Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Climate and Paul Ryan

In selecting Rep. Ryan as his running mate, Gov. Romney is said to have transformed the presidential campaign into an ideological debate. This might refer to Ryan's ideas about the budget deficit, Medicare and Social Security, tax codes, gay rights, or women's concerns, but today I am not interested in these. What I want to know is: what are Mr. Ryan's ideas about climate change?

Ryan's Web page on environment asserts that he wants to "develop legislation that is based on sound science and will continue our efforts to maintain and strengthen our environment." He goes on to list budget increases for the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation, the Fish and Wildlife Agency, and conservation orientated agencies within the USDA, Department of Commerce, Corps of Engineers, and EPA. This all sounds great.

The first clue that my interpretation may be different from his is the sentence, "Bigger government has not equated to better government, and it has only led to duplication, waste, and mismanagement." This is code-speak for the need to cut funding for these programs.

The second clue is his endorsement of the American Energy Initiative, which is designed to remove government barriers to energy production and stop policies that drive up gas prices. This means he wants to "remove government roadblocks and bureaucratic red tape that hinder and delay American energy production", code-speak for let the fossil fuel industry do whatever they want without regulation or controls.

The fourth clue is that half of the page is devoted to the spread of Asian Carp of the Mississippi River. I do not mean to belittle the importance of this issue, but to make this the centerpiece of his environmental policy seems out of balance, shall we say?

The fifth clue is that there is no mention of "climate change" or "global warming", none whatsoever. Nor is there any mention of "climate" or "warming" on his energy page. The energy page talks about "reforming outdated fuel regulations". He pays lip service to "investing in alternative energy sources", but seeks to remove any "discriminatory distortions" for such projects while saying nothing about tax breaks for the highly profitable fossil fuel industry.

Though Ryan says nothing on his website about global warming, he wrote an editorial during the 2009 international climate talks in which he laughs that "fighting global warming has been a tough sell in our communities, where much of the state is buried under snow," and accused climatologists of a "perversion of the scientific method, where data were manipulated to support a predetermined conclusion," in order to "intentionally mislead the public on the issue of climate change." His record in Congress has been to oppose every measure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In 2010 he wrote that "there is growing disagreement among scientists about climate change and its causes", which was not true then, nor now. Overall his environmental voting record for 2011 was only 3%. Not all of these votes were related to climate change, of course, but I think the message is clear.

Now, in all fairness, Mr. Ryan is not the head of the ticket, which would be Gov. Romney. What does Mr. Romney think about climate change? That can be difficult to pin down. In 2004, as governor of Massachusetts, his administration unveiled a detailed plan to curtail the state’s carbon pollution. In 2011, he told voters in New Hampshire:

"I don't speak for the scientific community, of course, but I believe the world's getting warmer. I can't prove that, but I believe based on what I read that the world is getting warmer. And number two, I believe that humans contribute to that. I don't know how much our contribution is to that, because I know that there have been periods of greater heat and warmth in the past but I believe we contribute to that. And so I think it's important for us to reduce our emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases that may well be significant contributors to the climate change and the global warming that you're seeing."

Yes, he does hedge a little, but mostly he seems quite clear. Climate change due to human activity is real. Since then, however, he has backed off considerably without being specific or definitive. Frankly, I don't actually know what Mr. Romney's views on climate change are.

By contrast, President Obama has established the Climate Change Adaptation Task Force. Wow! He acknowledges the findings of science. I'd say this is an ideological debate!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Be the Change

This week I have been reading Cultivating Peace by James O'Dea. I highly recommend it. One of its central themes is that freeing the societies we live in is closely interconnected with freeing our own inner lives. Becoming a peacemaker requires as much inner work as skillful work in the world around us.

Last week I also listened to Scilla Elworthy's TED talk, "Fighting with non-violence". She too emphasizes that the change that has to take place has to take place here inside me first. It is my response, my attitude to oppression that I've got control over, that I can do something about. And to do that what I need to develop is self-knowledge.

Third, I explored the Website of Andrew Beath, founder of EarthWays, who states that personal transformation is the first step to global change. Quoting a Kate Wolf song, "We are crying for a vision that all living things can share", he goes on to say that from this inward crying comes personal awareness that gives direction to our desire to take action.

Mahatma Gandhi's admonition to "Be the change you want to see in the world" makes a lot of sense, but it also used to confuse me. I want to see the world become peaceful and I am a peaceful person. So why isn't it working? I'm slowly realizing, however, how quick I am to tell people why they are wrong before I seek to truly understand them. I now see that my ire is often directed toward people, not what I perceive as their flawed thinking. When I give up the need to be right, I find that a true conversation can take place. This seems true on many levels.

Quoting O'Dea, "When we truly engage with each other, a mystery unfolds: we enter a safe ground of being where we can share our differences and come to know each other. So often we live with a fiction of who the other is. When we come to know them in a peacebuilding context, it is not that we have to agree with them but that we can appreciate them for who they are. This alone is what humanizes the world and brings peace."

Friday, August 10, 2012

Touch the Earth

I'll be honest. Protecting the environment has not always grasped me emotionally in the same way responding to the plight of people with inadequate water, sanitation, food, and shelter has. Although I know that safeguarding the environment is essential and biodiversity is vital for the survival of our planet, my heart has simply responded more quickly and more deeply to people in need. I don't think I am unusual in this regard.

So I have been slightly surprised at my new calling, as announced Thursday, and for much the same reason I worry that some of my friends may not feel as honored by 'their gift' this year as they have been in the past year.

Of course helping people is still my main focus. The project I will be supporting is building a much needed high school in a remote area of Ecuador. What is different is that the project will not only improve the lives of the youth and adults of this community, it will help them preserve the rainforest and protect its wildlife. We are not only touching people's lives, we are touching the Earth. This feels right to me.

"Touch the Earth" is a Native American expression expressing the concept that by touching the earth, the soil, we can touch the soul of our planet and be at peace within the universe. I'm not quite that literal, but not far from it either. The human predicament is intricately tied to the plight of our planet. It's impossible to separate them. The sense I have is that by making it possible for the young people of this small region in Ecuador to gain an education, we can help empower them to continue their stewardship of the rainforest and the wildlife it sustains. It is all interconnected.

This is all I am going to say today. This is my calling for now, and I do not necessarily expect it to become yours, at least in the same way. For those who do develop a deeper interest, though, I will be posting more details in the coming weeks.


Thursday, August 9, 2012


A year has passed. By now each of you on my friends list (except the very most recent) should have been honored on your birthday with a donation to a good cause. Since birthdays come around once a year, it is time to reassess what began as an experiment and has since become a weekly/daily spiritual practice.

And it was an experiment at first. (Experiment in Giving) My goal was to raise awareness of issues that have captured my interest, and see how others would respond. My friends (and often their friends) responded with graciousness, gratitude, and heightened interest. What I did not count on is the affect it would have on me. I found myself becoming more generous in all areas of my life, not just financial, but with my time and energy, and even with my smiles. Dare I say it, I am happier.

So giving in this way (beyond my family's 'regular' donations to our church and other charities) has become a transformative practice. But now that it has been a year and each friend has been honored once, should I continue or should I do something different?

Both seem right. I want to go on, and yet it seems like a good time to make a change. It has occurred to me that perhaps I should become more focused in the coming year. I still have high regard for the causes to which I have been giving for the past year (listed under "Facebook Birthday Experiment" on my webpage,, and I intend to continue supporting them in some manner. But even though these organizations have a sound reputation for involving local communities, I never know exactly where my donations are going. This is not a criticism; it is just a feeling that I am not as closely involved as I would like to be. Could I do something more specific?

It turns out that I have friends with close ties in Haiti, Burma, Ethiopia, and possibly dozens of other locations around the world. I thought about continuing my Birthday Experiment by giving to one of these more 'local' causes, someplace where each donation would be more tangible.

And then, quite recently, I was made aware of a location on our planet so remote that maps are hard to come by, a region with fewer than 0.000003% of the earth's population (200 out of 7 billion), a society among the poorest in the world, fighting bravely against some of the world's most powerful economic interests not to mention a corrupt government. These are a people living in harmony with their environment, and what they require most as a community to continue their stewardship and improve their lives is a high school.

Will building a school save the world? Of course not, and I understand this. But it is not MY job to save the world. I can only respond to what I am called, and this project seems to be my calling at present. This project may HELP save the world.

So at least for the coming few months, I will make a $5 donation on YOUR birthday in YOUR name toward the building of this school. What I plan to do a bit differently this year is make it easier for others among your friends to match this gift if they wish, and you may do so yourself, but only as you (or they) feel led.

More to come.