
Although we may be from many different religions and cultural backgrounds, we share this one planet, this one world house, of which we are all a part. And, unlike other kinds of houses, if we destroy our world house, we cannot simply move to another house or build a new one. This one world house is the only one we have. There are no Mulligans when it comes to caring for the household of our planet – there are no “do overs” – we have to get it right the first time because it is the only time we have. We share the awesome responsibility of making sure the world house we have inherited will be enjoyed by generations of life to come, humans and nonhumans alike, and persons from all faiths and no faith. If we do not accept this responsibility, our children and their children might look back on our generation and ask the questions, “What were you thinking? Did you not care enough about us to give us a house that is filled with peace and with justice and with abundance of life? Were you so caught up in yourselves and your consumption that you failed to see what you were doing to our home? Were you so short-sighted and self-absorbed to think that whatever enjoyment you experienced from the excesses of your lifestyles warranted the devastation of our planet?” I hope that our children will not have to ask these questions, but this will only happen if our hopes are expressed in actions that move us in new directions, actions that take care of this one planet that is our only home.
It is mind boggling how much damage we have already done to our planet in such a short period of time. On a planet that has existed for 4.6 billion years or so, we have only existed as a species for a couple of hundred thousand years or so. For most of that time we had very little impact on the global environment, but recently that has changed. In less than a blip of geologic time, so minute as to be almost no time at all, we have contributed to a mass extinction of species and we are changing the very climate of the earth itself. Conservative estimates are that the extinction rate caused by humans is 100 to 1000 times the normal background extinction rate. We have been around such a short time, but we have not been very well-behaved members of the household. If the non-human members of our household had a vote on whether we should stay or leave – let’s just say that it is good for us that they don’t have the vote on that one.
I hope that our legacy will not be the sixth great extinction on our planet and the only one brought about by the activities of a single species. I hope that we might be able to turn away from our ways of living that bring more death to the world than life. I hope that we will be able to think thousands and millions of years into the future and think about all species of life rather than just thinking about our own generation of human persons. I hope that persons from all religions and all cultures might be able to work together for the renewal of our planet. I hope that we will be able to see that we must somehow learn to live with each other in peace. I hope that we might be able to see that although we may be from many religions or even from no religion, we are members of one planet. Let us love it and love each other, let us work together for justice for all of its inhabitants, let us live in ways that allow all life to flourish, and let us create a global interfaith ecumenical movement to care for our one world house by creating true peace, eradicating poverty, and sustaining our planet.
Carrying Capacity: Rethinking Economics (The Laws of the World House) (July 29, 2013)
In the midst of all our concern about the economy, taxes, the deficit, and our national debt, we have ignored the more pressing issue of whether our current forms of economic activity can be sustained by the carrying capacity of the planet. Unless and until we address this fundamental issue, we will not be able to avoid both ecological and economic collapse at some point in the near future. We are at a critical point in human civilization’s relationship with our one and only home, a point where we either understand that we have to live in balance and peace with each other and all of life, or we will see this be the century of suffering like no other.
In all of our economic, political, social, and personal choices, the time has long been here that we need to ask the critical question, “Are we relating to each other and with the rest of the planet in ways that are sustainable?” The foundations of our current social, political, and economic systems were laid at a time when the carrying capacity of the planet was not at the forefront of anyone’s minds. As Adam Smith discussed the role of the invisible hand in our economic interactions, as John Locke praised the transformation of wilderness into valuable property through human labor, as Francis Bacon dreamed of how human beings might be able to continue conquering nature through scientific advancement and technological manipulation, as René Descartes thought of non-human animals as natural machines with no intrinsic value, and as Immanuel Kant thought of the natural world simply as a means to be used for human ends; none of these foundational thinkers dreamed of the day when human activity would press against the very carrying capacity of the planet, the capacity of the planet to support human activity in a sustainable manner.
But that time has come, it is here, and it has been here for some time. In the United States, we have internalized the foundations of the current paradigm in such a way that resistance against it seems to be un-American in the eyes of many who cry out that Green is the new Red, but the reality of our current situation reveals that unless we find ways to creatively transform our current economic activity towards sustainability, we will find ourselves continuing on the path towards unparalleled global suffering. For the sake of all life, we have the moral responsibility to find new and sustainable ways forward.
The Climate Change Priority (August 20, 2013)
There can be no sustainable peace, there can be no sustainable justice, and there can be no sustainable prosperity without a sustainable environment. The Ecological Imperative is that we must sustain the environment for all other values to be sustained. This is not in any way to diminish the values of peace, justice, and prosperity. It is simply to say that ecological sustainability is the necessary precondition for the long-term enjoyment of all other values. It is the foundation upon which all of the other values within our world house are built.
The greatest threat to the stability of this foundation of ecological sustainability is anthropogenic climate change. I will not argue the science in this particular post. There is a vast array of peer-reviewed scientific literature that lays out the evidence for climate change. If we do not take systemic, radical, and global action to stop and reverse climate change, we will continue to force our way out of 10,000 years of relative climate stability and likely be unable to avoid catastrophic climate change that will threaten all human life and a large percentage of all species. Unfortunately, there are strong indications that damaging climate change is inevitable based on the amount greenhouse gases we have already emitted. We are likely at the point where our only hope is to avoid catastrophic climate change while simultaneously adjusting to the damaging warming that is inevitable.
We must find the political will and the compassion for each other and all life that is necessary to be “all in” on the work to avoid catastrophic climate change. This is both the measure of the greatness of our generation and the precondition for future generations to experience flourishing. No matter what else we do (and there is much else to do to enhance the value of life in the world), we must come together and act as one humanity for the sake of all humanity and all life and take action on climate change. If we are not all in on addressing climate change, we are condemning our children and grandchildren to be all out of the foundation that is necessary to enjoy all other values and to enjoy life itself. At this point in time, it is not possible to be a moral generation without addressing climate change with our all.
Cherry Picking (August 24, 2013)
Cherry picking data is a common practice of persons and groups who are denying climate change and/or denying that we are facing an ecological crisis in general. This is simultaneously bad science and morally irresponsible. It is bad science because good science looks at all of the evidence to come to the most appropriate conclusions about experience rather than choosing only those bits of data or small sets of data that agree with our ideology. It is morally irresponsible because it represents a a willful refusal to see the reality of our situation, and this contributes to our not taking appropriate steps as a society to address our serious ecological problems. The data cherry pickers are more focused on sowing the seeds of doubt about sound science for their own economic interests than they are about coming to the most evidence-based scientific conclusions.
The practice of cherry picking data is so widespread and so obvious among apologists for the coal and oil industries that one would think more people would recognize and reject what they are doing. Unfortunately, as numerous surveys have shown, a large percentage of persons in the United States do not accept some of the most evidence-based conclusions of the science (see http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/22/opinion/welcome-to-the-age-of-denial.html?smid=fb-share&_r=0). Much of this denial of science is reinforced by both religious fundamentalism and greed. Those who reject the science based on greed often tap into the widespread religious fundamentalism for support of the denial so they can continue practices that are contributing to our ecological crisis but also contributing to their wealth. In my opinion, those who act out of greed are more morally responsible for perpetuating our ecological crisis than those who are primarily motivated by fundamentalism, but the two groups often act in tandem to promote a culture of denial in relation to the best science of the day. I was able to see this in practice firsthand yesterday when I attended a community forum and panel discussion on “EPA regulations and Your Pocketbook” sponsored by Americans for Prosperity. The denial of science based on greed and reinforced by fundamentalism was on full display with all the concomitant cherry picking of data that such denial entails.
Our inability to come to an understanding of the reality of our ecological crisis and the pressing need to address it is exacerbated by inadequate science education in our society, with the US ranking far down the list in science learning outcomes among highly industrialized nations. Denial based on the factors of the inability to know the world scientifically, greed, and fundamentalism is making it extremely difficult to muster the political will to make the necessary changes to address our ecological crisis effectively. If you are unsure about claims being made in relation to climate science and the effects of human activity on the environment in general, it is helpful to ask yourself whether the claim being made is taking into account the widest amount of evidence possible or are the proponents of the claim involved in the practice of cherry picking data. Avoiding an analysis of all the data and evidence before making a claim or conclusion is a fairly reliable sign that the conclusion is based on ideology rather than sound science. Be skeptical of the data cherry pickers.
Cooperative Flourishing (August 29, 2013)
The field of evolutionary biology provides evidence that collaboration is even more important than competition in the evolution of diverse and healthy ecosystems. It is not just about survival of the fittest; it is more importantly about the flourishing of cooperation. I think there is a lesson to learn here for our human social systems and for our relationship to the broader ecological community. Given that we are members of ecosystems and the natural world in general, this importance of cooperation also applies to our participation within local ecosystems and within the global biosphere as a whole. Competition has a place in the development of a good society, but without at least an equal emphasis on collaboration, we will not be able to create the kind of society that will allow for sustainable flourishing of human communities within ecological communities.
Too much competition in an ecosystem can actually lead to imbalance and instability, and too much competition in human community can lead to the inability for persons to enter into bonds of trust and community that promote the common good. Too much competition may even lead to violence and to war. If there is too much emphasis on competition in human community, it can diminish the capacity for persons to experience empathy for one another. A disturbing trend among entering college freshmen in the United States is that they have become significantly less empathetic over the past three decades – 48% less empathetic according to the study referenced here: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/27/fashion/27StudiedEmpathy.html?_r=0. Is the decrease in empathy a result of the cultivation of a culture of competition rather than a culture of collaboration? Could it also be that we have become more comfortable relating to various forms of technology rather than cultivating personal relationships with one another? In either case, the resulting lack of empathy will likely make the collaboration needed to address our current global challenges even more difficult.
Our global problems are complex and systemic in nature. The culture of competition has not proven effective by itself in addressing our global ecological problems. For human community to be healthy, stable, and sustainable, we need to take a lesson from evolution and become a more cooperative society that intentionally finds ways of caring for one another and caring for the planet. What is needed to cultivate the empathetic and collaborative society that is needed to make the significant changes necessary to avoid ecological and economic collapse and the tearing of our social fabric? This is one of the most urgent questions of our time. The collaborative and increasingly widespread efforts of those attempting to take the threat of climate change seriously provide some hope that a significant empathetic shift is a possibility. It is important that we join and enhance these ongoing collaborative efforts for a more sustainable future.
A Great Society (September 6, 2013)
For me a great society is one in which peace and nonviolence, social justice and equal opportunity, and ecological sustainability are core values.
In a great society, all persons would have equal access to healthcare, equal access to education, equal access to the political process, and equal access to pursuing happiness in marriage.
In a great society, poverty would be seen as an urgent problem to be solved, and private prisons based on profit would be seen as moral failure.
In a great society, there would be a human dignity net to insure that people do not go without shelter, clothing, and food.
In a great society, there would be a balance between competition and collaboration and a recognition that we are all members of both the human and ecological communities and that our flourishing depends on our working together for the common good for all.
In a great society, we would be concerned not only for our generation, but for all generations to come.
In a great society, instead of arguing about whether we are the greatest society, we would be more concerned about simply making sure that we are a better society today than we were yesterday and that we will be better tomorrow than we are today.
I believe we can be a great society.
Prayer (September 20, 2013)
I was not able to make it through some of the Taizé chants in chapel today. This sometimes happens to me because any time I am in a Taizé service it reminds me of one of the most meaningful five months of my life at the Bossey Ecumenical Institute of the World Council of Churches in Switzerland in 1990-91. At Bossey, 51 of us from 33 different countries gathered to sing Taizé chants twice a day almost every day in morning and evening community prayers. My whole experience of living, studying, playing, and praying together with so many wonderful and diverse persons at Bossey was one of the most vivid moments for me of recognizing that we are part of one world house, and even with all of our differences, there are ways for us to be in deep community with one another. That sense of a profound togetherness of all humanity overwhelmed me as I was singing chants today in chapel, and there were tears of memory and tears of joy as I thought about my experience at Bossey 23 years ago.
But the tears that were stronger today were not the tears of memory and joy of looking back to the past. The tears that broke into my singing and which at times made my singing inaudible were tears of anticipation of the future for my children and their children and for all the other children of the world. I think some of my tears came from fear for the world we are leaving them.
Looking at the reality of what we are doing right now to our planet, it is difficult to have hope that we will be able to do what we have to do to avoid having our children and their children live in a world of very great suffering. Those who are my age may see a good deal of this suffering in our lives as well. We cannot seem as people of this planet to grasp the enormity of the suffering we are creating for ourselves and those who are to come.
Today I cried tears of grief for the future. It does not appear that we are capable of doing what needs to be done on our own to avoid ecological and economic collapse and the suffering this will bring. So, I am at the point of hoping that there is some spirit of love, some spirit of goodness, some spirit of community, some spirit of beauty, some spirit of compassion, that will somehow in some way stir our hearts and stir our communities to help us do what we don’t seem to be able to do ourselves. This is my prayer today, a prayer that comes with many tears.
Letter to my Grandchildren (September 26, 2013)
My Dear Grandchildren,
As I write this letter to you, you are many years away from your first breath in this world, but I know that I am connected to you. My actions now and the actions of the other people on this planet with me are shaping the life that is yet to come for you. I am holding you in my heart today with great concern because We/I are not doing enough to make sure that you will live in a world in which your greatest potential for flourishing as a person will be possible. We are creating a world in which the diversity, beauty, and value you will experience will be diminished. We are increasing the possibility that your world will experience much more suffering than joy. We are harming you by not finding ways to live within the abundance that our earth provides.
In writing this letter to you, I am searching for ways to make my connection and commitment to you more present in my current experience. I am searching for ways to contribute to your life so that you may have even more opportunities for joy than I have had in my own. In writing this letter, I am searching for ways to love you across time so that you may experience a life of love and joy and opportunity. If nothing else, I hope this letter will be a tangible reminder of my connection to you and that everything I do in my life will have an effect on you in your life.
I am committing to you today to change the things that I am doing to diminish the life you will experience. I am committing to you today to be even more intentional about living within the abundance that earth provides so that you may also experience its abundance. I am committing to you today to work to change structures and practices that are harming your life. You are not physically here with me yet, but you and I are connected, and I owe you my all to enhance rather than diminish the joy in your life.
I do not know if we will collectively be able to shape the world that you deserve to experience, but I will find ways to do everything I can with others around me to make that world a reality for you. If we are not able to shape the world that you deserve, I pray that you may still be able to find and share love in the world you have and that you may somehow contribute to a better world for your children and grandchildren. We are all connected. For all that I have left undone to enhance your life, I am sorry from the depths of my heart. But today, I commit to you to do all that is possible to love you with all of the actions of the rest of my life.
I love you already. May love and joy always be present to you.
Consequences (September 26, 2013)
“All persons ought to consider and, on the whole, approve the foreseeable consequences of each of their choices. Stated otherwise: Choose with a view to the long run, not merely the present act” (Edgar S. Brightman, Moral Laws, New York: Abingdon Press, 1933, p. 142).
Long-term thinking concerning consequences is a critical component to ecologically responsible policy and behavior. Short-term satisfaction of our desires often leads to detrimental long-term consequences for the ecological community. Given our advances in science and technology and our increased ability to manipulate and affect the environment on a grand scale, it is particularly important to guide our science and technology with wisdom that incorporates a view of the long-term consequences of our action. Such a view is expressed in the Iroquois wisdom of thinking about the effect of our actions on seven generations into the future.
Our current human caused ecological crisis is the result of a litany of short-term gratifications trumping long-term ecological sustainability. To satisfy our need for paper and wood, we have decimated the old growth forest ecosystems of the world, when thought for long-term consequences could have led to sustainable forestry, paper recycling, and the use of alternative and more efficient sources of making paper. To gratify our desires for cheap and convenient transportation, we have overused non-renewable energy sources and polluted our air with gases that have long-term consequences on the temperature of the earth’s atmosphere. To satisfy our needs for energy to power our homes and other buildings, we have often taken the easy short-term path of continuing to use fossil fuels rather than making the long-term investment in more renewable and sustainable energy sources. To satisfy the nutritional needs of an ever-growing population, we have become increasingly dependent on pesticides, some causing widespread problems. Presently, we are genetically altering many of our crops and livestock to more effectively meet the demand for food, but much care is needed to address the long-term consequences of such activity. To satisfy our appetite for more meat in our diet, we have committed ourselves to food production practices that require more energy and more water and that are not conducive to long-term sustainability.
Our moral responsibility to look at long-term consequences challenges us to temper our desires for immediate or short-term satisfaction with a consideration for long-term ecological sustainability. May we take the moral responsibility to think seven generations into the future and beyond.
Our Endowment (September 28, 2013)
When one receives an endowment, sound fiscal policy dictates that only the interest from the principal be used. A prudent manager of the endowment would invest at least a portion of the interest back into the endowment principal in order to increase the holdings and the future earning potential. If, over time, the interest and a portion of the principal are spent each year, the endowment will slowly disappear and no longer be of use.
The earth is our natural endowment. For centuries we lived primarily off the interest, using those resources that were constantly renewed by the natural endowment. Unfortunately, we are now making major cuts into the principal, and the inheritance we are leaving future generations is significantly less than what we have received. Our responsibility to future generations challenges us to return to a more sound ecological endowment policy.
Systemic Shift (May 26, 2014)
A series of systemic shifts has brought us to this time in which human beings are overwhelming the carrying capacity of the planet, and it will take nothing less than a global systemic shift for us to avoid completing earth’s sixth great extinction, which our actions have already begun. Systemic shifts in agriculture, science, technology, economics, energy use, transportation, and global politics have all contributed to the unsustainable present we now experience, and systemic shifts in all these aspects of our global community will be necessary for creating a sustainable future.
While it is true that each of us as individuals has a responsibility to reduce our personal ecological footprint, it will be impossible for us to reduce our collective ecological footprint unless we find the social, spiritual, and political will to make systemic changes that will put sustainable living within the reach of the vast majority of human beings on the planet. As it stands, it is quite difficult to live as persons within our current systems in a sustainable way. We are dependent on social, economic, and political systems that are not conducive to the long-term survival and flourishing of our species. Our energy sources, food production practices, and transportation systems make it difficult to function and flourish in today’s world without cutting into the corpus of our ecological endowment. There might be some among us with the skills, knowledge, and commitment to significantly lessen their individual ecological footprints, but the vast majority of us will never get there without major systemic help.
Living in Oklahoma City in my home state of Oklahoma in the United States reminds me daily of the importance of systems for sustainable community. I live in one of the largest cities in the United States in terms of land area, and the sprawl makes the creation of a sustainable city extremely challenging. The vast majority of Oklahoma City’s citizens are dependent on cars for transportation. Mass transportation is neither widespread nor convenient, and it is non-existent later in the evenings and on Sundays. City ordinances curtail many sustainable urban farming practices, and our state’s environmental laws and practices are influenced greatly by oil and gas companies and by corporate agriculture. No matter how much I or others do as individuals, our city will never be sustainable without systemic change.
Oklahoma City’s unsustainability is but one of countless examples in our world in which the current systems hinder ways of living that allow us to live within the carrying capacity of our one world house. If the systemic unsustainability we currently experience continues even a few more decades, we will have likely missed the window of opportunity for systemic shift to avoid both economic and ecological collapse, a collapse that will be exacerbated by and accelerated by the effects of global climate change.
Will we be present enough to the energy and power of compassion to make the systemic shift that will allow life to flourish? I believe we can be, but the challenges are great. Precisely at the time in which we need greater political participation by all of the people for systemic change, we find ourselves at a point when corporate influence and control of political and economic practices are waxing rather than waning. The challenge of our time will be to quickly move to just, peaceful, participatory, and sustainable systems that enable us to live on the abundant interest of our planet’s ecological endowment. This is the most important task of our brief time as a species on this wondrous planet. We must see the importance and the complexity of the task before us and act with urgency, hope, and wisdom. There is no other time but now, and we are the people to do it.
The Make or Break Decade (July 18, 2014)
When it comes to addressing climate change (or any other moral problem for that matter), we need to want to do what we ought to do and then develop the means to actually do it. A major challenge we face right now is that the corporate influence on media, politics, and even the processes of education in our society makes it difficult for many persons to understand what we ought to do, much less how it is that we actually can do it. My hope is that most of us want to do the right thing, but we have to find ways to counter the influence of those who profit greatly from not doing the right thing and who want to keep the rest of us confused about what it is that we ought to do.
It is past time to recognize that the “debate” about climate change is not a scientific debate. It is a debate between those who accept the vast scientific evidence that climate change is real and is caused by human activities and those who promote or accept the vast misinformation campaign about climate change funded by the very corporations who have the most to gain from rejecting it. While this debate is occurring, inaction in relation to climate change threatens the well-being of all life on our planet.
We are living in a window of opportunity that is quickly closing in which we must make systemic shifts in our energy use and economic activity in order to mitigate the most severe consequences of climate change. If we as a society were truly awake to the reality of what human activity is doing to our global climate, the sense of urgency would be overwhelming. We should have had a sense urgency about climate change decades ago, but if we do not do something significant and systemic this decade, it is almost unbearable to think about the consequences. Many persons are aware of the reality and are making every effort to wake the rest of us up before it is too late. Efforts are often made to mock these persons or discredit them, but they are the prophets of our time. The window of opportunity available to us is so small that our sense of urgency must be expressed in the most effective and strategic actions possible in order to make the necessary systemic shift happen as quickly as possible for the sake of all life.
We must be realistic about what we are up against in relation to this the greatest moral challenge in the history of humankind. We are up against corporations that collectively have trillions of dollars to gain by the unabated exploitation of fossil fuels. The sums of money are so massive that the persons who control and support these corporations will do almost anything to make sure that their access to the fossil fuels remains unhindered. They will pour billions of dollars into political processes and into media in order to protect the trillions of dollars to be made on fossil fuels. Up to this point, the corporate leaders of the fossil fuel industry and their supporters have been quite effective in confusing the public and stifling the political will that is necessary for real systemic change.
This is the stark reality that we are facing. We cannot be naïve about this. The will and the ability of the fossil fuel industry to obfuscate the debate are great. It will take even greater will, a sense of great urgency, and an effective movement of millions if not billions of persons globally to move towards the climate responsibility that is necessary. This is the most important work of our time. The very future of all life depends on what we do in the next decade to come. We must all find ways to be a part of this movement and make it is as effective as possible so that life may flourish in the years to come. It is the only way forward to a more just, peaceful, and sustainable future.
Education for Human Flourishing in Ecological Community (July 20, 2014)
The primary goal of education in general and higher education in particular has been human flourishing. The Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle referred to this goal, this telos, as Eudaimonia. For Aristotle, the Eudaimonia is the goal of every human being and entails cultivating our moral and intellectual virtues as means for living the good life as persons within a community of other persons. Education is the cultivation of these virtues, these good habits of human living. The key question for higher education today is: “How can it contribute to human flourishing and cultivate the moral and intellectual virtues needed to address the great global challenges we are facing?” For higher education to be effective in contributing to human flourishing in our global community, it must first recognize the need for expanding our notion of community and hence our notion of what it means for that community to flourish. Human flourishing is not just the flourishing of human persons in human community, it is the flourishing of human persons within ecological community. We know that human persons cannot flourish for long unless the ecological community of which we are all a part is also flourishing.
If human flourishing within the context of a flourishing ecological community is seen as the goal of higher education, then it is imperative (a moral responsibility even) for higher education to address the global challenges of peace, poverty, social justice, and sustainability that directly affect human flourishing within our ecological community. These challenges are not peripheral to higher education; they are at the very core of education that promotes human flourishing. They are at the very core of education that contributes to the good society within the broader ecological community.
The crises of violence, injustice, poverty, and ecological devastation in our world require an urgent response from higher education as well as from all other sectors of the human community. The current ways that human communities are living in the world are not sustainable, and it is the task of higher education to contribute to finding sustainable ways of flourishing with each other within the ecological community. To borrow from Martin Luther King, Jr., the “urgency of now” has never been greater. Each day, year, and decade that passes without systemic change in the human community contributes to less peace, less justice, and less flourishing for present and future generations of all life. The reality of climate change and its effects on the ecological community make the need for systemic change the greatest moral challenge in human history, for we are affecting the very context in which any flourishing is even possible.
The sense of urgency in higher education must be focused on finding effective, organized, strategic, and systemic action to address the global challenges that threaten persons-in-ecological-community. University and college communities can become models for sustainable human flourishing in their curricular, co-curricular, and operational initiatives. University/Community Partnerships, research, and advocacy for sustainability are all a part of morally responsible higher education in our time. The energy, intellect, and creativity of the entire university community are needed.
As Bill McKibben recently pointed out through the analogy of American football, we are down three or four touchdowns in the last part of the fourth quarter when it comes to addressing the systemic problems that threaten human flourishing within ecological community, especially when it comes to climate change. McKibben says that we cannot afford to be satisfied with a few solid ground gains through the line. Rather we need to “throw some long, unlikely passes.” http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2014/jul/10/climate-will-we-lose-endgame/ It is the moral responsibility of higher education and all of us to throw these passes for the sake of all persons-in-ecological community. The passes should not simply be thrown up for grabs. The routes taken and passes attempted should be strategic and planned for maximum success. Not all of the passes will be complete, but our children, grandchildren, and future generations of all life are depending on our making strategic, creative, and effective attempts.
Strategic Urgency (July 31, 2014)
Recently, one of my heroes, Bill McKibben (a lover of wisdom, one of the most effective and committed climate change activists, and founder of 350.0rg) pointed out that when it comes to addressing climate change it is like we are in the last half of the fourth quarter of an American football game, and we are down by the two or three touchdowns. He said that we are at a point in the game when we can no longer afford to rely on solid ground gains through the line. What is needed, McKibben rightly claims, is for us to make some surprising passes, or it will soon be “game over” in relation to doing anything to mitigate the most extreme consequences of climate change. McKibben’s football analogy is a clear way of highlighting the great urgency of now when it comes to the needed action to reduce dramatically the emission of greenhouse gases.
Taking this analogy further, not only do we need some surprising passes to win in this most important challenge of our time, we need the passes to be the best possibly thrown passes we can throw. The passing routes need to be run to precision, and the plays that are called must be the most effective and strategic plays that we can possibly call. Our team must work together as well as ever to make the great climate responsibility comeback that is needed. We cannot simply throw the ball up for grabs. That may be needed in the last seconds in the game (hopefully we are not there yet – sadly we may be). Unfortunately, long passes to the end zone with seconds left are rarely effective.
We need a sense of urgency combined with strategy to complete the surprising passes we need – Strategic Urgency. We also need all of the players to give their all to their particular roles and positions in the game. We are not all quarterbacks, receivers, or coaches; but we all have extremely important roles to play. It is time (past time) to be all in! We may not be able to make the systemic changes needed to address climate change (the situation is both dire and extremely complex, with powerful forces attempting to make our passes incomplete), but we certainly will not prevail if we do not give it our all. In the end, if we can come together to complete the passes needed, all persons and all life will be the winners – even the opposing team.
As with all analogies, this one has its limitation. Football is primarily a sport for men, and the work of addressing climate change is clearly the work of all persons. Also, football is one of the most violent games of our time. The work of addressing climate change should be non-violent, creative, and appeal to the best, most loving, and most just aspects of our humanity. We should not lose our humanity in the effort to save humanity and all life. That being said, we do need to be all in, and we do need an intense sense of strategic urgency.
Right Where They Want Us? (August 3, 2014)
In looking at the reality of climate change, it is so complex and so systemic that it is difficult at times to see clearly how we as individuals can effect any meaningful change to address the challenge. Even for those persons who are committed to making a difference, there is the temptation to believe that no matter what we do as individuals, the systems of our society will make it impossible to make a real difference. For some this leads to a feeling of impotence over against the magnitude of the crisis that manifests itself in various modes of inaction. The feeling of impotence and consequent inaction are grounded in an overwhelming sense that the systems cannot be changed by me or us as individuals. The social, economic, and political systems on local, national, and international levels seem too entrenched, and the forces at work to preserve these systems seem too powerful for us as individuals to make a real systemic difference.
I think all of us who care deeply about climate change have experienced moments of despair that it is simply “too much,” that the challenge is simply too great for us to be able to make the changes quickly and effectively enough to avoid the worst consequences. I know that I struggle with these feelings all of the time, and I think it is natural to have these feelings in the face of the daunting challenges that we face. However, when I find myself wallowing in these feelings and the anxiety and inaction that come with them, I find myself thinking: “They have me right where they want me!” The persons who want to preserve the status quo in relation to climate change want you and me to think that there is no way that we can make a difference, and they actively foster a sense that there is no way to make the systemic shifts necessary.
So, perhaps it is partly out of a sense of defiance, but I would like to think that it is more out of a sense of hope, that those of us who know climate change is real and dangerous stand up and say with our words and our actions: We will not give in to the temptation of believing that we cannot make a difference! We will not give up on the work of making a better world for future generations of all life! We will be “ALL IN” to do the work in our personal lives, our families, our communities, our nations, and our world! We will never give up on our work for justice for future generations! Our cries for justice for all life will continue! We will continue to find ways to break our own addictions to fossil fuels and the addiction of our politicians to fossil fuel money! We will help find ways to build sustainable communities and sustainable societal systems! We will each find the place where we can most effectively be a catalyst for systemic change! For me that is in the field of higher education. What is it for you?
Keep working! Let us not allow the forces for the status quo keep us where they want us to be. Yes, we may fail, but we will definitely fail if we are not all in. We may not be able to completely change the world, but future generations of life are calling out to us to give it our all. As the first century Rabbi Tar’fon said in commenting on the Talmud: “The work is not upon you to complete, but neither are you exempt from trying.” If we keep trying with all that we are, we will be right where we need to be and not right where they want us.
* (Winkler, G. (2004). Kaballah 365: Daily Fruit From The Tree Of Life. Kansas City, MO, Andrews McMeel Publishing, p. 228).
We Are Not Frogs! (August 4, 2014)
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, we have just experienced the hottest combined global land and ocean temperatures for April, May, and June on record (July Global temperature record will be published by NOAA on August 12, 2014). Each month individually set a record, and the three months taken together also set a record. The departure from average for global ocean temperatures was greater in June than it has ever been for any month since record keeping began. The global measurements have been taken for the past 135 years. Let that settle in our minds a bit. For the past 135 years (at least), no human beings have experienced a warmer April, May, and June.
Most of us likely did not even notice a difference, and therein lies one of the greatest challenges that we face in mobilizing individual, social, and political will to address the greatest moral challenge of our time. Many, perhaps most famously Al Gore, have likened our situation to being like a frog in a pot of water that is slowly warming to a boil. If the water is heated slowly enough, the frog does not even know what is happening until it is too late. The only way to save the frog is to remove it from the water.
That is the bad news. Here is the good news: We are not frogs! We have the ability to see and understand what is happening to us. Our best scientists and a carefully applied scientific method are giving us all the warning we need to recognize what is happening and remove ourselves from this slowly warming situation, and we have the ability if we work together to slow and hopefully (in generations to come) halt the warming. We are not frogs, and it is time that we begin acting like it before it is too late.
As with all analogies, the boiling frog analogy has its limitations. Unlike the frogs, we can’t realistically remove ourselves from the planet like frogs can be removed from a pot of warming water. There really is nowhere for us to leap, so we have to find a way to halt or lower the heat. Also, there is documented evidence that frogs actually do become agitated and attempt to remove themselves from the warming water, leading Joe Romm to conclude that our inactivity in relation to climate change makes us more like “brainless frogs.” See http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/06/02/1931301/humans-are-not-like-slowly-boiling-frogs-we-are-like-slowly-boiling-brainless-frogs-2/
Peace, Justice, and Climate Change (August 24, 2014)
Over the past ten thousand years, we have been fortunate to enjoy a relatively stable climate that has contributed to the growth and stability of human civilization. In the midst of this stable climate, humans have still found innumerable ways to be violent with each other, to be unjust to one another, and to harm the natural environment. Imagine how much worse the violence, injustice, and harm to the planet will be in a world with a much less stable climate, in a world where the climate is no longer so hospitable to human life and civilization.
If we want to create more peace in the world, we cannot ignore climate change, for climate change will exacerbate the factors that lead people and countries into conflict. Climate change will fan the flames of war and violence as countries enter into more and more conflicts over water and resources for survival. Climate change will contribute to famine, disease, and disasters that will create a much more brutal and violent world as billions of persons struggle against one another for the means of survival. There will be no lasting peace without a stable climate.
Many climate change deniers argue that our economy cannot afford to make the changes that are called for to address climate change. They argue that moving away from fossil fuels will damage our economy, create more poverty, and harm the poorest of the poor who will no longer be lifted up by the global fossil fuel driven economy. But the reality is that there can be no lasting economic progress without addressing climate change. An economy can only be sustainable over the long run if there is a stable and sustainable ecological community in which the economy can flourish. Climate change is damaging the stable ecological community that is needed for economic flourishing. This will increase poverty and human suffering and will create even larger gaps between the rich and the poor in the world, leading to even greater injustice. There can be no lasting justice in the world without a stable climate.
If we want fewer wars and less violence, if we want economic flourishing in the human community, and if we want a world in which more rather than fewer people can participate in this flourishing; then we must care about climate change. There can be no lasting peace, no lasting economic progress, and no lasting justice without a stable climate. If we care about creating peace, reducing poverty, and sustaining planet earth; we must take the necessary systemic steps to address and arrest climate change.
Fossil Fuel High (August 27, 2014)
The human race is on a fossil fuel high, and it feels real good. Fossil fuel has contributed to economic progress previously unseen in the history of humankind, and every part of our lives has been made more convenient from the use of fossil fuels and their byproducts. Today fossil fuel got me to work and my kids to school and cooled both places during a day of 100 degree Oklahoma heat and then got us back home. We poured drinks this evening from plastic bottles, and I am typing on plastic keys in a room where the windows have plastic blinds that shade my home office from the heat of the day and provide privacy at night. I am surrounded by artifacts of a fossil fuel society. My family opts for our electric company’s wind option, but our electricity comes from a grid fueled by natural gas and coal. Like almost everyone else in the world, I am addicted to fossil fuel, and when I am not thinking about it – I like it! It has me, my city, my country, and my world on an economic, convenience, transportation, and comfort high; and with my whole life and way of being in the world I resist coming down from the high.
It would be so wonderful if there were no problem with this fossil fuel high. How I would like to believe there is no problem with it! We have managed to mitigate some of the most noticeable problems with cleaner technologies and unleaded gasoline. The smog and acid rain of my youth are not half as bad as they used to be. We even comfort ourselves with talk of “clean coal” and “cleaner” natural gas as a bridge to the future. We like to think we can manage this addiction in such a way that no one will really get hurt. We convince ourselves that we are better off with the high, that the withdrawals will be too painful to ourselves and society as a whole. We are good at convincing ourselves we do not have a problem. Denial.
The human race is on a fossil fuel high – and we are addicted to the fossil fuels that provide this high. Climate change is the global symptom of our addiction and fossil fuel overdose. When we experience addictions as individuals, we often have to hit a bottom to jolt us from our denial. At these times of hitting bottom we are most open to help and interventions that will begin a long and disciplined process of recovery. The problem with our collective fossil fuel addiction is that it is leading us to an eventual experience of a ‘bottom” that will be devastating for human civilization and much of life on earth. We need to be able to admit that we have a problem and begin our recovery before reaching a bottom that could likely be the sixth great extinction on our planet.
The first step is admitting we have a problem. It is time for us to help each other as a society in the most comprehensive intervention effort in human history that will lead to recovery and a way of being and doing in the world that lead to flourishing rather than suffering. We have become powerless over our fossil fuel addiction, and our collective addiction has become unmanageable for the health and safety of human civilization. Let us stand ready in this awareness to do what is necessary “to lift this merciless obsession from us” – (from Step One from Alcoholics Anonymous).
Fossil Fuel Fix (August 31, 2014)
When persons are in a state of advanced addiction, they will be more and more likely to do anything to get their fix, even though this puts their health and even their life in danger. The fix becomes more important than the overall quality of life and health of the person. The person who is an addict will find new veins when others no longer suffice and will lie to friends, family and to themselves in order to keep getting the fix. No matter what the increasing costs, the addicted person will find ways to keep paying to get the fix.
The addicted person will take ever increasing risks to get the fix that has become the center of their life. Sleep, work, play, exercise, and time with loved ones (everything vital for human flourishing) all become secondary to getting the fix. The addicted person may resort to crime or even violence, all for the sake of the fix. The addicted person will either experience recovery or die. These are the only two real options. Death may come quickly or slowly and painfully, but death will certainly come unless the addicted person finds the resources within and without to live in recovery.
As a global society, but especially here in the United States, we are in an advanced state of addiction to fossil fuels, and we are taking measures that are dangerous to our health and life in order to keep getting our fix. We are constantly trying to find new veins to get the fix we need. We are lying to each other and ourselves about the consequences of continuing to get our fossil fuel fix. Even when we poison ecosystems of land and sea, we still must have our fix. We blow off the tops of mountains and strip lands bare of forests to get our fix. We will even go to war to maintain our fossil fuel fix. No matter if the land shakes or our waters are poisoned, we must have our fix. Even when the whole body of our planet is warming, we must have our fix.
We want to believe the lies of the fossil fuel pushers: “Climate change is a hoax – The gulf has recovered – Fracking is safe for the environment – Waste-water disposal wells don’t contribute to earthquakes – Tar sands oil is ‘ethical oil’ – Methane leaks in the natural gas industry are insignificant.” When a global society is in a state of advanced addiction, it will do anything to get its fix, even if this puts the heath and life of all human civilization in danger. Our fossil fuel fix has become more important than the overall quality of life and health of ourselves and our planet.
There are only two real options in relation to our addiction to fossil fuels: either we will continue to get our fix at all costs and eventually destroy ourselves and much of life on earth, or we will find the resources within ourselves and within our communities to live in recovery for the sake of ourselves and all life. Recovery must begin now – this is not an addiction we can afford to pass down to our children and generations to come.
Climate of Betrayal (November 6, 2014)
We have just experienced the warmest first nine months of any year for combined land and ocean temperatures since record keeping began in 1880, and we are living in what will almost certainly be the warmest year on record for combined land and ocean temperatures. In September 2014, ocean temperatures were at the highest departure from average than at any time for any month since record keeping began in 1880 (1.). February 1985 was the last month in which we experienced a colder than average month globally. The greenhouse gases of carbon dioxide and methane that contribute most to this warming continue to be on the rise, with methane showing a pronounced spike since 2007 (2.). Currently 258 billions tons of land ice are lost annually, and every major climate indicator points to continued warming unless there is a significant shift in how human beings produce and use energy (3.). The consensus among climate scientists across the globe is that climate change is real, it is now, and if we do not act with great urgency and effectiveness, climate change will bring catastrophic consequences for human civilization and all life on earth.
With evidence like this, one would think that we would be experiencing a sense of unmatched urgency to stabilize the climate through the most massive shift in energy use and energy production seen in the history of humankind for the sake of all generations of humans and all life to come. Instead, we have witnessed a systematic and well-funded digging in of the heels of the fossil fuel industry led oligarchy who still have trillions of dollars to make on the exploitation of fossil fuels at the expense of future generations. Here in the United States, we just experienced our mid-term elections, and with low voter turnout and nearly 4 billion dollars of money spent on the election process (a record for midterm elections), we have elected a Congress who is firmly committed to furthering the goals of the fossil fuel industry while minimizing the reality of climate change. It is very likely that the greatest climate change denier in the history of the U.S. Senate, Oklahoma U.S. Senator James Inhofe, will once again chair the Environment and Public Works Committee, virtually ensuring that no positive legislation concerning climate change will take place. The United States and Canada collectively have our heads in the sand (or heads in the oil sands) while the planet is facing its greatest threat since the beginning of human existence.
We have moved beyond the point of climate change denial to a climate of betrayal of future generations for the sake of current comfort and greed. With the evidence for climate change so overwhelming and the urgency for action so obvious, we must begin to ask ourselves if our generation is growing ever more guilty of the premeditated murder of billions of human and non-human lives. Such a claim will surely be ridiculed by the fossil fuel industry in the name of energy independence and economic development, but the climate science and the facts of climate change and its consequences will judge us otherwise. Make no mistake, no matter how slowly the consequences unfold, we are committing an act of great collective violence with our inaction in the face of climate change.
Much like the human actions of the past that have led to the destruction of so many human lives, we cannot use the excuse that “we did not know.” We know, and we have chosen a climate of betrayal of the future. We are the last generation with the opportunity to make a significant impact on climate change. Up until now, we have exhibited a massive collective moral failure characterized by a glaring lack of empathy for each other and generations to come. One has to wonder what it will take for us to care enough about each other and the rest of life to change the way we live our lives. Our generation is pulling the trigger on the climate change gun while billions of persons of current and future generations have their hands up pleading for us not to shoot.
Things My Future Grandchildren Might Say (November 19, 2014)
I am not haunted by ghosts of past generations, but I am haunted by the children of future generations.
I am 48 years old and have two daughters who are ages 11 and 12. If I am fortunate enough to live long enough to know their children (my future grandchildren) as they get old enough to understanding things about the world in which they live, I can imagine that they will have comments and questions that will be difficult for me and members of my generation to hear if we do not make radical changes for a more just, peaceful, and sustainable planet for their sake and for the sake of all future generations of humans and all life.
What follows is a sample of some of the things I think my future grandchildren might say about the world in which they will live and about what we did or did not do so that they might inherit a more just and livable planet. The context I am working with is Oklahoma in the United States and the United Methodist Church, in which I am an ordained minister.
“Let me get this straight. They put people who had marijuana in prison but not people who clear cut forests, blew off the tops of mountains, and stripped large areas of boreal forests off the earth to get to oil sands? That is messed up.”
“What were unions?”
“You had how many earthquakes in Oklahoma in 2014? That’s just crazy!”
“How big did the earthquakes get in Oklahoma before people did something about it? Did anyone get hurt or die?”
“Our church really put ministers on trial for helping people get married? Are you kidding me?” – (in reference to the United Methodist Church’s current practice of putting ministers on trial who perform same gender weddings).
“There weren’t always summer cruises to the North Pole?”
“When you came here as a kid, there were glaciers on that mountain?” (in reference to the Olympic Mountains that I visited each year from 1976 to 1999.
“You blew off the tops of mountains for electricity? Really?”
“97% of climate scientists were telling you this would happen, and you all still didn’t do anything to stop it?!”
“So what you’re telling us grandpa is that when you were younger, people were getting upset about persons who are LGBTQ wanting to get married, but they weren’t getting upset enough to do anything about climate change? Wow! Just wow!”
“We were having a discussion in history today. Whose idea was it to let a person named Senator James Inhofe be chair of the US Senate Environment Committee? What did people back then have against our generation?”
“Did a lot of people really used to go bankrupt if they got sick?”
“The highest court in the land really thought it was a good idea for our country to let people spend as much money as they want on elections? Who appointed these people to be judges?”
What are some things you imagine children and youth saying 25 years from today? Hopefully as we imagine what future children and grandchildren might say, we may get a clearer picture of how the way live today will affect their lives and well-being. Perhaps we can also begin to imagine what our future grandchildren might say if we actually muster the social and political will to bequeath to them a more just, peaceful, and sustainable planet.
If You Care… (January 2, 2015)
If you care about social justice, then do all you can to address climate change
If you care about peace, then do all you can to address climate change
If you care about animal welfare, then do all you can to address climate change
If you care about human rights, then do all you can to address climate change
If you care about racial equality, then do all you can to address climate change
If you care about eradicating poverty, then do all you can to address climate change
If you care about human health, then do all you can to address climate change
If you care about hunger, then do all you can to address climate change
If you care about homelessness, then do all you can to address climate change
If you care about children, then do all you can to address climate change
If you care about women’s rights, then do all you can to address climate change
If you care about the rights of LGBTQ persons, then do all you can to address climate change
If you care about biodiversity, then do all you can to address climate change
If you care about future generations, then do all you can to address climate change
If we do not do all we can to address climate change; there will be less peace, less social justice, more animal suffering, more threats to human rights, more poverty, less racial equality, lower quality healthcare, more hunger, more homelessness, greater suffering for children, less flourishing for persons who are LGBTQ, fewer opportunities for women, less biodiversity, and greater suffering for future generations of all life.
If you care about climate change, then work for social justice
If you care about climate change, then work for peace
If you care about climate change, then work for well being of all life
If you care about climate change, then work for the rights of all persons
If you care about climate change, then work for racial equality
If you care about climate change, then work for eradicating poverty
If you care about climate change, then work for access for quality healthcare for all persons
If you care about climate change, then work to end hunger
If you care about climate change, then work to end homelessness
If you care about climate change, then work for the well being of children
If you care about climate change, then work for equal rights for women
If you care about climate change, then work for the equal rights of persons who are LGBTQ
If you care about climate change, then work to save the diversity of life on our planet
If you care about climate change, then live in such a way that future generations of all life may flourish
If we do not work for social justice, peace, the well being of all life, the rights of all persons, racial equality, the eradicating of poverty, quality healthcare for all, ending hunger, ending homelessness, the well being of children, equal rights for women, equal rights for persons who are LGBTQ, preserving biodiversity, and the flourishing of future generations of all life; then the planet we save by addressing climate change will be so diminished in value that it will not be the flourishing home it can be for all life and for ages to come.
A Seat at the Table? (March 29, 2015)
When churches consider divesting from companies for reasons of social and/or ecological responsibility, those who argue against divestment sometimes use the argument that we should not divest from a company or from an industry because doing so would cause us to lose our seat at the table with that company or that industry and make it more difficult to influence and effect change.
The “seat at the table” argument is now being used to make the case against churches divesting from the fossil fuel industry. Speaking at a Forum on the Climate Change Crisis on March 24, 2015, the presiding bishop of the U.S. Episcopal Church, Katharine Jefferts Schori, made an impassioned plea for addressing climate change. She even claimed that climate denial is immoral. Although Bishop Jefferts Schori calls on her church and all persons to take seriously the scientific evidence that human activity is contributing to climate change, and although she recognizes that climate change is a significant threat to human civilization and to the well-being of all life on earth, she stops short of calling for divestment from the fossil fuel industry that profits from the production and distribution of the fuels that when used create the greenhouse gases that accelerate climate change.
In her opposition to fossil fuel divestment, Bishop Jefferts Schori says ““If you divest you lose any direct ability to influence the course of a corporation’s behavior. I think most pragmatists realize that we can’t close the spigot on the oil wells and close the coal mines immediately without some other energy source to shift to” (As reported in The Guardian). In other words, the bishop seems to be saying that we will lose our seat at the table with the fossil fuel industry if we were to divest from it. So apparently, Bishop Jefferts Schori is arguing that the U. S. Episcopal Church should do everything it can to address climate change, but it should also continue to invest in and profit from the industry that is most responsible for funding the denial of climate change and that is most responsible for slowing a responsible shift towards renewable energy that could mitigate against the climate change that she says we most urgently need to address.
This is neither a prophetic nor a pragmatic witness. This is continued investment in and profit from an industry that is ruining our climate for the sake of being at the table of the fossil fuel industry under the excuse that somehow the U.S. Episcopal Church’s relatively small investment in the fossil fuel industry will give it some leverage to make the fossil fuel industry behave more responsibly. The positive use of that money invested in renewable energy would be much more effective than holding on to some naive hope that continuing to invest in fossil fuels will enable us to have a positive effect on the behavior of the fossil fuel industry.
As my own denomination, the United Methodist Church, discerns what to do concerning fossil fuel divestment at our 2016 General Conference, I hope we will consider that when it comes to responding to industries that contribute to the injustice of climate change or any other situation of great injustice in our world, those of us who are followers of Jesus must ask ourselves, “”Are we seeking seats at tables that we should be turning over?”
Why Universities and Churches Resist Divestment from Fossil Fuels (June 7, 2015)
Over the past year, a fossil fuel divestment movement has been sweeping over the globe. Bill McKibben, 350.org, and Fossil Free have played a pivotal role in what has become one of the most widespread and successful divestment efforts in history. It is yet another example of the process Gandhi described: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” As part of this movement, a number of universities, church bodies, and other organizations have made the commitment to divest from the fossil fuel industry. The divestment movement has been especially successful in convincing these institutions to divest from coal, but there is growing momentum for divestment from all fossil fuels.
As is the case with all divestment movements, there has been significant resistance. In relation to universities and churches, this resistance most often comes in the form of a “seat at the table to influence the fossil fuel industry for good” argument or a “we need to invest in companies that will provide the best return” argument. At times, arguments are also made that fossil fuels contribute to global economic stability and world peace by providing a reliable source of energy in the world. The General Board of Pension and Health Benefits of my own denomination (the United Methodist Church) has recently made all of these arguments in its defense of ongoing fossil fuel investments. FossilFreeUMC.org provides a critical analysis of these arguments in a blog titled: “What the UM Pension Board Gets Wrong on Fossil Fuels.” I have addressed the “seat at the table” argument in a blog for Fossil Free UMC titled: “A Seat at the Table?”
When universities and churches say it would be irresponsible to divest from fossil fuels because they would lose the ability to influence the fossil fuel industry in positive ways, that is double speak for “we really don’t want to lose the financial support we get from the fossil fuel industry.” Likewise, universities and churches are not that worried about investment losses from divesting from fossil fuels. There are plenty of good non-fossil fuel investments out there. What they are really worried about is losing donations and other forms of financial support from fossil fuel companies and their executives. The resistance of of universities and churches to fossil fuel divestment is less about their concern for global economic stability, world peace, and world order and more about their concern for their own financial stability and ongoing institution maintenance.
In my state of Oklahoma, the resistance to fossil fuel divestment is especially strong. Our educational and religious institutions have benefited from billions of dollars of financial support from the fossil fuel industry over time. The largest donations to higher education in Oklahoma have come from persons and companies who made their fortunes from fossil fuels, and leaders of our top higher education institutions experience direct and significant personal financial benefit (millions of dollars) from their support of the fossil fuel industry in the form of paid board of director positions with oil and gas companies. The three largest oil and gas companies in Oklahoma have all had sitting university presidents as members of their paid boards of directors.
The financial support of the fossil fuel industry for our churches and universities does not come without strings of influence attached to it. It influences research at our universities, and there are have been well documented occasions when donors from the fossil fuel industry have attempted to influence scientists and agencies for their own benefit and the benefit of their companies, and the success of these companies provides direct financial benefit to the university presidents who are paid to sit on their boards (a significant portion of these payments come in the form of stocks). As Upton Sinclair reminds us, “It is difficult to get a [person] to understand something, when [one’s] salary depends on . . . not understanding it.” See “Hamm sought meeting with OU’s Boren on Okla. quakes in 2011” and also “Oil CEO Wanted University Quake Scientists Dismissed: Dean’s E-Mail.”
Churches and universities risk losing significant financial support from the fossil fuel industry if they move towards divestment. This is the underlying pragmatic reason that universities and churches are resistant to divestment. It is not an easy decision. In many cases our educational and religious institutions have become dependent on fossil fuel money. But at a time when the very future of human civilization is threatened by the reality of climate change and the numerous other ecologically devastating consequences of the fossil fuel industry, those of us connected to universities and churches have to ask ourselves, “How can it be moral or responsible to depend on the industry most responsible for the destruction of our planet for our existence as institutions?”
Oklahoma: A Climate of Denial and a Climate of Silence on Climate Change (August 4, 2015)
Oklahoma is one of the most overtly religious states in the United States, and Oklahoma may be more culpable than any other state in its responsibility for the practices and policies that contribute to human induced global climate change. Being critical of oil and gas company practices is the “third rail” that very few dare to touch in a state where a fifth of the jobs and a large percentage of the state’s tax income are connected to the industry. Faith in God is sometimes used as an excuse to do nothing about climate change rather than being a source of inspiration and motivation to address it. In Oklahoma, speaking out against the oil and gas industry and its role in contributing to climate change has consequences, but in a state that is so religious and so Christian in its identity, perhaps Oklahomans can be reminded that the way of Jesus is a way of sacrificial love for other persons and for the whole creation. Those of us who seek to follow Jesus are a part of a way that loves others and works for justice and a new creation in spite of the consequences.
Oklahomans are overwhelmingly favorable of the fossil fuel industry, and Oklahoma politicians on the state and national level receive significant financial support from oil and gas companies. We even have an oil derrick on the state capitol grounds. We are home to the most vocal of all climate change deniers in the U.S. Senate – Senator James Inhofe, who chairs the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Our sitting governor and attorney general use talking points from fossil fuel companies for their advocacy concerning the industry. Universities in Oklahoma receive significant financial support from the fossil fuel industry, and university presidents at three of the top four ranked universities in Oklahoma have been highly paid members of fossil fuel company boards of directors while serving as a university president. Fossil fuel companies give millions of dollars to the arts, community economic development projects, charity and sports franchises. The most widely distributed newspaper in the state, The Oklahoman, is owned by Philip Anschutz, whose fortune includes a significant portion made from oil and gas. In rural areas, many farmers and ranchers receive royalties from the industry. Church and community organization budgets across the state are buoyed by fossil fuel industry funds. Very few people are openly critical of oil and gas in Oklahoma, and if they are, they face consequences.
Oklahoma’s dependence on the fossil fuel industry contributes to a climate of denial and a climate of silence about climate change and the other negative “externalities” of oil and gas production and use. Oklahomans remember the last oil bust of the 1980’s and do not want to go there again. It is considered almost “un-Oklahoman” to do anything that might hurt oil and gas, and addressing climate change is seen as a threat to the industry that sustains our state. The majority of Oklahomans are in denial, and those who are not in denial are pressured to keep silent. The well documented pressure by the oil and gas industry on politicians, state agencies and universities to keep silent about the connection between a massive increase in Oklahoma earthquakes and waste water injection wells is a case in point of the power and influence that the industry has in Oklahoma.
One may be tempted to say that what we as human beings can do to stop climate change will have to be done without Oklahoma, but there are signs of hope. In the last year, it has become clear to many Oklahomans that the oil and gas industry has been misleading us about the cause of our earthquakes. The industry has used politicians, state agencies, the media and universities to help misinform the public about our earthquakes, and people from across the political, religious and economic spectra of Oklahoma have begun to fight back. Oklahomans are beginning to realize that the same industry that misinformed us about our earthquakes is the industry that encourages us to deny the reality and consequences of climate change. Farmers and ranchers may get royalties from oil and gas, but they also feel the ground shake beneath them and they also depend on a stable climate for their livelihood.
Oklahomans are beginning to wake up from the fossil fuel induced denial, and many are silent no more about climate change. These are courageous people in a state where there are consequences for speaking up. Many Oklahomans have been shaken and are moving from a climate of denial and silence to a climate of systemic transformation for all life on earth. They are working for love and justice for all creation in spite of the consequences, and this is the way of Jesus in our world and in Oklahoma.
The Is/Ought Fallacy in the “Moral” Case for Fossil Fuel (October 2, 2015)
Currently one of the more popular arguments for defenders of the fossil fuel industry is that since everyone in industrial societies is currently dependent on fossil fuel, it is wrong-headed and irresponsible to argue that we should stop using fossil fuel. After all, if we are truly dependent on fossil fuel for so many things in our industrial society and currently could not live without it, are we not asking for the quality of human life to be diminished significantly by ceasing to use something so central to our very existence? And shouldn’t we be thanking fossil fuel companies for supplying us with this essential part of our lives and keep encouraging them to find and extract more of it?
The Western Energy Alliance, an oil and gas advocacy group, is implicitly using this argument in their current campaign challenging persons to try to live without using any fossil fuels or fossil fuel derived products for five days. They know very well that this will be all but impossible for those persons unwilling to spend their five days naked in the wilderness foraging with their bare hands for nourishment like the reality TV show “Naked and Afraid.” Though some people may like the TV show, we do not want to live that way, so the Western Energy Alliance believes this challenge will convince persons that we should continue to keep using fossil fuels as we currently are.
The problem with this argument is at least two-fold. First, the argument commits the Is/Ought fallacy of deriving an “ought” from an “is.” It is certainly the case that we are dependent on fossil fuels for our current way of life, but that does not necessarily mean that it “ought’ to be so. Yes, our society is structured in such a way that fossil fuel is currently necessary in large quantities for things that are obvious to us like transportation, power production, plastics, and agriculture and for things that most of us are oblivious to like our clothes, makeup, and medicine. Most people would be shocked at all of the things that are currently made out of fossil fuels. But this reality should not keep us from asking the question, “Are there some things for which fossil fuels are currently used that they should be used at a lesser rate or not at all?” We should not simply accept things the way they are if there are better ways of doing them, and this may include using less fossil fuel than we currently do.
The second problem with this argument is that it presupposes that those who are arguing for us to reduce our fossil fuel use are arguing that we should eliminate all uses of fossil fuel entirely and immediately. Those who take the challenge to live without fossil fuels for five days would see clearly how impossible this would be. However, this does not mean that we should not be doing everything we can in society to reduce our use of fossil fuels and for some purposes eliminate our use of fossil fuel altogether. . As Lindsey Wilson points out in her article “Fossil Fuels are for Making Stuff,”: “we’ll continue to use fossils fuels for making stuff where absolutely necessary (steel, plastic,. . . ) but we need to stop using them as our go to energy source for doing things (power, transport, heating and cooling).”
Our choice is not between living naked and afraid for five or more days or simply maintaining the status quo use of fossil fuels. The reality of climate change compels us to move from the “is” of our current fossil fuel use towards an “ought” of less future fossil fuel use where we continue to use fossil fuel when necessary for making things but stop using it in ways that continue to contribute to the greenhouse gas emissions that imperil human civilization and our ecological community. The argument that we should continue to be as dependent as we are on fossil fuels because we are as dependent as we are on fossil fuels is hardly a moral case for fossil fuels, it is rather an excuse to maintain the status quo of our current fossil fuel use, which is bringing us a reality of catastrophic climate disruption and will accelerate the sixth great extinction that we are already experiencing.
Vote as if the Planet Depends On It, Because It Does (December 31, 2015)
As we move into 2016, there is much to celebrate in the movement to avoid catastrophic climate disruption: a Clean Power Plan has been put in place in the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; President Obama rejected the Keystone XL Pipeline. suspended arctic drilling leases, and will not renew existing leases; the Paris Climate Summit led to greater global awareness and commitment to address climate change more aggressively; and the global climate movement is reaching a point of critical mass and power that cannot be ignored. None of this is enough, and there is much more to be done to even come close to the action and systemic change necessary to avoid catastrophic climate change; but it is still cause to celebrate and to renew our commitment for relentless action to keep moving towards climate justice.
That is the good news. The bad news is that the United States is potentially one election away from erasing all of this progress – one election away from reversing the Keystone XL decision, one election away from opening the arctic and numerous other places to new drilling, one election away from dismantling the Clean Power Plan, one election away from turning away from the commitments we made in Paris, one election away from handing the fossil fuel industry in the United States almost unlimited power over U.S. energy policy and policies related to climate change.
The fossil fuel companies have trillions of dollars of future profits at stake, and they will do everything in their power to protect those profits, even at the expense of the planet. Those who care about climate justice must vote in 2016. It is not an option. Not voting is in effect voting for climate injustice and voting against our last best chance to avoid the worst of global climate change. Following the two warmest years on record (2014 was number 2 and 2015 will be number 1) and with 14 of the 15 warmest years on record occurring in the 21st Century, we are in decade zero when it comes to avoiding catastrophic climate change.
The 2016 elections are the most important elections in the history of humankind because a livable climate is in the balance. This coming year, those of us in the United States must vote as if the planet and a flourishing human community depend on it, because they do.
A Storm is Coming (September 11, 2016)
A sermon delivered at Mosaic United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City, OK on “Storm Sunday” as part of their Season of Creation Series.
This past Friday night at 8 p.m., I left my house to go pick up my 14 year old daughter and one of her volleyball teammates from the Edmond Santa Fe football game with Deer Creek. The game was at Deer Creek Stadium, and as I left my house I saw the familiar sight of thunderstorms on the horizon. A storm was coming, and it was actually quite beautiful. There were two towering thunderheads set against the Western sky. There was just enough backlight from the recently set sun to provide a clear outline of the clouds as I drove west towards the stadium from our house in southwest Edmond. In each thunderhead there were lighting strikes providing a show like the many other lightning shows I have witnessed in my life in Oklahoma. When I was growing up in the western part of Lawton, my dad and I would often go out into the front yard of our house at night to watch the thunderstorms roll in from the west with their amazing lightning, and we would take turns judging the distance of the storm based on how long it took for the sound of the thunder to make it to our ears. That was when I first learned about the difference between the speed of light and the speed of sound. This was before the digital age, so watching storms was the kind of thing you did in Oklahoma at night, though my dad would remind me that he and his family watched thunderstorms even more often when he was a boy before dawn of television.
So the thunderstorms rolling in from the West this past Friday night were a familiar sight for me as an almost lifelong Oklahoman, but immediately after a moment of taking in the beauty of the storms, a bit of panic set in as I became aware that these storms were bearing down on Deer Creek stadium where my daughter was watching her high school team play football. As the last flicker of twilight provided back light for the storm, the steady bright lights of Deer Creek stadium in the distance provided a stark contrast with the lightning that was dancing in the ominous clouds just to the West. The thought of the very bad combination of lightning strikes and metal bleachers motivated me to simultaneously accelerate my vehicle and call my daughter on the phone to ask how close she thought the storm was to the stadium and to inquire if she had a plan for shelter in case the storm arrived before I did. Fortunately, the distance of storms can be deceiving, and my daugher and her volleyball buddy made it safely into the car before the storm arrived with time to spare. As drove away from the lights of stadium, my daughter and her friend could see more clearly the storm that had been headed their way, and they expressed relief that they were on their way to our house and no longer in the stands.
Beauty, wonder, power, life giving rains, danger, destruction, and even death – these are the realities of what we experience with storms; and in Oklahoma, we have had more than our share of the danger, destruction, and death that come with some storms. Today, we are much more likely to be watching a meteorologist on TV than sitting out on the front porch watching the storm roll in. In Oklahoma, we know what storms can do, and if you are like me, you can name many of the dates of some of the worst of them as they become markers of time in years of our lives and the experience of our communities. April 10, 1979 is a date we remember in my hometown of Lawton and our sister city of Wichita Falls, Texas, May 3, 1999 and May 20, 2013 are dates we remember in Moore and Oklahoma City. Depending on what part of the state you are from, other dates probably come to mind. In some other parts of the country, people remember many of their storms by names: Camille, Andrew, Hugo, Katrina, and Sandy. In others parts of the world, people have different dates and names that they remember. These dates and names remind us of the terrifying and destructive power of the storm – a power over which we as human beings have no control other than to do all we can to protect ourselves as best we can from the raging winds and waters and then care for each other as best we can in the storm’s aftermath.
In a storm’s aftermath, one of the most unhelpful and unconstructive things we can do is try to make sense of why a storm hit a particular place or a particular people. The temptation of trying to give moral meaning to major storm events or to claim that God was using such and such a storm to punish such and such a group is utterly unhelpful in caring for each other or in interpreting meteorological events. I have lost count of the number of religious figures who have claimed a storm hit a city, state, or country or even an individual person or family because it is God’s will. One of the persons who is well known for doing this just recently lost his home to flooding in Louisiana, and was struggling to come up with a good explanation for that, but that flooding event had no more to do with him than the other storms he believed God sent on other people had anything to do with them. Storms just happen. We may not like them, we may fear them, we may wish they did not exist, but they are simply a part of the way this world works. We may know more now than ever about their cause and how they develop, but our morality or lack thereof has not made God visit us with an individual weather event to punish us or others for our sins.
And here, I must say, I find the Biblical narratives to not be very helpful when it comes to storms other than to recognize the wonder and awesome power that they possess and that they are a part of the whole creation. The Biblical authors had about as much understanding of weather events as they had understanding about sexual orientation, which is to say – not very much. In pre-scientific communities and cultures, one can understand why people might think God uses the weather to restore the moral order of the universe, but this is no longer a viable interpretation of the role of storms in the life of the human community or the broader ecological community. We can understand why early Christians might have wanted to portray Jesus as having power over storms and that our faith could somehow have influence over a storm, but such a worldview is not helpful as we experience and respond to storms today. What is helpful from the life and teachings of Jesus in relation to storms is that we are called to love our neighbors, to help the most vulnerable, and to provide comfort, shelter, food, clothing, and care for those who have felt the impact of a storm. But there is no place for blaming people for being hit by a storm or for saying that it is the result of their lack of faith. Storms happen, and they can happen to anybody. They happen to the best of us and the worst of us. It is part of the natural order of life and creation. Our best response is simply to love each other in and after the storm with all of our hearts. And we can do all we can to prepare for storms so that fewer people will experience their worst consequences.
From what I have said thus far, one might think that I am saying that human activity has no influence on the weather, and that all we can do in relation to the weather is protect ourselves as best we can and care for each other as best we can when the weather turns bad. However, the same scientific method that has helped us to understand that individual weather events should not be understood as the result of the moral failure of individuals or groups of persons, also has shown us that there are some activities that we humans do collectively that actually do have an impact on the overall climate of the earth. We are currently experiencing the warmest year on record, in the warmest decade on record, and likely the warmest century on record during the history of human existence on this planet. And the vast majority of climate scientists point to human activity as the primary driver in the climate change we are experiencing. The emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases are changing the chemistry of our atmosphere and thus changing the atmosphere’s capacity to hold more heat. The science is less complex than fossil fuel companies would like to lead us to believe.
Climate scientists also tell us that global climate change will contribute to more severe droughts, more severe flooding events, more intense storms, and more intense fires across the planet. So even though we do not have control over any one weather event or even a set of weather events, this does not mean that human activity does not contribute to a climate in which we will experience more extreme weather events. There are storms that are coming that we can do nothing about, but the climate change that is coming and that is happening now is something that we can do something about, but it will take immense political will and commitment to each other in the human community and a deep care for our ecological community.
If we do nothing about the coming and present storm of climate change, it will have the most negative impact on the most vulnerable among us that Jesus calls us to love and care for. In the coming and present storm of climate change there will be more hunger, there will be more thirst, there will be more homelessness, there will be more refugees, there will be more poverty, there will be more disease, there will be more violence, and there will be more suffering. The way of God’s love and justice that is expressed in the way of Jesus points us in a different way than our current path for both our human and ecological communities.
There are storms over which we have no control and for which there is no good explanation, and the only proper response is to do what we can to protect ourselves from them and to care for and love one another when they hit, but there is a storm coming of our own making that up until this point we have largely ignored and through our ignoring it, we are strengthening it. There are storms we do not control and there are storms of our own making. May God grant us the wisdom to know the difference, and may we have the courage and compassion to act for the well being of all life on earth. Amen.
My Prayers for Oklahoma’s “Oilfield Prayer Day” (October 7, 2016)
Oklahoma’s Governor Fallin has declared October 13, 2016 to be “OilField Prayer Day.” Here is the full text of the official proclamation:
• Whereas, Oklahoma is blessed with an abundance of oil and natural gas, allowing the state to be a prosperous producer of these valuable resources; and
• Whereas Christians acknowledge such natural resources are created by God; and
• Whereas the oil and gas industry continues to produce countless opportunities for wealth generation for Oklahoma families; and
• Whereas Oklahoma recognizes the incredible economic, community and faith-based impacts demonstrated across the state by oil and natural gas companies; and
• Whereas Christians are invited to thank God for the blessing created by the oil and natural gas industry and to seek His wisdom and ask for protection; now, therefore, I, Mary Fallin, Governor, do hereby proclaim October 13, 2016, as “Oilfield Prayer Day” in the state of Oklahoma.
In response to this proclamation, I have decided to offer my prayers for “OilField Prayer Day,” in advance of the official day set aside by Governor Fallin. Here are my prayers:
• I pray that Governor Fallin will adhere to the Establishment Clause of the Religious Clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America and not prefer or promote one religion over another or over no religion in her role as governor of the state of Oklahoma.
• I pray for a diversified, clean energy based Oklahoma economy that will be good for both people and the planet.
• I pray for education and training of employees who have lost their jobs and livelihood in the oil and gas bust so that they will be able to participate fully in a more diversified clean energy based economy in Oklahoma.
• I pray for a 7% gross production tax on oil and gas wells instead of the current 2% (and for a number of years it was 1%), which is much lower than the national average, including all of the contiguous states.
• I pray that the income from a 7% gross production tax will be used to help cover the cuts Oklahoma has made in basic public services, including more cuts to state per pupil spending on education than any other state in the entire United States since 2008 (and that includes the years we were experiencing an oil and gas boom).
• I pray oil and gas companies will be made to pay for all the earthquake damage they have caused in our state, including paying for all earthquake insurance premiums and deductibles.
• I pray that Oklahoma and its politicians will respect science and recognize the reality of climate change and finally put people and the planet over profit for the few.
• I pray that the Oklahoma Corporation Commission will permanently reject efforts by Oklahoma Gas and Electric to put extra use fees on distributed solar and wind power for residences and businesses.
• I pray that during this oil and gas bust that Oklahoma will finally learn the lesson that unless we move away from a mono-economy based on oil and gas to a diverse economy based on clean energy that we will never break the cycle of boom and bust in our state.
• I pray that we will not have an oil and gas industry induced earthquake that will cause human injuries and/or loss of life and that we will have the wisdom to stop the waste water injection that is causing thousands of earthquakes in Oklahoma.
• I pray that Oklahoma will stop being one of primary contributors through its policies and practices to the creation of an unlivable climate for the human community and much of the rest of life.
Governor Fallin wanted all Oklahoma Christians to pray for the oilfields, and I am a Oklahoma Christian, so I have prayed and will continue to pray that generations to come will not look back on our generation with disgust that we ruined the possibility for them to enjoy a livable planet. Amen.
Communities of Resistance and Resilience (November 12, 2016)
The United States Environmental Protection Agency will be executed on January 20, 2017. There will likely be an agency still in existence with the name, but it will do nothing to stand in the way of the fossil fuel interests that have just taken over the United States federal government. It will for all practical purposes become the Environmental Deregulation Agency.
The appointment of Myron Ebell, one of the worst merchants of doubt concerning climate science, to oversee the transition at the EPA and the short list of names for Secretary of the Interior make it clear where we are headed. Trump and his key energy advisor, Oklahoma billionaire oilman Harold Hamm, have made it clear what the energy source of choice of the federal government will be, and they will attempt to create an infrastructure to lock us into the use of fossil fuels for another generation.
Any environmental protection and climate change mitigation will have to come from persons in local communities and ecologically responsible states in solidarity and connection with other communities and from leadership outside of the United States. The work of all caring and compassionate people in the United States working for climate justice will also require resistance and direct action.
We will have to step up greatly in our community efforts to grow our own food, eat much less meat (or better yet, no meat or dairy at all), use clean energy, conserve energy, and make drastic cuts in our individual and family greenhouse gas emissions – all things we should be doing already in the face of climate change, the greatest threat along with nuclear war to the ongoing existence of human civilization.
Millions of us will have to change our lives in significant ways for the better in relation to ecological responsibility to offset as much as possible the damage that will be done by the Trump administration. The economic and political systems related to ecological responsibility in the United States are going to get worse. We might be able to slow this worsening, but it will get worse. The only hope we have to keep the window of opportunity open to avoid the worst case scenario of climate chaos will come from us as persons-in-community.
We will need help from the rest of the world in addressing the existential threat to our planet of a Trump Administration. If the United States backs out of the Paris Climate Agreement, the rest of the world should place economic and political sanctions on us and use other forms of peaceful measures to pressure the United States to comply. A livable climate and the future of human civilization are at stake.
The chances have increased exponentially in the last week that the United States will go down in history as the worst global offender in abdicating its moral responsibility to preserve a livable planet. This greatest of all moral failures will be its most well known contribution in the shortened history of human civilization, unless we do all in our power to stop it. It will take sacrifice, empathy, and loving kindness for all life; and it will require the formation of communities of resistance and resilience. In addition to being our only hope for a livable climate, our work together holds the potential of becoming a rediscovery of true human community in our world.
The Fog Has Lifted (November 26, 2016)
Averting climate chaos would have been difficult no matter who was elected President of the United States on November 8, 2016. The Paris Climate Agreement was a hopeful sign that global awareness and commitment are growing to do something to avoid the worst case scenarios of climate change. Unfortunately, we have waited too long to take the necessary action to avoid bad case scenarios. The best we can hope for now is to avoid the catastrophic consequences of the out of control climate change that would create an unlivable climate for anything remotely like our current human civilization. As hopeful as the Paris Climate Agreement was, most climate scientists did not see the agreement as being enough to keep us from surpassing a 2 degrees Celsius increase over pre-industrial average temperatures, which could be the point of no return when it comes to any hope for a livable climate.
To say that the election of Donald Trump threatens the progress that was made in the past couple of years to build global consensus on policies and actions to mitigate climate change is an understatement. Trump’s election and the climate policies and practices it will bring represent an existential threat to all people and the planet. Trump has said he will not adhere to the Paris agreement, he promises to scrap the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan, he appointed a well known climate science denier to lead his transition efforts in relation to the EPA, his short list for Secretary of the Interior and Secretary of Energy are clearly supportive of going all in for fossil fuels, and Trump announced that he will close NASA’s climate science program on the grounds that it represents politicized science.
The merchants of doubt hired by the fossil fuel industry to create public uncertainty about climate science and to work against policies and programs to address climate change are openly celebrating Trump’s victory. They could not have dreamed of a better election outcome than to have Trump as president, a Republican Congress, and a soon to be right leaning Supreme Court. The entire federal government is aligned for the creation of a fossil fuel hegemony in relation to energy policy.
Persons who care about the future well being of human and ecological communities are rightly in mourning at what has occurred. November 8. 2016 was a crushing defeat for current and future generations of all life. The chances of preserving a livable climate were already extremely slim, but now they seem impossible as Trump will attempt to commit our society and its infrastructure to another generation of dependence on fossil fuels.
If human civilization were the Titanic and an unlivable climate were an iceberg, the past decade represented a very slow turning of our societal ship away from the iceberg. The turning has been too slow and the fog of uncertainty about our global commitment to the turning has most likely kept us on course to hit the iceberg of climate chaos, but at least we had some collective sense that making some effort to turn away was a good thing even if the fog kept us from seeing if our efforts would allow us to safely pass. With Trump’s rise to power, the fossil fuel industry in the United States is grabbing the ship’s wheel and turning us back straight towards the iceberg at full steam ahead. There is no fog of uncertainty about where this course will take us. There is no doubt where the ship of human civilization will end up if we stay on this new course. Our self shortened existence on this planet will be forgotten as a sliver in the depths of the geological record, and unless evolution once again leads to the development of rational life forms, there will likely be no explorers to ever know that we even existed as a species.
Without in any way downplaying the tragedy that Trump’s election was for people and the planet, perhaps there is some opportunity that presents itself to us in this most dire moment. The slow turn we have been making to avoid the iceberg of climate chaos was likely not sharp enough to avoid an unlivable climate. The incremental actions might have been giving us the false hope that we were doing enough to avoid a catastrophic collision. Perhaps this false hope was acting as another kind of fog as well, a fog that kept us from seeing that we were still on course for the sixth great extinction and ecological collapse, a course towards unspeakable suffering and death. With the election of Trump, there is no doubt where he and the powers he represents are steering us.
The fog has lifted. Our imminent collision with our self made demise can be seen clearly on the quickly approaching horizon with no false hope to hamper our view. If we cannot see clearly now – we never will, at least not until it is much too late. We have to take the ship’s wheel into our hands and make the sharp turn for all people and the planet. We have to turn that wheel with our whole lives and our whole being, with a commitment and intensity that will challenge us to our core. Everything we care about depends on it. The fog has lifted.
Hell on Earth for Heaven’s Sake (January 7, 2017)
The United States is one of the most religious countries in the world and is second to none in the total amount of wealth it possesses. Some might see our wealth as a blessing that is in some way connected to our religiosity, but something is deeply wrong with our prevailing religious beliefs and practices when they support social, political, and economic systems that have led to one of the least accessible healthcare systems in the industrialized world, the highest incarceration rate on the planet, deeply embedded and systemic racism, high poverty rates and extreme income inequality, a disintegrating public education system, a crumbling public infrastructure, an entrenched military industrial complex, unprecedented gun violence, high rates of scientific illiteracy, and the highest levels of climate science denial in the world. Within the United States, the more religious the state, the more likely the poverty rates and incarceration rates are high, environmental protection is lax, and access to quality healthcare and education is low.
Religious organizations and religious persons who ignore these challenges are betraying both people and the planet; and for persons in theistic traditions, this is also a betrayal of God and God’s creation. In the Christian tradition, Matthew 25 calls on Christians to feed the hungry, provide drink for the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, care for the sick, and visit those in prison. In contrast, much of Christianity in the United States is supporting systems and structures that are contributing to more hunger, less protection of clean water, more poverty, more hostility to the stranger, less access to healthcare, more people in prison, catastrophic climate change, and the sixth great extinction on the planet. That can’t be anything close to what Matthew’s Jesus was teaching.
There is an otherworldly focus in much of American Christianity that lifts up the importance of life after death over how we are treating each other and the earth in this life. The challenges of hunger, access to clean water, incarceration, immigration, healthcare, education, violence, and environmental protection are left to the economics and politics of this world, while religion focuses primarily on the next. The result is that our religious obsession with another world is contributing to the creation of a hell on this one.
In addition to a focus on life after death rather than life before death, many religious persons in the United States (41% according to a 2010 Pew Research poll) believe that the end of the world as we know it will happen before 2050. It is difficult to be motivated to take on systematic efforts to make life better in this world when one truly believes it is all coming to an end within the next 33 years. Worse yet, many not only believe that the world is going to end soon, but some look forward to it so much that they are actively attempting to expedite the process of that event occurring. For our society to make the turn it must take to save this world and not just save our souls for the next, we will need to take life in this world at least as seriously as we do life in the next, or risk humanity losing this world forever. No matter what one believes about life after death or the possibility of another world beyond this one, let us not create a hell on earth for heaven’s sake.
Say No to Scott Pruitt as EPA Director (January 12, 2017)
With Scott Pruitt at its head, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency may continue to exist by that name, but it will focus more on deregulation of industry rather than protection of the environment.
One needs only to look closely at Pruitt’s record of fighting against the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, his financial connections to fossil fuel companies, and his emails with Devon Energy while serving as Oklahoma’s Attorney General to see that he is deeply linked to and influenced by fossil fuel interests. Given that he has virtually no experience in the area of environmental protection, it is rational to assume that his advocacy on behalf of the fossil fuel industry is the leading reason he has been nominated for this position.
With a Pruitt-led EPA, any significant environmental protection and climate change mitigation will have to come from persons in local communities and ecologically responsible states in solidarity and connection with other communities and from leadership outside of the United States.
The work of all caring and compassionate people in the United States working for climate justice and environmental protection will also require ongoing nonviolent resistance and nonviolent direct action.
Scott Pruitt – Fossil Fuel First (February 2, 2017)
When it comes to the well-being of people and the planet, perhaps no appointment in the current administration is more important than that of Director of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA is responsible for protecting our air, water, and land and for implementing appropriate plans to address the existential threat of climate change.
The Trump administration’s “An America First Energy Plan” is in reality “A Fossil Fuel First Energy Plan,” and it reads as if it were written by executives of oil, gas, and coal companies; which is very likely the case. It is also becoming increasingly clear that this administration plans to cut environmental regulations across the board, using the justification that such measures are needed to boost the economy. It makes sense that an administration that takes its energy policy cues directly from fossil fuel companies and its direction for environmental regulations in general from entities such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) would nominate Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to be the Director of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Those of us in Oklahoma know that Pruitt is no stranger to taking his cues and direction from the fossil fuel industry, and he is no stranger to saying and writing things that sound like they come directly from its executives. On at least one occasion we know that Attorney General Pruitt sent a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency arguing that the agency was overestimating methane emissions. The letter was signed by Pruitt and printed on the letterhead of the Office of the Oklahoma Attorney General, but 97% of the letter was exactly the same as a letter presented to him by Oklahoma based Devon Energy. He simply cut and paste the vast majority of the letter to make Devon’s case to the EPA.
The Devon letter is symbolic and representative of a clear pattern in Scott Pruitt’s work as Oklahoma’s Attorney General. When it comes to the fossil fuel companies from which he has been the recipient of much political and financial support, Pruitt is passionate and proactive in his pursuit of the protection of their interests. However, when it comes to protecting the environment and people from the negative effects of the fossil fuel industry and other industries for that matter, Pruitt is passive and silent at best and actively antagonistic at worst.
Upon entering the Office of the Attorney General of Oklahoma in 2010, Mr. Pruitt dismantled the office’s environmental protection unit. Pruitt later sued the EPA to stop the Clean Power Plan to protect fossil fuel interests, and he has sued the EPA in relation to a host of issues and regulations over a dozen times during his tenure. In contrast, he has been totally unengaged with advocating on behalf of the thousands of Oklahomans affected by induced seismicity caused by the oil and gas companies’ wastewater injection wells.
It was no surprise that Harold Hamm, CEO of Oklahoma based Continental Resources and key energy advisor to Trump during the presidential campaign, was the chair of Pruitt’s re-election campaign. Hamm is well known for his efforts to cast doubt on the connection between wastewater injection wells and the increase in seismicity that has made Oklahoma the earthquake capital of the United States and left private citizens holding the bill for the damage. It is almost certainly the case that Hamm played a significant role in influencing President Trump to select Pruitt to direct the EPA.
Pruitt has repeatedly argued that EPA regulations need to be cut in order to enhance the fossil fuel industry and industry in general. If he is confirmed by the United States Senate to be Director of the EPA, the fossil fuel industry will effectively be in control of the agency. Whether it will write 97% of the agency’s policy is yet to be seen, but what is almost beyond a shadow of a doubt is that the agency will be much less about environmental protection under Pruitt and much more about deregulation for the protection of corporate interests. Proactive measures to mitigate climate change will be a thing of the past, greatly decreasing the chances of maintaining a livable climate, and corporate interests will trump the well-being of people and the planet.
The Oklahoma Game (February 10, 2017)
Here is the Oklahoma game: Oil and gas companies and other large corporations in Oklahoma have successfully lobbied the politicians they have financially supported to get into office to give them massive tax breaks that each year amount to hundreds of millions of dollars of lost revenue for the state. They also influence these same politicians to cut income taxes for the wealthiest Oklahomans. Over time this lost revenue is measured in billions of dollars.
These same oil and gas companies and other large corporations give back a tiny fraction of what they should be paying in taxes in the form of donations to charitable organizations for social services, the arts, and education. Many of the social service organizations to which they contribute exist to try to fill the many gaps and holes in our social fabric that are worsened by the lost revenue from taxes the oil and gas companies and other large corporations should be paying. If one of the charitable organizations to which they give money does something that they don’t like, pressure will be applied and funding for that organization may even cease.
The oil and gas companies and other large corporations make sure they get a lot of really good publicity for their wonderful charitable giving. They serve as presidents of charitable organizations and play other leading roles on their boards and in their fundraising efforts. They and their corporations are constantly recognized at galas, special events, and performances. Their personal names and corporation names are displayed prominently on our arts and education events and venues, and they are lauded as being model personal and corporate citizens in our state.
All of this giving is of course tax deductible, and they use the giving as a way to provide positive PR for their corporations. In essence, they are getting relatively inexpensive tax deductible commercials at a miniscule rate compared to the taxes they are no longer paying because of their hold on our economic, political, and cultural processes.
As the oil and gas companies and other large corporations continue to be lauded for all they do for our city and state, Oklahoma experiences massive budget shortfalls, nation leading cuts in public education, the highest female incarceration rate in the country, poor access to healthcare, above average child poverty rates, and oil and gas industry induced earthquakes with individual citizens left with the bill for the damage.
In addition to the ongoing positive tax deductible PR campaign pursued by these corporations, they operate in an environment of little regulation owing to the fact that they provide financial support for politicians in the Oklahoma Corporation Commission – the very commission tasked with the responsibility of regulating their corporate practices. This is the Oklahoma game, and the vast majority of people in Oklahoma are not winning it. The oil and gas corporations are left saying “Is this a great state or what?” Other Oklahomans… Not so much.
Oklahoma: A State of Codependency (May 20, 2017)
For most of its existence as a state, Oklahoma has been dependent on the fossil fuel industry as the driving force of its economy. There have been ups and downs, booms and busts, but Oklahoma’s history is a history that was fueled by oil and then by both oil and natural gas. It is not surprising that in a state so dependent on oil and gas for its economic fortunes that the fossil fuel industry in Oklahoma has possessed and continues to possess tremendous political clout.
Speaking critically of the oil and gas industry or resisting its will is the closest thing to the kiss of death in Oklahoma politics. The fossil fuel industry knows this and so do the politicians. Oil and gas executives don’t try to hide this fact. They don’t have to. Historically what is good for oil and gas has been seen as what is good for Oklahoma. A politician following the will of the oil and gas industry was viewed simply as being a good Oklahoman.
Until very recently this political and economic hegemony of oil and gas went unquestioned and was both respected and feared by Republicans and Democrats alike. It is extremely difficult to succeed in Oklahoma, politically or economically, without good relations with and support from the industry that fuels the economic engines of our state. And this goes for persons in and out of political office. Speaking ill of oil and gas has been the third rail of Oklahoma politics and social survival – you just don’t go there.
Virtually no sector of Oklahoma society is untouched by the power of the fossil fuel industry, and all sectors are in some way dependent on it. Higher education, the arts, non-profit social service agencies, college and professional sports, entertainment venues, and even churches all find fiscal support from oil and gas companies, either directly or indirectly. They fund our plays, concerts, and musicals. They own and sponsor our beloved Oklahoma City Thunder basketball team. They are leading givers to charity (albeit their tax-deductible gifts are far less than the tax breaks they are given). The fossil fuel industry has established itself as the indispensable Oklahoma industry.
Oklahoma has come a long way with oil and gas, but there are significant signs that the relationship has evolved in ways that are no longer contributing to the overall flourishing of our state. The natural cycles of boom and bust are to be expected. That cannot be laid at the feet of the oil and gas companies, nor is it the underlying systemic problem of the relationship. Yet for systemic reasons, what was once an Oklahoma given, that the oil and gas industry is good for the state, has now become an extremely debatable assertion.
Perhaps the most significant problem with the industry that has made our state what it is today is that the production and use of its primary product pollutes our air and water and is quickly creating an unlivable climate. These are all assertions that the most prominent Oklahoma politicians refute because if they didn’t, they would no longer be among the most prominent Oklahoma politicians; but science is, well, science, and the evidence points strongly in the opposite direction of their denials. The recent experience of thousands of oil and gas wastewater injection induced earthquakes has made it more difficult to deny the negative environmental impacts of the industry as the Oklahoma earth literally shakes our consciousness and in some cases our conscience into new awareness.
Even if you take away most or all of hthe worst and very real environmental problems of oil and gas, there remain systemic factors in the state’s relationship to fossil fuel that are contributing to a less healthy relationship than what was experienced in the past. One of these factors is the importance of economic diversification. We have become so dependent on oil and gas that we fail time and time again to adequately diversify our economy to weather the times of bust in the boom/bust cycle. During every bust we promise ourselves that we will diversity, but when boom times come, we seem to contract a statewide collective amnesia.
Other forms of energy are becoming highly competitive with fossil fuel, and instead of embracing a multi-faceted energy economy with a broad mix of renewable energy sources, the fossil fuel industry uses its political clout to protect its interests over its competitors. This has played out in this year’s Oklahoma legislative session as incentives for renewable energy have been cut and electric cars taxed while Oklahoma Legislature Republicans seem resolute to keep hundreds of millions of dollars of annual tax breaks in place for oil and gas.
Fossil fuel executives lament that the industry is providing approximately 25% of the state government’s revenue, but what can we expect when we continue to fail to diversify? It should also be noted that we have made significant cuts to the budget over the past few years, so 25% today is less actual money than it was before the latest bust, and the state was already making budget cuts even during the boom cycle owing to a series of tax cuts, especially for the most wealthy and the fossil fuel industry. Compared to our peer oil and gas states, the fossil fuel industry in Oklahoma enjoys the lowest tax burden, with an effective gross production tax (GPT) rate of 3.2%. Our neighbor Texas, by contrast, has an effective rate of 8.3%
Faced with public pressure to restore the gross production tax rate to 7%, oil and gas executives and lobbyists argue that this will have a significant negative effect on oil and gas production in Oklahoma even though the rate will still be lower than most other states. However, a small number of vocal leaders in the industry, like George Kaiser and Dewey Bartlett Jr., are in favor of an increase in the rate and argue that a return to a 7% GPT will have a negligible impact on production, but it will have a significant positive impact on the state’s budget.
But most fossil fuel industry leaders want even more profit, and they are using their considerable political clout to pressure the politicians they have supported financially through the years for such a time as this. Schools are closing and moving more and more to 4-day school weeks across the state, teachers are paid abysmally and are leaving to other states where they can get paid $20,000 or more per year than in Oklahoma, hospitals are closing, mental health care is grossly underfunded, persons with special needs go underserved, and our incarceration rates are at record highs. Our state is failing, and as a third generation Oklahoman, I can already see my teenage daughters eying more flourishing communities beyond our state lines. Many people, especially young people, want out, and who can blame them? In the mean time, Oklahoma oil man Harold Hamm, the 32nd richest person in the United States and 87th richest person in the world, with a wealth estimated at $12.3 billion, is arguing that it would be “unconscionable” to raise GPT rates. The evidence of revenue failure in our state, I think, shows that it would be unconscionable not to raise them.
Oklahoma is experiencing a life threatening level of codependency on the oil and gas industry as the industry acts out its addiction to political and economic power at the expense of the overall health of the Oklahoma family and the well-being of our human and ecological communities. We have become a state of codependency, and any time we strive for more autonomy and independence from the fossil fuel industry or just simply ask oil and gas to pay its fair share, we are warned that disaster awaits us if we don’t stay the course, if we don’t stay in line.
What would we do without oil and gas, without the charitable giving, without the plays, without the concerts, without our beloved OKC Thunder? Just look at the majestic Devon Tower! See how far we have come! We are warned that we have to keep things just as they are, or we just won’t be able to make it. Yet behind the shiny tower, the professional sports, and the arts and entertainment (all of which are good within a flourishing community), we see a state that is languishing, a state that is failing, and a state that is codependent on the industry that may have made the state what it is, but is now keeping the state from becoming what it can be, both now and in the future.
The first step to recovery is to admit to one another that we have a problem. Without this first step, be prepared to remain high on the lists we don’t want to be high on and low on the lists we don’t want to be low on. Those lists are abstractions, but they represent real suffering of our neighbors and friends, suffering that will continue unless we break our current state of codependency.
Let’s come together as Oklahomans and take this step of recovery towards a more flourishing state, and our first step includes demanding that members of the Oklahoma Legislature restore the 7% gross production tax on oil and gas to save our state. Oil and gas companies won’t like that, but they do not own us. Healthy states and healthy people are not owned by anyone.
United Methodist Church and Wespath, Stop Investing in the Merchants of Doubt and Death! (June 3, 2017)
If we think it is morally problematic to invest in alcohol, tobacco, and gambling because of their negative effects on persons and society; but we think it is not morally problematic to invest in fossil fuel companies, then that it is a deeply flawed view of moral and social responsibility.
Only one of the above mentioned industries threatens the very future of human civilization on earth, and that industry, the fossil fuel industry, has spent billions of dollars to spread demonstrably false information about climate change and to influence politicians to keep allowing them to continue harming people and the planet.
My church, the United Methodist Church, and the company that manages its pension and benefits investments, Wespath, continue to make this grievous error in the name of keeping a seat at the table to influence the oil and gas companies. It is not working.
These same fossil fuel corporations are the ones working behind the scenes to keep us from making gains for climate justice and to keep us from moving towards clean and renewable energy. These same companies are investing in an infrastructure of pipelines and technology that will keep us dependent on fossil fuel for another generation while climate scientists are telling us that the vast majority of oil and gas must stay in the ground. Despite their public claims to the contrary, these same companies have helped bring people like Donald Trump and Scott Pruitt to power, and now they have removed the USA from the Paris Climate Agreement. By continuing to invest in these fossil fuel companies, the United Methodist Church is complicit with the very entities most responsible for creating an unlivable climate for human civilization.
Time and time again the United Methodist Church’s investments in fossil fuel companies undercut our prophetic witness for the care of creation. We United Methodists stood side by side with the people of Standing Rock and wrote statements of support for the water protectors there, only to have our witness tainted by the news that our church was financially invested in the very companies that were building the Dakota Access Pipeline. Talk about an example of not putting our money where our mouth was!
Recently, Wespath has touted the fact that our engagement with Occidental and Exxon Mobil helped sway stockholder votes to make these companies take into consideration and report to the stockholders about the impact of climate change and climate change mitigation on the activities and financial value of these companies. Days later the United States pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord based on the false science that these companies have been supporting for decades. The stockholder resolutions that Westpath is so proud of will have negligible impact, if any, on the actual extraction practices of these companies, while the United States federal government’s decision to withdraw from global cooperative action on climate change will likely bring devastating consequences to all life on earth.
What good are returns on our pension and benefits investments if we do not have a livable climate for human civilization? What good is a seat at the table of the planet destroyers if they keep on destroying the planet? While they may occasionally give us some crumbs that fall off the table to keep us satisfied that we are doing some good, they continue funding the merchants of doubt and the merchants of death that will lead to unspeakable suffering for all life on earth. It is time to stop taking seats at the tables we should be turning over and fully engage the prophetic witness for climate justice that is needed in fiercely urgent times like these.
The Wesleyan Covenant Association’s Breaking of Covenant (July 22, 2017)
Humans are causing the Sixth Great Extinction on Earth, but the schismatic Wesleyan Covenant Association within the United Methodist Church is more concerned about discriminating against people based on their sexual and gender orientation than it is about addressing climate change and healing and restoring our world. This misdirected concern is a breaking of our covenant to care for the earth and to work for justice and dignity of all persons.
As we propel ourselves into climate chaos and an increasingly unlivable planet for human civilization as we know it, the Wesleyan Covenant Association’s outcry remains “but the gays!” It is as if all that is wrong or right with the United Methodist Church hinges on keeping LGBTQ persons from full inclusion. Their primary reason for existence seems be the preservation of a form of Methodism that will continue to keep LGBTQ persons from full participation in the life of the church. They ignore that which is causing the greatest harm while obsessing over that which causes no harm, thus clearly violating John Wesley’s principle of doing no harm.
Future generations of humans will not lament that our generation did not do enough to exclude and discriminate against persons who are LGBTQ, but they will cry out in anger in the midst of horrific suffering that we did not do enough to preserve a livable climate for a flourishing human community on earth, our only home. As the planet becomes more and more unlivable, future generations will rightly wonder why churches spent more time trying to control sexual and gender orientation than they spent working for social justice, ecological responsibility, and climate justice.
The Wesleyan Covenant Association’s claims of broken covenant by LGBTQ persons and their allies in the United Methodist Church is an overt attempt to shame them to adhere to discriminatory principles. This use of the notion of covenant is an affront to the covenant of a Beloved Community that works for justice for all people and cares deeply for all creation. This covenantal shaming divides us rather than reconciling our relationships with each other and the earth.
For such a time as this, the world needs so much more from our churches than what the Wesleyan Covenant Association is offering. The whole creation groans in travail and cries out in hope for healing, restoration, regeneration, renewal, and reconciliation. It does not need yet another voice of exclusion and discrimination that denigrates the dignity and sacred worth of all persons. The world needs churches to be models for the healing of our human and ecological community, not places for misguided religious excuses for bigotry in the midst of the Sixth Great Extinction.
Church Revival in the 21st Century (January 4, 2018)
There once was a mainline Christian denomination in the United States that was experiencing significant membership decline. Since its peak in membership in the 1950s and early 1960s, this denomination lost millions in total membership despite many intentional efforts to quell the decline. Untold numbers of church growth workshops and trainings and significant investment in consultants to right the course could not turn things around. Membership continued to plummet.
The inability to reverse the decline was met with understandable concern as budgets and ministries were cut. As in all mainline denominations, there were many disagreements, including theological, among the clergy and laity; but nearly all were in agreement that something must be done to increase membership. Without more people in the pews, a once great denomination could become virtually non-existent within a couple of generations.
Then over a ten-year period, something of a miracle happened. After many years of study and strategizing about how to attract new members, the denomination finally began to turn around. Finding the right combination of engaging worship and preaching, community involvement, and programs to help people deal with life’s challenges; the denomination started to regain the membership it had been losing since the 1960s.
Other denominations took notice and learned from the revitalized denomination. Over time, this denomination led a revival of mainline Protestant churches in the United States. Membership boomed, new buildings were built, old buildings were renovated, budgets were increasing, new agencies and ministries were created, ministerial pension plans were in better shape than they had been for decades.
In a relatively short period of time, mainline denominations were no longer looking back with nostalgia at the 1950s. A new day had dawned for mainline denominations in the United States, and the denomination that started the revival experienced growth and prosperity that it had never experienced before. Seminary attendance swelled as the church struggled to meet the demand for all of the new ministers who were needed. Church growth experts lauded the 21st Century as the Century of Renewal for Christianity in America.
Two generations later, the membership of this denomination and all of the other denominations that had benefited from this significant revival saw their membership decimated by the massive die off of humans caused by the climate change induced economic and ecological collapse that the churches had done almost nothing to address.
A University Whose Time Has Finally Come (January 4, 2018)
There once was a university that like so many universities was struggling with its enrollment and finances. The university never had an endowment that was adequate for the size of its student body, and thus it was dependent on tuition revenue to cover the bulk of its instructional and other operational expenses.
As expenses inevitably increased, the interest from the university’s endowment was inadequate to cover the growing costs, and the university became even more dependent on tuition revenue. To meet expenses, the university had to increase tuition and fees; but it was not able to increase real dollar scholarship assistance, thus passing off most of the increased costs to the students.
With higher tuition and higher fees, fewer students were able to afford the price of attending the university. Over the period of a decade, enrollment declined precipitously. New programs were created to attract new students, but there were costs to starting new programs and the new enrollment in those programs could not make up for the losses in other areas. New strategies were put in place to recruit students whose families could pay the higher tuition and fees, but the university’s financial difficulties and deferred maintenance made it difficult to attract students from more wealthy families. Enrollment continued to decline.
During this time of the university’s struggles, leaders of the institution were sometimes heard saying that “the university didn’t have any problems that a billion dollar endowment couldn’t solve.” Interest from such an endowment could easily sustain the university financially for generations to come.
One day, as if an answer to a prayer, the university was given over $1 billion by an oil tycoon whom the university had been cultivating for over a decade. This donor had given significant gifts before, but this gift was the game changer. The university’s future was now secured. Enrollment increased, the faculty and staff at the university grew in quantity and quality, and the university steadily rose in the national college rankings. The university’s time for flourishing had finally arrived.
About two generations later, the university closed its doors; its enrollment decimated by the massive human die off caused by the climate change induced economic and ecological collapse that so many universities dependent on fossil fuel cash and other corporate donations did so little to address.
Oklahoma, Step Beyond Fossil Fuel (January 21, 2018)
I completely understand why the fossil fuel companies in Oklahoma whose massive tax breaks have broken our state would want to control the state’s response to its brokenness, but I can’t understand why the rest of us would let them.
Letting oil and gas companies control how Oklahoma responds to its revenue failure and budget crisis is a little bit like allowing the person who crashed into your car control where you go to the doctor for your injuries and what body shop you can use to repair your car and then being told not to complain about your chronic back pain or about the paint not matching on your car or about the bumper that keeps falling off.
The fossil fuel companies in Oklahoma own this state. They own the governor and almost every state-wide elected office. They own the vast majority of the Oklahoma Legislature. They own the mayors of our major cities and most of their city councils. They own our universities and their presidents. They own most of the media. The fossil fuel companies own Oklahoma, and thus they utterly and completely own our state’s abysmal failure. And now they want us to trust them to come up with solutions for our state? Give me a break!
In addition to being a failing state in the present, Oklahoma has done very little to prepare for the post-fossil fuel economy. If we think things are bad now, wait 10-15 years when fossil fuel use is in significant decline around the world. 20 years ago, I had hoped that our Oklahoma oil and gas companies would begin to see themselves more broadly as energy companies and help lead the way in the transition to clean energy, but I underestimated their greed and their willingness to sacrifice the well-being of future generations both in Oklahoma and beyond for the sake of that greed.
Not only has Oklahoma done very little to prepare for the post-fossil fuel economy, we have also cut state spending on education far more than any other state since 2008, making it less and less likely that our state will possess the intellectual and creative capital needed to create a new economy. Our best students rightly see that their capabilities will be more greatly appreciated elsewhere unless their field of interest is fossil fuel friendly. Many of the students with great potential still get left behind because our lack of educational funding makes them less and less prepared to succeed in college and in their careers.
Oklahoma’s fossil fueled failures have state, national, and global implications. Perhaps no other states in the United States bear more responsibility for our inaction on climate change than Oklahoma and Texas, and this is why Scott Pruitt, Rex Tillerson, and Rick Perry are in the halls of power. They have willingly done the bidding of the major fossil fuel companies and their executives (many of whom are based in Oklahoma and Texas) to accelerate the Trump Train towards climate chaos – all while these same companies spend billions of dollars to confuse people about the science of climate change in order to make trillions of dollars in profits from their fossil fuel assets. Not only do they put profit over state and country; they put profit over the planet. This is the industry to which Oklahoma should trust its future? – Not if we ever hope to make Oklahoma a flourishing state for all people and not a failed state that continues to contribute to the plunder of our planet.
The future for Oklahoma is not fossil fuel; it is wind, solar, clean energy technology, sustainable agriculture, creative arts, eco-tourism, and innovation for a regenerative economy that contributes to a more just, participatory, and sustainable society. If we really want to step up for Oklahoma, we must step beyond fossil fuel and embrace a diverse and sustainable economic future.
Oh Oklahoma, you are just so super, fantastic. We’re all really impressed down here… (April 1, 2018)
Given that higher education in Oklahoma is controlled by fossil fuel executives (yes, it really is – check out last week’s Oklahoma news), I have come to the conclusion that it is in the my best interest as a university professor in Oklahoma to stop calling out the oil and gas companies for their greed and deception and for contributing to the abysmal failure of our state and to the future global climate chaos that will lead to billions of deaths and the crash of countless ecosystems – yes, definitely not going to do that anymore!
Yes, the time has come for me to accept the mantra of the Chamber of Commerce’s Ackerman McQueen produced ads and videos that this a great state, a really super and grand, high octane, fossil fueled state; as opposed to being a state with the highest female incarceration rate on the planet, nearly the lowest paid teachers in the nation, numerous school districts with four day school weeks, the biggest cuts in education in the nation since 2008, thousands of fossil fuel industry induced earthquakes, a failing healthcare system, more violations of drinking water safety than any other state, and a crumbling infrastructure.
Not only must I now recognize that this is a great state, but I also must now confess publicly that its greatness is owed almost fully to Harold Hamm (so inspiring to see him cheering on our great Oklahoma Legislature from the gallery last week – he is just so super and really supportive), Larry Nichols, and all of the other oil and gas executives who are responsible for this incredible super greatness, yes all this winning, that we Oklahomans are experiencing. Everything is so fabulous that thousands of teachers and their supporters are coming to the Capitol tomorrow for a time of fellowship and to celebrate all that the oil and gas companies and the Oklahoma Legislature have done for them. It is all just so super. I am awfully impressed down here I must say.
So from this day forward (what day is this again?), I am just going to shut off all my clearly misguided criticisms and hope my dutiful support of all that the fossil fuel industry has done for our state, including higher education (don’t want to be brought into any “coffees” with Harold Hamm and a college president now do I? – awkward! – and I am certainly not going to mention anymore that the majority of the major university presidents in Oklahoma either are or have been paid directors of oil and gas companies while they have been sitting college presidents and while some of their universities do paid research for these same companies – research that is sometimes used to lobby the federal government to help the bottom line of these same companies – no definitely not going to mention that anymore) will land me some sweet OKC Thunder season tickets (or at least help me keep my job). Go Thunder! Is this a great state or what?!
A Vision for United Methodist Creation Care (July 26, 2018)
Remarks to the 2018 United Methodist Creation Care Summit at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota
When it comes to what the United Methodist Church has to offer in a time of ecological degradation and in a time that calls for an ecological conversion of the entire human community, I think that our denomination’s greatest asset is also perhaps its greatest challenge, and this combination of asset and challenge is what we often simply refer to as the connection.
The connection is clearly an asset in many ways. We see it on full display in the participation in this Creation Care Summit with bishops, boards, agencies, and higher education institutions of the church all coming together to provide resources, leadership, and expertise. Our connection is also a global connection, and this is an important asset as well given that the ecological challenges we face are global in nature even though some nations clearly contribute more to our crisis than others. We United Methodists have shown that when we put our minds to it, we are able to act quickly and effectively to meet the needs of both people and the planet. The work of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) and the Nothing But Nets Imagine No Malaria campaign are only two examples among many of how we United Methodists are capable of getting things done for the well-being of others, especially with those who are vulnerable and in need.
Compared to most Protestant denominations, our global connection and the global reach this connection gives us may be the greatest assets we have in addressing the call for a global ecological conversion; but our global connection also creates a set of challenges. Maintaining the institutional structures of a global church is not an easy task. It takes money, time, and energy; and it requires levels of dialogue, cooperation, and compromise that are not required in less connectional denominations. We have to worry about vast health insurance systems, pension systems, board and agency budgets, and many other pressing institutional challenges. We also experience a wide array of theological and cultural differences, and it is not easy to keep a global church together across these many differences and challenges.
As we come closer to the General Conference of 2019, we see how significant and pronounced some of these differences are. Will the connection be able to hold together in a way that it can be an asset rather than a barrier to addressing the great ecological challenges of our time? This is an open question at a time when the ecological challenges we face do not give us too much time to deal with such open questions.
In the midst of our assets and challenges, my big hopes and dreams for the mission, ministry, and witness of the United Methodist Church on creation care and creation justice are that we can live into all of the promise and potential that our connection has to offer for people and all life on the planet while working through our institutional challenges in ways that do not hinder but rather actually enhance our ecological witness.
I dream that our local churches will become places where people, especially young people, might have their first experiences of putting their hands in the soil and connecting with God’s creation. I dream that local churches will make creation care through advocacy and action be at the core of their ministries. What better way is there to love God and love our neighbors than to care for God’s creation and work for a flourishing ecological community within which our human communities can thrive.
I dream that our United Methodist Churches will see themselves as part of a Connectional Movement for Creation Care, that we will see our global connection and all the people and resources it provides as the greatest asset we have to bring about an ecological conversion in our communities and the world.
Finally, I hope that creation care will be embraced as part of our churches’ evangelism efforts. Creation care is good news for people and good news for all life on the planet. A sustainable revival of churches is dependent on creation care.
As a thought experiment, imagine that we as a denomination will be able to turn around our declining membership in the United States and continue growing in other parts of the world. Imagine that we are able to grow the United Methodist Church beyond our wildest dreams so that in a less than generation our churches are full, our budgets are booming, and our connection is thriving. How sad and tragic it would be if just one or two generations later, the membership of our denomination that had benefited so much from this significant revival saw its membership decimated by the massive die off of humans caused by the climate change induced economic and ecological collapse that our churches had done almost nothing to address.
If we want more people to hear the good news that Jesus has for the world, we must find ways as a church to care for and sustain the very good world that God loves so much. Creation care is good news. Creation care is evangelism. The Church of the 21st Century cannot be renewed without creation care, and if people come to see our churches as places that care for people and all life on the planet and they see that we are actually doing something about it, I think they will come to our churches. We United Methodists ought to know something about renewal, so let’s get down to work because we have some serious renewing and regeneration of the whole creation to do.
Trusting God on Climate Change (January 26, 2019)
Like Senator James Inhofe, Sarah Sanders recently intimated that she is trusting God to take care of the climate. Perhaps she might want to consider that one way God “takes care of things” is through us, and maybe, just maybe, God is telling us something through our best climate scientists about what we ought to be doing to be good stewards of all creation. The Hebrew Bible teaches us the wisdom that God calls us to care for the community of all creation, not just treat it like crap and then expect God to clean up the mess. In the Hebrew Bible, that kind of attitude and practice would be characterized as sin.
When we get sick, we trust doctors.
When we take medicine, we trust pharmacists.
When we are passengers in airplanes, we trust pilots, mechanics, and aeronautical engineers.
When we are under threat by hostile powers, we trust the military to defend us.
When we drive over bridges, we trust civil engineers.
When we eat at a restaurant, we trust the cooks and the servers.
When we buy food at the grocery store, we trust farmers and grocers.
When we turn on our lights and use our appliances, we trust electricians.
When we drive our cars, we trust those who have assembled them and those who maintain them.
Yet when it comes to the climate, Sarah Sanders and Senator James Inhofe say we are not supposed to trust climate scientists, but rather simply trust God.
But why stop with trusting God to take care of the climate? Why not simply trust God to keep us from getting sick, to keep our planes in the air, to keep us safe from military attack, to keep our cars from falling into rivers, to cook our food and keep it safe for us, to grow and safely store our food for us, to make light for us and power our appliances for us, and to transport us wherever we need to go? Why not just give it all up to God and save ourselves a lot of hard work and trouble?
Perhaps this all has something to do with fossil fuel corporations and their executives being able to make trillions of dollars by keeping us from trusting what climate scientists are saying. Perhaps they think they can trust that these trillions of dollars will keep them safe when the climate is in chaos, but that is not trusting in God, that is trusting in mammon, and as the Christian Bible reminds us, “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” (I Timothy 6:10, Common English Bible).
Hope and Climate Change (February 12, 2019)
What most climate scientists and climate justice advocates don’t want to publicly admit is that the die is likely already cast when it comes to catastrophic climate change. Given the amount of greenhouse gases we have already emitted into the atmosphere and the amount of warming that has been baked into the system, coupled with the fact that countries like the United States, Russia, Brazil, Australia, and Saudi Arabia are doubling down on our collective suicidal behavior of increasing fossil fuel use at a time when every climate indicator points us towards a moral responsibility of keeping almost all of the known fossil fuel deposits in the ground; it will take some sort of unforeseen occurrence or series of occurrences to keep global temperatures from moving us into a period of climate chaos in which human civilization as we know it will not survive more than a few more centuries.
We humans tend be hopeful creatures. It is difficult to live without hope. This has been one of the great strengths of our species, the ability to hold on to hope even in the midst of great challenges and be able to persevere. Hope has led us through dark times of war and injustice and given us strength to overcome numerous crises in the history of human civilization, even at times when all seemed lost. In some ways, however, when it comes to climate change, our ability to hope may have become a weakness for humanity. Perhaps our hope that the future will be better than the past has led us into a societal denial of the breadth and depth of the challenge we have been facing with climate change. Perhaps an overly hopeful attitude of a better future has led us further down the slippery slope towards a more and more unavoidable climate chaos.
Some of us have put our hope in God that somehow the Divine would not let us collectively ruin a livable climate for humanity, but surely we have seen enough evil and suffering play out in the world to realize that this is not how the Divine, whatever the Divine may be, works in the world. If this is how God worked in the world, we would not have had the Holocaust and other genocides, and we would not already be entering into the sixth great extinction on our planet. Whatever the Divine is, the Divine does not seem to take matters into the Divine’s hands in the way that those who hope God will deliver us from global warming would like to think.
Some of us have put our hope in political action and activism, believing that when it became obvious based on scientific evidence that human activity was driving climate change that we would come together as one humanity to make the necessary social and economic changes to avoid the path towards climate chaos. In the early 1990s, it felt like things might have been moving in this positive direction, but those of us who hoped for sweeping global political action for climate justice were perhaps caught off guard by the breadth and depth of global greed that hindered any meaningful action to address climate change before it is too late.
Some of us have put our hope in technology, believing that when we humans put our minds to it we are always capable of coming up with technological solutions to overcome challenges and adversity. We hoped that alternative and clean energy would be developed and utilized quickly enough, and now given that this scenario has not played out, we look to technologies that might help us geo-engineer the climate of the planet. Such desperate geo-engineering scenarios are becoming more and more acceptable as we have allowed the window to close on the possibility of shifting away from fossil fuels quickly enough to avoid climate chaos.
Realistically, when it comes to addressing climate change in ways that will avoid massive amounts of human suffering, economic and ecological collapse, and a significant die-off of human beings; there is not much hope left. The great ice sheets and glacial systems of the world are disappearing, the permafrost in the arctic is melting and releasing the potent greenhouse gas methane into the atmosphere, and arctic sea ice is declining with larger areas of open ocean leading to more absorption of heat and an increase in global temperatures; yet we seem more concerned about energy independence in the short run than we are about a livable climate in the long run.
As a person who has attempted to be hopeful for positive change in relation to our environment and climate change, it feels horrific to admit that we have likely come to a point of being hopeless, but I am afraid it is a truth with which we must begin to grapple. But whether there is hope or no hope, let’s at least not go down without a fight. Let’s take the climate scientists at their good word based on strong empirical evidence and take seriously their estimates that we have about 11 years left to make significant systemic civilizational changes to avoid the very worst of climate change. Let’s move on something like the Green New Deal that is being proposed by our most visionary elected officials. Let’s give ourselves every chance at survival that we can. Maybe we will be fortunate that some unforeseen natural events might assist us in arresting climate change and help us maintain a stable and livable climate. We do not fully know what the future holds, but we can be fairly certain that if we simply continue as we currently are that it really is hopeless.
Hope has so much power. As you can see, it is difficult for me to fully give up on hope, but we cannot allow what little hope we might have left to keep us from seeing the fierce urgency of this moment, nor can we allow a sense of utter hopelessness to sink us into a perpetual state of non-action. Against all odds, we still need to work together to give ourselves the best possible chance for a livable climate and somehow find ways to do all we can to treat one another with love, respect, and justice in the process.
Fossil Fueled Fascism (March 18, 2019)
There are at least four things about which our current president is quite consistent:
1. He is anti-immigrant and anti-refugee in relation to non-white immigrants.
2. He is anti-Islam, except in the case of Saudi Arabia and its allies.
3. He supports Christian Fundamentalism.
4. He supports the fossil fuel industry.
These four things contribute to Trump’s deep and abiding support among racists, xenophobes, white supremacists, Christian fundamentalists, industrial agriculture, the fossil fuel industry, and the petrochemical industry; and it is their interconnected interests that have brought Trump to power and which are working to keep him in power.
Racists, xenophobes, white supremacists, and Christian fundamentalists support Trump primarily for ideological reasons; but the industrial agriculture, the fossil fuel industry, and the petrochemical industry (all of which depend heavily on fossil fuel) support Trump primarily for financial reasons. Trump’s ideological base and the fossil fuel industry are mutually supportive of each other and mutually dependent on one another. The need each other to maintain power, and they know it. Trump knows it too.
Racists, xenophobes, and white supremacists tend to subordinate any concerns they might have for the environment to their more immediate concern of making America white again, so climate change is easily discarded as a concern of the opposing “globalist” team. From their nationalist perspective, they are easily convinced that increased fossil fuel development for the sake of energy independence is in both the national and nationalist interest.
Christian fundamentalists, few of whom are explicitly racist, xenophobic, or white supremacists, are nonetheless willing to overlook Trump’s popularity among these groups because Trump is supporting their most important agenda items of ending access to legal abortions and protecting what they understand to be their religious freedom – even if that freedom calls for discrimination of other persons in the public sphere. As long as Trump continues to appoint judges who will support their agenda, they will never stop supporting Trump, and given that a very large percentage of them literally believe the world will end in their lifetime, climate change is of little concern to them. They are much more focused on uncritical support for Israel (another point Trump knows how to work) less out of concern for the Jewish people who are living in Israel than as a means to bring about the Second Coming (yes, they really are working for this). This is why Trump moved the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
Ideological support for Trump is crucial to his success, but without the financial and organizational support of the fossil fuel related industries; Trump would likely not have come to power. Trump has rewarded these industries mightily with a massive rollback of environmental regulations and a withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement. Trump’s problematic ties to Russia are not a problem at all to the fossil fuel industry as there are hundreds of billions of dollars to be made on drilling agreements with Russia. This is likely why Rex Tillerson, former CEO of Exxon, was appointed as Secretary of State. To Tillerson’s credit, he could not bring himself to continue working under Trump, but his initial appointment was a testament to how closely the fossil fuel industry is connected with this president.
Most fossil fuel executives are likely not racist, xenophobic, or white supremacists; and they are probably no more likely to be Christian fundamentalists than any other segment of society. Most fossil fuel executives probably don’t see themselves as being pro-Putin or even pro-Russia, but their desire to cash in on the trillions of dollars worth of fossil fuel yet to be exploited has led them into a mutually reinforcing and mutually beneficial relationship with Trump’s ideological base. The relationship is becoming stronger and more inextricable to the point that, whether consciously or not, the fossil fuel industry is supporting dangerous right-wing nationalist ideologies around the world. The existential danger we are currently facing is that this collaboration of convenience to further ideological and financial interests seems to be leading us down a pernicious path to fossil fueled fascism with dire consequences for people and the planet.
Who Will Save Us? (April 28, 2019)
Corporations are not going to save us. Politicians are not going to save us. Judges are not going to save us. Philanthropists are not going to save us. Preachers are not going to save us. Scientists are not going to save us. Celebrities are not going to save us. Universities are not going to save us. Technology alone is not going to save us. The hand of God is not going to save us.
We are the only people who are going to save us from the climate chaos we are creating, and by we, I mean a mass movement of revolutionary proportions for systemic transformation that will radically alter our relations to each other and the planet and lead us to forever see nature as our community rather than simply a commodity to exploit.
Our climate scientists are warning us that the next ten years are our last opportunity to avoid the worst of the worst case scenarios in relation to climate change. Let’s not be the worst generation that lets a livable climate slip through our fingers. May the powerful forces of love, empathy, and justice create in us a new heart that will not allow us to sit idly by while we hurl ourselves towards a future of horrific suffering in an unlivable climate.
We have it in us to do this, but will we find the courage and the spirit to give our lives for the very life of human civilization itself and the well-being of all life? What will motivate us to finally respond to the greatest existential threat to ever face humanity and our ecological community?
It is going to take more than changing out light bulbs, carpooling, and programming the thermostat. It will require a revolution of agriculture, transportation, energy, and industry. It will require a transformation of our economic and political systems to make right all that we have done wrong to our one world house over the past three centuries, and we must be willing to give our whole lives to this effort so that our earth might flourish and humanity might not perish. Only we can save us.
Climate Eucatastrophe (May 9, 2019)
In J. R. R. Tolkien’s works, the eucatastrophic moment only comes when good and compassionate persons realize that they must be willing to bring their full and whole lives (even to the point of being willing to sacrifice their lives) to bear on the revolutionary task at hand of turning the world away from fear, hate, darkness, and death towards hope, love, light, and life. If one has not yet recognized that one’s full life is being called upon, then one has not yet realized what we are facing, and half measures will be met with utter defeat and destruction rather than new life in a new world.
Eucatastrophe is only possible after fully realizing the breadth and depth of the catastrophe of this moment. The only way we can save anything is for us to realize that on our current trajectory we will lose everything.
Most people would rather not hear that our chances are very small for being able to address the climate crisis before it is too late to avoid climate chaos. This is not news anyone wants to hear. We would rather be told that we have this under control, that everything is going to somehow be alright, that even though things look bad right now we can turn this around, or that there will be some kind of eucatastrophic breakthrough or turn of events that will lead us through our global crisis towards global renewal.
The dangers of hopelessness are real, but we have been telling ourselves that somehow we will figure climate change out for over 30 years and the indicators that we are doing anything but figure this out are staring us relentlessly in our collective face. If we have any hope of participating in the climate eucatastrophe that we so desperately need, we must first recognize in full relief the reality of our climate crisis and embrace each other in the fierce urgency of now to work for the life giving turn around to create a new world in Beloved Community.
Sometimes we have to sit outside and mourn around the tomb of death that we are experiencing before new life and renewed life can break into the world. There is hope, but not unless our eyes are wide open to the reality of the deadly threat we are all facing and why and how we have allowed ourselves to get to a point where the survival of humanity and many species of life hang in the balance.
We cannot forget, however, Martin Luther King Jr.’s warning that there is such a thing as being too late, and we have to realize that no one else is going to save us. It is up to us, all of us, to give our lives to bring about the climate eucatastrophe to save our human community and the ecological community of which we are all a part. It’s worth the sacrifice. It’s worth our lives.
Writing the Turning Point in Our Climate Crisis Story (May 10, 2019)
The peripeteia, or turning point, of a story is sometimes difficult to ascertain the first time one is reading it. It is often only in looking back on the story in its entirety that we see the turning point that changes everything or that leads the story in a decidedly new direction. The turning point of a story can take the narrative in a wide variety of possible directions on a spectrum from the positive and transformative to the tragic and destructive.
In our current story of humanity creating a climate crisis, are we currently experiencing the peripeteia that will lead us away from climate chaos? Will the Green New Deal be the turning point? Will it be the youth climate movement gaining momentum around the world? Will it be indigenous peoples calling us, leading us, and showing us the way to more responsible care of the earth? Will it be cities urgently and creatively working together for ways towards a zero carbon footprint? Will it be communities and neighborhoods growing their own food and focusing on enhancing local and sustainable economies? Will it be a combination of these movements and ones yet to break into greater public awareness?
Or is the turning point yet to come in the near or distant future? If so, how much time is left to make the turning? Our best climate scientists are telling us that the turning must happen now, before 2030, if we hope to have anything remotely close to a positive ending of our climate story. There is genuine concern among that the time for a peripeteia towards a livable climate may have already passed us by.
We may not know whether the turning has begun or not, but it is fiercely urgent that we continue our work together of writing the turning in this story of the climate crisis of our own making. May we write together with our lives one of the greatest and most transformative stories ever told. If we don’t, we will look back and realize that the peripeteia was a turning towards the tragedy of climate chaos rather than a turning towards a livable climate for our human and ecological communities.
Dear Oklahoma and Midwest States Experiencing Extreme Flooding (May 25, 2019)
Dear Oklahoma and Midwest states experiencing extreme flooding,
As we mourn the deaths of those lost in the floods, as we lament the loss of so many homes to the floodwaters, as we witness billions of dollars of crops rotting in the fields, as we assess the damage to stored grain now under water, as we count the numbers of livestock that have drowned, and as we as a nation witness the most rainfall ever experienced in a 12 month period since record keeping began in 1895; it is important to be aware of the following:
• With each degree Celsius increase in global average temperature, the atmosphere holds 7% more water vapor.
• This increase of water vapor in the atmosphere leads to more extreme precipitation and flooding events.
• We are currently experiencing average global temperatures that are nearly one degree Celsius over the pre-industrial global temperature averages.
• We are changing the water cycle of the planet, and that is not a good thing.
• We don’t want to see what an increase of 1.5 degrees and beyond in global average temperature looks like.
Wake up to the reality of what we are doing to our planet. Wake up to the reality of what we are doing to ourselves.
The fossil fuel industry has been lying to us about the climate crisis for decades. It will not get better unless we commit our lives to saving our only home.
The Cliff of Climate Chaos (May 29, 2019)
Yes, both going full speed straight ahead off a cliff and not slowing down enough or turning enough to keep from going off a cliff eventually will end up with the same result of driving off a cliff, but if given a choice between speeding up or slowing down and turning, the latter is better as it gives you a little more time to realize or be convinced that more drastic measures are needed to avoid the precipitous fall to death.
In relation to the climate crisis, voting for Trump is speeding up and driving straight off the cliff. In contrast to Trump, some of the Democratic candidates have plans on climate change that if implemented would give us a decent chance of not driving over the cliff at all, but Joe Biden’s plan does not slow us down enough or turn us away from the climate crisis cliff quickly enough, which is one of the reasons why he is not my first choice to be the Democratic nominee for president.
If given a choice between Trump and Biden, however, I will always vote for slowing down over speeding up. A Biden presidency would at least give us a chance to avoid the very worst, whereas the re-election of Trump takes us quickly to the point of no return to a livable climate as all of his policies and the persons implementing them are driving us recklessly over the cliff to climate chaos.
In a Biden presidency, we would at least have an Environmental Protection Agency with some actual concern for the environment, and we would have senior climate science positions filled with actual climate scientists. We would have climate assessment reports that we could trust and an administration that would not be openly hostile to all environmental regulations. This would at least give us a window of opportunity to keep yelling to the collective driver of our societal car to slam on the brakes and take much more radically evasive action to avoid the cliff of climate chaos.
Voting for a third party in this next presidential election or sitting out the election because one thinks Biden is not progressive enough, in effect becomes a vote for speeding off the cliff. I will continue to work to elect a Democratic nominee with the strongest climate crisis action plan, but if Biden ends up as the nominee, I will do all I can to elect him while simultaneously doing all that it is possible to get us to slow down and turn more quickly to avoid the cliff. I believe in the very core of my being that another term with Trump would eliminate the possibility of avoiding a future of climate chaos and unspeakable suffering for both people and the planet.
Listening to Our Climate Scientists (May 30, 2019)
If a person ate fast food and drank sugary drinks every day and 99 out of 100 cardiologists told this person that this diet was contributing to this person’s heart disease, and if that person chose to listen to the one doctor instead of the 99, the vast majority of us would say that this person is in denial about what is contributing to their heart disease.
If a number of CEOs of fast food chains and soda companies encouraged this person to listen to the one doctor versus the 99, that would unlikely make us change our assessment that this person is in denial. We probably would remind this person that the fast food companies and soda companies have a bit of bias on matters such as this, and we would strongly encourage this person to listen to what the 99 cardiologists are saying.
But for some reason when 99 out of 100 climate scientists tell us that greenhouse gas emissions from human activity are the primary contributor to increases in global average temperatures, many of us want to listen to the one versus the 99. Many of us in denial about the reasons for our climate crisis repeat the same arguments against the 99 that are promoted by CEOs and paid surrogates of fossil fuel companies and industrial agriculture companies and fail to see the bias that they have on such matters.
In the case of individual persons denying the reasons for their heart disease, the consequences could be tragic for them. In the case of persons denying the reasons for our climate crisis, the consequences will be tragic for us all.
Wise persons and wise societies will listen to their doctors and climate scientists who base their diagnoses and conclusions on sound scientific method rather than listen to the propaganda of the companies that profit off our denial of reality. When we have heart problems, we should listen to our cardiologists, not to McDonald’s and Coca Cola. When we have a climate crisis, we should listen to our climate scientists, not to ExxonMobil and Koch Industries.
Yes, We Should Be Talking About Greenland (August 23, 2019)
There are many important and urgent reasons we should be focused on Greenland.
1. Greenland is melting.
2. Greenland’s melting will increase sea levels and threaten coastal cities around the world.
3. Greenland’s melting is releasing large amounts of fresh water into the ocean which could alter the rate of the flow of the Global Ocean Conveyor, which has a significant impact on climate and marine ecosystems – including fisheries.
4. Greenland’s melting is emitting the potent greenhouse gas methane into the atmosphere. As the melting continues to accelerate, extremely large amounts of methane will be released into the atmosphere with the potential to greatly exacerbate the climate crisis.
5. Greenland’s melting means less ice to reflect sunlight, and that means the arctic will warm even faster than it is now.
6. Geeenland’s melting and the concomitant accelerated warming of the arctic will release even more of the potent greenhouse gas methane as permafrost melts throughout the arctic, accelerating global warming.
7. Greenland’s melting will exacerbate arctic sea ice loss creating habitat loss for animals dependent on the ice and increasing erosion of arctic coastlines.
One of the least important reasons to be focused on Greenland is the fact that Trump wants to buy Greenland. In addition to Greenland not being for sale, it should also be noted that Trump’s denial of the climate crisis and inaction to address it is insuring that Greenland will continue to melt and do so at rates previously not imagined possible. There might eventually be more habitable land on Greenland for a period of time, but Greenland’s melting means climate chaos and is disastrous for the earth.
Trump wanting to buy Greenland is not the reason to be talking about Greenland, but perhaps since his absurd idea is bringing Greenland into the news a bit more, it is an opportunity to focus on and be concerned about Greenland for the reason that really matters – avoiding climate chaos.
Oklahoma, Opioids, and Oil (August 26, 2019)
In Oklahoma’s case against Johnson & Johnson in relation to the opioid crisis, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter used an argument that could also be applied to Oklahoma’s oil and gas companies and how they are deceiving us about the long term and lethal effects of their production processes and their product for Oklahomans and all of human civilization.
Like the pharmaceutical companies, the oil and gas companies have deceived us for self profit that has led to grave societal harm. They have deceived us about wastewater induced earthquakes, supported merchants of doubt to lie to us about the reality of our climate crisis, and attempted to block any meaningful regulations on the environmental impact of their industry.
The oil and gas companies have even sought to weaken academic freedom at our colleges and universities by buying university and college presidents and in more than one case giving them millions of dollars in direct payments to serve as paid directors on their boards. In other cases, oil and gas companies influence Boards of Regents and Boards of Trustees to simply place oil and gas company executives as the presidents of the universities. The oil and gas companies attempted to squash dissent by academics who were exposing and telling the truth about wastewater induced earthquakes and who openly resist the lies being told by the fossil fuel industry about climate change.
Oklahoma Attorney General Hunter described Johnson & Johnson’s conduct in misleading the public about the addictive nature of opioids as “devious and diabolical.” Attorney General Hunter, congratulations on your work to hold the pharmaceutical industry accountable for its role in the opioid crisis in Oklahoma. Congratulations on the verdict that Johnson & Johnson is to pay $572 million for the damage it has done to the people of Oklahoma. When will you be taking Devon Energy, Chesapeake Energy, Continental Resources, and others to court to hold them accountable for their devious and diabolical role in our climate crisis and for the millions of dollars of damages from earthquakes that their industry unleashed on our state?
Oklahoma’s Climate of Complicity (September 13, 2019)
When it comes to the climate crisis, Oklahoma has one of the highest percentages of people who deny the reality of climate change and the role of human activity in contributing to rising global temperatures. This is not surprising in a state that is dominated by the oil and gas industry, where the good or bad fortune of the economy seems inextricably linked to the price of a barrel of oil, where towns boom or bust based on oil and gas well counts, and where we are reminded constantly by the propaganda of oil and gas companies that they are responsible for all of our good things and that we would be lost as a state without them.
In such a state as this, it is no surprise that we are home to a U.S. Senator who brings snowballs on the floor of the U.S. Senate and builds igloos on the National Mall when it is cold outside as evidence of his assertion that “global warming is the greatest hoax” ever perpetrated on the American people. It is no surprise that Oklahoma governors and attorneys general have long taken their talking points from oil and gas companies and have the state’s most powerful fossil fuel executives on speed dial. It is no surprise that very few of Oklahoma’s religious leaders speak out about addressing climate change when their offering plates are full of fossil fuel money. It is no surprise that Oklahoma colleges and universities have their regents and trustees packed with persons with fossil fuel interests, and it is no surprise that university presidents in Oklahoma are often paid directors of oil and gas companies or simply come directly from the ranks of fossil fuel executives, often with little to no experience in higher education. In the Oklahoma game, it is difficult to win without oil and gas on your team.
For these reasons and more, I have often described Oklahoma as being in a state of denial about climate change – a regrettable, yet understandable state of affairs given our fossil fueled economy. However, as climate change has become a full blown climate crisis, as 500 year floods become commonplace, as seasonal high tides flood the streets of Miami and those of other cities, as coastal villages erode into the sea, as we see climate refugees who have lost their homes to rising seas and strengthening storms, as arctic sea ice and permafrost melt, as glaciers recede all over the world, as global temperature averages continue to increase to record levels, as fire seasons and fire ravaged areas expand, as the effects of climate change are real right now, not just some forecast of a distant future; the word “denial” to describe Oklahoma’s response to the climate crisis no longer seems adequate.
Oklahoma’s response to the climate crisis is much less innocent than denial. Oklahoma (namely all Oklahomans who perpetuate the interests of the fossil fuel industry through word, deed, silence, or inaction) is complicit in the greatest ongoing crime against humanity and the ecological community of which we are all a part. Oklahoma is complicit in the theft of a flourishing present and the theft of our children’s and youth’s future. Oklahoma is complicit in leading us towards horrific suffering and death in the ongoing human-induced Sixth Great Extinction event on Earth.
Perhaps no one sees this complicity more clearly than our children and youth, and many young people are calling on all of us to address the climate crisis with the urgency that it demands. Through her school climate strike that has now become a global movement, 16 year old Greta Thunberg from Sweden has spoken with clarity and led with commitment to call on all of us to act boldly “as if our house is on fire” as she puts it, “because it is.”
Young people around the world have joined with Greta to strike for the climate, and we in Oklahoma should see this as a direct call on us to reject and repent from our complicity in the crime of the climate crisis. This Friday, September 20, young people are leading all of us in a global climate strike. There are at least two opportunities in Oklahoma (OKC and Tulsa) to join in this strike. The strikes in Oklahoma will be held from noon to 2 p.m. on the east lawn of the City Hall in Oklahoma City and at Guthrie Green in Tulsa. Let us hear the call of our youth and turn away from Oklahoma’s complicity in the climate crisis. Our children and youth are leading us. Will we love them enough to listen?
My Generation Deserves to Fee Uncomfortable About the Climate Crisis (September 28, 2019)
For all the people of my generation who want to blame Greta Thunberg for creating eco-anxiety in young people, the real reason young people have eco-anxiety is because of the climate crisis and mass extinction event being caused by the inaction of our generation.
I am 53 years old. My generation was coming of age right as the general public was learning of the reality of climate change. James Hansen of NASA testified before Congress when I was in college, and a scientific consensus rapidly formed during my young adult years that anthropogenic climate change was a reality. Yet my generation has spent most of our adult lives squandering the opportunity to address climate change before it became a full-blown crisis.
And now some of us feel “uncomfortable” when Greta and other young people call us out for our inaction. We don’t want Greta to “catastrophize” what is happening by talking about the end of human civilization like it really is the end of human civilization or by taking about the sixth great extinction that has already begun like it really is an extinction. Apparently, we want to keep on living in denial and not change much of anything or make the sacrifices that the reality of our situation calls for.
We sure as hell better feel uncomfortable when we hear Greta and the other young people whose futures we have stolen because our generation blew it. We spent 30 years listening to climate scientist after climate scientist warn us of the climate chaos to come, and year and year we just kept increasing emissions of greenhouse gases.
If we don’t want to be made to feel uncomfortable, we had better take what’s left of our generation’s time to make up for our pathetic inaction in the face of the clear scientific consensus that climate change is real and that it is primarily caused by human activity.
We have ignored our moral responsibility to act urgently to preserve a livable climate far too long. We deserve to be uncomfortable. We deserve to be much more than uncomfortable.
More Than Human Survival (October 4, 2019)
I often hear sincere climate justice activists say that since it is likely that life on earth will find a way to come back like it has in previous mass extinction events that the real or primary reason to address the climate crisis is for the survival of the human species.
There is some truth in this assertion. Yes, life will likely find a way to come back as it has before, but if we are only addressing the climate crisis to save ourselves and our species then we fail to see the real loss and suffering that we are also causing our nonhuman siblings in life on this planet.
What we are doing to the planet is having and will continue to have a profound impact on non-human life, and the suffering we are causing nonhuman life is wrong in itself even if it did not also threaten the survival of the human species. If we take out ourselves through climate inaction, we will take out much of currently existing nonhuman life with us, and that life matters for its own sake.
The way forward to a deep commitment to climate justice is a recognition that we are all persons in a greater ecological community and the other members of our ecological community also have inherent worth that ought to respected. Yes, we are fighting for the survival of the human species, but we are also fighting for the survival and flourishing of so much more than ourselves.
It is difficult for some of us to think and act in non-anthropocentric ways. Most of us have been conditioned to view the world in dualistic and hierarchical ways with humans separate from and on top of nature. This attitude is one of the primary reasons that our human survival and the survival of other forms of life are now threatened.
The way forward to radical systemic change for a livable climate is to realize that we are not just saving ourselves; we are cooperating with our ecological communities to save as much life, both human and nonhuman, as we possibly can. In this attitude of love for the other members of our ecological community, we might even find a deeper salvation as members of the community of all life than we ever thought possible.
The Climate Crisis and Nationalism (January 1, 2020)
Climate change and the ecological and economic damage it inflicts creates a vicious cycle that if left unchecked will spiral humanity into climate chaos, endless wars, and the demise of human civilization as we know it.
As humanity experiences the ever-growing negative effects of climate change; some communities and some regions are affected more detrimentally than others; creating a lack of access to food, water, other vital necessities, and in some cases even the loss of habitable land. This inevitably creates conflicts among nations and within nations. It is not surprising that these conflicts often break out along racial, religious, and national divisions where tensions have often existed for years, decades, and in some cases centuries.
As access to vital necessities and viable livelihoods diminish, people tend to group themselves along traditional lines of race, religion, or nation to deal with the perceived threat of the other in the competition for a viable existence. It is no wonder that in such a climate we would see a resurgence of race-based and religiously-based nationalism. In the United States we see this resurgence in the widespread rejection of refugees, the building of walls, anti-Islamic and anti-Semitic attitudes and actions, America First rhetoric and policies, and the dismantling of agreements for international cooperation. This rise in nationalism is not only happening here; it is a global phenomenon.
We find ourselves in a time in which international cooperation to address our social and ecological challenges is needed more than ever before, yet the networks and channels for such cooperation are breaking down under nationalistic pressures and tensions. In such a context, short term economic advantage trumps concerns for long term ecological sustainability, the commodification of nature is accelerated, and oligarchal greed for profit and power runs rampant in the midst of a vacuum left by a lack of cooperative global economic and political structures and regulations.
What we are seeing is that the climate crisis and race-based and religiously-based nationalism are mutually reinforcing phenomena. Both must be overcome simultaneously for humanity to have a chance at survival.
The second decade of the 21st Century will be remembered primarily for two things: 1) pathetic inaction to address the climate crisis and 2) the resurgence of race-based and religiously-based forms of nationalism around the world. Both phenomena pose an existential threat for people and the planet. The third decade of the 21st Century must address and overcome these two threats if humanity is to have hope for preserving a livable climate for human civilization and creating a just future for all persons in a pluralistic society.
The past decade was the warmest decade on record, approaching a full degree Celsius above pre-industrial global temperatures. Democracy is waning globally and more and more countries are being led by authoritarians, many with nationalist leanings. Climate scientists are warning that we have ten years within which to take the action required to avoid catastrophic climate change. This is the decade, we are the people. We will either be remembered as the greatest generation or the one that let it all burn down.
50th Anniversary Earth Day Message (April 23, 2020)
Readings for the day from Genesis 1: 26-31; Leviticus 25:8-13; and I Timothy 6: 7-10. (Common English Bible)
It is a privilege to be able to bring an Earth Day message to the Mayflower UCC community. This past week, on April 22nd, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. The first Earth Day in 1970 occurred during a time when there was hope that we as a society were beginning to make significant progress in moving towards greater environmental responsibility.
On that first Earth Day in 1970, it is estimated that 20 million people in the United States took to the streets to protest what the industrial revolution had done to the environment and to call for a new way of living on our planet which is our only home. That first Earth Day is often seen as the birth of the modern environmental movement. A few months later in December of 1970, the Environmental Protection Agency was formed. The Clean Air Act was passed that same year of 1970, and just two years later in 1972, the Clean Water Act was passed. In 1973 the Endangered Species Act was signed into law. In fact there was so much positive environmental legislation passed and signed into law in the early 1970s that the Nixon Administration might be known today as the Ecological Presidency had there not been a little incident called Watergate.
That first Earth Day, full of so much hope and followed by so many legislative successes could have been and should have been the beginning of an environmental reformation of human society. It could have been and should have been that moment of national and global repentance from our ways of environmental destruction, and it should have led to a transformation of our social, economic, and political systems to foster a new sustainable way of relating to the world.
After the Clean Air Act was passed, our skies became less smoggy; after the Clean Water Act was passed, the days of rivers literally catching on fire were behind us; and after the Endangered Species Act was passed, critical habitat for endangered wildlife was now protected by law. With these successes, the environmental movement was poised to address other critical environmental concerns like deforestation and overconsumption of resources that stressed the carrying capacity of the planet, and in the late 1980s the environmental movement began to mobilize to address the global threat of climate change.
So all of this begs the question – what happened, what went wrong? Why have we lost over 50% of wildlife since that first Earth Day 50 years ago? Why have extinction rates increased to the point where species are becoming extinct at least 100 times faster than they would without human activity? Why are we slashing and burning down rainforests? Why have we weakened our clean air and clean water standards? Why are we rolling back environmental regulations across the board for industrial activity? Why have we ignored climate change for so long that it has become a climate crisis that is now well on the way to climate chaos? Why have so many Christians and Christian churches been so absent from the critical work of ecological responsibility, and why are so many persons who identify as Christians often supportive of policies and persons that are so damaging to the environment?
One simple answer to these questions of “what went wrong?” relates to something we have been warned about within our Christian tradition – the love of money. Unfortunately, even though some significant progress was made in the years following that first Earth Day fifty years ago, it was also the case that many industrial interests pushed back against the new environmental regulations and sought to diminish the environmental movement and its accomplishments. Unfortunately, there were literally trillions of dollars to be made from industries and activities that are detrimental to the well-being of the natural world, and when there are trillions of dollars to be made, you can rest assured that many persons will organize and do all within their power to get their piece of the multi-trillion dollar pie.
Under the banner of freedom, free enterprise, and capitalism and often mixed with Christian language and symbols; there has been a very effective movement to undermine responsible care for the environment over the past fifty years. Billions of dollars have been spent to push back and lobby against the environmental movement, environmental legislation, and environmental regulations to insure that industries could continue to pursue activities that give them their piece of the multi-trillion dollar pie. The result has been continued extinction of wildlife, continued deforestation, continued environmental deregulation, and continued climate change hurling us towards climate chaos. Our situation is simply unsustainable for people and for much of the rest of life on the planet.
And if our ecological crisis were not bad enough, now we face a global pandemic, which makes it difficult to even think about the ecological challenges that we are currently facing. In the middle of a global pandemic, it is more than understandable that we long for things to get back to normal. Normal is not this, and almost anything is better than this; but if all we do is get back to normal, are we really getting where we need to be? Isn’t it the case that normal is both unjust and unsustainable. Normal is what has created the crisis that our human community and ecological community are now facing.
I don’t want to get back to the normal of environmental racism, medical bankruptcies, and employer based healthcare that can be lost as fast as the spread of a pandemic.
I don’t want to get back to the normal of extreme income inequality, unequal access to healthcare and education that perpetuates generational poverty, and a criminal justice system that enslaves people of color behind walls of systemic injustice.
I don’t want to get back to the normal in which essential workers are paid unlivable wages and forced to work two or three jobs to avoid living on the streets.
I don’t want to get back to the normal of growing white nationalism, family separations, kids in cages, exploitation of migrant workers, and walls of racism.
I don’t want to get back to the normal of unsustainable overconsumption, torture chambers of concentrated animal feed operations, and climate crisis denial hurling us towards climate chaos that threatens so much life on earth.
If normal is all we can get back to as we work through this pandemic, then we simply perpetuate a world in which the most vulnerable among us and the planet itself continue to suffer, and we miss the opportunity to bring regeneration to our human and ecological communities.
The systems and structures that make so many people of color and other persons who don’t have adequate access to economic opportunity and quality healthcare to be much more vulnerable to this virus must be transformed if there is to be anything approaching resurrection from these days of death.
I want us all to get through this pandemic with the least amount of suffering and death, but I don’t want to get back to the normal that perpetuates the open and festering wound of systemic inequality and injustice in our communities. I don’t want to get back to the normal of continuing the sixth great extinction on our planet. I don’t want to get back to the normal of creating an unlivable climate for generations to come. I don’t want to get back to the normal of losing another 50% of wildlife over the next fifty years. I don’t want to get back to the normal of allowing corporations to make trillions of dollars off of the devastation of our planet.
Perhaps now fifty years after the first Earth Day, we can begin to see clearly that wanting to get back to that kind of normal should not be accepted as being normal. As members of the Christian tradition and members of all humanity, perhaps we can all agree that what has been considered normal has not shown the love that we are called to have for our neighbors, nor has it shown the love we are all called to have for God’s very good creation. I pray that we will not simply get back to normal, but that we might find the courage and creativity to bring a new day of Jubilee and justice for both people and the planet as a whole. Amen.
(Dedicated to Mary Elizabeth Moore in honor of the occasion of her retirement as Dean of Boston University School of Theology. She has been a transformative dean, helping BUSTH stay true to its heritage as the School of the Prophets, and she has done so much to bring healing to the world.)
Extraction (October 20, 2020)
extraction of indigenous persons from their lives, land, and culture – forced to march and die on trails wet with their blood and tears to strange lands from which they would later be extracted through lies and false promises for the unseen wealth below the soil that also would be extracted
extraction of Africans from their homelands and from their beloved families; chained as objectified chattel, whipped and tortured and lynched – the enslaved people who built a nation that saw them as three fifths human
extraction of people of color from economic, educational, and political opportunity – reminded of their place by signs and redlines, the gun and the rope, and flags and monuments of bigotry; extracted from their families by the bullet, the knee, or the chokehold of those in uniform or through imprisonment by a system that continues to discriminate and segregate
extraction of trees from the forests, life from the oceans, and wildlife from the land; extraction of fossil fuels and minerals from the earth that poison our water, air, and bodies; extraction through the removal of mountaintops and shaking of our homes; extraction from rivers whose waters no longer flow to the sea; and extraction of a livable climate from our common future
extraction of work from the poor, stripped of their labor’s value for the profit of the powerful, praised as essential in wars and pandemics, yet treated as expendable in practice; extraction of money and health from the impoverished to fund the militarized enforcement of the relentless extraction
From Ecological Habits to Ecological Virtues (April 9, 2021)
One way of thinking about the good life is to focus on the question “What is the goal of human life or what is the end or aim that we as humans should be pursuing? Philosophers who use this question as their primary approach to understanding the good life are called teleological ethicists. The most well known philosopher who used this teleological approach was the Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle who understood the “telos” or goal of human life to be what he called Eudaimonia, which is best translated as “human flourishing.” For Aristotle, Eudaimonia is the telos or goal of every human being, and it is attained by using our reason in the best way we possibly can to cultivate our moral and intellectual virtues as a means for living the good life as persons within a community of other persons. Aristotle believed that education is required for the cultivation of these virtues, and he thought this education included the cultivation of virtues through the practice of good habits of human living.
Virtues are created through good habits, while vices are created through bad habits. Aristotle believed that good habits, or virtues, help develop a state of the soul that leads to a life of moderation between the excesses and deficiencies of bad habits, or vices. Virtues are the mean between the extremes of the vices.
To achieve personal human flourishing, Aristotle believed that we should use our highest function as well as we possibly can, and he believed that our highest function is reason. The good life consists of a life of study with a few good and virtuous friends in which we learn to reason as well we possibly can and in which we allow our reason to rule over lower aspects of our being, such as our appetites, desires, and feelings. The good life is a life in which we develop moral and intellectual virtues. When reason rules over the lower aspects of our being, or what Aristotle saw as the lower aspects of our soul, the result is the creation of moral virtues. When we live a life of study and cultivate the best functioning of our rational abilities, the result is the development of intellectual virtues, which is basically the ability to reason well.
Aristotle believed that the development and expression of both moral and intellectual virtues are necessary for true human flourishing to be experienced.
Aristotle believed that humans are not isolated individuals, but rather we are social animals who require relationships with other human beings to flourish. No person is an island, and no one can be fully happy if they lack genuine and virtuous contact with other persons. Social flourishing in the good society consists of practicing the whole of virtue in relation to all other members of the human community and working together to establish justice and harmony in the good city or the good society. If we are virtuous in our relations with each other, we contribute to the creation of a virtuous, good, and just human community.
Today we see more than ever before that human flourishing is not only the flourishing of human persons in human community, it is also the flourishing of human persons within the larger ecological community. We know that human persons cannot flourish for long unless the ecological community of which we are all a part is also flourishing. So in addition to the personal and social flourishing that Aristotle sees as essential to eudaimonia, it is important for a teleological approach that is relevant for our time to include the necessity of ecological flourishing for we as humans are always persons-in-ecological-community.
If human flourishing within the context of a flourishing ecological community is seen as the goal of human life, then it is imperative (a moral responsibility even) for the human community to address the global challenges of peace, poverty, social justice, and sustainability that directly affect human flourishing within our ecological community. These challenges are not peripheral to the good life; they are at the very core of what promotes human flourishing. Addressing these challenges is at the very core of that which contributes to the good society within the broader ecological community.
The crises of violence, injustice, poverty, and ecological devastation in our world require an urgent response from all persons, institutions, and systems of the human community. The current ways that human communities are living in the world are not sustainable, and it is our common task to contribute to finding sustainable ways of flourishing with each other within our ecological community. To borrow from Martin Luther King, Jr., the “urgency of now” has never been greater. Each day, year, and decade that passes without systemic change in the human community contributes to less peace, less justice, and less flourishing for present and future generations of all life. The reality of climate change and its effects on the ecological community make the need for systemic change the greatest moral challenge in human history, for we are affecting the very context in which any flourishing is even possible. Perhaps we all have something to learn from Aristotle as we attempt to develop good habits that will contribute to the virtues necessary for personal, social, and ecological flourishing, but I think that today the practice of good habits is not only about cultivating moral and intellectual virtues; it must also be about cultivating the ecological virtues necessary to live sustainably so that future generations of all life might simply live.
So let’s work together with some good friends to practice some good ecological habits for the cultivation of ecological virtue in ourselves and our communities. Let’s make it a habit to reduce, re-use, and recycle. Let’s make it a habit to walk, bike, and use mass transportation when we can. Let’s make it a habit to use video conferencing to cut down on our need to burn fossil fuels in flying and driving. Let’s make it habit to get our hands in soil, compost, and grow some of our own food; and let’s make it a habit to get as much of the rest of our food from local and organic sources. Let’s make it a habit to use renewable and clean sources of energy. Let’s make it a habit to march for ecological justice and become politically engaged in the work of systemic change for ecological flourishing. Over time by practicing these good ecological habits, we just might cultivate the ecological virtues within our souls that are necessary to bring a new age of ecological justice for this good earth that is our only home. May it be so.
Existentialism in a Time of Existential Threat (April 11, 2021)
The philosophy of existentialism, especially in its French forms as represented by 20th Century thinkers such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and Albert Camus, is perhaps most well known for its central claim that “existence precedes essence.” What is generally meant by this claim is that when we are born, when we come into existence, we do not possess a ready-made human essence that we then somehow need to live into or develop into. There is not a given objective or universal answer to the question of what it means to be a human being that applies to all of humanity and for all time. There is not an objective set of values that applies to a human being as a human being. Rather we are each our own persons, we develop our own identities, we create our own meaning, and we determine our own values – at least this is what we do if we live authentically as free persons who are not defined by entities outside of ourselves and who live into an open future that is not dictated by fate or destiny forced upon us by outside factors.
In contrast to the objects in the world of being, the existentialists view the person as a subject, who is a kind “no thing” and who is able in the “nothing-ness” of subjectivity to disclose things about the being of our world. Persons are radically free subjects, makers of our own meaning, creators of our own values. This is both a kind of blessing and a kind of curse. We are radically free, but our radical freedom is scary, ambiguous, and anxiety provoking; and we often are tempted to escape this freedom and flee into the arms of the ready-made templates of meaning and value provided by society, culture, and religion. This escape from freedom leads to a loss of autonomy as we willingly become adherents to a cause or a meaning or a value system outside of our ourselves in which we lose our subjectivity and operate more like objects being controlled from without rather than living from the genuine freedom within.
To live in a genuine or authentic way is to express a mature freedom that also accepts and takes responsibility for the effects of our freedom on others. Non-genuine or inauthentic forms of existence are those in which we allow ourselves to become objects rather than living as free subjects. When we allow others to define who we are and dictate to us the meaning of our life and the values that we hold, we become less than authentically free persons.
As persons, we are radically free, but we often express our freedom in ways that are not responsible and do not take into consideration the effects our actions have on other persons. We often give ourselves to causes, political movements, religions, and other external groups; and we tend lose ourselves to a cause in such a way that we allow it to usurp our freedom. When we lose ourselves to these external causes and forces and allow them to choose our meaning and value for us, we become prone to give up the responsibility that comes with genuine freedom and simply do what we are told to do. This can be extremely dangerous as history is littered with the atrocities committed by persons who have lost themselves to a cause in such a way that they justify the oppression of others and simply do what they are told to do, even if what they are told to do is evil. These are the persons who become putty in the hands of ruthless authoritarian political and religious leaders and who often become willing to do great harm to themselves and others for the sake of the cause.
This is why the existentialists remind us that true freedom comes with responsibility. As Simone de Beauvoir puts it, “We will ourselves to be free while also willing others to be free” (Ethics of Ambiguity). We freely create our own meaning and values while willing others to have the same opportunity. This means that we ought never to oppress others and that we ought to actively participate in bringing about the liberation of others when they experience oppression. Authentic freedom is expressed through the liberation of persons who have been cut off from their own freedom by the oppressive actions of others.
As we live in a world of crisis and existential threat caused by authoritarianism, militarism, racism, poverty, and environmental destruction – all of which limit our freedom and lead to the oppression of others; existentialists call on us to live in freedom in active rebellion against the oppressive forces that keep people from being able to live in responsible freedom in our world. Actively living out responsible freedom in a world of existential threats requires actively working for the liberation of others, especially those who are the most vulnerable to the oppression of dehumanizing systems within our societies, but we must do so in such a way that we do not lose ourselves to some external entity but rather continue to will our own genuine freedom in the midst of a community of equal persons who also will their freedom.
Perhaps if we heed this existentialist wisdom and live in authentic freedom for the sake of the liberation of all who are oppressed, we might be able to creatively, cooperatively, lovingly, and justly overcome the many existential threats facing our human and ecological communities. It certainly would be an improvement over the individualistic, selfish, and irresponsible notions of freedom that seem so prevalent in our society today. May we live in the radical freedom that expresses itself in radical responsibility so that all others may also be free.
Running on Empty: The Immorality of Fossil Fueled Education (August 9, 2021)
The most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report released this week makes it crystal clear that we are in a climate crisis. It is past time for colleges and universities to make addressing the climate crisis our top educational priority for the sake of all humanity and all life on earth.
No more major gifts and endowments from fossil fuel companies and their allies! No more fossil fuel executives on boards of trustees and regents! No more programs, professorships, and scholarships funded by the fossil fuel industry! No more sitting college and university presidents serving as highly paid directors of fossil fuel companies. No more lending “academic” authority to fossil fuel interests through schools, institutes, and faculty positions funded by those same interests with expectations for a return on their investment – yes, sooner or later they always expect a return on their investment.
Fossil fuel divestment in higher education must be much more than removal of an institution’s financial investments from fossil fuel companies. It must be a complete divestment from all the strings of influence and power this industry uses to manipulate the academy for its purposes and to its advantage.
Higher education can no longer profit from the industry that is destroying a livable climate and spreading propaganda and misinformation about the reality and severity of the climate crisis we are facing right now and which will grow increasingly more severe in the future. Higher education cannot simultaneously work to save the planet while profiting from its destruction and being governed by the money and power of the very persons and corporations fueling the existential threat we are experiencing.
And for those campuses and their leaders who argue that we cannot survive without fossil fuel money and its influence on the academy, we need to be clear that our campuses and our communities need something much more important than fossil fuel money to survive. We need a livable climate, and a livable climate will not be possible with ongoing collusion with an industry that has spent billions of dollars lying about the climate crisis in order to continue to make trillions of dollars from ruining our climate. Institutions of higher education can no longer maintain their pernicious partnerships with oil, gas, and coal companies if they hope to help society address the fierce urgency of the climate crisis rather than perpetuating the practices that are hurling us all towards climate chaos.