Day 4 of Fast with GCCM, FAN, and Beyond Extreme Energy – in support of Pope Francis’ calls

September 19, 2015

Walking down 11th Avenue from the hostel where we are staying overnight — a dorm room of half GCCM fasters and half FERC/Keep it in the Ground fasters, both hosted by FAN — to Union Station, early this morning, food still beckons!  Whether it is the larger than life picture of a mouthwatering cake from a bakery that is moving into the neighborhood or a hotdog stand on the corner, I notice my appetite.

By now though I am also in a different zone, perhaps a different class, among the people who don’t eat or can’t eat.  So I sympathize with a nine year old walking with his mother, possibly homeless, who also can’t have these either. This is one of the positive dimensions of the fast, increasing awareness of the daily realities of others beyond our boundaries, whether class lines or in distant countries of the Global South.

Pope Francis reminds us how interconnected things are and how systemic our problems. With concern, but also with joy and confidence, he urges us to embrace new life – to learn and see what is needed for all to have life, and a good life, and then live and do what is needed to bring that about.

Fortunately for us in the US, there is an attractive and productive path, which will generate a lot more jobs than our current system, and alleviate the conditions of 68% of African Americans, to name just one group, who live near and are exposed to the mercury emissions of coal plants.  The more I look into these issues in the US, the deeper and more widespread I see the injustices are.

And they now know from solid science that 75-80% of remaining fossil fuels need to be kept in the ground, at least this century, to keep from tipping our balance and endangering the earth’s air, water, and the climate in which humans have flourished and grown crops, the past 8,000 years.

Just last Friday, scientists confirmed that if they continue on the current path our government is on and fossil fuel companies would like – climate change rhetoric or denial in the morning, depending on the source, and pushing for or singing off on more US drilling in the afternoon, ultimately mining all those fossil fuels – will raise global temperatures by 20 F (the average, not the extremes) and melt the Arctic, raising sea levels over 160 feet.  Scientists say half of the Antarctic ice sheet can melt in as quickly as a thousand years, with sea levels rising to as much as one foot every 10 years. Land ice in other parts of the world will also melt. The rate at which the entirety of Antarctica’s ice would melt stunned the scientists, who used to believe the process would take 10,000 years.  “To be blunt: If we burn it all, we melt it all,” lead study author Ricarda Winkelmann, researcher at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, told the New York Times.

This and the Catholic Climate Petition, supported by the Pope, say we should cap global temperature rise at 1.5 C, which means the vast majority of fossil fuels — 70-80% — must be left in the ground, we must get off of fossil fuels “without delay” (LS #165), and we must switch to life-giving, abundant, healthful renewable fuels.

Ironically the sea level rise and the worldwide displacement of people, their homes, habitats, and food and the resulting national and international conflicts could be the least of our concerns, because how many would survive in a world that is 20 degrees warmer, on average? Much more distressing, since they live in a world of daily particulars, not the average for the year, what will the extremes be like on a given year, when temperatures reached 126 degrees Fahrenheit in some cities, just this past summer  — how much higher will the yearly high temperatures be in those places?  Temperatures are rising above tolerable levels for the sedentary, much less people who need to work outdoors. We are already at or past the limits of what is safe, and barreling toward destruction, thinking or hoping that at some higher level, surely people are taking care of anything that important. The reality is, change is moving much too slowly at the government or international negotiations level (imagine people from each country treating this as a zero-sum game where they negotiate to do the least, while urging others to do more) to catch and respond to this problem, the climate problem, in time.

Thus the need to act, and wrap our minds around how to switching off fossil fuels “without delay,” acknowledging the “urgency” (LS #165).  “There is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced, for example, substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy.” (LS #26)

It turns out that 50% of the remaining fossil fuels in the US are on federal lands. This should be an easy win, right?  There is so much agreement on it now, it’s a question of timing.  Even many on the right will now admit, if not say on their TV stations, that they need to get off fossil fuels and switch to clean energy. Even the G20 said all nations should end fossil fuel use by 2100 (two countries kept the group from choosing 2050 as the target, as the rest advocated).  It’s all a matter of timing.

The truth is though, saving ocean life and our atmosphere, water, and livable temperatures requires action soon.  So it is all a matter of timing. Do we get in front of the tide, or do we continue putting off the action we need to take, for a future, supposedly better time (when remaining choices will actually be tighter and more urgent), just so we can continue what is familiar and fossil companies can continue extracting maximum profit, without care for what happens to the rest of the world and our common home. This path can accurately be characterized as extreme, for the 99.9% of us that do not come out ahead in this scenario.

This is why I am meeting our co-Laudato Si’ enthusiasts fasting to get the attention of FERC to leave fossil fuels in the ground and issue no new permits for fossil fuel infrastructure.  We met at Union Station to go over plans for a commission meeting at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission at 10 a.m. this morning. Ted Glick, Steve and their colleagues have already been there so many times, FERC will not let them in to speak again. The idea this morning is to provide some new faces, including mine, from the West and Midwest.  A woman from Oregon who will speak about the export terminal will also be joining us. At the meeting, the group discusses whether we should read passages of Laudato Si in the FERC meeting but decides there will not be time, before we are escorted out.

The “Fast For No New Permits,” which also encourages people to fast individually where they live and/or to organize local solidarity fasts during this same time period, and their group, Beyond Extreme Energy say they are undertaking this action in support of the call in Pope Francis’s encyclical, “Laudato Si,” for action on the climate crisis commensurate with its seriousness. They quote the encyclical, that “There is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced, for example, substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy.”

Serious fasts have been undertaken by social movements for many decades. Gandhi, Cesar Chavez, Dave Dellinger and Bobby Sands are the most well-known practitioners of this way of taking action against injustice.  Fasting—also described as hunger striking—is usually undertaken after less drastic and more traditional forms of action such as leafleting, petitioning, meetings, vigils, and demonstrations have failed to move the person or institution being targeted. Fasting is a way to dramatize the urgency of the demands of the movement and to draw attention to the intransigence of those being called upon to change.

These committed Americans embarked on their 18-day fast after years of citizens groups utilizing FERC’s procedures to try to prevent the dramatic expansion of gas pipelines, compressor stations, storage terminals and export terminals.

  • They have signed up to be official “intervenors” in proposed gas infrastructure expansion proposals.
  • They have submitted well-reasoned comments to the FERC website.
  • They have signed petitions on specific projects, in some cases submitting hundreds of thousands of signatures.
  • They have mobilized hundreds of people many times and in many places to FERC-organized local public meetings. Most recently, more than 100,000 people signed a petition calling upon FERC to change in the winter of 2014.
  • They met three times with the Chair of FERC to present their (and our) requests and concerns.
  • They are distributing copies of Laudato Si’ to the FERC commission at the close of their 18-day water fast.
  • More than 100 people have submitted to arrest in nonviolent actions in front of FERC’s DC headquarters. Twice in the last year Beyond Extreme Energy has organized week-long, nonviolent blockades of the entrances to FERC, disrupting FERC’s operations and reaching out to FERC employees urging them to speak up about FERC’s corruption by the gas industry.
  • For eight straight months they have attended the monthly meetings of the five FERC Commissioners to raise the concerns of many of us across the US, often leading to their being physically removed from the meetings and, now, to their being banned from them.
  • Meanwhile, and even now, the permits to expand fracked gas infrastructure just keep coming.  FERC’s meetings are short and mostly appear to rubber stamp approvals for the US fracked gas industry and their plans to expand their operations worldwide.

The process of hydraulic fracturing of shale rock often contaminates nearby water, air and land and leads to earthquakes. It generates significant methane emissions which as a greenhouse gas is at least 85 times more powerful than CO2 over the first 20 years after it is emitted and dangerously accelerates the heating of the earth. And gas infrastructure is a threat to the health and safety of those living or working close to it. Agencies are just now collecting more information on some of these impacts.

At the close of the 18-day fast, when Pope Francis speaks to the UN, BXE will distribute copies of Laudato Si’ at FERC.  BXE also has a statement:

For some of us who have for the last year been focused on FERC, this fast has a deeply personal, spiritual dimension. It was best articulated by Cesar Chavez in his life and death fight to create the United Farm Workers in California in the late sixties: “This fast is first and foremost personal. It is something that I feel compelled to do. It is directed at myself. It is a fast for the purification of my own body, mind and soul. The fast is also the heartfelt prayer for purification and strengthening for all of us… It is a fervent prayer that together they will confront and resist, with all our strength, the scourge of poisons that threatens our people, our land and our food.”  –Cesar Chavez

In the words of Pope Francis: “It is no longer enough, then, simply to state that they should be concerned for future generations. They need to see that what is at stake is our own dignity. Leaving an inhabitable planet to future generations is, first and foremost, up to us. The issue is one which dramatically affects us, for it has to do with the ultimate meaning of our earthly sojourn. . .

“The Earth Charter asked us to leave behind a period of self-destruction and make a new start, but they have not as yet developed a universal awareness needed to achieve this. Here, I would echo that courageous challenge: ‘As never before in history, common destiny beckons us to seek a new beginning… Let ours be a time remembered for the awakening of a new reverence for life, the firm resolve to achieve sustainability, the quickening of the struggle for justice and peace, and the joyful celebration of life.’”

Both Catholics and non-Catholics are coming together, praying together, and taking action. In fact, our joint celebrations led by the Green Muslims on Thursday and UU on Friday, have been moments of blessing, unity, and deep insight and sharing (see next post for those).

Greg Erlandson, president of the Catholic publishing company Our Sunday Visitor, who covered Pope John Paul II from Rome, said Francis, the first Latin American pontiff, is asking people to “examine our consciences” — and “examination of consciences really makes you uncomfortable.” This action was a bit uncomfortable today, as is fasting, but sometimes these things are necessary.