Published on June 11th, 2018 | by Steve Hanley0
Pope Francis, Bill McKibben, & Poor People’s Campaign Address Climate Change
June 11th, 2018 by Steve Hanley
Writing in The Guardian this week, climate activist Bill McKibben suggests the world may miss its last realistic opportunity to deal with climate change because of the delays caused by Donald Trump’s implacable opposition to any and all efforts to keep average global temperatures from soaring ever higher. “The constant sense of crisis that the president creates robs us of the concentration we need to focus on long term issues like climate change,” he writes.
McKibben bemoans the social costs of rampant corruption and institutionalized bribery that passes for government in the post–Citizens United era. He thinks those losses may be reversed eventually, just as Germany recovered from the horrors of the Third Reich. But he says Trump is “definitely costing us one precious thing, and that’s time. It rolls past every day as we stand necessarily transfixed by his transgressions, and since it can’t be rolled back, there are victims who — whatever the future holds — are paying an unrefundable price.”
Because of the Trump reality TV show masquerading as a presidency, America’s focus is on trivia. Climate change has all but faded from the front pages of the nation’s newspapers. McKibben did a survey of the op-ed pieces published by the New York Times — which self-importantly refers to itself as America’s “newspaper of record” — since the start of 2018. He found 660 of them. Only 6 were about climate change. That’s not even 1% of the op-eds.
One of those 6 op-eds on climate change was by alleged journalist Bret Stephens, a hard-right ultra-conservative added to the editorial board ostensibly to provide some “balance” to that august body. In one recent piece, Stephens lashed out in true Trumpian style to label McKibben and fellow climate activist Naomi Klein as people of such low intelligence they are unable to grasp the concept that mankind is a “Promethean species [that] has shown the will and the wizardry to master” any challenge that presents itself. No hubris there.
In other words, there’s nothing to worry about, folks, we are so smart we will “science our way” out of any issue that confronts us. That attitude meshes perfectly with the belief among most conservatives that God gave humanity dominion over the Earth and everything on it to do with as we please. It’s right there in Genesis. And as the bumper sticker says, “God said it. It’s in the Bible. I believe it. And that settles it.” More on this subject shortly.
Trump, McKibben says, “is robbing us of the concentration we need to focus on issues that demand that attention over the long term, attention that can’t endlessly be drawn away. Climate change comes with a time limit. We don’t have four years to waste ignoring it, not when Arctic sea ice is reaching new lows and temperatures are breaking records.”
He quotes with approval the words of Times editorial board member Paul Krugman from 2016. “It’s time to end the blackout on climate change as an issue. … There is, quite simply, no other issue this important, and letting it slide would be almost criminally irresponsible.”
The Poor People’s Crusade & Climate Change
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had some thoughts that are pertinent today. “Human progress,” he once wrote, “never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to work to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation.”
His wisdom has found new life in the Poor People’s Campaign, an amalgam of black Christian conservatives who read the Bible in a vastly different way from their white counterparts. It has been sparked by the outrageous indifference to the polluted water crisis in Flint, Michigan, and the growing body of evidence that the health and social costs of pollution fall disproportionately on communities of color.
The racism of Donald Trump and his supporters is on prominent display when the goals of the Poor People’s Campaign and those of Scott Pruitt et al are examined side by side. “God has blessed us with natural resources. Let’s use them to feed the world. Let’s use them to power the world,” Scott Pruitt, Trump’s EPA administrator, has said.
That’s not how Reverend William Barber of North Carolina, one of the leaders of the Poor People’s Campaign, sees it. He dismisses the reading of the Bible subscribed to by Pruitt and most white Evangelical Christians that says God gave mankind dominion over the Earth, considering it a distortion of the original text.
“Dominion in this sense means to care for, not destroy,” Barber says. “The first commandment is to take care of creation. To destroy creation is fundamentally irreligious. It’s a violation. It’s a sin. Pruitt says he believes in God but you’ve never seen him pull out scripture that shows Jesus said we must help corporations poison the water.
“You get white so-called Evangelicals who say they are against abortion but say nothing about environmental devastation that is destroying lives and stunting children. The president may have chosen the worst person to run the EPA, but ultimately, Earth is the only place we have to live. A lot of people of faith are now articulating that not taking care of Earth is an affront to basic theology.”
He adds, “Where there’s pollution, a community will get a cold but poor people will get pneumonia. The love of money is the root of all evil and it’s the root of all environmental devastation. It’s a dangerous self-destruction.” He and the other leaders of the Campaign are demanding the US shift its focus to 100% renewable energy, reduce oil and gas drilling, and provide clean drinking water to all Americans.
Near the end of his life, Dr. King began to make the connection between social justice and being good stewards of the Earth, sprinkling his speeches with references to “cities … gasping in polluted air and enduring contaminated water.” In his famous Christmas Sermon on Peace delivered in December of 1967, he went further.
“All life is interrelated,” he said. “We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality.”
His view of the world does not put white people of Nordic heritage at the top of human society, placed there to exercise dominion over everyone else — a construct often heard today from white Evangelical Christians.
Climate change and energy efficiency are part of the ethos of the Poor People’s Campaign. “We focus on the election, we focus on poverty, we focus on Black Lives Matter,” said the Rev Kip Banks, a senior pastor in Washington, DC. “Equally important is the environment.”
Reverend Leo Woodberry, another leading figure in the Campaign, says, “African Americans are far more likely to have asthma, our children are more likely to die than white children. People stand up in church and say they need a respirator. We are pushing and pushing and pushing so that something is done about it. We are called upon to care for the Earth, not deplete it,” he says.
Pope Francis Adds His Voice To The Climate Change Chorus
At the Vatican last week, Pope Francis cautioned fossil fuel company executives that exploiting the Earth for profit without taking the needs of people into account is wrong. “Civilization requires energy, but energy use must not destroy civilization,” he told a two-day conference of energy executives, investors, and Vatican experts.
He called climate change a challenge of epochal proportions, saying the world needs an energy mix that combats pollution, eliminates poverty, and promotes social justice. “We know that the challenges facing us are interconnected. If we are to eliminate poverty and hunger … the more than 1 billion people without electricity today need to gain access to it,” the Pope told those in attendance.
“But that energy should also be clean, by a reduction in the systematic use of fossil fuels. Our desire to ensure energy for all must not lead to the undesired effect of a spiral of extreme climate changes due to a catastrophic rise in global temperatures, harsher environments and increased levels of poverty,” he added.
What Difference Does Any Of This Make?
No one in authority in the United States government cares one whit about climate change, renewable energy, or social justice. They care about ripping children from their mothers’ arms to punish the parents for daring to set foot on the sacred soil of the United States of America. They care about enriching coal company executives and fracking companies who rape and pillage the land for their own personal profit. They idolize a chief executive whose primary negotiating strategy is playing “Mine’s bigger than yours” on the world stage.
Ultimately, slogans and speeches will have little practical effect. If they did, the words of Martin Luther King Jr. would have eradicated the stain of racism from America 50 years ago. Instead, hatred of people of color has become more glaring and virulent than we thought possible again.
Simple economics will spell the end of fossil fuels and nuclear power. Only a fool would buy a Ferrari when a Hyundai would do, especially when the interests of investors are concerned. Eventually, the price advantage of renewables will crush the existing energy industries. But can the world afford to wait for that process to work its magic?
What can we in the CleanTechnica community do in the meantime? Continue pressing our agenda, doing what we can to reduce the use of fossil fuels (and the plastics derived from them), cutting back on meat and dairy products, making our own homes energy efficient and powered by renewable energy whenever possible, driving electric or not driving at all.
There are a few other things we can do. We can make sure we vote. We can help those who need assistance register to vote and make it easier for them to get to the polls. We can vigorously oppose efforts to restrict voting rights, particularly for the poor and persons of color. And we can quietly but doggedly share our beliefs with those who cross paths with us.
As Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” If anyone doubts the wisdom of Mead’s words, think of what Elon Musk and his band of merry pranksters at Tesla have accomplished in a short time. They have turned boardrooms around the globe upside down and spurred changes in the automotive and utility sectors that are nothing less than revolutionary.
We who gather here at CleanTechnica constitute precisely the small group of thoughtful, committed citizen Margaret Mead spoke about. Keep spreading the word so that one day we can overcome the forces of evil who would sell our birthright for their own profit. That needs to end, and the sooner the better.