Conflicting Worldviews at the Global Climate Action Summit

Progressive Christian Social Action

Conflicting Worldviews at the Global Climate Action Summit

I’ve been back from San Francisco for a week now, and I’m still processing all that I learned and experienced at the Soil Not Oil Conference, faith-based workshops on climate change at Grace Cathedral, affinity group and spokes council meetings, and three demonstrations focused on the Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS), a global gathering hosted by California governor Jerry Brown.  Many consider California, under Brown’s leadership, to be leading the way toward a renewable-energy future, especially when contrasted with the Trump Administration’s intransigence on climate change.

The conference itself celebrated Brown’s leadership and California’s progressive climate policies, reflected in the state’s “Global Warming Solutions Act” (AB 32). Big Green environmental organizations such as the Environmental Defense Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council help develop and promote California’s “market-based policies that reduce energy use and cut pollution.” Just days before the conference, the California legislature passed a bill setting California on the path toward a 100 percent carbon-free electricity grid by 2045 (this could include non-renewable nuclear power).  Brown also signed an executive order “committing California to total, economy-wide carbon neutrality by 2045.” However, this does not mean that California would cease to emit greenhouse gases, but that connection with a global carbon market and the trading of permits to pollute (“cap and trade”) would, in theory, neutralize California’s emissions. (Cap and trade is the centerpiece of AB 32.) Still, it sounds pretty good, right?  At least California is attempting to lead the way in responding to climate change.

Yet there were major protests, both inside and outside the GCAS.  When former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg was interrupted by protesters shouting, “the air is not for sale,” Bloomberg ridiculed them, saying, “Only in America could you have environmentalists protesting an environmental conference.”  What’s going on? Evidently there are widely divergent views on what constitutes a positive response to climate change.

People who were inside and outside the conference all agreed on the fact that climate change is real.  Their disagreement was and continues to be how to respond.  I have previously written about opposing worldviews related to climate change:

“There are two opposing worldviews at work in these conflicts over [climate change and] the use of traditionally shared forests, lands, waters, and other common resources. One is based on the dominant economic and development model, which promotes exports and turns the gifts of the earth into for-profit commodities to be incorporated into the global marketplace. The other is based on the worldview of Indigenous peoples who have lived sustainably on the earth for centuries, and who honor all the interrelated parts of creation as essential.” (From Love in a Time of Climate Change.)

I was not on the inside at the official conference.  Instead, I had the opportunity to listen, learn from, and stand in solidarity with a broad coalition of groups led by Indigenous and other frontline communities that have been disproportionately impacted by climate change, the extraction and processing of oil and gas, and climate policies such as cap and trade.  Their perspectives strongly diverge from those that dominated the official conference. Activists from these communities point out that during Brown’s eight-year tenure as governor, he approved over 20,000 new oil and gas wells, 77 percent of which were in low-income communities and communities of color.  California is a major oil producer, extracting approximately 200 million barrels of oil per year, most of it among the dirtiest crude in the world. Permits for new oil and gas (including fracking) wells are still being approved, creating infrastructure that will perpetuate oil and gas production for decades.  (See Brown’s Last Chance.) No wonder impacted communities are protesting!

Although some people inside the GCAS spoke in favor of a “just transition,” many of the “solutions” discussed  were high-tech, corporate-friendly, market-based policies that put a price not only on carbon pollution, but also on the forests and other ecosystems that could be incorporated into a global carbon trading scheme.  Outside, demonstrators, most of whom live in impacted communities of color (including Indigenous communities), joined with allies to demand “racial and economic justice, an end to fossil fuel production, and a just transition to 100% renewable energy that supports workers and communities.” People whose neighborhoods are near oil and gas operations, including fracking, don’t want their communities to continue being treated as sacrifice zones for the fossil fuel industry. At the same time, Indigenous communities don’t want their traditional lands monetized and set aside to provide carbon credits that will enable oil and gas companies to continue polluting their brothers and sisters in vulnerable communities in the United States. Together, supported by allies from a variety of environmental and climate justice organizations, they demand real and immediate solutions to the climate crisis, such as phasing out the extraction of oil and gas (“keep it in the ground”), creating buffer zones to protect schools and neighborhoods, restoring forests and other ecosystems (which sequester carbon), transforming our carbon-intensive global food system to support widespread agro-ecological ways of farming (drawing on local and traditional knowledge) and ending the injustices that cause hunger, and protecting the land rights of Indigenous and other traditional communities that have stewarded the land for generations.  Go to the Indigenous Environmental Network to find out more, to download a booklet on “Carbon Pricing,” and to read the “Open Letter from the Indigenous Peoples of the World,” delivered in person to the Governor’s Climate and Forests Task Force on Monday, September 10, after a powerful demonstration calling on the Task Force to “let them in.”

Pope Francis, in Laudito Si, said that “it is essential to show special care for indigenous communities and their cultural traditions. They are not merely one minority among others, but should be the principal dialogue partners, especially when large projects affecting their land are proposed. For them, land is not a commodity but rather a gift from God and from their ancestors who rest there, a sacred space with which they need to interact if they are to maintain their identity and value.” The pope adds that while Indigenous peoples around the world are being pressured to leave their homelands, “When they remain on their land, they themselves care for it best.” (page 91)

I was happy to participate in direct actions that amplified the voices of the people who are being harmed by climate change, exposure to toxins related to fossil fuel extraction, and false solutions to the climate crisis.  Again, from Love in a Time of Climate Change:

“Today, many people in the climate justice movement are looking to Indigenous communities as leaders in struggles to protect the land, air, and water and as mentors in the search for creation-honoring worldviews with power to motivate action for systemic change. Most people in the industrialized world, however, are steeped in a worldview based on the dominant economic and development model. But as impacts of the earth’s changing weather patterns become ever more frequent and extreme, people may start questioning the conventional wisdom. Will technological innovation solve the problem of climate change? Will free-market capitalism and economic growth finally bring about the common good? Even for people who accept the reality of global warming, our worldview informs our response…

“Indigenous worldviews provide something important that is missing in the mainstream climate debate. New understandings that we are gaining from science uphold ancient Indigenous wisdom about the inherent value and intricate interrelatedness of all parts of creation. Our challenge is to learn from and incorporate this wisdom, which is based in a deep understanding of creation. All things really are connected.”

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Other blog postings about climate change can be found here.  

Watch “Climate Capitalism is Killing Our Communities” on the September 14 edition of Democracy Now! The show includes a debate about cap and trade that demonstrates the opposing viewpoints described here.

If you have Facebook, you can see video from the livestream on opening day, September 13, of the GCAS demonstrations in San Francisco. The sound starts out rough but gets better. At exactly one hour in there is a good interview with Bill McKibben about the purpose and effect of these demonstrations, and more. Note that this is not primarily older white environmentalists wishing that young people and people of color would “join us”. These impacted communities are leading the way… and we are acting in solidarity. Also, If you go into the video at 2:29, you’ll hear a young man from Kern County speaking very articulately about the impacts of drilling in his community. Then you’ll see our affinity group, “We’re Not Dead Yet,” in action with others from the Thousand Grandmothers, until about 2:35. 

If you have Facebook, you can also see me here with my affinity group, blocking the intersection to create space for the indigenous and other frontline communities who were leading this demonstration, calling on Jerry Brown to protect communities rather than corporations by stopping the issuing of oil and gas permits, creating setbacks to protect indigenous and other impacted communities from oil and gas drilling, and keeping the oil and gas in the ground rather than using the market “cap and trade” mechanism to keep carbon pollution going. They claim that “green capitalism” is a new form of colonialism that gives CO2 polluters the right to pollute.  Our goal was to follow their lead and amplify their voices. 

 

 

Never Again: Protest is Our Prayer

Progressive Christian Social Action

Never Again!  Protest is Our Prayer

United Methodist Building, Washington, DC

On this Monday of Holy Week, reflections on the events that led to the death of Jesus merge with events that are taking place today.  As in Jesus’ day, today’s ruling Powers are entrenched in control by domination and violence.  People who seek to change the dominant system and make it more compassionate are maligned and persecuted, as Jesus was.  He was put to death after he drove out the money changers from the Temple, challenging the economic system upon which the Roman occupation of Jerusalem was maintained.

Today it is our youth.  Some are congratulating them for their activism, but they are also being insulted and called names for marching for their lives, standing up to the ruling Powers, and demanding reasonable gun laws and safe schools.  When these demonstrations of active democracy are maligned or called naïve, while our political process is dominated by corporate front groups like the NRA, we are in dark times indeed.  Meanwhile, gun manufacturers and their political advocates accept very minor gun-control policies that they know will increase gun sales. (See the March 2nd Time Magazine report:  Gun Maker Says Sales are Plunging.)

Nevertheless, young people are stepping into leadership, raising their voices, and calling for an end to gun violence, including shooting deaths (often of young black men) by police.  They demand that adults act and that lawmakers establish policies to protect them from being shot and killed in their own schools.

In my own community, many students joined in the nationwide school walkout, some with support of teachers and administrators and some on their own.  I’ve talked with several of them.  One student told me that their school let them make signs, but they couldn’t have words or images related to guns.  Another told me that the teacher said that since it was raining, they could march around the halls, but later relented and they did go outside.  One girl told me how she overcame her personal self-doubt when the marchers she was with turned around and she found herself in the lead.  She didn’t feel like she should be leading the march. She felt like fading back and letting someone else take the lead, but she stayed the course, letting her values guide her instead of her fear.

Many people, including me, believe that there would be less gun violence if there were stricter gun control laws, background checks, mental health services, and (not often mentioned) greater economic and social equity.  Some people are feeling more hope for the future because of this uprising of student activism. I, too, applaud the spirit of these young people and rejoice that they are awakening to what is at stake and coming into their own power.  Every so often there is an uprising that catches fire and kindles a spirit of hope and activism for the sake of a better world.  Every so often a time comes around when “the politically impossible suddenly becomes possible” (Naomi Klein).  This is such a time.

But adults, now it’s on us.  Youth can take the lead, and they may well be the ones who will change the world.  But we can’t just cheer them on.  We must act as their allies, acting in solidarity with them.  We, too, must show courage.  We, too, must speak out, in our homes, at work, in our places of worship, no matter how entrenched these institutions are in the status quo.  We, too must demand action in our communities, in public spaces, and to our legislators. The kids shouldn’t be the only ones to say “Never Again.” They shouldn’t be the only ones to say “We call B.S.” to the conventional wisdom that weapons of war should be easily acquired or to challenge the paralysis of lawmakers because they are in the pockets of the NRA.

Adults, too, need to extend their support, experience, expertise, and resources to this movement.  We need to join with our young in taking action that will make true the call, “Never again.”

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Resistance for the Long Haul

Progressive Christian Social Action

 

Resistance for the Long Haul

In this new year, I have been hearing people talk about how bad 2017 was (politically), and hoping that 2018 will be better. Many people who have not been active before have worked hard last year to resist the Trump Administration and the Republican agenda.  The current state of the nation and world makes it almost impossible to focus solely on one’s personal life.

That’s a good thing, because our neoliberal society would have us believe that we are separate and self-sufficient and that we can find fulfillment by escaping into our personal lives, focusing on ourselves, seeking our own comfort, and feeding our own appetites.  This enables the dominant institutional Powers to divide us and discourage us from taking communal action that could disrupt their attempts to dominate the world.  Besides, that is not the way to happiness.

There are hopeful signs.  Many people are refusing to be sidetracked, and are continuing with the struggle.  Several Republicans have been unseated due to election upsets.  This coming Saturday, there will be anniversary marches around the country, recalling the huge Inauguration Day demonstrations that took place last year.

I have a sense, though, that people are exhausted.  It’s hard not to be discouraged by the constant barrage of presidential tweets, the acceleration of harm, hate and scapegoating, surveillance and repression, and the ongoing “dismantling of the administrative state.” We face tremendous dangers, and many fear that we are descending into fascism, runaway climate change, or even nuclear war.

How can we sustain resistance for the long haul?  I have found that I need a spiritual foundation to keep going, maintain a positive attitude, and live in hope of both personal and social transformation.  In other words, resistance must have an inner, as well as an outer, dimension.  This involves spiritual and cultural awakening, remembering who we are as children of earth and Spirit, prayer as an “uprising against the disorder of the world,” resistance and contemplation, and the conscious practice of simplicity.

I have written about these themes in the context of progressive Christianity in Resistance and Contemplation, an excerpt from Chapter 17 of Shaking the Gates of Hell:  Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization, first published in 2007.  A revised, updated, and expanded Second Edition will be released later this year.

 

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Beyond the Spectacles

Progressive Christian Social Action

 

Beyond the Spectacles

As the daily spectacles of the Trump Administration enthrall the public, Republicans continue to push their unjust and oppressive agenda.  For one thing, they are trying to repeal laws that keep the Internet free and accessible.  Today I made calls as part of the Internet-Wide Day of Net Neutrality, which the organizers have made very easy to do.

The shameful policies of the Trump Administration (and the Republicans) were apparent at the recent G-20 meetings, and were especially obvious in the sidelining of the U.S. president in his refusal to engage with world leaders on the issue of climate change.  Still, some have found a silver lining in that cloud of U.S. non-participation.  Because the United States has regularly blocked strong and binding climate legislation, the rest of the global community may be able to craft a stronger position than would have been possible otherwise.  The G-20 events highlight not only the disaster of the presidency of Donald Trump, but of the problems inherent in U.S.-style politics, captured by corporations, dark money, and ideologically-driven special interests, especially the Religious Right.  (See Paris, Trump, and the Religious Right.)

Meanwhile, heat records are (again) breaking and wildfires are blazing throughout the Western United States.  And now we’ve gotten word that a trillion-ton iceberg has broken off (“calved”) from the Larsen Ice Shelf; it is so big that maps of Antarctica will need to be redrawn.  There are calls to name it the “ExxonKnew” Iceberg, since internal studies show that Exxon-Mobil has known that their products would cause climate change for decades, even while they created a massive public relations establishment promoting climate change denial.  And ironically, Rex Tillerson was CEO of Exxon-Mobil from 2006 until 2016, before he was appointed to the prominent position of U.S. Secretary of State.

My new book, Love in a Time of Climate Change, addresses the ideology and mechanisms that underlie the present U.S. and global system, leading to problems that are illustrated by, but also go far beyond, the ongoing shocks of the (hopefully short-lived) Trump presidency, and which create a momentum that not only harms people’s lives but endangers life on earth.  For example, preview Corporate Influences on Climate Policy in “Chapter 10, Reason:  Climate Justice and Common Sense.”  The following call to action is also an excerpt from that chapter:

“Whatever we do, it is important to keep in mind that we are not acting in isolation, but contributing to the larger movement for climate justice. We are doing our small part to awaken people to what is at stake and to point in the direction of hope.

“Reason makes clear that building a strong movement to stabilize the climate means working in coalition with justice-oriented groups that have other priorities. By joining with pro-democracy organizations, we help to end corporate domination of government and build a peoples’ democracy. Another natural ally is the peace movement. War is deadly for humans and all life, and the U.S. military is one of the world’s largest consumers of fossil fuels. It also makes sense to work with groups that oppose toxic trade deals like the TPP.  Specific groups are listed in the Suggested Reading List at the back of this book.  Working together in a broad coalition of groups builds strength in solidarity and makes it possible to influence public policy in areas of trade, economics, racial justice, immigration reform, prison reform, war and peace, and climate justice. It also makes system change more likely.

“The movement for climate justice, together with allies in the broader movement for global justice, embodies faith that “another world is possible.” Together we seek to establish justice and build a global community in which all human lives, local communities, and the natural world are valued for themselves and not for how much wealth they deliver upwards. As we consider God’s call to climate justice, we turn now [In Chapter 11] to the experiences of people living and working on the front lines of climate change.”

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Other blog postings about climate change can be found here.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Resisting Cultural Possession

The “Golden Bull” at Occupy Wall Street in New York

All of the kingdoms can be yours,” the devil tells Jesus, “if you will just lord your power over others and take up the sword of the nations. Take charge of the biological weapons, deploy some troops, command the implementation of a ‘Star Wars’ missile defense system. All the kingdoms can be yours—if you will just use the world’s means of power: domination and violence.”       Charles Campbell

There is a call in life to come to terms with who we are in relation to the universe, to give ourselves to something ultimate, to live in right relationship with the Ground of Being, to fulfill our destiny, to enter into the Great Mystery.  But we hear other voices as well, voices that we have internalized from our families and cultures, which we hear as our own.  These voices tempt us.  They present us with a choice:  to be true to ourselves and live as free human beings or to be ensnared by desires that reflect the values of our culture and end up being possessed by them.

Jesus, too, experienced this conflict.  After John baptized him in the Jordan River, Jesus saw a vision in which the Holy Spirit descended upon him as a dove and heard God saying to him, “This is my beloved Son; with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:16-17).  This revelation led him to a time of testing in the wilderness, during which a spiritually strong but very human Jesus strove to find clarity about his identity and calling (Matthew 4:1-11).  He especially struggled with what it meant to be “son of God.” This was a well-known designation in the ancient world.  The term “Son of God” was applied to the Roman Emperor, who possessed status, wealth, and worldly power.  Jews who awaited the Messiah were hoping for the coming of a king like David who would embody these characteristics.  Not surprisingly, these were the very things that tempted Jesus.

“If you are the Son of God,” said the voice of temptation (the “devil” or “tempter”) to Jesus, testing him.  If you are the son of God, then prove it… by refusing to be bound by human limitations, by ignoring the laws of nature, by choosing a path that will lead to fame, fortune, and power over others.  But each time Jesus refused, choosing instead to be faithful and to entrust himself to the will of God.  We are called and empowered by grace to do the same.

Theologian Walter Wink demythologizes “the devil” or “Satan,” relating these concepts to the “interiority” of a culture at a particular time in history:  “Satan is the real interiority of a society that idolatrously pursues its own enhancement as the highest good. Satan is the spirituality of an epoch, the peculiar constellation of alienation, greed, inhumanity, oppression, and entropy that characterizes a specific period of history as a consequence of human decisions to tolerate and even further such a state of affairs.”

These words were true of the time in which Jesus lived, when the “Roman Peace” was imposed and enforced throughout the Empire, but they are also true today.  Clearly, the United States is a society that “idolatrously pursues its own enhancement as the highest good.”   The present culture of unrestrained corporate capitalism, enforced by mass incarceration and endless war, exalts nationalism, pays tribute to wealth, promotes consumption, bows to worldly success, glorifies violence, and vilifies people who have not attained these things.  The “alienation, greed, inhumanity, oppression, and entropy” that characterize this time in our history are made possible by the personal decisions of many individuals to tolerate or even further this state of affairs.

The temptation of Jesus set the stage for the events that led to his death.  By choosing a path of deep integrity instead of adopting the cultural values of his time, Jesus set himself against the religious, political, economic, and military rulers of his day.  It’s no wonder that the religious elite, who benefited from the Roman occupation, collaborated with the Roman authorities in targeting him, plotting against him, and finally putting him to death.

And it’s no wonder that those of us who live here in the United States are often tempted to submit to cultural expectations.  Today’s ruling Powers have a million ways to reward and punish based on whether or not we comply.  But there is a deeper way to live, which offers immeasurably greater rewards.

There is always temptation, especially in our consumer culture.  It might be easier to come to terms with who we are and who we are called to be if we could go out into the wilderness.  That is what the season of Lent is about—a season that involves taking time out to reflect on what is ultimate and to accept the responsibility and privilege to make a conscious choice.

We do have a choice.  We do not have to surrender to the Powers or be driven by desires to conform and excel in their service, at the expense of other people and the earth itself.  We can refuse to submit to social pressures, resist cultural possession, and live in freedom as fully human beings, as beloved children of God.

There are many paths to freedom, and divine love is universal, offered to all people and all creation.  I choose to follow and live in the Spirit of the one who calls me, Jesus Christ.

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