Saturday, November 26, 2016

Wind Power, Factually

A great joy of driving through the midwest is seeing the growth of wind farms. Despite its poor record on climate preparedness, Indiana is ranked 12th in the nation in wind power. 
Fowler Ridge in northwest Indiana, for instance, with its 600 MW capacity, is one of the largest in the U.S., while the 500 MW Meadow Lake wind farm straddles I 65 north of Lafayette, Indiana on the way to Chicago (see photo).

Yet much misinformation still churns about wind power. Once a couple of years ago I was preaching in a church in southern Indiana and got into a conversation with a woman afterward. She was expressing appreciation for my discussion from the pulpit of the spill of coal-processing chemicals near her hometown in West Virginia, which had contaminated the drinking water of 300,000 people. 

As we talked, I said something about the importance of clean energy such as solar and wind. "Oh, wind farms," she said. "I hate them. They are ugly and they kill birds." 

I find them magnificent, far more stately than utility poles, cell phone towers, and coal smokestacks. But it's difficult to argue with someone else's aesthetics. 

I had heard the claim about birds several times before, and decided to look into it. Answers are not hard to find. Here, for instance, are some statistics about the leading human causes of bird mortality, with a link here specific to wind farms. Windows and house cats top the list, and non-renewable forms of energy are much greater culprits.
The bird-killing windmill story goes back to one forty-year-old California wind farm, Altamont Winds, whose turbines had been badly sited, and have undergone replacement, saving a large majority of birds. 

I mention this now because our new President-elect has been making uninformed claims about wind. In his interview with the New York Times last week he said the following:

"The wind is a very deceiving thing. First of all, we don’t make the windmills in the United States. They’re made in Germany and Japan. They’re made out of massive amounts of steel, which goes into the atmosphere, whether it’s in our country or not, it goes into the atmosphere. The windmills kill birds and the windmills need massive subsidies. In other words, we’re subsidizing wind mills all over this country. I mean, for the most part they don’t work. I don’t think they work at all without subsidy, and that bothers me, and they kill all the birds. You go to a windmill, you know in California they have the, what is it? The golden eagle? And they’re like, if you shoot a golden eagle, they go to jail for five years and yet they kill them by, they actually have to get permits that they’re only allowed to kill 30 or something in one year. The windmills are devastating to the bird population, O.K. With that being said, there’s a place for them. But they do need subsidy. So, if I talk negatively. I’ve been saying the same thing for years about you know, the wind industry. I wouldn’t want to subsidize it. Some environmentalists agree with me very much because of all of the things I just said, including the birds, and some don’t. But it’s hard to explain. I don’t care about anything having to do with anything having to do with anything other than the country."

In response to these claims, the American Wind Energy Association published the following
President-elect Trump recently stated inaccurate claims about American wind power. The comments were made in an interview with reporters, editors and opinion columnists from The New York Times. A full transcript can be found here: but feel free to use the facts below to respond to each statement or inaccuracy: 

·       Claim: “I mean, I have a problem with wind” 
·       Fact: Americans overwhelming (83%) favor expanding wind energy according to Pew:

·       Claim: “The wind is a very deceiving thing”
·       Fact: There’s real, authentic support for wind power while manufactured opposition spreads misinformation:

·       Claim: “We don’t make the windmills in the United States. They’re made in Germany and Japan.” Or “Most of ‘em are made in Germany, most of ‘em are made, you know, Siemens and the Chinese are making most of them.”
·       Fact: Over 21,000 U.S. factory workers make a majority of American wind farm content right here in the USA: and here

·       Claim: “They’re made out of massive amounts of steel, which goes into the atmosphere, whether it’s in our country or not, it goes into the atmosphere.”
·       Fact: A typical wind project repays its carbon footprint in six months or less, providing decades of zero emission energy that displaces fossil fuel energy: Wind power is one of the biggest, fastest, cheapest ways states cut carbon pollution and avoids 132 million metric tons of carbon dioxide a year in the U.S. – or 28 million cars worth of carbon emissions:

·       Claim: “The windmills kill birds and the windmills need massive subsidies. In other words, we’re subsidizing wind mills all over this country.”
·       Fact: Wind power has among the lowest impacts on wildlife of any way to make electricity. Leading wildlife groups like the Audubon Society, the National Wildlife Federation, and the World Wildlife Fund support responsibility sited wind turbines. Wind energy is the low-cost solution to carbon pollution in particular which threatens all wildlife. Unlike all other human sources, the wind industry works to minimize and offset the limited impacts it has on individual birds, building on a legacy of care for birds and environment:

·       Claim: “I mean, for the most part they don’t work. I don’t think they work at all without subsidy, and that bothers me, and they kill all the birds.”
·       Fact: All forms of energy have incentives, most of them permanent in the tax code. The only ones preparing to phase out their incentives are wind and the other renewable industries. The wind Production Tax Credit is set to phase out starting next year. Thanks to performance-based tax policy, the U.S. is number one in the world in wind energy production, supplying enough electricity to reliably power 20 million American homes

For additional fact check resources, you can see the following links:

·       AWEA Fact Check: Trump allows for renewable energy but cites bad information:
·       AWEA blog: AWEA ready to work with President-elect Trump to strengthen U.S. economy:
·       Bloomberg: Tall buildings are bigger threat to birds than wind power:
·       FactCheck: Trump’s hot air on wind energy
·       Politifact: Trump inflates wind turbine eagle deaths:
·       Grist: We fact-checked what Trump and Clinton said about energy at the debate
·       ThinkProgress: In a tirade against renewables, Trump claims wind power ‘kills all the birds’

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Thank You, Beloved Church

I was on my way to several days of meetings in Indianapolis this past Wednesday, having said to various family members and friends, "please pray for me!," when I received a couple of emails--one from a friend and one from a stranger--about that very thing: they
were praying for me, and for us.

Turns out the Presbyterian Church's Mission Yearbook writers had taken a press release about an energy conservation workshop held at our church in October and turned it into a story and a prayer. So alongside of people suffering from Alzheimer's and their caregivers (Sunday), polluted rivers in Bolivia (Monday), partnerships in Honduras (Tuesday), police and protesters in Charlotte (Thursday), political turmoil in Haiti (Friday), and hope in Nicaragua (Saturday), a mid-sized church in a little Indiana town, and an upstart environmental organization in a beleaguered state, got a national boost. I hope it was as good news for readers of the Mission Yearbook as it was for us. 

Thank you, beloved church!

In addition, the online Christian social justice journal Unbound came out with my story about collaboration between previously divided forces seeking ways to combat climate change.  

And Xavier University in Cincinnati has now published a webpage to advertise our Ignatian Journey to the Holy Land, which is coming up next May.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Collaborating against Climate Change

Collaboration--what a concept in the nonstop world of competitive partisanship, where
millions are spent promoting one message, one candidate, one worldview over against another, while children skip meals.

The day before the crashing finale of the most disturbing presidential race ever, "bipartisan" seems pretty remote. But it is happening in some places. Groups like the Friends Committee on National Legislation have worked hard toward bipartisan political solutions. Read here about their game-changing behind-the-scenes work especially with Republican legislators concerned about climate change. 

Here's another promising start: I've begun reading Getting to Green: Saving Nature: A Bipartisan Solutionby Frederic C. Rich, a book with a hopeful (though colon heavy) title. I look forward to getting past a prologue that surveys the same sad inactions that tie climate activists' stomachs in knots, and reading his proposed solutions.

Hope comes in smaller doses too. Presbyterians from Fossil Free PCUSA (pro-divestment), Faithful Alternatives (anti-divestment), and the Presbyterian Church's Mission Responsibility through Investment team (selective divestment), three groups that had competed to win a breakthrough at the Presbyterian General Assembly in June--and all lost out to a weirdly broken process--sat down together to collaborate on what all could agree on, and to create a shared plan to help reduce the church's carbon footprint on many fronts: not only the supply side (energy industry) but also the demand side (Presbyteries, churches, individuals). Perhaps we'll no longer be asked to choose among parties that--unlike our political parties--agree on the essentials. 

Since I was blessed to sit at that Texas table, Fossil Free leader Abby Mohaupt invited me to write about the meeting. As I say in this blog post for Fossil Free, the day reminded me of a classroom exercise at that very seminary years ago, which taught the definitive superiority of collaboration over competition. I was happy to see the article reposted by the Presbyterian Foundation's Facebook page five minutes later. You can read it here.... or wait to see it soon in the online justice journal Unbound. 

In the meantime, prayers for our country's future, and our world's. 

Monday, June 6, 2016

Podcast Now Available--and Looking to Presbyterian General Assembly

The Rev. John Shuck's Progressive Spirit radio interview with me is now available on podcast here. I'm not the world's smoothest talker--I'd rather write any day than try to sound coherent on the radio--but he did a great job: asking important questions, responding conversationally, and editing out some of my uhhs and ahhs. Thanks, John! I will be preaching at his church, Southminster Presbyterian, in Beaverton, Oregon, on June 19 in connection with the Presbyterian Church USA's General Assembly meeting in Portland. 

While at the General Assembly meeting I will be serving as one of Mid-Kentucky
Presbytery's four commissioners, i.e., delegates with voice and vote on the many decisions the church will make about our course for the next two years at least. The commissioners are divided randomly to serve during the week of GA on one of thirteen committees that will each examine a block of business matters before bringing our recommendations to the entire body. I will be moderating one of these thirteen committees, the Social Justice committee. We have a heavy agenda of matters that may not seem at first glance directly related to ecological matters--but are indeed so, since social justice and environmental justice are so intertwined. 

Our committee will deal in some depth with continued structural racism in the U.S. and, consequently, in our own institutions. One intriguing matter is the study and possible repudiation of something I had never heard of before, even though life as we all know it is entirely based on it: the so-called "Doctrine of Discovery" that more than 500 years ago became the functional norm for European explorers--the church-sanctioned idea that any place inhabited by non-Christians could be claimed by "discoverers" as Christian land. This was the basis of U.S. expansionism into Native American lands (think Trail of Tears), Manifest Destiny, and white colonialism around the world, which led, and leads, to egregious bloodshed, displacement, and extraction of both resources and labor. 

How can our daily lives be so deeply based in an idea we have never heard of? Social memory only goes back a little beyond what the oldest living folks among us can
remember, and there are ugly matters we want (and are encouraged) to forget. This is why knowing history is so crucial. I am looking forward to all our conversations around racism, America's original sin. (And I've just finished reading The Invention of Wings, Sue Monk Kidd's new fictionalized retelling of the story of Charleston abolitionist Sarah Grimke--which vividly imagines the daily relations of slaveholding households and the individuals they enslaved.)

I would have loved to attend the committee dealing with divestment from fossil fuels. Divestment has by far the most support across the country of any item of business before the GA this year. Even if it doesn't pass this year, I believe it's only a matter of time. 

That committee will also discuss and, I hope, repudiate factory farming, the disgraceful treatment of animals that we raise for food, not only killing and eating them, but making their lives miserable from birth on, as if they were not sentient beings but simply industrial widgets. What is done today to chickens, pigs, and cattle--and to those that serve as meat farmers, and to their neighbors--in the name of cheap meat is so unconscionable that I find it personally difficult even to discuss. I am thankful that many of my friends and family members who aren't vegetarian at least restrict the meat in their diets and obtain their meat sustainably from family farms instead.  

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Progressive Spirit, Friends, and the Gibson Resolution

May must be Audio Month. On the same day I gave one of the Spirit Is Willing webinars with Georgia Interfaith Power & Light, I also had a radio interview with the Rev. John Shuck, who hosts Progressive Spirit on KBOO Community Radio out of Portland, Oregon, a show that has hosted the likes of Jim Wallis, Bishop John Shelby Spong, Bart Ehrman, and Diana Butler Bass. I'll also be preaching and teaching at Rev. Shuck's church, Southminster Presbyterian in Beaverton, Oregon while serving as moderator for the Social Justice Issues committee for the 222nd PC(USA) General Assembly in Portland in June. 

On days my life doesn't seem all that exciting, I have to remind myself that, well, yes. The radio interview will be aired the first week of June, with a podcast available starting June 5. 

More fascinating, and this is big....

Interfaith Power & Light's annual conference was earlier this month on the campus of Gallaudet University close to Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. There we learned a fascinating story from Emily Wirzba, who is policy associate for sustainable energy and environment at the Friends Committee on National Legislationthe United States' oldest nonpartisan, ecumenical lobby, whose office stands just across the street from the U.S. senate offices. 

We all knew, of course, of the Gibson Resolution, introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives last September when Pope Francis visited to the U.S. and addressed Congress. In this resolution, Republican New York Representative Chris Gibson, along with ten other Republican reps, acknowledged the reality of climate change and called for better environmental stewardship. As Congressman Gibson told a reporter, addressing environmental issues are a core conservative principle. “If conservation isn’t conservative, then words have no meaning at all,” he said. 

Ms. Wirzba told us there is more to the backstory than the news revealed. These break-with-leadership-join-morality congresspeople didn't just dream up by themselves the vision of going out on a limb for human survival. It was the Quakers who initiated it. (It’s worth remembering that the Quakers were also the radicals who, two centuries ago, led the charge for slavery’s abolition.)

It took years of effort to find the Republican representative who might introduce a resolution affirming the reality of the climate crisis, before a Quaker in his district, joined by an interfaith, delegation, approached the congressman asking him to sponsor this resolution.

Eleven--and now thirteen--representatives may not seem like enough to shift the conversation. But Ms. Wirzba told us that this move has quietly inaugurated fundamental shifts over the past several months. A bipartisan house solutions caucus has formed, Noah’s ark style--two by two, with equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans. A House Republican energy innovation and environment solutions working group has also begun meeting.
And in late April, Senator Lindsay Graham of South Carolina and nine colleagues introduced an amendment to an appropriations bill.  This amendment acknowledges that climate change is real, human-caused, and already affecting the U.S., posing risks to health, security, economy, and infrastructure, and that 180 other countries have committed themselves to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It proposes that the U.S. become a world leader in addressing climate change, and that Congress take action. This is huge.
I am sometimes asked why churches should involve themselves with the “political” issue of climate change. The crisis has indeed been politicized by those who profit by delaying action. Yet shifting our practices to avoid the worst effects of a disaster already unfolding is at the root an ethical action, not a political one. Our faith compels us to protect the earth and the welfare of those living on it, present and future, and to exercise our citizenship in advocating for measures that will do so.
Back behind the ceaseless noise of the presidential election, history is quietly being made. And people of faith are making it. We are the unexpected visitors amidst a roll call of advocates, articulating values embedded in our faiths, values that affirm our responsibility to tend the earth that God so lovingly created.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Spirit Is Willing and We Are Not Faint

Here are recordings of the three webinars in the series "The Spirit Is Willing and We Are Not Faint," cosponsored by Georgia Interfaith Power & Light and Hoosier IPL: 

Friday, May 6, 2016

Lunchtime Webinar: The Spirit Is Willing and We Are Not Faint

First the announcement: Three-part webinar in May, hosted by Georgia Interfaith Power & Light and led by me, coming up on Wednesdays (May 11, 18, 25), 12:00 noon Eastern. Here are the parts:
·      May 11: Rethinking Scripture, Humans, and Creation: Five perspectives for a creation care ethic grounded in faith.
·      May 18: Creating Social Movements for Change: Resources both historical and personal that power our drive to care for creation.
·      May 25: Shifting to a Flourishing Future: Stories and signposts for a future of ecological and social prosperity.

Register here. Find more information and a flyer here.

And now the excuses for my woeful silence over the past six months and my promise not to go AWOL again:

Excuse one: Two days after my last post, and three weeks early, my first blood granddaughter was born. And yes, grandparenting is all it’s cracked up to be. I could watch all day long as she discovers her hands, examines my face, and laughs at nothing more than the joy of life. 

Excuse two: Then I went to Kenya and Tanzania to explore and to teach and preach in congregations of the Africa Inland
Church. And yes, life in the wild is unspeakably magnificent. I could spend all day watching a giraffe ramble across the road, or riding a pikipiki (hired motorcycle) up a country mountainside. Or, for that matter, planting tree seedlings with fans of Wangari Maathai, as these Christian volunteers are.

Excuse three, full disclosure: I shouldn’t mention this in an environmental column, but my spouse and I then went to New Zealand to visit our kids who moved there. But it’s true, we did, and I have the carbon offsets and guilt to prove it, and also the memories of misty Milford Sound, the most surreal scenery on earth, unless you count the iconically conical Mount Ngauruhoe (a.k.a., Middle Earth’s Mount Doom), or the sulfur-spewing hot mudholes of Rotorua, or the glowing worms dangling from the Waitomo Caves ceilings, or Oamaru’s steampunk downtown and playground, even without the penguins, or the haunting earthquake ruins
of Christchurch’s cathedral. How can two little islands hold so much, and polite people to boot?

Excuse four, and somehow not as exciting: Three days training to moderate the Social Justice Issues committee of the upcoming Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly in Portland, and three days of workshops and Capital Hill visits with Interfaith Power & Light in D.C.

Then this and that busyness, writing a new energy conservation guide for Hoosier IPL, working on my Isaiah commentary, speaking to the evangelicals, the Presbyterians, the Quakers, the Catholics, the other Presbyterians, the seminary students, the elderly, the Methodists, the interfaith community, the political staffers, public radio, fourteen events in nine cities and more coming up. Being an ex-academic doesn’t pay much but it sure gets you into interesting conversations in fascinating places. 

And I still love it when strangers announce that they are enjoying Inhabiting Eden, or when they suddenly buy five copies of the leader guide. 

I'm suspending recaps of the PEC conference, will post the webinar recordings when they are completed, as well as another upcoming radio interview. And I promise to keep up better, yes I really do.