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Climate and Sustainability

Basics

Over the last 30 years, Texans of all walks of life have become more concerned about human impacts on the environment. Increasingly, stories about environmental destruction and its effects on human health dominate the news and people are feeling those impacts in very real ways—in bans on fishing due to mercury contamination, in increasing asthma rates, and in ozone pollution days in Dallas and Houston, for example.

To fuel our modern lifestyle, forests are cleared, toxic waste dumped...

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Over the last 30 years, Texans of all walks of life have become more concerned about human impacts on the environment. Increasingly, stories about environmental destruction and its effects on human health dominate the news and people are feeling those impacts in very real ways—in bans on fishing due to mercury contamination, in increasing asthma rates, and in ozone pollution days in Dallas and Houston, for example.

To fuel our modern lifestyle, forests are cleared, toxic waste dumped into rivers, and chemicals spewed into the air. We are using the earth’s resources faster than they can be replenished, and scientists tell us that global warming is the biggest environmental crisis that we have faced, not just in our time, but in the entire history of human civilization. Our diverse religious traditions share a common call for people to care for the earth and live in respectful balance with other animals and people.

Texas continues to have more renewable energy potential than any other state, but in recent years clean energy discussions have taken a back seat to concern about electric reliability. Meanwhile, though cheap natural gas, made possible in large part by Texas’ controversial hydraulic fracturing—or “fracking”—boom, has kept energy costs low, fracking has left many communities and landowners dealing with collateral damage and unsustainable change.

Renewable energy continues to be key in addressing many of the concerns that Texas faces and will face. As renewable technologies become more cost-competitive and concerns about fracking mount, legislators should recommit to making Texas the nation’s clean energy leader and update the state’s clean energy goals. Texas’ long-term plan for electric reliability must include a commitment to clean energy that promotes long-term energy independence, human health, and care for God’s creation.

The state’s focus on electricity supply has elevated interest in energy efficiency and other demand reducing measures. Lawmakers should place particular emphasis on consumer-directed efficiency programs that yield benefits for the grid and the individual ratepayer. Too often, energy efficiency programs take a one-size-fits-all approach that rewards the heaviest users while minimizing the significance of small consumers. Legislators should affirm that energy efficiency is a community-wide effort, and craft policies that make energy efficiency attractive and effective for all ratepayers, including those who are low-income or otherwise disadvantaged.



 

 

The forecast for name-your-environmental-crisis-here often looks bleak. People who follow environmental issues know it, and sustained justice work can be a challenge. When I meet with religious groups about things like pervasive toxic chemicals, environmental justice, or global warming, someone invariably asks, “Where do we find hope?”

“One day, the king ordered that an elephant be brought into the palace, along with the five wisest sages from the outskirts of the city, who all happened to be blind. The king instructed each sage to stand at a different place around the elephant, each touching a different part of the animal. ‘You are each touching one thing,’ the king said to the sages, ‘Tell me: what is it?’

The first sage was touching the trunk of the elephant. ‘It is long, coarse, and flexible,’ he said. ‘It is a rope.’

Over the last two weeks, I’ve heard two different presentations about the Environmental Justice (EJ) movement. The EJ movement is part of the environmental movement as a whole, but pays particular attention to the affect of pollution and toxics on communities of color—rightly so, since communities of color are disproportionately impacted by both.

Some things to know about the EJ movement:

Climate change is one of those issues that, when you start to dig into it by reading the latest science (here, here, or here) and by considering the political gridlock in D.C., you might begin to feel depressed, angry, and overwhelmed. These feelings are understandable, and we should let ourselves feel those things—but at some point, we need to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and get to work.

Crying is all right in its own way while it lasts. But you have to stop sooner or later, and then you still have to decide what to do. –C.S. Lewis

The Jewish holiday of Tu B’Shvat is not what it used to be. Increasingly referred to as the “Jewish Earth Day,” it offers a good example of a religious observance that has grown and changed over time—in interaction with and response to current challenges and community needs.

“The most important thing is to learn how to think,” I enthusiastically told the class of 50 eighth-graders at my son’s school. I looked into their faces. Some of them were bright-eyed, engaged, actively listening—some of them were dozing off. Most seemed somewhere in-between.

I don’t think their overall lack of interest was completely my fault—by now they’d heard five other Career Day presentations and it was getting close to lunchtime. Plus, I didn’t have a drug-sniffing dog like the Border Patrol agent in the classroom across the hallway did. I bet that was interesting.

As I write this, I am sitting at my kitchen table while my ten-year old, home from school today with a fever, watches a movie upstairs. It is a bright, beautiful fall day in Austin, Texas—and part of me wants to turn off my computer and my cell phone, make a pot of soup, and sit on the couch under the covers with my son. Maybe I’ll do those things later.

“If you need me, I'll be in a barn in Nacogdoches with a bunch of Baptists, making art out of recycled glass.” That was the caption I put with this photo (on the right) when I posted it to my facebook profile on Tuesday evening. Part of me really did want to stay there forever, working side by side with members of the local community—one person cutting bottles, one mixing colorful tumbled glass pieces in a large tub to make “mulch,” one arranging broken shards into a mosaic, one making a pattern on a plate with glass pebbles.

Jewish communities around the world read the Biblical story of Noah and The Flood this week. For most of my life, I’ve thought that this story is horrible. Sure, the idea that God cares enough about all life to include every species of animal in an escape plan is nice— and certainly makes for cute wallpaper in a nursery!—but when you remember that the destruction of pretty much all living things on the earth is God’s will… well, it’s just awful. Why anyone would want to teach children about this angry, vengeful, uncaring god that destroys life was beyond me.

On a recent, overcast Thursday evening, I co-led a presentation in San Marcos, Texas, about creating a local, interfaith environmental network. I didn’t know what to expect; in retrospect, I guess I didn’t expect much. San Marcos is a small town compared to the other cities in which I’ve offered this presentation. I wondered whether enough people would even be interested.

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