James 4:13 – 5:6
This is a late night post, looking back on what may prove to have been a pivotal day for Americans who care about the environment. It’s been one of those days where a common theme seems to emerge from a variety of things. Since that theme is related to today’s Epistle reading, I’m sharing this personal reflection both as a thought on one of today’s lessons and as a way of looking at what happened today.
Today’s Epistle reading in the Daily Office lectionary was James 4:13 – 5:6. The first part of this passage talks about how fleeting our lives are; the second part talks about the foolishness of thinking that accumulating riches – which rust and rot – will somehow keep our injustices from catching up with us. All of this certainly helps give clarity to our situation, but the verse that stayed with me throughout the day was this one: “Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin.”
If we know right from wrong, we have a responsibility to do the right thing. As we learn more and more about the environmental impacts of the way we live and the decisions we make, we have the opportunity to have a less negative impact on the environment. When we know that our actions have a negative impact on other people or on the air, water, land, or climate system that supports us all and yet go ahead and do those actions, we commit sin.
This verse initially jumped out at me this morning because I was already puzzled by something I had come across as I checked Twitter: a link to a Climate Progress post by Stephen Lacey with the headline Energy Secretary Chu Suggests He Supports Keystone XL Pipeline, Nebraska GOP Governor Dave Heineman Opposes It. In the article, Stephen Lacey tells about an interview that Secretary Chu gave with EnergyNOW! at the National Clean Energy Summit. Secretary Chu is a Nobel-prize winning physicist and knows the science of climate change and the need to address climate change very well. In the interview, Chu sounds as if he backs the building of the Keystone XL pipeline despite its environmental impact, calling it a “tradeoff”. I was surprised to read this!
In light of that, I was again surprised by what followed in the post:
Directly after taping that interview at the summit, Chu explained in a brief conversation with Climate Progress that he believes that the fossil fuel industry has “an interest in seeing that action isn’t taken” on climate change and lamented the lack of understanding of climate science among political leaders.
Secretary Chu understands both the physics and the political situation, he knows the gravity of the climate situation, and yet seems to be ready to accept the building of the Keystone XL pipeline as some sort of “tradeoff”.
Later in the morning, the story broke that President Obama was suddenly asking EPA head Lisa Jackson to withdraw the draft standards for tighter regulation on ozone (smog), something that had been anticipated as a significant step forward for public health. In a post (Obama to Breathers: Sorry, Wait Until 2013 ) on the Blue Marble environmental blog from Mother Jones, Kate Sheppard, who uses the word ‘flabbergasted’ to describe the reaction of pubic health and environmental groups, writes:
According to the American Lung Association, the weaker standard means that as many as 186 million Americans are currently breathing in unhealthy levels of smog. The EPA's own figures are even more shocking. If the Obama administration set the lower standard of 60 parts per billion, it would prevent 4,000 to 12,000 premature deaths a year by 2020. Even the higher standard of 70 parts per billion would save between 1,500 and 4,300 lives per year. Improved air quality would bring down the number of deaths and hospitalizations every year due to asthma, bronchitis, and other heart and lung conditions.
The EPA also noted that while compliance with the new rule would cost polluters between $19 billion and $90 billion a year by 2020, the benefits to human health will be worth between $13 billion and $100 billion every year.
Another place where we know the science, we know the effect this will have on people, and fail to do what we know will make people healthier and save lives!
When I visit churches, I hear people say that they want to do the right thing for the environment but need more information in order to be confident that they are making good decisions. Yet these examples today show that sometimes the people with the best access to information get swayed by other things; sometimes we know the right thing and fail to do it.
A post by Rose Marie Berger on the God’s Politics blog from Sojourners provided an antidote to all of this, as she reported on people of faith who have been among the 1,009 people arrested so far in the tar sands civil disobedience action in front of the White House. Among those quoted is Tim Kumfer of Tell the Word ministry:
The act of standing with a few sisters and brothers on behalf of all of us sends out shockwaves. It sets us free from the despair we all feel in a world rapidly deteriorating due to climate change. It reminds us that we’re not alone — that, in fact, we’re growing.
Freeing us from despair, finding hope when it’s hard to find, is a major role of people of faith at this time. Rose Marie Berger ends her post with these words: “When people of faith take risks to protect their covenant with Life, we witness God’s Word active in the world.”
Thanks be to God for this witness! And may all of us, when we know the right thing to do, go right ahead and do the right thing.