A Burden Too Great (Amos 8:4-9)

I was in Peterborough this weekend, preaching at St. Andrews United Church — my parents’ congregation. St. Andrews is celebrating its 175th anniversary this year. That’s a very long time, by Canadian standards:  stretching back to a time before Confederation (in 1867, when four of the provinces united to form a nation).

I don’t know whether anyone will be interested, but I decided to upload my sermon to the blog. I’m speaking on an environmental theme, grounding the message in a text from the prophet Amos.

The sermon is 25 minutes long, which is a rather long time for modern people to sit still and listen. But I’m not apologizing. I think it’s possible to hold people’s attention for that long, but a sermon has to be well crafted for it to work — no meandering.

The first voice you’ll hear is my father, reading a few verses from the Gospel of John. I’ve broken the recording into three segments. The middle section is longer than the other two.


The land trembles:

Moral cause and effect:

Clean sources of energy and more drilling, too

Andrew Sullivan catches this. Is McCain unable to see the utter incoherence of this ad?

McCain promises to move to clean energy sources, in part because of the “threat to our climate”. And then he commits to end the moratorium on drilling for oil!

It’s kind of like treehugger, brought to you by Chevy trucks! (See previous post.) Honestly! — have people lost the ability to think logically?

Treehugger: brought to you by …

WTF?! Treehugger, brought to you by Chevy trucks. But be sure to buy your jeans green.

Screenshot, June 24 10:20 a.m.; click to enlarge.

treehugger brought to you by ...

Shape shifter

John McCain is reputed to be a straight talker. And it’s true that McCain is often blunt (i.e., aggressive) in the way he expresses his opinions. If that’s what people mean by “straight talker”, the label is accurate.

But with respect to policy positions, there’s some evidence that McCain is more of a shape-shifter than a straight talker. Here’s the latest example, neatly illustrated by CNN:

  1. McCain used to be open to a windfall profits tax on oil companies; but now he is mocking Obama for supporting such a tax; and
  2. McCain used to support an existing, federal ban on offshore drilling; but now he says the ban should be lifted.

These policy shifts are important, because McCain wants Americans to believe that he’s serious about tackling climate change. But if McCain’s policy is to provide a supply of (relatively) cheap oil, people will have less incentive to change their carbon-emitting ways.

What does Obama mean by “windfall profits”? Consider that the five largest oil companies realized a $36 billion profit in the first quarter of this year. Obama proposes,

I’ll make oil companies like Exxon pay a tax on their windfall profits, and we’ll use the money to help families pay for their skyrocketing energy costs and other bills.

McCain is now on record as opposing that policy. It isn’t surprising that he mocked Obama in Texas, which is the home of big oil.

On another environmental front, Obama and McCain have both expressed support for a cap-and-trade system:

A central authority (usually a government or international body) sets a limit or cap on the amount of a pollutant that can be emitted. … Companies that need to increase their emissions must buy credits from those who pollute less. The transfer of allowances is referred to as a trade.

Obama’s support for a cap-and-trade approach is unequivocal. But does McCain really support cap-and-trade? He raised some doubts here:

I believe in the cap-and-trade system, as you know. I would not at this time make those — impose a mandatory cap at this time.

The same article makes it clear that McCain has equivocated on this point previously:

It’s not quote mandatory caps. It’s cap-and-trade, OK. It’s not mandatory caps to start with. It’s cap-and-trade. That’s very different. OK, because that’s a gradual reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions. So please portray it as cap-and-trade. That’s the way I call it.

Confused? I am. McCain is not such a straight talker when it comes to his environmental policy.

Some reflections on John McCain

It looks as if John McCain will be the Republican nominee. He has fewer than 100 delegates at this point, out of the 1,191 he needs to win the nomination. But McCain looks likely to emerge from Super Tuesday with approximately 750 delegates to Romney’s 325. (The source of the calculation is a Romney supporter.)

McCain_flight_suit.jpg  On the war in Iraq, McCain comes out as the obvious successor to President Bush:  he claims that America should stay in Iraq for as long as it takes, even if that means 100 more years.

But McCain is hard to pigeonhole. He adamantly opposes torture. He is extremely compelling on this topic because he speaks from personal experience:

“One of the things that kept us going when I was in prison in North Vietnam was that we knew that if the situation were reversed, that we would not be doing to our captors what they were doing to us,” he said.

When Mr. McCain brings up the issue of torture, he is often met by a complex response. Many of the Republican voters he courts do not agree with his opposition to aggressive interrogation techniques that many have condemned as torture. But they are often captivated by his discussion of the issue, in some cases even moved to tears, as was the case in Boone.

On the campaign trail, Mr. McCain does not dwell on the personal details of his five and a half years as a prisoner of war, the “torture ropes” in which he was bound day and night, or the beatings he endured. But as he speaks, the physical reminders of his wounds are there for all to see, from the stiffness of his arms, which to this day he can only painfully raise above his head, to the shortness of his stride, a result of injury and subsequent beatings.

(Note, in passing, how mealy-mouthed the New York Times is on this issue: “aggressive interrogation techniques that many have condemned as torture”. The USA is doing worse things to detainees than the “torture ropes” and beatings that McCain endured. Does the Times seriously deny that McCain was tortured? But I don’t mean to pick on the Times, because the US media in general equivocates like this.)

The other shocker is McCain’s position on climate change. He’s a believer:

He was co-sponsor of the 2003 McCain-Lieberman legislation, a failed attempt to achieve a cap on U.S. carbon dioxide emissions. And there’s no doubt that McCain is much more serious about taking mandatory action than other Republican hopefuls, like Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney–who has been bashing the Arizona senator repeatedly for being too strong on the climate issue.

Imagine John McCain vs. Barack Obama in the presidential campaign. Both candidates will be committed to end torture and to take real action on climate change. No matter who wins, we’ll see an end to American torture.

On climate change — I’m not so sure. The US economy is tilting toward recession, and both McCain and Obama have other spending priorities. McCain will continue to finance American military operations in Iraq; Obama has promised to introduce a universal health care program. If the economy continues to stutter, action on climate change may be deferred, yet again.

How likely is a Republican victory at this point? Not long ago, I would have said it was extremely unlikely. But with McCain as the Republican nominee?

I’m convinced that McCain would beat Clinton. McCain can appeal to the right on military issues, and appeal to moderates on torture and climate change. Meanwhile, nearly 50% of Americans will never vote for Clinton under any circumstances. She can’t afford to bleed many votes to her Republican opponent.

And what would Clinton’s platform be? “I voted for the Iraq war, too”? “I’m enough of a hawk to stare down the terrorists”? “I am the candidate of experience”? Those have been the main planks of her campaign against Obama. But Clinton stands in McCain’s shadow at all three points.

Clinton can’t even reach out to immigrants, because McCain is to her left on that issue. Her appeal will be limited to core left-wing issues like abortion and health care.

Whereas Obama will present a clear contrast to McCain. One is pro-Iraq; the other has been outspoken in his opposition to the war. One represents experience and continuity with the Bush administration; the other represents a new generation and a dramatic change of course. And McCain’s “straight talk” will be a foil to Obama’s soaring rhetoric.

Andrew Sullivan is confident that Obama would beat McCain. I’m not so certain. McCain’s appeal is obvious to me, and a downturn in the economy may work in his favour. But Obama can successfully appeal to moderate, “swing” voters, and that may be enough to put him over the top.

I wouldn’t venture any rash predictions. The Republican race has been fascinating. The Democratic race will continue to be fascinating, even after Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious Tuesday. And the presidential race itself may be just as compelling.

This is quite a year for anyone who enjoys politics! (I extend my sympathies to the rest of you.)

Unbiblical? Unreal!

climate change is unbiblical

Alrighty, then. God said it, I believe it, that settles it!

Phantom of the Globe

When I read articles like this one, I cannot help but recall the Phantom of the Opera.

I know, I know… it doesn’t have a whole lot to do with the article itself. Still, when reading it, I can’t help but feel that all signs point to the fact that we are “past the point of no return!”

Two issues particularly exercise climate scientists: positive feedbacks and ice-sheet dynamics.

Water is not white, like ice

A positive feedback is a causal cycle — essentially a vicious circle — in which warming causes a series of changes that reinforces warming. One feedback of special importance to Canada is the ice-albedo feedback in the Arctic. The sea ice floating on the Arctic Ocean is white, so it reflects a large proportion of the sun’s radiation back into space. As this ice melts from global warming, it leaves behind open water that absorbs about 80 per cent more of the sun’s radiation. This ocean water becomes warmer. Then, after the summer passes and fall comes, the water releases its heat back into the atmosphere, which impedes refreezing. So winter generates thinner ice, which melts more easily the next summer.

This feedback is one of the reasons why the planet is warming, and will continue to do so, much more rapidly in its northern reaches. The IPCC predicts about 3 C average warming by 2100, and in the neighbourhood of 6 C to 7 C across much of Canada. Some people say we will benefit. Well, we may have lower heating bills in the winter for a few years, but because we’re a northern country, warming here will be about twice as fast and the ultimate magnitude will be twice as great as the planet’s average.

The consequences will be immense for our flora and fauna, for our forests that can’t adapt and die en masse, for our grain-growing regions that could turn to desert, for the Great Lakes as their levels fall, for transportation in the St. Lawrence Seaway and for northern permafrost that melts.

Colour’s a weird thing. Weird enough, that some of the best episodes of the Magic School Bus were concerning colour, and, more specifically, coloured light. Still, the fact that the Earth is being destroyed because less white covers the ocean is a hard concept for me to get my mind around.

So how do you counter it? Unless we develop white oil and can go spill it across the ocean, I really don’t see how you can reverse this trend easily. Which, of course, is the point.  The article goes on to explain that carbon emissions have a similar cyclical trend, with it becoming more and more self-sustaining as time goes on, suggesting that sooner or later, the biochemistry of the Earth would generate huge amounts of excess carbon on its own

At that point, warming could become its own cause; it would no longer really matter what we do to mitigate our emissions of carbon dioxide. The global ecosystem would take over.

The moral of the story is clear enough: Mitigate our carbon emissions now.

It’s covered pretty well in this video, and though the guy strikes me as a bit … patronizing? … it’s a solid argument, and not entirely unheard of:

He simplifies it. A lot. The biggest problem I would see arising from this is the question “what if we can’t change it?” It’s great to assume that we can change it, and we either get depression or 🙂 . But what if we spend all that time and money trying to alter the future, and it’s more prudent to spend it bracing ourselves for it.

But then, how do you brace yourself for the end of the world?

Sounds like the field for theologians, to me. But from a political perspective, it seems hard to argue that you can continue dancing around the issue of “yes” or “no.” Climate change is real, whether human-controllable or not. Soon we’ll be past the point of no return to make any action at all, from the looks of things.

Sometimes, the weather can be depressing!

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