Historic “Clean Power Plan” Announced: What America Is Doing and What YECA Already Did

Today, Administrator Gina McCarthy of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced the proposed Clean Power Plan for existing power plants. Less than a year after President Barack Obama promised cuts in domestic carbon as part of his Climate Action Plan, the reduction standards released today are aguably the Obama Administration’s most significant climate action to date.

As a young evangelical who, as part of my Christian discipleship and witness, is working to encourage our national leaders to act swiftly and responsibly on climate change, you can imagine I looked forward to today with at least a little bit of eager anticipation.

Read more of my thoughts for Young Evangelicals for Climate Action here.

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Historic “Clean Power Plan” Announced: What America Is Doing and What YECA Already Did

President Obama addresses our warming planet, and scores

One of the more poetic visuals of the speech was Obama wiping his brow because, well, it was so freaking warm outside. Quite the clever touch, Obama speech team.
One of the more poetic visuals of the speech was Obama wiping his brow because, well, it was so freaking warm outside. Quite the clever touch, Obama speech team.

President Obama revealed his Climate Action Plan earlier today to a crowd of students and reporters at Georgetown University. For those of us in climate activist circles, this has been a much anticipated moment, a speech that if anything exceeded expectations, although it still fell short of putting our minds at ease as we consider what the planet in 2050 and 2030 and, heck, even sooner than that, will look like.

As the President made clear, climate change is a reality: “We don’t have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society.” Accordingly, his Climate Action Plan includes major investments to American infrastructure, agriculture and emergency response that will help us cope with a world where even +1°C has set off some major dominoes.

In addition to these “adaption” measures that fortify America’s infrastructure against a changing climate, the President also laid out “mitigation” measures that reduce the amount of greenhouse gases emitted nationwide. Of these mitigation efforts (which do include strategic clean energy investments), it looks like the most significant will be establishing carbon pollution standards for both new and existing power plants.

Under the Clean Air Act, the Environmental Protection Agency is required to protect the American public from pollution known to be hazardous to human health. Seeing that global warming, which presents a major threat to human health (for example, by making infectious disease increasingly difficult to contain by normal geographic boundaries), is caused by carbon dioxide, the argument is that the President has the authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from sources such as power plants.

There may be some resistance to the regulations. After all, for some, using the Clean Air Act to control a greenhouse gas (as opposed to, say, smog) may require a new way of thinking. But the logic is sound, and the Supreme Court actually ruled as such back in 2007.

That all said — the EPA regulations and other executive actions, while bold, are far from being a full and complete solution to nip global warming at the source.

We still are unsure of the fate of the Keystone XL pipeline, a proposed project to transport the incredibly dirty tar sands oil of Canada, a danger so severe that it drew 40,000 activists to Washington D.C. this February to protest its construction. Many of us were encouraged to hear that the pipeline was even mentioned in the speech — that means the President hears us — and the logic he is using to make his decision is sound: “Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interest. And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.” Knowing how horrific the tar sands will be for the climate, the only way I can imagine the Keystone XL being acceptable is if Congress passes some sort of carbon tax immediately beforehand.

While the President did mention the value of natural gas as a transition fossil fuel, there was no mention of the fracking boom for natural gas here in the Midwest, a sinister 21st-century gold rush that is recklessly extracting valuable natural gas at a rate so increasingly fast, nearly a third of it is being wasted on the spot, making it nearly as bad for atmospheric carbon levels as the other fossil fuels it supposedly is replacing.

And, at a personal level, I noticed that there was no mention of the coal lines running through Pacific Northwest, the place I consider home. Even if with new regulatory guidelines, we get our domestic coal power plant emissions under control, we potentially could still be exporting this dirty fuel source to be burned in a different place, only to enter the same atmosphere.

While the promo video for the speech led me to expect that the President would tap into religious sentiments by talking about protecting God’s creation here in America, he actually went as far as to reference Genesis — you know, God saw all that he made, which included much more than just America, and saw that is was very good.

The President accordingly deserves praise for his tact tackling of the moral ambiguity of climate change in developing countries. It is worth quoting at length:

Though all America’s carbon pollution fell last year, global carbon pollution rose to a record high. That’s a problem. Developing countries are using more and more energy, and tens of millions of people entering a global middle class naturally want to buy cars and air-conditioners of their own, just like us. Can’t blame them for that. And when you have conversations with poor countries, they’ll say, well, you went through these stages of development — why can’t we?

But what we also have to recognize is these same countries are also more vulnerable to the effects of climate change than we are. They don’t just have as much to lose, they probably have more to lose.

Developing nations with some of the fastest-rising levels of carbon pollution are going to have to take action to meet this challenge alongside us. They’re watching what we do, but we’ve got to make sure that they’re stepping up to the plate as well. We compete for business with them, but we also share a planet. And we have to all shoulder the responsibility for keeping the planet habitable, or we’re going to suffer the consequences — together.

The President is responding by establishing free trade in clean energy tech, ending public financing of the unsafest coal plants overseas, and spearheading The U.S.-Africa Clean Energy Finance Initiative that will unlock nearly $1 billion in clean energy financing, along with a similar project in the Asia/Pacific region that will unlock nearly $6 billion!

Nevertheless, the challenge of global warming remains severe. It certainly lacks easy or convenient political answers. It is something that any President, even with the ridiculously incredible powers of the Executive Branch of government, is able to solve by himself or (perhaps someday) herself.

In the big picture, what President Obama’s plan chalks up to is a great gift to all of us — the gift of more time.

For us, it is more time to figure out what the reality of climate change means for how we go about practicing sustainability and resilience within our own personal lifestyles, our communities, our churches, our schools, and our workplaces. For those of us who are better off financially, we need to figure out how to best stand up for the poor not simply abroad but here in America — those whose fossil-fuel-generated electricity consumption makes up bigger proportion of their tight budget, and those who live in places like the Lower Ninth Ward (devastated by lives lost in Hurricane Katrina) as compared to those who live in places like the Jersey Shore (devastated by property damage caused by Hurricane Sandy).

President Obama’s plan also means more time for the Republican Party. In the sportsball that is politics, it looks to me that it is now the GOP’s turn to respond. The ball is in their court. They can throw it out of bounds (that is, continuing the practice of climate denialism), they can just drop it (display utter apathy for anything but the status quo), pass it back to the other team and let them score (follow Obama’s leadership), or score with a trick shot of their own (suggest a market-based approach to addressing climate change, instead of a heavily regulated bureaucratic solution).

(Confession: I was a bit reluctant to use this sports metaphor. Because, in reality, shouldn’t the Democrats and Republicans be playing for same team, the same common good?)

It may be hard for any single one of us to influence the President in any profound way. Any single letter you or I send or phone call you or I make is really just a drop in a way too big bucket. But we might have a shot at influencing the Republican Party, a party that is hurting for relevancy after 2012 and has to be growing open to good ideas. If we can’t change the minds of establishment GOPers like Senators Jim Inhofe or Mitch McConnell, we can at least support our GOP state congressmen and governors as they work to implement the EPA carbon regulations in their particular state contexts.

It is worth our effort because, ultimately, the problem is not that the President is not doing enough. Even if Obama could do more on climate, and as much as I care about climate, I am not a one-issue citizen, and do not want Obama to spend all of his political capital in one place. Rather, the problem is that the country is not moving forward together on this issue. Barack Obama has done his part. Now it is time for the rest of us to figure out, in our own spheres of influence, how to follow suit.

Disclaimer: The reason I talk like I know something about climate change is because I serve as the Campaigns Assistant and a Steering Committee member for Young Evangelicals for Climate Action. That said, nothing here necessarily reflects any official position of Y.E.C.A. whatsoever. Just my own thoughts that I want to contribute to public discussion.

To read other reactions from young evangelicals regarding President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, head over the Y.E.C.A. website.

Other posts on this blog where I talk about climate change: What if the church were to save the planet?Building a Movement Stronger than the WeatherUpward Trends Got You Down? Climate, Debt and FutureBig Oil and Matthew 5:43-48, and the 5-part series the Gospel > Global Warming.

President Obama addresses our warming planet, and scores

Gospel > Global Warming: Reason #3

Phew. It is finished.

#3. We might be able to do something about climate change.

Gospel is Greater than Global Warming

Michael McCarthy, who recently retired as the environment editor for the British newspaper the Independent, wrote as the final paragraph for his final column as editor:

I still think Man will destroy the Earth. It is a pessimistic valedictory note I offer, for you cannot focus closely on what is happening and not be a pessimist. But there is more to Man, I do accept, than simply a destroyer, and the pessimism is not unmitigated: the chainsaws may outnumber them, and the chainsaws ultimately may win, but the green campaigners were there, and they fought.

There is a lot of despair in the mainstream environmental movement. A lot of people out there are fighting what they believe is a losing war, a sort of moral perseverance that is incredible in and of itself. They fight not because they believe they will win, but because they do not see any other choice other than their conscience.

As Christians, because we know how the story ends, we live our lives not in despair but in hope. As Jürgen Moltmann says, however, “Genuine hope is not blind optimism. It is hope with open eyes, which sees the suffering and yet believes in the future.”

As Christians, we need to see the suffering-from-yearning in the mainstream environmental movement, with listening ears and a willingness to confess any complicity we may have had in exacerbating the crisis. Perhaps thank them for sticking it out when no one else did.

As Christians, we also need to see those suffering-from-climate-impacts among our neighbors, those feeling the early stages of the climate crisis. Genuine hope is not saying “everything will be okay for this poor girl whose was displaced from her home because of this unseasonal typhoon” but believing that everything will be okay for me if I go out of my way to make the sacrifice needed to help not just this poor girl, but thousands if not millions like her.

Seeing the suffering is the first step to healing wounds, to getting the conversation going, to show that we are the community of the gospel.

But in addition to being citizens of the kingdom of heaven, we also are the church in the world, and that comes with its own set of world-changing opportunities.

As the American church, we stand in a strange place, straddling what is a “Christian nation” and a “post-Christian nation” at the same time. When I think about our place in American politics, I do not think of King David with supreme rule over Israel, nor do I think of a scrappy young church being persecuted under Emperor Nero, but I think of Daniel, a Jew who spoke truth to power while his people lived in Babylonian exile. As the prophet Jeremiah said, “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

We have a place to play in the American political landscape. It may get messy, but a merciful God cares not how messy our hands get but how clean our hearts remain.

If we look at the world with purely political, Machiavellian lenses, we see that strategically, evangelicals are in a change-making position with regard to climate change. This is especially true for those of us under 30, who have become political orphans after the previous generation’s fling with the conservative wing of the Republican Party. Far from being disempowered, however, us orphans have become a crucial swing vote. We recently showed what we could do as a voting bloc by sparking national conversations on immigration reform and human trafficking, and now we have an opportunity to push our lawmakers to enact bold climate policies.

The movement that I have become deeply involved in as an outlet for my climate activism, Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, has been giving a kind of hope to the hopeless. On the environmental news site Grist.org, the columnist Umbra Fisk cited Y.E.C.A. as one of three organizations in response to the reader question: “Is there hope in this world?” Another quote I recently found in the Y.E.C.A. feedback archives illustrates how greatly the green movement is yearning for us evangelicals to step up:

I am not an evangelical or even a Christian believer. But I have longed for an organization such as yours for years. At least five years ago I told my wife, “What we need to really get somewhere on climate issues is an organization of evangelicals. In fact, I invented the name “Evangelicals in Defense of Planet Earth”. Watching your video brought tears to my eyes. I feel as if part of my dream has come true. With people like you joining in to try to stop disastrous global warming, I am greatly encouraged. Thank you for being there. Let’s fight to get off fossil fuels and save the planet.

I honestly cannot fathom how disappointed God may be if, through dropping the ball on responding to the climate crisis, the church not only fails to cultivate a stewardship ethic towards creation, not only flops on being advocates for the poor and marginalized, but also puts bitterness in the mouths of green groups and environmentalists who saw the church as the last possible swing vote that swung the other way.

Conclusion

There is definitely some truth in seeing climate change as inevitable. The models will go from predicting the future to describing the present to explaining the past, and we humans will begin to really experience the full weight of our subscribing to the cult of more, more, more. I think such an era defined by global warming is going to come with its own set of unique pastoral challenges, and I hope the church can speak not just prophetically but compassionately to such a time.

We will only get the privilege to do so, however, if we take the steps to acknowledge the seriousness of the climate crisis now, and take appropriate action: whether it be living lifestyles with radically low carbon footprints, sacrificially giving so the least among us have resources to adapt to their experiences of climate disruption, or calling on our political and other leaders to let them know how critical this issue is for us.

We can do that, because we believe that God has a plan to redeem the planet and our relationship to it. We believe that there is a new way of being human, one that does not involve inflicting crop failures and super-storms on our neighbors. We believe in a crucified and risen Lord. We believe that the Good News can handle an inconvenient truth. We believe that the Gospel > Global Warming.

Gospel > Global Warming: Reason #3

In Boston’s aftermath

As a runner who studied the sociology of terrorism as part of his undergrad, I think I need to say something in light of recent, appalling events. It won’t be much. Words cannot reverse what has happened, but maybe they can point towards a possible direction, a different place set forward in the horizon.

Running, we know, is an intimately personal act. It is an act of mustering the motivation to lift your body from a state of rest. It is breaking your body down in order to make it stronger, it is choosing to be strong when your body has broken down.

In addition, running is an incredibly political act. (Not in the sense of elections and legislation, but in the sense that politics is the art of the public.) Save for treadmills and indoor tracks, running always takes place “out there” and relates the surrounding place to the runner.

Runners are vulnerable. Sometimes we are with a group, but often our sense of commitment means we go it alone. In the city we watch out for cars and in the country we watch out for cougars. The nature of the sport means we tend to be under-dressed and a little fatigued. Many times we have done an “out-an-back” long run where have turned around and realized that we are miles away from home, often with no cash, no identification, no phone. The only security runners have are our legs — and the fact that we trust society to let us freely go about on our little exercise ritual.

Runners are disruptive. Runners may be vulnerable, but runners have a certain power. Runners redefine what sidewalks and gravel roads and city parks and out-of-the-way trails are good for. Our routes are like arteries on a map, infusing meaning into the landscape around us. Running is a performance, a play of biological code and cultural script. Running is an act of presence, of being multiple places almost at once, witnessing the world around us at many miles per hour. On our favorite, out-of-the-way runs, we might stumble across a high school couple making out (sorry) or a slightly more offensive offense (like that one time I busted a drug deal at seven-minute-mile pace).

Runners are achievers. There are a special few endorphin junkies who are runners just for the feel of it, but for the most part runners lace up their shoes with some goal or challenge in mind. Many runners can point to a personal record or a particular day that they are proud of. Even if the runner falls short of an arbitrary goal, they have succeeded in going out and trying. Olympians and first-timers alike can inspire the human spirit – if passersby take a moment to step back and notice.

The reason I bring this up, in light of yesterday’s events in Boston, is because even if the blasts occurred among bystanders, many of whom were not runners per se, these particular victims were there to celebrate a runner they knew and in some way part of the running spirit.

And terrorism, the sort of act witnessed yesterday, is not just homicidal mania. The heinous crime of terrorism is also a political act. As the cliche goes, “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” Certainly that doesn’t make it right, as terrorism is neither morally sound nor tactically effective (non-violent protest is always more effective, ethical and sincere). But it helps us understand the event and shape our response.

Almost every marathoner represents hundreds if not thousands of hours of training. A marathon itself is the sum total of this hard work and sweat, in addition to the volunteer and staff commitment that make the event possible. To witness the finish line of a marathon is to see the focal point of millions of hours of hard work.

Never mind that the Boston Marathon is an amateur event as opposed to mere recreational race. Although it is not the Olympics, individuals still have to qualify for the Boston. It is difficult to just “sign up” for the race, one has to truly be committed to the sport. Hence, amateur,  rooted in the word amore, the word for “to love.”

Never mind that the Boston Marathon is a integral part of the Patriot Day celebrations, something I admittedly don’t understand but Bostonians certainly cherish.

We do not know who the culprit behind yesterday’s horrible act is. But we do know this:

With the string of moments it took for them to assemble an explosive device, they attempted to steal away the significance of millions of hours. They attempted to replace love with hate. They attempted to pervert the public spirit.

Let us make sure that, whoever it is, that they fail. Let us reject categorically the twisted worldview that made a senseless act make sense to this particular group or individual.

Let us mourn the dead, care for the injured, lament what could have been.

But let us not sacrifice one inch of meaning to the false gods of fear. Let us continue to celebrate the human spirit, seeing that in a runner (like any athlete, or any person striving towards a positive goal of any sort) we can be better than base, deranged and pathetic. We may not be perfect, but we are not soulless.

So for those of who run, or cheer those who do, let us keep lacing up our shoes. Let us carry the weight of tragedy, let us look over our shoulders to be on guard for obvious threats, and then let us go, and go strong.

Vulnerable, disruptive, achieving: let us keep running.

Even before the explosions, the American Red Cross was at the Boston Marathon, supporting the running spirit by providing volunteers and working at aid stations. They were quick to respond and continue to put their muscle into this tragedy.  I consider myself more of a rational giver than an emotional giver, so as odd as it is for me to impulsively add a handful of dollars to an organization with a $3.5 billion budget, for whatever reason I threw out all calculations and did it anyway. I cite my frugal donation not to boast, but rather to challenge you to consider doing it too

In Boston’s aftermath

Passion for the rest of us: a Moderate Manifesto

Somewhere along the way, in a polarized political system, “being passionate” and “having extreme views” have become more and more synonymous. Passionate moderatism sounds nearly as oxymoronic as compassionate conservatism did some years back as a Bush-era slogan. But conservatives can be compassionate, and I want to contend that moderates can be passionate.

A story

My high school US History teacher, the beloved-and-moustached rabble-rouser that he was, repeatedly told our class: “Be conservative. Be liberal. Be whatever, but whatever the case don’t be a boring ol’ moderate.” When former President Bill Clinton came to visit Mac High in order to rally support for Hillary’s presidential candidacy, I remember a number of my politically-minded friends saying how stupid it was to not join either party. “Why would anyone sacrifice their primary vote?”

When I went to register to vote, however, I could not bring myself to join any party. Perhaps I was torn between my conservative evangelical subculture and my liberal Pacific Northwest context. Perhaps it did not help that I was reading Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People for 12th Grade English Literature. The third parties were even more extreme and even less effective, and I could not register as an Independent because Oregon actually has an Independent Party and so I was, and still am, designated as “Not affiliated with any political party.”

(Interesting tangent: my first jobs out of high school would be helping non-profits use a particular piece of content-publishing software that Independent Party chair Sal Peralta had implemented but could no longer maintain because he was now the Independent Party chair. It just so happened that I had to use that same software for my journalism class.)

I did not feel like I was transcending the fray. Instead, I simply could not find a political ideology, much less a party, that matched my sense of society-level right-and-wrong. When that new-fangled-Myspace-called-Facebook would later ask me for my Political Views, I typed in “Moderate,” and, upon further tongue-in-cheek reflection on my own indecisiveness, added “…sort of.”

Moderate Manifesto

The state of things

It was not that I did not care. It was just that I did not know. My undergrad electives and eventually my major were, in many ways, about figuring out these strange and confusing things for myself. Surprisingly to myself, instead of falling towards either side, I found myself going more firmly to the center. If I was indecisively moderate in 2008, I was decisively moderate in 2012.

Sadly, I also came to realize, moderates are castigated by the Republican party. They do exist, but none of them are in power: Bob Inglis, Colin Powell, Jon Huntsman, Olympia Snowe, and back in the day Mark Hatfield. In 2012, Moderate Mitt was forced into playing a losing charade of being Right-wing Romney. The Democrats don’t have this problem: they welcome moderates, and their current standard-bearer is actually rather moderate himself. I do hope the GOP opens up towards moderates before the next election cycle, not because I am a party loyalist, but because I like having more than one choice at the ballot.

For that to happen, of course, moderates need to start causing a bit more of a ruckus.

Standing up is hard enough. You do not wish to offend anyone. Furthermore, as a moderate, it can often feel like standing up takes place on a tightrope. But if that’s where the common ground is, let’s be fine with that, because if we fall off we’ll end up in the safety net of common sense.

A Moderate Manifesto

There is some substance, I think, to being a moderate that is greater than simply adding up the numbers and finding the average between two sides. For the past many years, I have being trying to work out what being moderate means for me. I publish these ideas, like almost anything else I publish, not because I know I am right but because if I keep these to myself I will never have to face the possibility of being wrong.

With that said:

  1. Government exists because of the reality of public life.

    I don’t buy the liberal vision that we can govern our way into utopia, but neither do I feel comfortable with the conservative claim that government is a necessary evil. My starting point, as far as legitimate government, is this: just as individuals have worries and aspirations, groups also have worries and aspirations. Politics is one (but not the only) way we can address the worries and aspirations as a society-sized group.

  2. Opposed to big government or small government, government in the right amount.

    Government cannot solve all problems, nor would we want it to. But there are some things it does really well. And (take healthcare for example) there are some things it does only slightly better or slightly worse than the private sector, and while we can have a decent conversation about these things we need not go crazy as if it were a life-or-death situation.

  3. Cultural compatibility of government.

    Because the legitimacy of government is based in the reality of public life, the government system should be culturally compatible with the society it represents (i.e. there may be greater distribution of wealth in Sweden than the United States, but the Swedes also value the concept of lagom). In other words: there is no god-given, time-proof, platonic ideal or rationally supreme form of government.

  4. Let ideas be held in tension.

    If we do cultural compatibility in a multicultural society, there are going to be problems. 49%, or even 4.9%, of the population can have a legitimate concern worth listening to. The ideal character of any place, instead of being domination by some, should be participation by all. As much as it possible, a moderate seeks to achieve this.

  5. Delegate and trust.

    We trust doctors with our bodies (despite the reality of malpractice), we should be able to trust politicians with our societies (despite the reality of corruption). That said, being an expert in one area does not make one an expert in all. If the scientists say global warming is happening, or economists say a debt ceiling is a bad idea, or a minority group says some oppressive force is asserting itself upon their people, politicians should shut up and listen.

  6. Live up to our potential as a society.

    This might sound a bit backwards to American ears, but as a nation, we shouldn’t strive to be the “best in the world” but the “best that we can be.”  Competition is a good thing, but reckless comparison is destructive. We can focus on our own problems and potential and still celebrate the victories of others (with a healthy dose of good-hearted jealousy, of course).

  7. Do not find purpose in a political ideology.

    This is much a spiritual issue as a political one. Too many people, I fear, in the fragmentation of vacuous postmodern society, have traded their religions and other good convictions for the half-assed metanarratives that are contemporary political ideologies. As a moderate, I can tolerate (and perhaps even celebrate) the fact that you may be a Tea Partier or a Marxist or anything along those lines. But please, at the end of the day, be something more than that as well.

high wire 3” by Graeme Maclean, used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Passion for the rest of us: a Moderate Manifesto