Good news on the environmental front

Six very significant wins for Mama Earth

by Ken Sehested

In an attention-deficit-disordered culture, alongside a news cycle that feels like a gerbil on a spinning wheel track, important news often goes unnoticed.

Taken together, in just the past few weeks, six dramatic actions on slowing ecological disaster are worth celebrating—even when you recognize that we’re still in deep doo-doo with regard to our climate crisis.

#1-3. Within a 24-hour period in the US, “three major oil and gas pipelines were stymied—two by court decisions and one by economic pressures—in moves that represent a suite of successes for the indigenous and environmental activists long opposed to pipeline development.” Alejandra Borunda, National Geographic

Even my friend Greg—to whom I frequently turn for expertise on these matters and who is no optimist on whether our species will survive—says, yes, this pipeline news is big.

Why is this significant? Well, think of this principle: The stuff you get will always fill the space you have.

(For background: Over the last 20 years, the use of storage rental units has expanded by 444%.)

Fewer pipelines will mean less drilling, less storage and transport, and thus affect the price differential in regard to renewable sources of energy.

Regarding the latter, few people talk about the fact that the US heavily subsidizes fossil fuel companies. When you factor in both direct subsidies (hefty tax breaks) and indirect subsidies (tax dollars spent cleaning up the environmental impact of such fuels, plus picking up the tab for carbon-generated health issues), the US public spends more money subsidizing carbon generators than on the military. Tim Dickinson, Rolling Stone

To say nothing of the pandemic pork the administration has shoveled to oil and gas and other major corporations in recent months. Andy Rowell, “Fossil fuel companies getting more U.S. bailouts than any other sector,” Oil Change International

By comparison, the Trump administration has rolled back the few policy incentives for renewable energy sources. Nicole Gentile and Kate Kelly, Center for American Progress

To “level the playing field,” the US must enact vigorous incentives to renewable energy production.

#4. The US District of Columbia Court of Appeals just overturned what it called a “Kafkaesque” practice by the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The details are arcane: Basically it entails abolishing an underhanded mechanism discouraging public scrutiny of its regulatory decisions. Ted Glick, “A Climate Movement Turning Point?” PM Press

As Tom Waits put it, “The big print giveth / the small print taketh away.”

#5. Just recently the European Union made firm, measurable commitments to phase out fossil fuels by mid-century, which many observers say is both historic and influential. “It is the first roadmap by any governmental power that sets out how countries can decarbonise all their energy use.” Leigh Collins, Upstream

#6. There is now even more evidence that substantial reductions in CO2 production is possible. A new study funded by the Guardian newspaper reveals that “Global carbon emissions from the fossil fuel industry could fall by a record 2.5bn tonnes this year, a reduction of 5%,” representing the largest drop on record. Jillian Ambrose, Guardian

The report concedes that this reduction has come at high social and economic costs caused by the pandemic. Even so, these facts augment what environmental activists have said all along: Dramatically lowering our carbon footprint and forestalling a climate crash won’t be easy but is doable. It has more to do with political will and ingenuity than with the math.

You’ve seen enough sci-fi movies to know that if the earth were threated by space aliens, hundreds of millions of people, of all nationalities and political affiliations, would risk life and limb to forestall destruction. Is it possible to bring that magnitude of resolve and urgency to bear on our very real predicament?

Right: Art ©John August Swanson, "Psalm 85: Dwelling in the Word."

Doubt is not unreasonable, given our nation’s limp response to the coronavirus. For instance, compare the pandemic mortality rates of South Korea and the US. Both reported their first COVID-19 fatality on the same day, 20 January 2020. South Korea’s population is less than 16% of the US. But its per capita fatality rate is 0.2% of the US fatality rate.

So, yes, there are reasons to doubt whether our nation (along with other highly industrialized nations) can muster sufficient political will to change our nation’s carbon addiction.

But to reverse engineer Proverbs 29:18, “Where there is a vision, the people flourish.” Scientific innovation and technological prowess are part of the solution. But, at bottom, it’s a vision thing.

Does your community of faith help you de-conform to the dying, carbonized “world” by the renewing of your mind (cf. Romans 12:2)? If not, find another. Or start a new one.

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©Ken Sehested, a church planter, @