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Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

Rejoice and Be Glad
distributed 4/12/19 - ©2019

From my point of view, keeping fossil fuels in the ground is a righteous cause. It also is a complex and controversial one. The struggle between competing sides is heating up.

In light of some recent news, I turn to the words of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount:

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (Matthew 5:10-12)

There have been some nasty turns in governmental actions promoting fossil fuels. One of them, in particular, I see as rising to the level of persecution, and there's certainly a lot of reviling going on.

How can we "rejoice and be glad" in the face of such struggles?

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Scientists are telling us that the vast majority of known fossil fuel reserves -- about 80% of all known coal, oil and natural gas deposits -- must stay in place and not be burned if humanity is to have any chance of holding climate change within reasonable limits. That truth about carbon budgets is well known, but even so, the production of oil and gas is increasing, and the emission of carbon dioxide reached record levels in 2018.

People and groups that I respect are using a variety of strategies to slow the extraction of high carbon fuels.

  • Some states are passing legislation that may slow down the pumping of oil and gas. A month ago, I described a bill in Colorado that will reduce the power of the oil and gas industry. That legislation is now awaiting the Governor's signature.
  • Many lawsuits have been filed -- by individuals, communities, states and environmental organizations -- seeking to stop some of the most egregious plans to increase the production and distribution of fossil fuels.
  • Direct protests against drilling operations and pipelines have been visible and even heroic in resisting the onslaught of fossil fuels. The most notable of those is the extended actions on the Standing Rock Reservation in 2016 that led President Obama to cancel the Dakota Access Pipeline permit.

The movement to keep fossil fuels in the ground is strong, and diverse, and has had some powerful victories. Rejoice and be glad!

The success of those actions, though, have provoked new levels of government action to accelerate and expand fossil fuels. Precisely because our work to cut fossil fuel production and the related carbon emissions has been effective, our foes are pushing back.

Yesterday, President Trump signed two executive orders on that topic. (If you're interested in the executive order count, the Federal Register says that Mr. Trump has signed 104 of those orders so far, substantially outpacing his two predecessors.)

Fox News said that the executive orders "will make it harder for states to block the construction of oil and gas pipelines and other energy projects due to environmental concerns."

ABC News reported, "In the latest move by the Trump administration to boost fossil fuels and cut back on regulations, President Donald Trump announced two executive orders on Wednesday that are aimed at cutting 'unnecessary red tape' for American energy companies by making it difficult for states to block projects by using the Clean Water Act."

If states are using legal procedures to try and block energy projects, then Mr. Trump will change the rules to keep them from doing so. Persecute and revile? Yes. So perhaps we should "rejoice and be glad," because those legal actions have been righteous and effective.

The really frightening new development came from South Dakota. I learned of pending legislation there from High Country News a month ago. Two bills will allow the state of South Dakota to prosecute pipeline demonstrators and their funders, and use money from damages to fund law enforcement and pipeline costs. Excerpting from their report:

Anti-protest laws exist in other states, but the South Dakota package casts a much larger net over who can be legally pursued by authorities. It creates financial punishments for 'riot-boosting,' a new term defining the actions both of protesters who participate in 'riots' as well as anyone who 'does not personally participate in any riot but directs, advises, encourages, or solicits other persons participating in the riot to acts of force or violence.'

Commentator John Tsirtian looked at some of the potential implications of the new laws. He named "how chilling an effect a law like this will have on those who legally demonstrate." He also looked at some of the extended consequences, which would be sure to be challenged in court.

Consider that in 2017, the Sierra Club announced that it was supporting Native American resistors of an oil pipeline crossing eastern Oklahoma. If similar protests in South Dakota were supported by the organization and the protests turned violent and destructive, would the new law apply? I'm certain the Sierra Club neither openly nor covertly supports violence, but if its sponsored demonstrations get out of control would the club be considered a 'booster' of the mayhem? Would the Sierra Club be considered an 'agent' of its financial supporters, putting them in legal jeopardy?

The Governor of South Dakota proposed legislation, and the Legislature passed it, that is clearly designed to shut down protests against fossil fuel projects in the state. They know that the construction of new pipelines will generate protests, and they're hitting hard to punish -- persecute! -- people of conscience. Rejoice and be glad, then, because the resistance to fossil fuels is committed and strong. That dedicated resistance is frightening those who would increase the flow of climate-warping fuels.

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On a practical level, of course, I am not glad about Mr. Trump's two new orders to boost fossil fuels. Those reckless actions will lead to greater climate damage, and will limit the options available to those who are struggling to minimize climate impacts.

Practically and morally, I am not glad that South Dakota is preparing to persecute protestors, the organizations which support them -- and maybe even the churches which prayerfully send members to join in peaceful acts of witness. In those laws, I find no reason to rejoice.

But yet I turn to the words of Jesus. On a deeper level, we can rejoice and be glad in the face of persecution, and when our cause is reviled, and when the opposition rises up against us. The prophetic witness calling for climate justice is being heard. The righteous efforts to cut the production and use of fossil fuels are being effective. Our work is powerful enough that states, and the federal government, and the mighty corporations are afraid.

Rejoice and be glad, because the truth is being proclaimed with power. Rejoice and be glad, because the work for climate justice is spreading.

That's a faithfully appropriate spirit as we move into Holy Week. We can remember that the witness of Jesus provoked those in power to acts of persecution, and that he found his life's purpose in facing that persecution with courage.

Shalom!

Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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