“My Most Fervent Wish” – How to Honor Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Last Request

“My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.” – Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

We live in polarized, partisan, deeply political times, and we are on the precipice of our nation becoming an authoritarian, protofascist state. It is in that context that some of us who have dedicated and continue to dedicate our lives to pursuing peace, social justice, sheltering the homeless, welcoming the stranger and pursuing racial justice and enfranchisement for all, are considering what we must do in the upcoming election.  We have endeavored in our lives to prevent and heal the harms that our nation has inflicted on its own people, despite its ideals. That applies most of all to its original people and to people brought here as slaves, which is why we support the Black Lives Matter movement and the Sioux peoples fighting the Keystone XL pipeline or seeking to have their treaties honored; but it also applies to people abroad, many of them non-White or non-Christian, who have unnecessarily suffered from our military might. We have cried out for Nature and all its species, flora and fauna, insisting on an end to extracting and burning fossil fuels for our energy, and calling for a serious national and international effort to avoid climate catastrophe.

So, what does that mean for the upcoming election? How do we reverse so many losses suffered over the years of the Trump Administration?

Some of us are deeply wary of partisanship, and therefore some are saying “a pox on both their houses!”  According to their consciences, the two major parties are really one and the same, and so they plan to sit out this election or cast a vote for someone in a political party sure to lose but that has a platform which reflects their values more closely. They consider that the first rung on a ladder to true democratic revolution.

But now comes the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a vital voice for women’s rights and voting rights and control over corporate power in the judicial branch of our government, and I must say to my friends who will not vote for the Democratic Party’s nominee: “I dissent.”

I dissent because I consider that approach (not voting at all, or voting for a 3rd party) in this historical moment a rebuke of Justice Ginsburg’s dying wish, which referenced much more than just the party affiliation of the person to take her seat. Justice Ginsburg knew the stakes well. She hung on as long as she could to avoid this moment in which we find ourselves now, because she cherished the ideals and framework of our constitutional republic. She sought the necessary balance on the Supreme Court to preserve and protect that system of governance and to make it live up to its founding ideals.

We need to honor her memory by fighting for her dying wish. I will surely hit the streets and clog up the hallways of the Capitol and Hart Senate Office, and risk going to jail,  when Trump and McConnell declare their intention to proceed with seating a new Justice. That fight is not over yet. It has only just begun.  It can and should happen at every Republican Senator’s home offices, too.

But if we lose in blocking a Trump appointment, as is all too likely, the election gives those of us who share basic values while disagreeing on tactics a chance to take back power. It is not a perfect way, but as the Reverend Ralph Warnock (running as a Democrat for a Senate seat in Georgia) has put it: “In this situation, none of our hands are clean. We’ve all got to get in the fight, roll up our sleeves, and claim the best in our democracy.”

Electing a Democratic Party president, Democratic Senate majority and Democratic House of Representatives is the only way we can assure that the America to which Justice Ginsburg dedicated her life and career will survive. If Mitch McConnell and Trump and their Republican enablers succeed in pushing through the third Trump injustice, as is most likely at this point, there will be even less protection against stopping America from descending into the abyss which the Germans experienced after the Third Reich consolidated power in 1933. Say what you will, that is an apt and not alarmist historical comparison, and not something to be ignored as we go to the polls in 44 days or before.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has said “all options will be on the table” if Trump and McConnell confirm a new Justice before the next President is seated. “All options” means bringing in the District of Columbia and maybe Puerto Rico as states, offsetting the rural and white bias of the Senate as it is now. (Wyoming has fewer people than D.C., but has two Senators.) It means ending the filibuster so that a Democratic majority can walk into the chamber and take all sorts of actions by a simple majority. It means kicking out the coal baron running the EPA and otherwise seating a competent Cabinet. It means repopulating the leadership of great agencies like the CDC and developing a serious national plan to fight the pandemic. It could even mean judicial reform, expanding the Supreme Court by two or four members.

Aside from what Senator Schumer said, a Democratic Party majority in both houses of Congress and a Democratic Party President will owe their power to young people and to people of color, to LGBTQ persons and to a majority of women who believe that their reproductive choices are to be made, safely and legally, by them in light of their conscience and differing faith perspectives. All this means that Democratic Senators and a Democratic President can be pressured to take serious action on the climate, on voting rights, on women’s rights, on protecting and expanding marriage equality, and on racial justice to the point of considering reparations. There is no way that a second Trump Administration and/or a Senate remaining in the control of Republicans could be similarly pressured, and we can expect them to double down on discrimination and suppression of the rights of others, most especially their right to vote.

Is it dangerous, too, to have one political party have all power? Not really. It has happened before, briefly, and yielded some goods (look up the record of the 111th Congress, the first two years of the Obama Administration).  However, at this time it would be a necessary corrective to have the Democratic Party in power, in order to roll back the many horrors of Trump executive orders, and to populate the Cabinet with competent people. And we who put them there will make sure they do not abuse the power we give them.

As solace for my friends deciding to vote for Biden despite some of his record, I invite them to see what Biden plans to do on the climate crisis and ask yourself how much of that agenda will be completed if President Trump is re-elected or the Senate remains in Republican control. Seriously, would the Republicans just take their money and run to their private, protected abodes, with their guns, while the planet burns and collapses around them? How far-fetched is such a dystopian future?

This is sad to say, but I must say it, given the stakes in this election. For those who vote for someone other than Biden (who is a compromised choice, to be sure), that choice will surely endanger our friendship because in this bifurcated time taking that position amounts to a vote for Trump by missing a chance to nullify a vote for Trump.

And it is surely a rejection of the legacy of Justice Ginsburg  and her last wish. Look into that face and imagine meeting her in person and saying that you plan to sit out the election or cast a vote that increases the chance of four more years for Trump. How could you?


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Dialoguing with a Trump supporter, is it even possible?

Here is a case study why political dialogue with a Trump supporter is so difficult. Too many of them speak in staccato talking points and go silent when you ask for their sources or present sources of your own to make the dialogue as fact-based and respectful as you know how.

In a recent Facebook dialogue between a Georgia member of my family (who prompted the discussion and will go by “Georgia” here), my brother “Bob” (his real name) and a woman who supports Trump, who will be called “TS” here, the topic turned quickly from the suffering caused by the virus (i.e., worsening a housing crisis) to the wearing of masks to reduce the spread of the Covid-19 virus. In that dialogue TS went straight to the cure-all, which was “Gotta reopen!!!”

Here is how that dialogue went, and how it petered out to silence after I painstakingly presented a counter to each of the assertions of TS. What took TS a minute to compose as a hodgepodge of unsourced assertions – all portraying Trump as a competent leader on the virus and the Democrats (especially Pelosi) as the real villains of the piece – took me more than an hour to take seriously, research her assertions and respond to her.

Some will say I was wasting my time, but I am in a waiting time at home now and thought maybe I should at least devote the effort on behalf of Georgia and Bob, even if TS lacked the courage of her convictions or the patience to respond.

The dialogue

Georgia : There is a SEVERE affordable housing shortage that is about to crush us. Lack of affordable housing has been a growing problem for some time. The pandemic has brought it to a head. Both renters and small landlords who need to pay property tax and revenues needed by cities to operate will be crushed if more aid doesn’t come to get us through this in the short term. And then we need to figure this out!!! This has been a thorny problem for some time, now that’s growing and growing!

TS: Gotta reopen!!!

Stephen: Fauci warns that ‘consequences could be really serious’ if states move too quickly to reopen.


Bob: We already reopened with a “guidance if you feel like it” plan. The result is over 110,000 additional deaths in this country. With that said, I think certain areas can reopen, but it is not a one size fits all plan. No matter what the circumstances are regarding the severity of the virus in a given area, wearing a mask in all public places should be mandatory and enforced!! The CDC said last week …if everyone wears a mask for 28 days (two cycles of the virus) it will nearly eradicate the virus. That, followed by testing and contact tracing, can beat the virus. But reopening without strict enforcement will only spread the virus. That is obvious if you look at what has happened in the last three months

TS: A mandatory mask requirement simply isn’t enforceable – unless we were in a police state and I’m sure that would go over well. I wear a mask, but it’s not even enforced at stores that “require” it, Publix etc.

Bob: Stores like Publix can enforce it if they choose. No different than “no shoes, no shirt, no service” policy. The local governments where I live are fining those who violate the mask mandate in their cities. Given it is not enforceable legally, if Trump requested a mandate, then more people would participate. It is his base of followers who are the most resistant to wearing a mask.

TS: Well that would be me and all my peeps wear masks

Stephen: I do think most Trump supporters are not so foolish as to not wear masks, but the hard thing for me to understand is how you can stand by and watch the man outright lie about the leadership he has shown on Covid-19? With almost 180,000 people dead, many of whom would not be dead if he had taken the virus seriously and not politicized it, how can you support a man who runs a video at his convention totally denying what we all remember as coming out of his mouth.

TS: January 31 Trump declared coronavirus a public health emergency- that very day Democrats proposed the No Ban Act- late February Trump asked for 2.5 billion to fight virus- Pelosi delayed it- February 28 Pelosi does her “come to China Town no worries “ thing-March 18 Trump suspended all foreclosures on homes- the rest is well documented

Stephen: It is very frustrating dialoguing with you, TS, because you say your assertions are documented, but then you do not provide sources.

Here is what I find on the assertion that Trump declared a public health emergency on January 31. That is true, but its purpose was to support a travel ban from China. Here is that reference and my following comments will address your other assertions.

Trump Declares Coronavirus A Public Health Emergency And Restricts Travel from China


Stephen: And the No Ban Act, which was indeed proposed on January 31, was not about the coronavirus at all, but part of the (D) leaders continuing effort to oppose Trump’s previous travel bans based on religion. You can disagree that the travel bans discriminated based on religion, but the proposed Act had nothing to do with a ban on travel from China to prevent the spread of the virus. The (D)-majority House did not even pass that Act until July 22 and of course the (R)-controlled Senate killed it.  Here is my source for that.

House Democrats just passed a bill to repeal Trump’s travel bans


Stephen: Then as it pertains to Trump declaring an emergency with real meaning that authorized powerful federal action to combat the virus, that did not happen until March 13. Here is the White House source for that:

Proclamation on Declaring a National Emergency Concerning the Novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Outbreak | The White House


Stephen:  Between the end of January and March 10, President Trump consistently misled the public on the seriousness of the virus. Here is my source for that:

FACTCHECK.ORG: Trump’s Statements About the Coronavirus


Stephen: As to Pelosi supposedly promoting “come to China Town, no worries” on February 28, I think you are paraphrasing what Trump said in a tweet about Pelosi’s visit to Chinatown. This was the reporting on that, and please don’t call it “fake news” because it comes from the Washington Post:

Analysis | Trump vs. Pelosi: What happened in Chinatown


Stephen: In case you could not resist dismissing the Chinatown story as “fake news,” here is some corroborating information about that:

Trump’s False Claims about Pelosi and Chinatown


Stephen:  As for Trump suspending all foreclosures on March 13, that was true but it applied only to HUD and FHA federally insured housing and was only good through the end of that month, according to this report: https://www.cnbc.com/2020/03/18/coronavirus-trump-says-hud-will-suspend-foreclosures-evictions-until-end-of-april.html

Although the following report says that the suspension on foreclosures was for 60 days.

Trump orders HUD to suspend evictions and foreclosures


In any case subsequent bipartisan Covid-19 relief legislation has extended the suspension. I’d have to look up where we are on that now.

Stephen: As for your assertion that Pelosi delayed $2.5 Billion in virus aid, here are the facts on that. That story “was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed.” You can check every one of these facts if you like, and I hope you do. When your source is the right-wing Red State, you are not reading widely enough.

PolitiFact – Fact-checking claims that Pelosi held up coronavirus aid


Stephen: TS, now that I have shown you my sources for challenging your assertions, would you place in the future, in the spirit of honest dialogue, show me your sources when you make your points that argue for continued support of Mr. Trump? Please.

(End of discussion as TS went silent.)


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Barack Obama at DNC convention, 2020 – heralding a real change of direction?

When historians look back on the 2020 election in the USA, will they see a true “inflection point” – a real change of direction in American politics – and see this speech by President Barack Obama as the herald of that change?


Here is a transcript of Mr. Obama’s remarks at the 2020 Democratic Party convention:

Barack Obama: Good evening, everybody. As you’ve seen by now, this isn’t a normal convention. It’s not a normal time. So tonight, I want to talk as plainly as I can about the stakes in this election. Because what we do these next 76 days will echo through generations to come.

I’m in Philadelphia, where our Constitution was drafted and signed. It wasn’t a perfect document. It allowed for the inhumanity of slavery and failed to guarantee women — and even men who didn’t own property — the right to participate in the political process. But embedded in this document was a North Star that would guide future generations; a system of representative government — a democracy — through which we could better realize our highest ideals. Through civil war and bitter struggles, we improved this Constitution to include the voices of those who’d once been left out. And gradually, we made this country more just, more equal and more free.

The one Constitutional office elected by all of the people is the presidency. So at minimum, we should expect a president to feel a sense of responsibility for the safety and welfare of all 330 million of us — regardless of what we look like, how we worship, who we love, how much money we have — or who we voted for.

But we should also expect a president to be the custodian of this democracy. We should expect that regardless of ego, ambition or political beliefs, the president will preserve, protect and defend the freedoms and ideals that so many Americans marched for and went to jail for; fought for and died for.

I have sat in the Oval Office with both of the men who are running for president. I never expected that my successor would embrace my vision or continue my policies. I did hope, for the sake of our country, that Donald Trump might show some interest in taking the job seriously, that he might come to feel the weight of the office and discover some reverence for the democracy that had been placed in his care.

But he never did. For close to four years now, he’s shown no interest in putting in the work; no interest in finding common ground; no interest in using the awesome power of his office to help anyone but himself and his friends; no interest in treating the presidency as anything but one more reality show that he can use to get the attention he craves.

Donald Trump hasn’t grown into the job because he can’t. And the consequences of that failure are severe: 170,000 Americans dead, millions of jobs gone while those at the top take in more than ever. Our worst impulses unleashed, our proud reputation around the world badly diminished and our democratic institutions threatened like never before.

Now, I know that in times as polarized as these, most of you have already made up your mind. But maybe you’re still not sure which candidate you’ll vote for — or whether you’ll vote at all. Maybe you’re tired of the direction we’re headed, but you can’t see a better path yet, or you just don’t know enough about the person who wants to lead us there.

So let me tell you about my friend Joe Biden.

Twelve years ago, when I began my search for a vice president, I didn’t know I’d end up finding a brother. Joe and I came from different places and different generations. But what I quickly came to admire about him is his resilience, born of too much struggle; his empathy, born of too much grief. Joe’s a man who learned — early on — to treat every person he meets with respect and dignity, living by the words his parents taught him: “No one’s better than you, Joe, but you’re better than nobody.”

That empathy, that decency, the belief that everybody counts — that’s who Joe is.

When he talks with someone who’s lost her job, Joe remembers the night his father sat him down to say that he’d lost his.

When Joe listens to a parent who’s trying to hold it all together right now, he does it as the single dad who took the train back to Wilmington each and every night so he could tuck his kids into bed.

When he meets with military families who’ve lost their hero, he does it as a kindred spirit; the parent of an American soldier; somebody whose faith has endured the hardest loss there is.

For eight years, Joe was the last one in the room whenever I faced a big decision. He made me a better president — and he’s got the character and the experience to make us a better country.

And in my friend Kamala Harris, he’s chosen an ideal partner who’s more than prepared for the job; someone who knows what it’s like to overcome barriers and who’s made a career fighting to help others live out their own American dream.

Along with the experience needed to get things done, Joe and Kamala have concrete policies that will turn their vision of a better, fairer, stronger country into reality.


They’ll get this pandemic under control, like Joe did when he helped me manage H1N1 and prevent an Ebola outbreak from reaching our shores.

They’ll expand health care to more Americans, like Joe and I did 10 years ago when he helped craft the Affordable Care Act and nail down the votes to make it the law.

They’ll rescue the economy, like Joe helped me do after the Great Recession. I asked him to manage the Recovery Act, which jump-started the longest stretch of job growth in history. And he sees this moment now not as a chance to get back to where we were, but to make long-overdue changes so that our economy actually makes life a little easier for everybody — whether it’s the waitress trying to raise a kid on her own, or the shift worker always on the edge of getting laid off or the student figuring out how to pay for next semester’s classes.

Joe and Kamala will restore our standing in the world — and as we’ve learned from this pandemic, that matters. Joe knows the world, and the world knows him. He knows that our true strength comes from setting an example the world wants to follow. A nation that stands with democracy, not dictators. A nation that can inspire and mobilize others to overcome threats like climate change, terrorism, poverty and disease.

But more than anything, what I know about Joe and Kamala is that they actually care about every American. And they care deeply about this democracy.

They believe that in a democracy, the right to vote is sacred, and we should be making it easier for people to cast their ballot, not harder.

They believe that no one — including the president — is above the law, and that no public official — including the president — should use their office to enrich themselves or their supporters.

They understand that in this democracy, the commander in chief doesn’t use the men and women of our military, who are willing to risk everything to protect our nation, as political props to deploy against peaceful protesters on our own soil. They understand that political opponents aren’t “un-American” just because they disagree with you; that a free press isn’t the “enemy” but the way we hold officials accountable; that our ability to work together to solve big problems like a pandemic depends on a fidelity to facts and science and logic and not just making stuff up.

None of this should be controversial. These shouldn’t be Republican principles or Democratic principles. They’re American principles. But at this moment, this president and those who enable him, have shown they don’t believe in these things.

Tonight, I am asking you to believe in Joe and Kamala’s ability to lead this country out of these dark times and build it back better. But here’s the thing: no single American can fix this country alone. Not even a president. Democracy was never meant to be transactional — you give me your vote; I make everything better. It requires an active and informed citizenry. So I am also asking you to believe in your own ability — to embrace your own responsibility as citizens — to make sure that the basic tenets of our democracy endure.

Because that’s what’s at stake right now. Our democracy.

Look, I understand why many Americans are down on government. The way the rules have been set up and abused in Congress make it easy for special interests to stop progress. Believe me, I know. I understand why a white factory worker who’s seen his wages cut or his job shipped overseas might feel like the government no longer looks out for him, and why a Black mother might feel like it never looked out for her at all. I understand why a new immigrant might look around this country and wonder whether there’s still a place for him here; why a young person might look at politics right now, the circus of it all, the meanness and the lies and crazy conspiracy theories and think, What’s the point?

Well, here’s the point: this president and those in power — those who benefit from keeping things the way they are — they are counting on your cynicism. They know they can’t win you over with their policies. So they’re hoping to make it as hard as possible for you to vote, and to convince you that your vote doesn’t matter. That’s how they win. That’s how they get to keep making decisions that affect your life, and the lives of the people you love. That’s how the economy will keep getting skewed to the wealthy and well-connected, how our health systems will let more people fall through the cracks. That’s how a democracy withers, until it’s no democracy at all.

We can’t let that happen. Do not let them take away your power. Don’t let them take away your democracy. Make a plan right now for how you’re going to get involved and vote. Do it as early as you can and tell your family and friends how they can vote too. Do what Americans have done for over two centuries when faced with even tougher times than this — all those quiet heroes who found the courage to keep marching, keep pushing in the face of hardship and injustice.

Last month, we lost a giant of American democracy in John Lewis. Some years ago, I sat down with John and the few remaining leaders of the early civil rights movement. One of them told me he never imagined he’d walk into the White House and see a president who looked like his grandson. Then he told me that he’d looked it up, and it turned out that on the very day that I was born, he was marching into a jail cell, trying to end Jim Crow segregation in the South.

What we do echoes through the generations.

Whatever our backgrounds, we’re all the children of Americans who fought the good fight. Great-grandparents working in firetraps and sweatshops without rights or representation. Farmers losing their dreams to dust. Irish and Italians and Asians and Latinos told to go back where they came from. Jews and Catholics, Muslims and Sikhs, made to feel suspect for the way they worshiped. Black Americans chained and whipped and hanged. Spit on for trying to sit at lunch counters. Beaten for trying to vote.

If anyone had a right to believe that this democracy did not work, and could not work, it was those Americans. Our ancestors. They were on the receiving end of a democracy that had fallen short all their lives. They knew how far the daily reality of America strayed from the myth. And yet, instead of giving up, they joined together and said somehow, some way, we are going to make this work. We are going to bring those words, in our founding documents, to life.

I’ve seen that same spirit rising these past few years. Folks of every age and background who packed city centers and airports and rural roads so that families wouldn’t be separated. So that another classroom wouldn’t get shot up. So that our kids won’t grow up on an uninhabitable planet. Americans of all races joining together to declare, in the face of injustice and brutality at the hands of the state, that Black lives matter, no more, but no less, so that no child in this country feels the continuing sting of racism.

To the young people who led us this summer, telling us we need to be better — in so many ways, you are this country’s dreams fulfilled. Earlier generations had to be persuaded that everyone has equal worth. For you, it’s a given — a conviction. And what I want you to know is that for all its messiness and frustrations, your system of self-government can be harnessed to help you realize those convictions.

You can give our democracy new meaning. You can take it to a better place. You’re the missing ingredient — the ones who will decide whether or not America becomes the country that fully lives up to its creed.

That work will continue long after this election. But any chance of success depends entirely on the outcome of this election. This administration has shown it will tear our democracy down if that’s what it takes to win. So we have to get busy building it up — by pouring all our effort into these 76 days, and by voting like never before — for Joe and Kamala, and candidates up and down the ticket, so that we leave no doubt about what this country we love stands for — today and for all our days to come.

Stay safe. God bless.

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Josh Fox photo (2)

(Note from Steve Cleghorn – none of this is my work. I am simply using my blog to pass along electronically to my Facebook page an important message from filmmaker and environmental activist Josh Fox about the movie “Planet of the Humans” which was posted on YouTube on Earth Day. Josh Fox is a trusted source for me and I want others to read what he has to say about this film.)


Dear activist and scientific community, community members and friends,

It is very difficult to write this letter because Michael Moore has always been a hero of mine. I’m a first-person documentary maker, I have watched his movies since I was a kid, and they have inspired and delighted me. However, I am compelled to write this letter because his latest film PLANET OF THE HUMANS, which he executive produced and is promoting for Earth Week, is such a blatant affront to science, renewable energy, environmental activism and truth itself.

We are in a planetary climate crisis- the most important and dangerous emergency that human civilization has ever faced. The IPCC and thousands of climate scientists have stated over and over that we have less than a decade to begin the rapid and total transformation of our energy system to renewable energy. I cannot describe my disappointment and anger to see a Michael Moore film which is willfully flying in the face of decades of renewable energy science, planning, and engineering.

The film touts blatantly untrue fossil fuel industry talking points deceitfully misleading its audience on renewable energy, disparages and attacks important climate leaders, ignores science and policy advances in energy, downplays or denounces climate and anti-fossil fuel campaigns and employs specious techniques of misinformation to deliver a deeply cynical and erroneous message. This is a total outrage at this moment when climate action and the leap to renewable energy is more important that ever.

Please see points below and consider signing on to this letter of outrage against this film.

Thank you so much,
Josh Fox

Sign-on letter:

New Movie Executive Produced and promoted by Michael Moore is unfactual, unscientific, flies in the face of decades of renewable energy science, engineering and research and is counter productive in the age of urgent need for Climate Action.

Planet of the Humans, directed by Jeff Gibbs and Produced by Michael Moore is a shockingly misleading and absurd film that promotes a thesis that is patently untrue on many levels.

  1. The film states that renewable energy such as solar and wind are inefficient, useless and dependent on fossil fuels to work. Quote from the film “One of the most dangerous things right now is the illusion that alternative technologies, like wind and solar, are somehow different than fossil fuels….You would have been better off just burning the fossil fuels in the first place., instead of playing pretend.”

This assertion, which is echoed over and over in the film is patently untrue and ridiculous. The notion that solar and wind and other renewable technologies don’t work to produce energy in ways that are cheaper, more efficient and at low or zero carbon emissions over their life span flies in the face of everything engineers, scientists and energy planners have been writing in peer reviewed science for decades.

  1. The film trades in debunked fossil fuel industry talking points that are specious and meant to disparage the efficiency, durability and affordability of renewable energy. Quote: “Intermittency is one of the major challenges.” “Solar panels are built to only last 10 years, so it’s not as if you get this magic free energy, right? I don’t know if it’s the solution.” These notions, which are untrue, antiquated and outdated do not pertain to the technology and science of today, in which intermittency and efficiency are no longer issues due to the significant advances that renewable energy science, planning and technology. The fact is that RENEWABLE ENERGY WORKS and is currently cheaper than coal and natural gas, other fossil fuel generated electricity sources.


  1. The film totally ignores the last ten years of peer-reviewed renewable energy planning and policy. Absent from this anti-renewable energy screed are important policy and science innovations such as the 100% renewable energy plans for each state, over 150 countries and the world from Stanford University, Physicians Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy and the Solutions Project. Also absent is any mention of the Green New Deal, which is the most important policy advance on green energy of all time. Bear in mind that this work on renewable energy, such as the 100% plans for New York and California are already well under way and are being enacted now with solar and wind energy growing exponentially- all backed up and predicted by science.
    Peer reviewed NY 100% plan: https://web.stanford.edu/…/Articles/I/NewYorkWWSEnPolicy.pdf
    Stanford University plans: https://thesolutionsproject.org/why-clean-energy/
    PSE Research: https://www.psehealthyenergy.org


  1. The film attacks important environmental campaigners, scientists, policy leaders and activists in unfair and misleading ways. The climate movement, the anti fracking movement, the movement for renewable energy and against fossil fuels has been an important part of the advancement of thinking and policy towards changing our energy system away from coal oil and gas. The film attacks movement leaders like Bill McKibben, Van Jones and others as well as taking pot shots at important local campaigners like Nathan Sooy of Clean Water Action, accusing them of supporting forms of energy that they do not (like biomass) and taking money from fossil fuel interests (which they do not). See the extensive and detailed rebuttal by Bill McKibben here:
  2. The film ignores that the IPCC and other scientific bodies are saying that we must cut our carbon emissions in half in the next ten years and that the only way to feasibly do that is what a total transformation of our energy systems. These scientists point overwhelmingly towards transformations in our economies towards renewable energy.

The film is dangerous, misleading and destructive to decades of progress on environmental policy, science and engineering.

We are demanding an apology and an immediate retraction by the films producers, director and advocates.


Josh Fox
Oscar-Nominated, Emmy Winning filmmaker

Co-signed by
Michael Mann
Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Science at Penn State, with joint appointments in the Department of Geosciences and the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute (EESI). He is also director of the Penn State Earth System Science Center (ESSC).Lead Author on the Observed Climate Variability and Change chapter of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Third Scientific Assessment Report in 2001

R. Ingraffea, Ph.D., P.E.
Dwight C. Baum Professor of Engineering, Emeritus
Cornell University
Senior Fellow, PSEHealthy Energy
Distinguished Member, American Society of Civil Engineers

Mark Zachary Jacobson
Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Stanford University and director of its Atmosphere/Energy Program.

Laura Dawn, Founder, ART NOT WAR, former founding Creative & Cultural Director, MoveOn.org
Writer, Director, Producer, and Activist

Tom Dinwoodie, Rocky Mountain Institute, Sun Power

Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, founder, Ocean Collective

Julian Brave NoiseCat
Vice President of Policy & Strategy, Data for Progress
Narrative Change Director, The Natural History Museum
Fellow, Type Media Center & NDN Collective

Alex Tyson
Documentary Filmmaker

Tommie Sunshine – Activist/Musician

Paul Alexander
Legislative Director for Senator James Sanders, NY State Senate

Frances Fisher
Actor Activist

Leah Stokes
Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Santa Barbara

Barbara Arrindell
Executive Director
Damascus Citizens for Sustainability

Amanda Nesheiwat
Environmental Director – Secaucus New Jersey
Adjunct Professor – World Sustainability, Ramapo College of New Jersey
United Nations Representative- Foundation for Post Conflict Development

Mark Paul, Assistant Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies, New College of Florida

Gregory King
Documentary Filmmaker

Geoffrey Supran, Research Associate, Department of the History of Science, Harvard University

Nathan Sooy, Formally of clean water action

Steve Liptay, Documentary Filmmaker


I just received notice that one of the distributors of Michael Moore‘s #PlanetoftheHumans is taking the film down due to misinformation in the film.

Thank you to Films For Action for responding to our demand for a retraction and an apology from the filmmaker.   See below.

And thank you to the early co-signers of the letter demanding an apology from Michael Moore
Michael Mann , Frances Fisher, Ayana Eliza Johnson, Mark Z. JacobsonLeah StokesSteve Liptay Tommie Sunshine and many others…

We will continue to fight for truth,#renewableenegy and a #GreenNewDeal

Like all the distributors of the film that I spoke to they FFA not seen the film prior to posting it. I don’t blame Films For Action for this-they did it because of Michael Moore’s reputation. But I think it’s strange that Michael Moore would not let anyone see the film before distribution.

Also, this is not censorship. Michael Moore is free to put his film up where he pleases, This is one distributor who is issuing a retraction. Newspapers do this all the time, when a story they publish is deemed to be untrue, they take it down. That’s what is happening here.

So many people have speculated as to why Michael Moore would put up a movie with so many fossil fuel industry talking points and with so many errors, falsehoods and misinformation. I can’t guess. We can only ask Michael these questions. He has not responded to our letter. If you wish to cosign please add your name in the comments below and your title.

I will add here, with deep regret and sadness, that my hero has fallen. I have watched Michael Moore  PUNCH UP at authority and hypocrisy with glee for his whole career. He has deeply inspired me and taught me. But now he’s the Goliath in the room, PUNCHING DOWN at us.

A multi-millionaire many many many times over, with incredible access to the media, Michael Moore  is now attacking environmental heroes like Bill McKibben and others, and even local organizers like the great Nathan Richard Sooy of PA.

I cannot sit by and watch that happen. This is not fun, this is terrible.

Thank you
Josh Fox

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Teach-in and Lobby for Climate Justice

MCCH Header (2)

Maryland Catholics for Our Common Home

“Teach-in for Climate Justice” and Lobby Night

Monday, March 2, 2020

4:30 PM to 7:30 PM in Annapolis

RSVP to https://forms.gle/N98RDK8zhfnxS5kJA  

Maryland Catholics for Our Common Home 2020 Legislative Priorities

Up to date information on these bills, by number, can be found here:


The Five Priority Bills for “Maryland Catholics for Our Common Home.” If your legislator is a co-sponsor, thank him or her when you meet. If not a sponsor, encourage him or her to support the bill. The names are live links that take you to the email for each legislator. Hold down the Control key, hover over the name and click. Use the legislator’s email to write and show your support. +++++++++++++++

SB 926 / HB 1425: TITLE Climate Solutions Act of 2020 – Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Act

SUMMARY Seeks to update the 2016 Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act goals to reflect the current requirements outlined by the UN report on climate change.

EQUITY CONCERNS: The bill also outlines specific climate action steps and creates task force and working groups to address equity and labor concerns

SB 926 Sponsors: Senators PinskyCarterElfrethHesterKaganLamSmith, and Washington

HB 1425 Sponsors:  Delegates SteinBarveAceveroBartlettBhandariBoyceBrooks,

CainCardinCarrChangCharkoudianClippingerEbersoleFeldmarkForbesFraser-HidalgoGilchristGuytonHarrisonHaynesHealeyHensonHolmesC. JacksonKaiserKellyKerrKormanKrimmLehmanJ. LewisR. LewisLiermanLisantiLoveMcIntoshMoonPalakovich CarrReznikRosenbergRuthShettySmithSolomonStewartTerrasaC. WatsonWilkinsK. Young, and P. Young


SB 887 / HB 1545:  TITLE “Electric Generation Transition from Fossil Fuels – Carbon Dioxide Emissions Rate and Transition Account (Coal Transition)”

SUMMARY Sets a timeline by which the last six remaining coal-fired power plants must stop producing energy from coal, with a community transition plan that invests in the local communities and counties with coal plants.

EQUITY CONCERNS Coal plants are a leading contributor of smog-forming nitrogen oxide pollution. Over 85% of Marylanders live in counties that are in non-attainment for federal clean air standards for smog. That number increases to over 90% for African American and Hispanic Communities.

SB 887 Sponsors: Senators WestElfrethKelley, and Pinsky

HB 1545 Sponsors: Delegates BarveFraser-HidalgoKormanLiermanMosbyPalakovich CarrPendergrassStein, and Wilkins


HB 368 / SB 424 TITLETransit Safety and Investment Act

SUMMARY: Requires the Governor to appropriate sufficient funding to address the $2 billion capital needs investment shortfall released by a Departmental report during the Summer of 2019, including both maintenance and enhancement requirements

EQUITY CONCERN: The MTA serves every county in Maryland; however it is most utilized by low-income residents as a means of transportation to and from job sites. The degradation of the transit infrastructure illustrated by the CNI is most harmful to an already under-served population

SB 424 Sponsors:  Senators  ZuckerMcCrayAugustineBeidleCarterElfrethEllisFeldmanGuzzoneHayesKingSmith, and Washington

HB 368 Sponsors: Delegates LiermanAceveroAndersonAttarBagnallB. BarnesBoyceBridgesCareyCarrChangConawayFeldmarkFennellGilchrist,

GuytonHealeyHettlemanHornbergerIveyKerrKormanLehmanR. LewisLoveMcIntoshMoonMosbyPalakovich CarrProctorShettySmithSolomonSteinStewartTerrasaWellsWilkins, and P. Young


HB 438 / SB 560: TITLE Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard – Eligible Sources

SUMMARY Removes incineration as tier one resource as a subsidized resource comparable to true clean energy sources such as wind and solar.

EQUITY CONCERNS Continued subsidization of trash incineration is a significant environmental injustice, placing a burden of meeting Maryland’s sustainability standards on overburdened communities living under their stacks. If lobbyists say that electric rates will have to go up to offset the loss of subsidies – that is NOT true.  The incinerator industry does not set rates. They participate with other sources that generate electricity and get paid the market rate for the electricity they generate and sell to the Grid. The clean energy subsidies are extra revenue for the industry.

SB 560 Sponsors: Senators HoughBaileyCarozzaCarterEckardtEdwardsElfrethEllisGallion,


ReadySallingSerafiniSimonaireSmithSydnorWashingtonWestYoung, and Zucker

HB 438 Sponsors: Delegates MosbyBartlettCardinCarrCharkoudianFeldmark,

W. FisherFraser-HidalgoHettlemanHillKerrLehmanR. LewisLiermanShettySmithTerrasaTurner, and K. Young


SB 313 / HB 209: TITLE Plastics and Packaging Reduction Act

SUMMARY Bans plastic bags at check-out, requires 10c cost of paper bags. Requires a workgroup to address single-use plastics pollution and recommendations for reducing disproportionate impact on low-income communities

EQUITY CONCERNS Plastic bag pollution is especially pervasive in low-income communities. The requirements of the workgroup, which may begin its work before the implementation date of the ban, will be focused on ensuring that low-income communities are not disproportionately affected by the cost of reusable and paper bags.

SB 313 Sponsors: Senators AugustineBeidleBensonCarterElfrethEllisFeldmanGuzzone,


SmithSydnorWaldstreicherWashingtonYoung, and Zucker

HB 209 Sponsors: Delegates LiermanFraser-HidalgoAceveroB. BarnesBoyceCainCardinCarrCharkoudianClippingerD.E. DavisDumaisEbersoleFeldmarkW. FisherGuytonHealeyHettlemanHillHolmesKellyKormanLehman,

J. LewisR. LewisLopezLoveLuedtkeMcIntoshMoonMosbyPalakovich CarrReznikShettySolomonSteinStewartTerrasaWashingtonC. WatsonWellsWilkinsWilliams, and K. Young






HB 517 TITLE Constitutional Amendment – Environmental Rights

SUMMARY: Proposing an amendment to the Maryland Constitution to establish that every person has the right to a clean and healthy environment; establishing that every person has the right to intervene in an action brought by the State or a political subdivision of the State to protect this right; prohibiting the State or a political subdivision of the State from causing diminution of or degradation to the State’s natural resources which are for the benefit of every person, including present and future generations.

EQUITY CONCERNS: (Borrowed from Our Children’s Trust lawsuit to establish such a constitutional, indefeasible right nationally: “Exercising my ‘reasoned judgment,’ I have no doubt that the right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life is fundamental to a free and ordered society.” – US District Judge Ann Aiken


HB 229 / SB 300 – TITLE: Pesticides – Use of Chlorpyrifos – Prohibition

SUMMARY: prohibiting the use of chlorpyrifos in the State; requiring the Department of Agriculture to provide to farmers, certified crop advisors, and pesticide applicators certain education and assistance under certain circumstances; and generally relating to the use of chlorpyrifos.


SB 928 /   TITLE – Environment – Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation Construction or Expansion – Manure Transport Plan Requirement

SUMMARY:  On or after a certain date, prohibiting the Department of the Environment from approving coverage under a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) Discharge permit for a certain CAFO, unless the permit applicant submits a certain manure transport plan to the Department as part of the permit application.


HB 656 / HB 53: TITLE Utility Regulation – Consideration of Climate and Labor

SUMMARY: Directs the PSC to consider climate change in its regulation of the electricity sector, based upon the best available scientific information recognized by the IPCC and achieving our state climate goals.  Specifically, the legislation will require the PSC to consider climate impacts when reviewing applications for new electricity generating facilities, and when it approves the sites for new facilities.

EQUITY CONCERNS: Global responsibility of all Marylanders to reduce greenhouse emissions and Care for Our Common Home – for Catholics, see Laudato Si’ papal encyclical.


SB 315/ HB 561 TITLE – Electric Industry – Community Choice Energy

SUMMARY: will give power back to the people by allowing Maryland communities to establish energy aggregation programs like those already successfully operating around the country. Currently only the state can negotiate with utilities, but the CCE bill allows democratically elected local governments to take decisions about energy into their own hands, driving down rates for consumers and enabling investment in clean, renewable energy programs.

EQUITY CONCERNS (Food & Water Watch position): CCE stands in stark contrast to a disastrous energy plan that Gov. Hogan is promoting in 2020, which would move Maryland to heavy reliance on nuclear power production and fracked gas. This would burden Marylanders with heavy financial costs and increase public health risks.


HB 589:  TITLE Solid Waste Management – Organics Recycling and Waste Diversion – Food Residuals (aka the Composting Bill)

SUMMARY: This bill requires certain generators of large quantities of “food residuals” to separate the food residuals from solid waste and ensure that the food residuals are diverted from final disposal in a refuse disposal system, as specified. The implementation timeline for this requirement is staggered, beginning January 1, 2021, based on the tonnage of food residuals generated by a person on a weekly basis. Prevents large organic waste generators from sending that waste to landfill or incinerators if there is a compost or digester facilities within 30 miles. The size of the generator will phase in over time.


SB 423/HB 432 – TITLE Maryland Transit Administration – Conversion to Electric Buses (Electric Bus Transition Act)SUMMARY: Prohibits, beginning in a certain fiscal year, the Maryland Transit Administration from entering into a contract to purchase buses for the Administration’s transit bus fleet that are not electric buses; generally relating to converting the Maryland Transit Administration’s fleet of transit buses to electric buses exclusively.



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Making Lives Not Just Better, but Possible

(Note: I submitted this Letter to the Editor of the Baltimore Sun hoping that it would be published today, 1-8-2020, the opening of the Maryland General Assembly. Our lawmakers must prioritize action on the climate emergency along with the many other bills, especially those related to education, that will better the lives of Marylanders. But this is about making lives still possible beyond this decade we have just begun.)

Reading about the opening of the Maryland 2020 Legislative Session (“Education Tops List of State Priorities” Jan. 5), I had to applaud the emphasis on education. With one daughter teaching at a Baltimore high school and the other working for Baltimore City Community College, I want both to have the resources they need to succeed as educators. Yet much as I think of education as a top priority, I could not help but think of Greta Thunberg, the now 17-year old Swedish child climate activist, who at age 15 chose to sit outside the Swedish Parliament instead of attending school. Her point? Why should she go to school to learn when the adults were destroying her future by burning up her planet? The house is on fire, as she put it (see Australia for the latest example), and the highest priority should be to stop fossil-fueling the fire. Attention must be paid, and right away. Thunberg’s action launched a worldwide climate strike movement, but will we see evidence of that urgency in Maryland’s 2020 legislative priorities? Last Sunday I attended the 43rd District Legislative Town Hall. I heard my Senator and Delegates speak of a host of legislation they will introduce to make our lives better; but I was listening for legislation not just to better our lives, but to make the continuation of our lives possible. I heard too little of that. All my legislators proposed to do were good things but will be meaningless if the climate is in full collapse by the end of this decade. Governor Hogan’s CARES energy legislation has some good elements (like not counting as clean the energy from trash incineration), but falls way short of what we need; and it backtracks by relying too much on widening highways, neglecting public transit and building out the infrastructure for fracked gas. When will the climate emergency and climate action top the agenda for state lawmakers? When my pastor, Fr. Joe Muth of St. Matthew Catholic Church, delivers the opening invocation for the Assembly, I pray that he prays for meaningful climate action this session.


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Environmental Degradation and Climate Collapse – How do they differ?

Pope Francis One Crisis Laudato Si' (2)

Environmental Degradation and Climate Collapse

What’s the difference and how does each affect how we live?

How each relates to Laudato Si’[1]and our faith-based response

by J. Stephen Cleghorn, PhD

July 26, 2019 presentation to Colombiere Jesuit Community, Baltimore, MD

So today I am here to speak both about acting on environmental degradation and responding to the imminent climate collapse that poses an existential threat to all life on planet Earth. These are both environmental issues, but of such a different character and import that we decrease the chances of human survival if we overly conflate them.”

Good afternoon, Gentlemen,

Thank you for having me. Little did I know when I first visited your Laudato Si’ study group that I would be asked to come speak to you about environmental degradation and climate collapse, both of which are threatening all life on Earth, all God’s creation

But here I am, and today I will be drawing upon three texts.

  1. Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’ – On Caring for Our Common Home
  2. David Wallace-Wells book “The Uninhabitable Earth – Life After Warming”
  3. Father Thomas Berry’s book “The Dream of the Earth

It was my intention to take you deeply into each of these texts, but time will not allow that, and so I can only allow a brief glimpse inside each with the encouragement that you have a copy in your library for reading and reflection.

When I first met with your Laudato Si’ study group, we talked about issues of “environmental degradation.” As our response to such degradation, we discussed: recycling and composting here at Colombiere retirement community. We talked about air pollution and damages caused by harmful particulates put into the air by trash incineration like BRESCO in southwest Baltimore, falling most of all on a poor community with the highest rate of asthma in the city; or the coal-fired generation of electricity, from which Maryland gets most of its energy, and the dangerous particulates it releases into the air in addition to CO2 emissions. We talked about pushing our Maryland Catholic Conference to support the Clean Energy Jobs Act in the state legislature, to commit Maryland to getting 50% of its electrical energy from clean, renewable sources by 2040 and 100% by 2050 – because clean energy (wind, solar, hydro, geothermal) is better than dirty power, both in terms of public health and the environment at large. We discussed the necessary political actions we could take, within the church and in the state legislature, to get that bill passed, and we succeeded at that small step.

These issues are important to what Pope Francis calls “care for our common home” in his encyclical, but they focus mostly on one aspect of how humanity is destroying the earth by our presence and lifestyle. Such “environmental degradation” issues have long concerned environmentalists – polluting air and water; depleting fresh water supply (Did you know that “As soon as 2030, global water demand is expected to outstrip supply by 40 percent”? – David Wallace-Wells); the loss of land and habitat; millions of rainforest acres cleared for production of food for animals to satisfy our taste for meat; the loss of biodiversity in what scientists are now calling “the Sixth Mass Extinction,” this one caused by humans; the consumption and wasting of resources, including 30% waste of food produced by our farms; dead zones in the oceans and the Gulf of Mexico created by runoff of animal waste and fossil-fuel fertilizers from farms; the same inorganic (oil-based) fertilizers killing our soils; pesticide use killing our pollinators on which we depend for food; Marylanders on the Eastern Shore choking from toxic air pollution wafting out of massive chicken CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations); the destructive practice of fracking to obtain fossil fuels at a cost to public health and water contamination (plus being a greater contributor of “greenhouses gases” than the combustion of coal); the use of this fracked gas to create massive new plants like the $3 Billion “cracker” plant being built outside Pittsburgh to produce billions more single-use plastic products; microplastics found everywhere from the 7-mile depths of the Marianas trench in the Pacific Ocean to the highest point of the Pyrenees mountain range between Spain and France, 100 miles from the nearest city; plastics in our air and inside our blood streams; and so forth. All examples of environmental degradation. (Not a complete list by any means).

These are the issues that caused Pope Francis to write: “The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth” (21).

So “environmental degradation” is one aspect on which Laudato Si’ focuses, but there is another, more serious and more imminent threat to God’s Creation, one that goes by several names – i.e., global warming, the climate crisis, and more often now being referred to as “climate collapse.”

At the heart of climate collapse is our extraction and burning of fossil fuels for energy, the very energy that has improved the lives of billions but now threatens to destroy us because our combustion of fossil fuels, and emissions of gigatons of CO2 into the atmosphere, ignores the laws of Nature, which we dare not do.

We must remind ourselves always, as the writer-farmer Wendell Berry put it:

“Whether we and our politicians know it or not, Nature is party to all our deals and decisions, and she has more votes, a longer memory, and a sterner sense of justice than we do.”

Pope Francis refers to our destructive energy production and consumption when he writes 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…substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy.” (26)  He states clearly that “The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all. At the global level, it is a complex system linked to many of the essential conditions for human life. A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system. Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it.” (23)

This is our Catholic teaching now, and we better take heed of it.

In this presentation I take global warming caused by humans (to which Pope Francis refers) as an established fact, but instead of speaking of the “climate change” that results from warming, I prefer to use the term “climate collapse” because it more accurately evokes what we are facing.

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned last year that irreversible climate collapse could begin, and not be reversed, if humanity does not slash global greenhouse gas emissions by 45% below 2010 levels by 2030, then reach net zero by 2050. (Net zero means the amount of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere is no more than the amount taken out). So, there we have, for the first time, a solid deadline for action – 12 years from 2018 to 2030 to reduce emissions worldwide by 45% from 2010 levels – but of course emissions continue to rise.

When you see young people from the Sunrise Movement wearing black t-shirts with that one number “12” on it, they are trying to communicate what the UN IPCC has told us.

The “safe” level of carbon in the atmosphere, 350 ppm (parts per million), was exceeded in 1990 and we are now at 415 ppm. The level of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere is rising, by three (3) parts per million in 2016.

If that continues, we will reach 448 ppm by 2030.  Moreover, “the tough reality is that the effects of CO2 already present in the biosphere are irreversible and intensifying rapidly…a consensus of scientific research tell s us that a minimum of three degrees Celsius (3°C) warning is already baked into the system under current global climate pledges.” (Truthout – March 4, 2019 Editorial)

To put this in perspective, David Wallace-Wells, in his book “The Uninhabitable Earth,” writes: “Even if we pull the planet up short of two degrees Celsius (2°C) warming by 2100, we will be left with an atmosphere that contains 500 parts per million of carbon— perhaps more. The last time that was the case, 16 million years ago, the planet was not two degrees warmer; it was somewhere between five and eight, giving the planet about 130 feet of sea-level rise, enough to draw a new American coastline as far west as I-95.” (Note: 2°C equals 3.6°F, and 5°C would mean a global temperature rise of 9°F)

Wallace-Wells opens his book with these ominous words:

It is worse, much worse, than you think. The slowness of climate change is a fairy tale, perhaps as pernicious as the one that says it isn’t happening at all, and comes to us bundled with several others in an anthology of comforting delusions: that global warming is an Arctic saga, unfolding remotely; that it is strictly a matter of sea level and coastlines, not an enveloping crisis sparing no place and leaving no life undeformed; that it is a crisis of the “natural” world, not the human one; that those two are distinct, and that we live today somehow outside or beyond or at the very least defended against nature, not inescapably within and literally overwhelmed by it; that wealth can be a shield against the ravages of warming; that the burning of fossil fuels is the price of continued economic growth; that growth, and the technology it produces, will allow us to engineer our way out of environmental disaster; that there is any analogue to the scale or scope of this threat, in the long span of human history, that might give us confidence in staring it down.

None of this is true.”

So now we are talking not only about specific degradations of the environment but an existential issue, an ecocide willfully perpetrated by humans. As Patriarch Bartholomew of the Eastern Orthodox Church, who is quoted in Laudato Si’, puts it: “For human beings… to destroy the biological diversity of God’s creation; for human beings to degrade the integrity of the earth by causing changes in its Climate, by stripping the earth of its natural forests or destroying its wetlands; for human beings to contaminate the earth’s waters, its land, its air, and its life – these are sins”.[15] For “to commit a crime against the natural world is a sin against ourselves and a sin against God”.[16]

The sinfulness is all around us and in each of us. Even the food we eat is being degraded by emission of CO2 into the atmosphere: “Over the past fifteen years, (there has been) a dramatic effect of carbon dioxide on human nutrition unanticipated by plant physiologists: it can make plants bigger, but those bigger plants are less nutritious…Every leaf and every grass blade on earth makes more and more sugars as CO2 levels keep rising…We are witnessing the greatest injection of carbohydrates into the biosphere in human history—[an] injection that dilutes other nutrients in our food supply.” Since 1950, much of the good stuff in the plants we grow—protein, calcium, iron, vitamin C, to name just four—has declined by as much as one-third, a landmark 2004 study showed. Everything is becoming more like junk food. Even the protein content of bee pollen has dropped by a third.” (p.57, The Uninhabitable Earth). Add to this that “global food production accounts for about a third of all emissions, (and) to avoid dangerous climate change, Greenpeace has estimated that the world needs to cut its meat and dairy consumption in half by 2050.” (p.54, The Uninhabitable Earth)

Our planet is becoming uninhabitable to much of all life as we know it. Climate collapse is about far more than sea-level rise, as Wallace-Wells makes abundantly clear. Along with that rise in temperature comes droughts and fires and floods and mass migrations of people desperately trying to survive, as some of those detained on our southern border are doing right now, who are just a few from among the 2.8 million people facing hunger in the Northern Triangle countries of Central America hit by drought.

While we may be able to clean up a degraded environment by a number of means we already have, we are right now, not so far in the future, risking irreversible climate collapse; and although we have means to mitigate that to some extent, we will be hard-pressed to stop and reverse what is already underway.  We may be able to clean the world of plastic pollution (at least its visible forms), but the use of fossil fuel to make plastic, and more of it all the time, until we stop that production, will continue to contribute to global warming and continue changing the chemistry of the oceans so that coral reefs and other marine life die off.  A reported 96% of all warmth created by humans has been absorbed by the ocean and the resulting change in ocean chemistry is making the oceans more inhospitable to life. According to the World Resources Institute, by 2030 ocean warming and acidification will threaten 90 percent of all reefs. “This is very bad news, because reefs support as much as a quarter of all marine life and supply food and income for half a billion people.” (p.96. The Uninhabitable Earth). Our problem is much harder than scooping up plastic or developing means to replace plastic for the myriad of uses it has.

By the way, plastic pollution, that environmental degradation, is also much worse than you think. We have all heard of “the Great Pacific garbage patch” twice the size of Texas, floating freely in the Pacific Ocean. Says Wallace-Wells: “It is not actually an island—in fact, it is not actually a stable mass, …it is mostly composed of larger-scale plastics, of the kind visible to the human eye…(M)icroplastic bits—700,000 of them can be released into the surrounding environment by a single washing-machine cycle[2]—are more insidious. And, believe it or not, more pervasive: a quarter of fish sold in Indonesia and California contain plastics, according to one recent study. European eaters of shellfish, one estimate has suggested, consume at least 11,000 bits each year…The direct effect on ocean life is even more striking. The total number of marine species said to be adversely affected by plastic pollution has risen from 260 in 1995, when the first assessment was carried out, to 690 in 2015 and 1,450 in 2018. A majority of fish tested in the Great Lakes contained microplastics, as did the guts of 73 percent of fish surveyed in the northwest Atlantic… Microplastics have been found in beer, honey, and sixteen of seventeen tested brands of commercial sea salt, across eight different countries…and while nobody yet knows the health impact on humans, in the oceans a plastic microbead is said to be one million times more toxic than the water around it… We can breathe in microplastics, even when indoors, where they’ve been detected suspended in the air, and do already drink them: they are found in the tap water of 94 percent of all tested American cities. And global plastic production is expected to triple by 2050, when there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. (The Uninhabitable Earth, p.104-106)

This is the world we are bequeathing to our children. My children, my grandchildren and their children, your grand-nephews and grand-nieces, and their children, will more than likely be faced with trying to live on a filthy, dying planet.

We have some answering to do our children coming after us, even some repentance, about the filth, but even more so about climate collapse, which we have not completely owned as the generation that has contributed the most to it.

On the issue of culpability for climate collapse, Wallace-Wells makes that clear in this passage:   “Many perceive global warming as a sort of moral and economic debt, accumulated since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and now come due after several centuries. In fact, more than half of the carbon exhaled into the atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuels has been emitted in just the past three decades. Which means we have done as much damage to the fate of the planet and its ability to sustain human life and civilization since Al Gore published his first book on climate than in all the centuries—all the millennia—that came before.

The United Nations established its climate change framework in 1992, advertising scientific consensus unmistakably to the world; this means we have now engineered as much ruin knowingly as we ever managed in ignorance. Global warming may seem like a distended morality tale playing out over several centuries and inflicting a kind of Old Testament retribution on the great-great-grandchildren of those responsible, since it was carbon burning in eighteenth-century England that lit the fuse of everything that has followed. But that is a fable about historical villainy that acquits those of us alive today—and unfairly. The majority of the burning has come since the premiere of Seinfeld. Since the end of World War II, the figure is about 85 percent. The story of the industrial world’s kamikaze mission is the story of a single lifetime—the planet brought from seeming stability to the brink of catastrophe in the years between a baptism or bar mitzvah and a funeral.” (p.4, The Uninhabitable Earth)

We each have a stake in acknowledging that, and we each have things we can do personally (as repentance, may I say?), as a community of men, as a parish or diocese. and in the public square of local, state and national politics, such as advocating for Catholic Church divestment from fossil fuel investments and educating our young about care for creation (or is it they who are educating us?).

So today I am here to speak both about acting on environmental degradation and responding to the imminent climate collapse that poses an existential threat to all life on planet Earth. I encourage all of us to reflect on the difference between these distinct but related threats to life, between personal responsibility (like recycling, composting and zero-waste practices where and how we live), and community-scale actions, political action, systems of energy and less waste and municipal level waste disposal that must be created, and other big picture actions at the scale of the problem, to care for our common home. These are both environmental issues, but of such a different character and import that we decrease the chances of human survival if we overly conflate them and rely simply on doing the smaller things we can do (and even those are sometimes hard to do). Recycling and composting, as good and important as they are, will mean nothing if we do not get away from burning fossil fuels for energy and transportation – by car, ship and airplane – or using it to make plastics, or putting it in into our soils for food.

As Thomas Berry writes in “The Dream of the Earth”: “Pragmatic efforts (such as recycling and composting) at establishing a viable way into the future are urgently needed and invaluable. They are indispensable in any effort to deal with that future. I do not wish to diminish what is being done. I wish only to indicate that the basic difficulty lies deeper in the human mind and emotions than is generally recognized. If the reorientation of mind is not effected, then whatever remedy is proposed will not succeed in the purposes it intends. So far, we have not been able to effect a major change in inner attitude.”

Thomas Berry’s “reorientation of mind” is what Pope Francis calls “ecological conversion” (220) which, Francis says, “entails a loving awareness that we are not disconnected from the rest of creatures but joined in a splendid universal communion. As believers, we do not look at the world from without but from within, conscious of the bonds with which the Father has linked us to all beings. By developing our individual, God-given capacities, an ecological conversion can inspire us to greater creativity and enthusiasm in resolving the world’s problems…We do not understand our superiority as a reason for personal glory or irresponsible dominion, but rather as a different capacity which, in its turn, entails a serious responsibility stemming from our faith.”

Thomas Berry makes the point even more succinctly: “The universe is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects. The devastation of the planet can be seen as a direct consequence of the loss of this capacity for human presence to and reciprocity with the nonhuman world.” (Evening Thoughts, Thomas Berry)

And he tells us how difficult this will be:  “The power of the industrial system is in the pervasive feeling throughout the society that there is no truly human survival or fulfillment except in opposition to the…the natural world. Nothing must be left in its natural state. Everything must be sacralized by human use, even though this is momentary, and the consequence is an irreversible degradation of the planet.”  (p. 213, “The Dream of the Earth”)

(T. Berry): “We might summarize our present human situation by the simple statement that in (our times) the glory of the human has become the desolation of the Earth and now the desolation of the Earth is becoming the destiny of the human. From here on, the primary judgment of all human institutions, professions, programs and activities will be determined by the extent to which they inhibit, ignore or foster a mutually enhancing human/Earth relationship. (2006 interview)

(T. Berry): “These consequences are now becoming manifest. The day of reckoning has come.[3] In this disintegrating phase of our industrial society, we now see ourselves not as the splendor of creation, but as the most pernicious of earthly being.

We are the termination, not the fulfillment of the earth process. If there were a parliament of creatures, its first decision might well be to vote the humans out of the community, too deadly a presence to tolerate any further. We are the affliction of the world, its demonic presence. We are the violation of earth’s most sacred aspects.” (p. 209, “The Dream of the Earth“)

And to this I would say that there is a parliament of creatures, and collectively they are called Nature, and Nature does not need humans to continue, and Nature will make this world a place where humans are thrown out of the community, denied the means to live because of our own assaults against Nature and destruction of millions of Nature’s beautiful life forms, so that Nature can, slowly, remake the Earth without destructive human beings.

Pope Francis concurs with Thomas Berry in Laudato Si’ – that all human institutions, especially the church, which we think of as a divine institution, albeit a quite sinful one at times, will be judged by how we show respect for life and care for God’s creation in how we relate to Nature, and in the actions we take (or fail to take) to continue the creation story or to end it.

If we say all will be well if we reduce our community’s energy use, get more LED lights, replace inefficient appliances with energy-efficient ones, move away from a diet built around meat to one that is plant-based, recycle all our plastic, collect all our food waste for the compost pile, bicycle (if we are able) to the store or take the bus, or even put a solar array on our roof or on our grounds, we would be wrong in saying all will be well, much as these things need to be done. We must get to scale on building a clean energy world, and even that may not be enough, which is why some are calling for more than fixes and mitigation, but for “deep adaptation” based on a “loving awareness that we are not disconnected from the rest of creatures but joined in a splendid universal communion.”

Truth is, we really do not know how we will live and survive even 30 years from now if warming feedback processes overtake our best laid plans at fixes and mitigation.

Again, Pope Francis: “(Our sister Earth) now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor…We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth; our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.” (2)

“If we approach nature and the environment without…openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs… (11) “(Ecological conversion) entails a loving awareness that we are not disconnected from the rest of creatures, but joined in a splendid universal communion. (220)

Thomas Berry puts it like this: “The visible world about us is our primary scripture, the primary manifestation of the divine, and this for human communities throughout the entire planet…We should be clear about what happens when we destroy the living forms of this planet. The first consequence is that we destroy modes of divine presence. If we have a wonderful sense of the divine, it is because we live amid such awesome magnificence. If we have refinement of emotion and sensitivity, it is because of the delicacy, the fragrance, and indescribable beauty of song and music and rhythmic movement in the world about us. If we grow in our life vigor, it is because the earthly community challenges us, forces us to struggle to survive, but in the end reveals itself as a benign providence. But however benign, it must provide that absorbing drama of existence whereby we can experience the thrill of being alive in fascinating and unending sequence of adventures…If we have powers of imagination, these are activated by the magic display of color and sound, of form and movement, such as we observe in the clouds of the sky, the trees and bushes and flowers, the waters and the wind, the singing birds, and the movement of the great blue whale through the sea. If we have words with which to speak and think and commune, words for the inner experience of the divine, words for the intimacies of life, if we have words for telling stories to our children, words with which we can sing, it is again because of the impressions we have received from the variety of beings around us.” (p.11 – “The Dream of the Earth” by Thomas Berry)

So, what can we do? Should we hope or despair? Is the world we have made doomed to die of climate collapse? The sources I read have differing answers:

Thomas Berry sees a science that is awakening us to who we really are as part of Nature and the Universe, with Nature revealing itself in a special way now: “Here we might observe that the basic mood of the future might well be one of confidence in the continuing revelation that takes place in and through the Earth. If the dynamics of the universe from the beginning shaped the course of the heavens, lighted the sun, and formed the Earth, if this same dynamism brought forth the continents and seas and atmosphere, if it awakened life in the primordial cell and then brought into being the unnumbered variety of living beings, and finally brought us into being and guided us safely through the turbulent centuries, there is reason to believe that this same guiding process is precisely what has awakened in us our present understanding of ourselves and our relation to this stupendous process. Sensitized to such guidance from the very structure and functioning of the universe, we can have confidence in the future that awaits the human venture.” (T. Berry, “The New Story,” in The Dream of the Earth, p.137.)

David Wallace-Wells is not so sure, says that what happens next is more a question of the social sciences than the physical and biological ones: “But while there are a few things science does not know about how the climate system will respond to all the carbon we’ve pumped into the air, the uncertainty of what will happen—that haunting uncertainty—emerges not from scientific ignorance but, overwhelmingly, from the open question of how we respond. That is, principally, how much more carbon we decide to emit, which is not a question for the natural sciences but the human ones.  Climatologists can, today, predict with uncanny accuracy where a hurricane will hit, and at what intensity, as much as a week out from landfall; this is not just because the models are good but because all the inputs are known. When it comes to global warming, the models are just as good, but the key input is a mystery: What will we do?”  The lessons there are unfortunately bleak. Three-quarters of a century since global warming was first recognized as a problem, we have made no meaningful adjustment to our production or consumption of energy to account for it and protect ourselves.”  (p.43-44, The Uninhabitable Earth)

In Laudato Si’ Pope Francis writes: “Hope would have us recognize that there is always a way out, that we can always redirect our steps, that we can always do something to solve our problems. Still, we can see signs that things are now reaching a breaking point, due to the rapid pace of change and degradation (61)…Although the post-industrial period may well be remembered as one of the most irresponsible in history, nonetheless there is reason to hope that humanity at the dawn of the twenty-first century will be remembered for having generously shouldered its grave responsibilities. (165)

Greta Thunberg, the 16-year old autistic Swedish schoolgirl who ignited a worldwide boycott of classes on Fridays, saying “Why should we study for a future that may not exist anymore?” – has put it this way. “I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act…The climate crisis is both the easiest and the hardest issue we have ever faced. The easiest because we know what we must do. We must stop the emissions of greenhouse gases. The hardest because our current economics are still totally dependent on burning fossil fuels, and thereby destroying ecosystems in order to create everlasting economic growth…We have to act urgently, because we simply have to find a way…When we start to act, hope is everywhere. So instead of looking for hope – look for action.” 

The youth of Our Children’s Trust who are in court trying to establish a constitutional right to a life-sustaining climate, have already convinced one federal judge to say what may turn out to be historic words: “Exercising my ‘reasoned judgment,’ I have no doubt that the right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life is fundamental to a free and ordered society.” US District Judge Ann Aiken

Gentlemen, this is our challenge. You and me. We can look around and see the children leading us, because we have not done so, not in the degree needed; but nonetheless we’re not dead yet. Given the seriousness of what I have described today, we need to be reaching out to all our families, our friends, sounding the alarms, changing our lifestyle practices, expending what energy we have left to rescue God’s creation, our Common Home, from a death of our own making. This is not just another discussion topic. This is a topic that should impel us to take the kind of action that gives hope.

Our grandchildren, our grand-nephews and grand-nieces, could well be facing the end of all life on Earth, and a violent, chaotic world of desperate people scrambling for resources, one of worldwide desperate migrations beyond imagining. What can we do in the time we have left to protect the children who must live in the deeply damaged world we are leaving them?

[1] “Laudato Si’ – On Care for Our Common Home,” an environmental encyclical by Pope Francis. 2015

[2] Polyester, nylon, acrylic, and other synthetic fibers — all of which are forms of plastic — are now about 60 percent of the material that makes up our clothes worldwide. – Wikipedia

[3] Berry wrote these words in 1998, 31 years ago, before the worst decades of CO2 emissions began.

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For granddaughter Sage, on the occasion of her 18th birthday

Dear Sage –

Welcome, voter! And Happy 18th birthday.

Because of what happened on July 5, 1971 (when I was 21), when the voting age was lowered to 18, you are getting a 3-year head start on me for being a fully enfranchised American. The context for me was this:

“Leading up to that period, the demand had grown that young people be given the opportunity to vote. Tens of thousands of young Americans were drafted into the military for the Vietnam War, and the Korean and other wars before that, when they turned 18. Yet, because they were unenfranchised, they had no say whatsoever in making the policies that determined whether the nation – and their own selves – would be involved in a bloody war overseas or not.”

President Nixon had not supported the 26th Amendment that lowered the voting age nationwide to 18, was forced by public opinion to bring on new voters, but nonetheless said this when signing the amendment:

“As I meet with this group today, I sense that we can have confidence that America’s new voters, America’s young generation, will provide what America needs as we approach our 200th birthday, not just strength and not just wealth but the ‘Spirit of ’76’ a spirit of moral courage, a spirit of high idealism in which we believe in the American dream, but in which we realize that the American dream can never be fulfilled until every American has an equal chance to fulfill it in their own life.”

Now comes your 18th birthday when you will be called upon to identify political leaders (maybe become one yourself after you complete your education) and support those who will provide what America needs. As you know that means addressing many issues of racism, mass incarceration, homophobia and equal rights for LGBT+ people, equal rights for women, immigration, militarism, war and peace, the elimination of nuclear weapons, affordable healthcare for all, sensible gun control, ending violence in our cities, protecting ourselves from predatory drug companies who bear much of the blame for the opioid crisis that had killed many thousands, getting corporate and dark money out of politics, protecting our air and water from pollution and contamination, and of course voting out Donald Trump in 2020. This is not even a complete list of what an enfranchised Sage Ella will be confronting, but you get the idea.

Yet towering above all those issues will be the issue of your lifetime – climate change and the atmospheric and social chaos that will result from a warming planet. Never has there been a generation which could say “I want to save the world” with that task being precisely what they are called to do, without hyperbole.

There is a movement underway that will be about making more fundamental changes in how we live and what we eat, where and how we get our energy, and how we relate to Nature that will be the most important movement in human history, without precedent. Either we do what must be done to eliminate fossil fuel emissions and begin drawing down CO2 from the atmosphere, or your children (if you choose to have children) will be condemned to witnessing the complete destruction of living systems that sustain our lives and the lives of millions of plant and animal species with whom we share the planet. Even the clouds may disappear from the sky, the science is telling us now.

Can you imagine living with no clouds?

Your peers are leading that movement now in groups like the Sunrise Movement (you have the T-shirt!) or the Extinction Rebellion or, perhaps quite importantly, the court challenge lodged by Our Children’s Trust, which seeks to establish that “through the government’s affirmative actions that cause climate change, it has violated the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty and property, as well as failed to protect essential public trust resources.”

That case has been fought tooth and nail by both the Trump and Obama administrations who have not wanted a jury of peers to see evidence that the government and fossil fuel companies knew what they were doing would warm the world and threaten the sustainability of all life, yet government subsidized dirty energy anyway and fossil fuel companies raked in profits while making the public clean up their environmental messes.

There is statement by a judge in the Our Children’s Trust lawsuit that may go down in history as among the most important words in our collective history, if the young people get a chance to go before a jury:  “Exercising my ‘reasoned judgment,’ I have no doubt that the right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life is fundamental to a free and ordered society.” – US District Judge Ann Aiken

So, I persist, maybe even harangue my granddaughter on her benchmark birthday which should be an occasion of joy. But just as those in my generation insisted on the right to vote because we were faced with being drafted into war, so too have you been drafted into a collapsing climate, caused by a literal war against Nature for quick profits, and you must be the advocate for peace with Nature. You must join a movement to end that war against Nature, as much as you can, through efforts like a Green New Deal, taking part in political arena or entering there yourself someday.

Finally, as one of my favorite writers, the poet-farmer Wendell Berry, says in his poem “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” – I say to you with this enclosed gift by which you can celebrate your birthday: “Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.” Never forget to have fun and share the beauty of life with those around you, even as you are perforce required to be involved in protecting our planet and all it beautiful beings. Go have some fun, and I wish I could be there to give you a big hug and kiss.

I love you,


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Maryland Environmental Leaders’ Extraordinary Appeal for Clean Energy Jobs Act 2019

This is an advocacy letter, to be sure, but not one like you have seen before. This is not asking Maryland House Speaker Michael Busch to support a bill that can wait until next year if it does not pass now.

“Mr. Speaker, we appeal to you not to read into this letter any sense of commonplace advocacy. Our tone is unprecedented here because the science of global warming has changed dramatically. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in October – for the first time – gave the world a deadline.”

Please take a look at the letter and pass it on to Maryland residents. The time is now to start addressing climate changer seriously in Maryland.

Enviro leaders’ ltr to Speaker Busch FINAL

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A Facebook Dialogue on Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church – re the PA report

RE: More than 300 accused priests listed in Pennsylvania report on Catholic Church sex abuse (Washington Post, August 14, 2018)

GORDON: Oh dear – mind if I take a moment from needling you on climate change to pose a nettlesome question about the Catholic Church, Stephen? As a good person and a good Catholic, your anguish over this latest revelation is palpable. But the key words to me are “latest revelation.” While the world abounds with good Catholics like yourself, the institution of the Catholic Church abounds with child abusers.

Whatever the reason(s) you think it’s happening – and I would dare anyone to suggest let alone prove that it isn’t still happening – child abuse is endemic in the institution of the Catholic Church. It’s a global problem (just read the list at the end of “Spotlight”), it’s been going on for decades (if not centuries), and far from being able to police itself, the Church hierarchy has been actively covering up the problem forever. If any other private or public organization in the world had this track record of criminal sexual predation, rape and child abuse, they would have been put out of business long ago. Why is the Catholic Church exempt?

I’m not on a crusade or anything, to me it’s just another sign of our world falling apart at the seams, but if it were up to me I would a) jail every priest who is shown to be abusing children, b) jail every bishop and cardinal who directly aided in any cover up of these crimes, c) relieve every other cardinal of their position (like they didn’t all know what’s going on?), d) end the Catholic Church’s tax-exempt status, and e) take all of the Church’s money and divide it up among all the individual parishes, with instructions to start a new church. They couldn’t possibly do worse than what exists already. (Although I’d let you all keep Pope Francis, he seems like a good guy!)

I don’t mean to be offensive at all, I am simply struck by a profound paradox – I find many Catholics (like you) to be among the most beautiful people I know. And I find the Catholic Church to be one of the most irredeemably corrupt institutions I can think of.


STEVE: Gordon, the week that this horrible news broke was also the week that Richard Sipe died. My pastor had been a student of his in Baltimore seminary 50 years ago. In grieving the Pennsylvania news of clergy abuse and the ongoing pain of victims, Father Joe mentioned that Richard Sipe was a prophet often scorned and turned away by the church hierarchy who did not want to hear what he had to say.

Sipe was the source that the Boston Globe reporters used for their “Spotlight” series. He is considered the best expert on how many priests are pedophiles and why sexual abuse of that kind and other abusive sexual relations by clergy persists. His research led to an estimate of 6% of American priests being pedophiles. Sipe later raised the percentage to 9%. Reports I’ve read put the percentage of pedophiles in the adult population at about 5%, so the prevalence among priests may be worse than in the general population, but it is hard to get a definitive prevalence statistic for the general population by which to compare. From the perspective and reports of the victims, I have read reports that 7% of adults report that they were sexually victimized as children, with the figure for women being more like 15%.

There were about 38,000 priests in America in 2015, so that might mean about 2,280 were pedophiles, or 3,420 at the 9% figure.  That’s a lot. Recall that in “Spotlight” the reporter heard Sipe’s 6% figure and exclaimed something like “that’s 90 priests!” – which would be 6% of 1,500, but in 2002 the Boston archdiocese actually had 1,678 priests (down to 1,088 in 2015), so even more than 90.

Sipe’s research connects the problem to the general issue that about half of all priests are sexually active, either as heterosexuals or homosexuals, and so a cult of secrecy has developed to prevent scandal to the institution, and that cult of secrecy has suppressed facts about pedophilia among the church’s clergy. As bad as the cases of abuse are, the cover-up by the church hierarchy makes it all even worse. That is why this Pennsylvania grand jury has done a great service, and why I will be asking the Maryland Attorney General to do a similar investigation in my state.

This truth must come out. Yes, the first reaction to a report of pedophilia should be for those in church authority to call the police and have it investigated, and yes priests should go to jail along with bishops and cardinals who can be convicted in a court of law of obstructing justice, and yes to priests being removed from any contact with minors by church authorities at the first credible report of such a problem (and stop the practice of passing them off to another parish or diocese), and yes the statute of limitations laws should be changed so that victims finally able to voice their pain can get justice – which of course is a secular change, but one the church lawyers have been fighting for fear of more lawsuits –  and yes to more compensation of victims, whatever that means to the divestment of church properties.

And you are on to something in suggesting that individual parishes are where “church” happens, and that they could (and in my view, already do) a better job of presenting a church of love, compassion, justice and mercy without having to worry about a hierarchy or corruption at the top. That is how many of us Catholics experience our “church” in one another, and in the sacraments, and we laugh it off when one of the bishops asks that we not be so overt in our acceptance of LBGTQ people in our church and our communion.

The great majority of Catholics do not experience their priests as predators (because the great majority are not), and I would say we are bewildered and angry and not sure what to do when we hear again not only how much of it goes on and how depraved it is, but also how our “leaders” cover it up again and again.

As for Pope Francis, it is all on the line with him now in how he responds to this. Things are better than they were in 2002 when the Boston Globe issued its Spotlight report, in that after that there were measures put in place at the parish and diocesan levels, such as background checks on church volunteers to prevent such abuse, and the bishops committing to act swiftly to remove offending priests, including reporting them to the police.  It is my reading that the cases exposed in the Pennsylvania AG investigation were mostly before 2002. Reports of abuse are down since then, it is reported. Yet things are by no means okay right now. There are lingering questions about the degree to which all bishops are abiding by the 2002 reforms, and church lawyers are still fighting the expansion of statutes of limitations.

The real reckoning must come at the level of the hierarchy, where Pope Francis needs to be demanding the resignation of people like Cardinal Wuerl of Washington, to use just one example now that credible evidence exists of his past behavior to cover up abuse.

Then also the church must get serious about no longer requiring celibacy as a condition of being a priest, allowing a married man (and for that matter, a married woman) to be a priest, and of course welcoming women into the priesthood. It is a big agenda.

In the meantime, for me this is not about numbers or prevalence. This is about creating a beloved community with others. I go to church to praise God and be with people who know that the church is not God (not an idol to be protected), only God is God, and God calls them to go out into the world to heal the sick, tend to immigrant families, advocate for peace, fight for the rights of LBGTQ+ persons, provide relief to some of the most desperate people in the world all across the globe, seek to end the violence in Baltimore streets, make affordable housing possible, fight the climate crisis and support our church with a lot of hard work to put on great chicken and crab fundraising dinners. Then they come back into church to take communion with one another and say these words before communion, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed,” which echo the words of the Roman centurion (the enemy, the occupier) who asked Christ to come heal his servant (“my servant will be healed’), but believed on what he had heard that Jesus had the authority to do that without coming to his house. I worship and pray with humble people who do good in the world and break bread with one another in a spirit of God’s healing love that crosses boundaries and leads us beyond the brokenness of the world. It’s all about love for us.

I pray to Jesus to bring that healing to the church I have never stopped loving, even though I detest some of its institutional ways and behaviors.

Articles about the work of Richard Sipe




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