Sunday, April 21, 2013

Faith in Action: Comment on Keystone XL Pipeline

Tomorrow is Earth Day; in our liturgical calendar, today was the Fourth Sunday in Easter. In the Gospel reading for today (John 10:22-30), Jesus answers a question about whether he is the Messiah by pointing to his actions: “The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me”. He goes on to talk about his followers, his “sheep”, those who know who he is. Jesus says his sheep hear his voice and follow him. Just as Jesus’ identity was revealed in his actions, our identities as Christ’s own are revealed in our actions, in our following him. Our actions are important.

Tomorrow is also the deadline for submitting comments to the State Department about the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Many people testified in opposition to the pipeline before a State Department hearing in Grand Island on Thursday. Written comments are still being collected.

Bold Nebraska has a page devoted to collecting comments to send to the State Department; the page includes links to background resources to help find a focus for your statement and check the facts before writing, and also includes a form that makes it easy to submit a comment.

Anyone can submit a comment. Doing so would be a fine way to observe Earth Day, and doing so to defend the integrity of God’s creation and the welfare of God’s people is a fine way to put our faith into action.

My statement is centered on moral and spiritual issues; others are writing about particular concerns about the impacts on land, water, and agriculture, about landowners’ rights, and about other issues. Focus on whatever piece of this project strikes you the most. Here’s what I wrote:

Statement of Opposition to the Keystone XL Pipeline
I’m a resident of Hastings, Nebraska and an ordained deacon in the Episcopal Church serving as Deacon at St. Stephen’s Church in Grand Island, Nebraska, and as Archdeacon of the Diocese of Nebraska. My general area of ministry is environmental stewardship and how that connects with our spiritual and physical well-being. As the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere increases, the amount of Arctic sea ice decreases, and as we continue to extract more fossil fuels from the earth, my ministry focuses increasingly on the moral and spiritual aspects of the climate crisis caused by our ongoing use of fossil fuels. The effects of climate change, including droughts, extreme weather events, rising sea levels, and melting permafrost all have ill effects on people, often on some of the poorest people in the world who can least stand these added stresses. These effects along with the disregard for the integrity of God’s creation bring this argument into the sphere of religion and ethics.
Our existential denial of global warming – accepting the science intellectually but going on with life as if climate change were not happening – is one of the puzzling responses that point to a spiritual danger.  If we know what causes global warming and what we need to do to mitigate its effects and how very soon we need to stop burning fossil fuels, how can we even entertain the thought of building something to enable the release of the amount of carbon in the Alberta tar sands? What does the fact that we are considering approving the project say about the state of our souls and the state of our national climate policy?  The very real effects of extracting, processing, and burning the tar sands on humans and on the ecosystems that sustain all life on this planet is reason enough to deny a permit for construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.
Reading the Environmental Impact Statement, I’m struck by a sense that this study was carried out in a state of existential denial about climate change and many other things. That there are real people living in Nebraska whose livelihoods depend on the integrity of the land and water that they have conserved and protected for generations because their lives depend on doing so seems to be another reality that is ignored. It’s as if the EIS were developed in a world where fossil fuels area the ultimate good, the only thing worth considering, while they are in fact the biggest threat to the future of humankind.
We are well aware that there are always people who will do just about anything – even sell their own souls – if they’re offered thirty pieces of silver, even if the offer of the silver turns out to be an empty promise. I’m proud to live in a state where our ranchers and farmers keep their priorities straight and stand up for the stewardship of our land and water that Nebraskans have practiced for generations. The land and water not only sustain our agricultural economy, but they ground us spiritually. The threat of this pipeline to our land and water is reason enough to deny a permit for construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.
Even though people opposed to the pipeline talk about climate, the Ogallala aquifer, the fragile Nebraska Sandhills ecology, tribal rights, and the rights of landowners, when we talk about a project of this nature we are in the end talking about ultimate things. We usually look to theology to figure out what we believe about ultimate things, but when we consider projects that put profits and the possibility of some short-term gains for a few ahead of all else while pushing the agricultural economy of Nebraska and the survival of life as we have known it on this planet toward the brink of disaster, we can look at our political decisions to learn about our true beliefs about ultimate things. It comes down to a moral question, perhaps the most important moral question humankind has ever had to ask ourselves: Will we set aside business as usual and do all we can to mitigate the warming of our planet, or will we continue to act as if the will of the fossil fuel industry is the ultimate authority in our lives?
We have a choice to make between death and life. Deny this permit and choose life so that we and our descendants may live.

Respectfully submitted,

The Ven. Betsy Blake Bennett
Hastings, Nebraska