Monday, November 18, 2013

Energy Independence, Energy Dependence

The Louisville Festival of Faiths Fall Forum met at Bellarmine U. Friday. Titled “The
Energy Independence Boom: A Call for Religious Leadership,” it was planned by several local Catholic orders, including the Dominican sisters, the Sisters of Loretto, and the Sisters of Charity. My friend Robbie Pentecost, a Franciscan sister in Appalachia, was front and center in the planning and I was proud to know her. 

The controversial Bluegrass Pipeline ignited the event. It rose to local fame in August when the Sisters of Loretto, accompanied by the Trappist brothers of Gethsemani, denied access to their property in central Kentucky for surveying for a new flammable, pressurized, natural gas liquids pipeline. The pipeline is intended to reach the gulf coast, and its contents to be processed into plastic and other products, but religious leaders and others are opposing it publicly.

This is only one of many fossil fuel pipelines in the news these days. The most notorious is the Keystone XL pipeline, intended to conduct synthetic crude oil and bitumen from the “tar sands” of Alberta across the Canada/U.S. border to complete a 2151-mile line through Montana and several plains states to the Texas coast. This one has made the news because its border-crossing segment is awaiting State Department approval, and because a large number of people, rallied especially by the climate-action organization, vigorously oppose it (see my blog post on the February Washington rally). They oppose it for several reasons, including the violation of native lands where the tar sands are located, the energy-intensive method used to extract the petroleum from the sand, and the many dangers of environmental damage along the pipeline.

What most people don’t know is that such pipelines cause great inland ecological and human damage, just as other more spectacular spills such as BP’s Deepwater Horizon spill of 2010 do. BP’s spilled killed 11 workers and continued for three months before it was capped, covered a water area equivalent to the size of Oklahoma, and damaged the coasts of every gulf state. Clean-up and litigation continue there.

But numerous other, less widely publicized spills have damaged farmlands, towns, rivers, and coastlines. For instance: this month, a Greenville, Texas spill northeast of Dallas, and the week before, a spill of 400 barrels (17,000 gallons) of crude oil from a pipeline near Austin (my hometown). A month ago, a spill of more than 865,000 gallons on seven acres of North Dakota farmland. Then there’s the Trans-Alaska Pipeline spill of 2010, the Red Butte Creek Chevron spill in Utah in 2010 and another similar one in 2011, the Kalamazoo River, Michigan, spill of over a million gallons in 2010, the Montana Yellowstone River spill of 2011, and barge spills in the Mississippi River in 2012 and 2013.  

These are just the U.S. ones. In Nigeria, more oil is spilled every year than what BP dumped in the gulf and, according to this news story, “oil companies have acted with such impunity and recklessness that much of the region has been devastated by leaks.” Oil spills also plague China (also here), Canada (also here), the U.K., Brazil, New Zealand, for example.

Last March, ExxonMobil’s Pegasus tar sands pipeline engulfed a Mayflower, Arkansas neighborhood. Exxon barred reporters and had the FAA impose a no-fly zone.

These speakers addressed the forum powerfully:

Samuel Avery, author of The Pipeline and the Paradigm: Keystone XL, Tar Sands, and the Battle to Defuse the Carbon Bomb, discussed the assumption that the purpose
of human life is economic growth. This has brought unprecedented prosperity, he said, but it sees lumber instead of trees, coal instead of mountains. It fails to see what the wrong kind of economic growth does to our home on earth. The mistake, he said, is not in seeing fossil fuels as useful, but in seeing them as a permanent solution to our energy needs. It is time for a new energy paradigm.

Paul Simmons, former professor at Southern Baptist Seminary, spoke about the role of faith in environmental action. He drew attention to the close connection the creation story traces between humans (adam) and the ground (adamah).

Sarah Lynn Cunningham, a licensed environmental engineer and one of the founders of the Louisville Climate Action Network, among other things, spoke of the “silver buckshot” (as opposed to silver bullet) needed to address climate change: i.e., many small solutions working together. She called religious leaders to assert moral authority in relation to the climate crisis, a move that will also create new jobs and, in the long run, save money. Pragmatically, she advised repetition, showing rather than telling, and offering “what’s in it for them” as persuasive arguments to promote practical actions such as energy conservation in congregations.

Most importantly, Sister Claire McGowan, executive director of New Pioneers for a Sustainable Future, introduced an “Energy Vision from the Heart of Kentucky’s ‘Holy Land,’” inviting faith leaders to join the three orders of Sisters in signing “because of our love for God and for God’s creation.”  

Between speakers, individual tables of participants conversed both on and off topic. Over a hundred people attended, a community of extraordinarily committed faith citizens gathered into one room by Christy Brown and the Festival of Faiths staff.

And, oh yes, an advance copy of my book arrived unexpectedly Thursday. After opening it, I spent the rest of the evening repeating, like a drunken fool, “And, this is my book! Did you see it?” And then showed it off Friday at the Festival, pointing out to several people their own names in the acknowledgements. I am grateful to Dilu Nicholas and Sharon Adams for the striking book and cover design, which is even more stunning in real life.  

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