Wednesday, July 30, 2014

EPA Carbon Pollution Hearing Testimony

US EPA Carbon Pollution Guidelines Public Hearing, Pittsburgh, PA
Testimony by
The Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade, PhD
Pastor, United in Christ Lutheran Church, Lewisburg, PA
Member, Task Force on Slickwater Hydraulic Fracturing, Upper Susquehanna Synod of the
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)
Representative of Lutheran Advocacy Ministry of Pennsylvania (LAMPa)
Founder, Interfaith Sacred Earth Coalition of the Susquehanna Valley

July 31, 2014

First, I want to thank the EPA and Administrator McCarthy for paying serious attention to this issue of carbon emissions and their deleterious effect on our planet’s atmosphere.  I commend you for giving citizens the opportunity to be heard on this important issue.  The proposed rule is well-researched, with solid background in science regarding greenhouse gases, their effect on the planet, and their negative impact on public health.  It offers a wide range of options for states and power generators to meet the new requirements to reduce greenhouse gases.  As a pastor who has particular concern for “the least of these,” I was especially pleased to see attention given to the health of children when weighing the input of stakeholders.  I come today on behalf of myself, my husband and two young children, my congregation, United in Christ Lutheran Church in Lewisburg, the Upper Susquehanna Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Lutheran Advocacy Ministry of Pennsylvania, and the Interfaith Sacred Earth Coalition of the Susquehanna Valley to express my support for the new EPA rule to reduce carbon pollution, even while it is under attack from industry groups that want to weaken this life-saving measure.  As a clergyperson, you can be assured of my backing of this proposal.

However, as a member of my synod’s task force on slickwater hydraulic fracturing which spent two years studying the ethical and moral issues surrounding fracking; and as a member of several environmental groups that study and bear witness to the harmful effects of the shale gas industry in our state and across the country, I must raise concerns that are not addressed in the EPA’s proposed rules.  Three years ago I gave testimony in support of the EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxins Rule which, at the time, was a strong measure for reducing poisons from the coal industry.  An unexpected and harmful effect of this rule, however, was that it helped to pave the way for the shale gas industry to establish itself in our state and commit untold damage to our air, water, state and private lands, and public health.  I fear that this new rule on carbon emissions would only further enable the shale gas and oil industry to secure its hold in Pennsylvania and do still more damage to ecological and human health.
Yes, the new EPA rules will force Pennsylvania to reduce its air pollution and burn less coal. But how we adjust to less coal will make all the difference.  If we build more renewable energy infrastructure and increase energy efficiency, our air will be cleaner and greenhouse gases will be reduced. But if we replace coal with fracked gas, we will only be making our air and atmosphere worse.  These rules, as written, only codify the transition from coal to gas that is already underway. As well, the rule gives implicit consent to burn more trash, tires, coal sludge, and other forms of toxic waste for electricity.  So while I believe the proposal is a good first step, it is not only inadequate, it will have the unintended consequence of replacing one source of dirty fuel with many others.
Methane is a greenhouse gas even more potent than carbon.  The rule does not address total lifecycle emissions from methane-gas-fired power plants, including leakage during production, processing, and transmission, emissions flaring at gas wells, and energy consumed in the production and transport of liquefied natural gas.  Researchers found methane leak rates of 100 to 1,000 times greater than EPA estimates at well pads in Pennsylvania. And the EPA’s Office of the Inspector General just issued a report citing the agency’s failures to manage methane leaks from pipelines. 

Instead of promoting a strategy that perpetuates fossil fuels and fracking (and make no mistake – shale gas is a fossil fuel), the proposed rule should include an aggressive pursuit of renewables, energy efficiency, and conservation.  Shale gas and oil are not the solution to carbon pollution in the United States.  They are, in fact, an even worse enemy.  The rule should set absolute reduction targets for total greenhouse gas emissions for each state. Otherwise emissions will continue to grow as more energy is consumed.

I urge for the rule to be substantially amended with policies that expressly favor stringent conservation standards, as well as increased sourcing of electricity from renewable energy, which is emission free.  
This would be faster, cleaner and more economical than investing in natural gas, waste product incineration, and nuclear power. Renewables and efficiency can produce more reductions of CO2 per megawatt hour than natural gas.
I am committed to helping people of faith learn how to do their part to care for God’s Creation and support eco-justice issues.  I call for the EPA to not only stand its ground with this rule, but to actually strengthen and expand it in order to put in place the strongest protections possible to defend public health, the fragile atmosphere of our planet, and the communities that will bear the costs and suffering from our addiction to fossil fuels and greenhouse gases.  Thank you.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Noah on Mt. Ararat - The Floods of Climate Change

Sermon Series:  Mountaintop Experiences
Part One:  Mt. Ararat and Noah
The Rev. Dr. Leah Schade
Texts:  Genesis 8:1-4, 6-12, 11-17; Matthew 24:36-44
July 13, 2014

Mountains in the Bible were extremely significant, as they were for all  ancient peoples:  Mountains are naturally assigned religious significance and symbolism for three main reasons: 1) their height
projecting above the surrounding area, 2) the feeling of grandiosity and awe one experiences upon viewing a mountain from a distance; and 3) the vista of the sky and the earth when standing on top of the mountain that is unmatched at lower levels.

In fact, the ancient peoples of Egypt, Babylon and in the Mayan culture of South America thought so highly of mountains that they attempted to create their own.  Man-made mountains can be seen in the form of pyramids, ziggarats, and massive temples.  It was felt that by ascending a holy mountain, one could encounter the great sky-god.  Heaven and earth appear to come closest on a mountain.  So it is no wonder that sacred peaks figure prominently in the biblical story.

This summer we’ll be touring these lofty heights - beginning today with  Noah on Mt. Ararat, onto Abraham and Isaac on Mt. Moriah, then Moses on  Mt. Sinai and Mt. Nebo.  And we’ll end with Jesus’ “mountain of prayer” – the Mount of Olives.

Our tour begins with Noah on Mt. Ararat. 
Ararat is the tallest peak in what is now modern-day Turkey.  It is a dormant volcano, and its last eruption was on June 2, 1840. At present the upper third of the mountain is covered with snow and ice throughout the year.  The mountain is unique, because it is a year-round snow-capped mountain in the middle of a dessert.

The fact that it is named as the resting site of the ark after the flood indicates that Mt. Ararat was regarded as the highest point of the world in that region.  And with a height of (16,946 feet) above sea level, it is definitely one of the highest points in that area of the world.

One of the things I appreciate about the Noah story is its abundance of archetypes, or symbols, that are common themes in nearly all the world’s religions and cultures.  There are six of these archetypes in this story:  the great flood; the humongous sea-going vessel on the water (representing the womb carrying life across the birth waters); the lone hero/survivor in the face of total destruction; the mountain top; the dove and olive branch symbolizing peace and hope; and, of course, the rainbow, which has as many interpretations as there are colors, but for the biblical story, it symbolizes God’s promise and covenant never to destroy the earth again.

What you may not know is that the Biblical references to a great flood and Noah’s ark have remarkable parallels in many other archaic myths found around the world. The story of Noah's ark, as it is told in the Old Testament, is actually a reworking of an earlier Babylonian myth recorded in the Gilgamesh Epic.  The stories are nearly identical, save for the names of the characters.

In Greek mythology, there is a story of a eerily similar cataclysmic event in which a hero builds a boat to survive a great flood.  In fact, more than 500 deluge legends are known around the world on nearly every continent.   Why are there so many flood stories?   With so much similarity, historians have concluded that there must have been some global cataclysmic event very early in human history, maybe as early as 9500 BCE.

There are different theories as to what caused this global catastrophe.   Some geologists think there may have been a huge shift in those tectonic plates I mentioned earlier, causing devastating flooding.  Others posit that a comet or some other cosmic object impacted the earth resulting in earthquakes, volcanic activity and abrupt climate change.   But whatever the reason, there is little doubt that the earth was covered by a deluge that wiped out civilizations around the world, leaving only a remnant of humanity behind to survive, rebuild, and repopulate the earth.

 If any of you have been in our children’s nursery downstairs, you can see the painting on the wall of Noah’s Ark.  It is one of the most popular stories of the Old Testament.  Kids love the story because of all the animals floating together in a big sea-going zoo.  The ark theme is  popular for children’s bedrooms.  I remember shopping for baby stuff for my children and seeing an abundance of cute renditions of the ark with adorable animals poking their heads out of the windows and smiling from the deck.
But the story is really quite a tragedy, as the movie Noah starring Russell Crowe, has portrayed. But regardless of the film, if you actually ponder the logistics of getting all those species on a single seafaring vessel, it really seems quite absurd and impossible.  Just think about how many living creatures Noah would have had to collect and fit on that ark.  Here’s a list:

“7000 species of worms
50,000 species of arachnids
900,000 species of insects
2500 species of amphibians
6000 species of reptiles
8600 species of birds
and 3500 species of mammals
plus food for one and all.”   (Walker, Symbols, p. 85)

How big would that boat have to be?  Here’s the thing:  “The only vessel truly capable of holding all these is Spaceship Earth,” (Walker, Symbols, p. 85).  And this is where we begin to climb the mountain ourselves and get a different perspective on this sacred legend.  The story of Noah’s ark, while based on a true episode from ancient history, actually has significance for our planet today, especially in light of the current environmental crises facing our world.

In fact, it’s not just the environmental crisis.  It is a convergence of global crises swirling into a perfect storm on the horizon.  The cost of our primary source of energy - fossil fuels - is draining the world economy as it is simultaneously coming to an end.  The explosion of the human population is about to reach unsustainable levels.  Financial crises have swept across our human society.  And, yes, ecological issues regarding water supplies, global warming, garbage and pollution are threatening the health of the planet itself. 

Add to this the accompanying threats of terrorism and war as a result of these basic conflicts over land and resources, and you can see that we are, once again, facing a flood of catastrophic proportions.  
A flood of people, a flood of poverty, a flood of violence, and yes, the actual flooding of the coastlands and river beds around the world. But this time the flood is not coming from God.  It’s coming from humankind.  As Jesus alluded to in our Gospel reading, we may, indeed, be on the verge of the end of an age.

What does this mean for us?  And what does this mean for the church in the decades ahead.  We’re going to see our lifestyles radically altered in the coming years.  There will be drastic changes in how we live, what we can afford, and what we do to survive.  And for many people, it will be a matter of survival.  In fact, for a large portion of the world’s people, it already is a question of basic survival.

The Church, then, must serve as an ark, not just for humanity, but for all Creation.  All species of plants and animals should be able to find refuge through the holy ark of the Church.  And this is already happening.  More and more, we are seeing religious communities “going green,” as they come to view ecological issues as justice issues for the poor, and for the voiceless among God’s creatures. 

In terms of more immediate danger, there is also the urgency among religious communities to be prepared for disasters when they happen.  In fact, Lutherans have an entire division devoted to this called Lutheran Disaster Response.  What’s great about LDR is that not only do they arrive on the scene when disasters hit, but they stay with communities long after the media spotlight has moved on.  They remain committed to the people and neighborhoods in need of help until they have restored their lives and communities. Also, our own church has a local disaster fund to help people in need right here in our community.  

When God warned Noah about the impending disaster, we’re not told how many other people God tried to warn, but who did not heed the call to prepare.  Even Noah’s urgent pleas to his neighbors to prepare were laughed off as the crazy doomsday scare tactics of a lunatic.  In the same way, the warnings of climate scientists today are often dismissed, ridiculed, mocked and silenced.  People of faith must add their voices to the calls for immediate changes in our energy policies, carbon-burning lifestyles and industries, and financialization of our local, national and global economies that is causing the waters of injustice and poverty to rise at unprecedented rates.

And when there are catastrophes, the ark of the Church must be there to assist people, restore some sense of sanity, provide aid and relief, and help to rebuild.  We’ve seen that happen over and over again, whether they are tsunami victims in southeast Asia, AIDS orphans in Africa, flood victims in New Orleans and along the Mississipi, or victims of the hurricane that struck our area 3 years ago.  The ark of the Church is there for them, sending forth the dove of peace, and pointing to the rainbow overhead promising God’s ever-present care.

Yes, today we are on Mt. Ararat to take in the view, to remember the story, and to be reminded that God does indeed care for us.  It’s the mountaintop experiences of faith that help to sustain us in the dark valleys of fear; in the emergency rooms waiting for medical care; in the deserts of poverty waiting for relief; and in the hot, crowded ark praying for ourselves and all the creatures hoping to survive along with us.

Whatever flood you are facing in your life right now - keep your eyes on the mountains in the distance.  Keep your eyes on the sky.  And be on the lookout for rainbows, even as the rains of the flood begin to fall.  Because God has promised to be with us, no matter what we face.  And that promise is refracted by millions upon millions of tiny prism droplets in the sky, forming the colors of the rainbow that fill us with hope once again.  Amen.


Walker, Barbara G., The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred
Objects, HarperSanFrancisco, 1988

Walker, Barbara G., The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets,
HarperSanFrancisco, 1983

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Black Raspberries: A Poem

Leah Delight Schade
July 6, 2014
I’m sorry I did not answer the phone when you called.
I was picking black raspberries
along the hedgerow.
Little clusters of
peeked out
from behind jagged green leaves
and thorns that stung like tiny bees
and scratched my skin
like mischievous kitten claws.
A small pain to pay for
of juice in my mouth.

I’m sorry I did not answer the phone.
As I picked the berries,
a moth displayed his splayed Designer wings,
pointing the way to another cluster of berries
just over the rise.
Fingers marked with the color of the sunset

gingerly reaching
the handfuls into my jacket pocket
that looked like I had bled into the fabric.
Sharing is worth the stains.

I’m sorry I did not answer.
The fireflies silently blinked their light-chorus,
a symphony of soundless phosphorescence.
The Conductor unseen.
My eyes had to listen.

I am not sorry.  I did not answer you.

I answered another Call.