About the Author
Robin Nelson

The Story of UUCF’s Certification as a Green Sanctuary

After a congregation has achieved Green Sanctuary Accreditation I always encourage them to “begin to assemble a “scrapbook” which shares information about your Green Sanctuary movement – congregations create these in many different way; some use their applications, some include orders of service, newsletter columns, fliers about special events, and pictures, some write storybooks about the journey, and some come up with new ideas that we’ve never seen before.”

The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Frederick took this task to heart.  Sandi Smith-Gill sent me an email encouraging me to take a look at the “just finished Green Sanctuary pictoral history – which started as a project to send for the reception at the GA, but ended up taking 3 months to finish.”  I opened their scrapbook and was impressed by the amount of time and effort that was put into pulling it together.  I was equally impressed with how well they did at sharing lots of information and showing that lots of people from the congregation had been involved in the project.

I don’t expect all scrapbooks to look like this, each is individual and unique.  And I encourage you to look at what they’ve done for inspiration for projects as well as what a scrapbook might look like.  I have a feeling that the UU Congregation of Frederick will have a printed version of this book in their congregation for many, many years.

UUs participate in Tar Sands Public Hearing in Lincoln, NE

At least six UUs were at the Lincoln, NE Tar Sands Public Hearing on Tuesday, September 27th.

Vicki Pratt reported that “There were many, many more statements against the pipeline than those testifying in favor. Those in favor were corporate lawyers with prepared statements, Tea Party/Anti Tax people, and a union rep  in a suit. The unions (Laborer’s International Union of North America) bussed in people from Illinois, Iowa, and Oklahoma.  Local ranchers and the other locals against spoke from the heart.  The State Department reps had to be impressed by the passion of the  love of  the land and fear of contaminated drinking water.”

The pro-Keystone XL Pipeline were in Orange and the anti-Keystone XL Pipeline were in Nebraska red.  “Red vastly outnumbered orange.”

Ken and Helen Deffenbacher both testified urging the State Department to veto the Keystone XL Pipeline.  Ken wrote “mine is more lawyer-like, while Helen’s is more “spiritual.”  Prior to her testimony, various speakers had been cheered or booed by one side or the other–things had gotten border-line disrespectful.  When she spoke in a measured, soft cadence, it seemed a little like a sermon.  You could hear a pin drop, and people seemed to be hanging on every phrase.  She is not  comfortable with public speaking, but decided to go ahead and speak in  a somewhat raucous situation–she said later that she was doing for our grandkids.”

Read more for Ken and Helen’s statements (more…)

Keystone XL Pipeline State Department Statement

In mid-September UUs were invited to participate in various State Department “Public Meetings following the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Proposed Keystone XL Pipeline.”  These meetings were held in Port  Arthur, TX; Topeka, KS;  Glendive, MT; Lincoln, NE; Austin Texas; Pierre, SD; Atkinson, NE; Midwest City, OK; and ended in a final State Department Meeting in Washington, DC on Friday, September 7th.

Rev. Craig Roshaven, UUA Witness Ministries Director, wrote “Tar Sands action held a rally outside but the action was in the hearing room and there was nothing to do but listen. There were a few angry outbursts, lots of cheering and applause, some booing. Some of the speeches were inspired and inspiring. One Nebraska rancher was slow of speech  but made a very impassioned and effective statement. The first 2 hours were the most interesting, but since all those speakers had to line up before 5:30 a.m. they were the most motivated and prepared.”

Despite being able to speak, Craig prepared a statement and was able to submit it to the State Department.  Here’s his statement.

“We are deeply concerned with the risks the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline would pose.  If this pipeline were to be constructed, it would risk the contamination of significant U.S. fresh water resources, accelerate global climate change, and threaten the health of people living downstream from the Tar Sands and the way of life of indigenous people.

In the first book of the Bible, human beings were given dominion over the earth. Some interpret this God given “dominion” as a license to use our planet’s living and natural resources in selfish and short sighted ways.  But dominion can also be interpreted as a special responsibility for our planet, its people, its living creatures, its natural features and its precious resources. Construction of the Keystone XL pipeline would be irresponsible. The pipeline would have an adverse effect on our planet, its resources, and its people.

The people in First Nation communities in Northern Alberta are already experiencing serious health problems because of Tar Sands oil production. In addition to the threat to their health, it threatens to destroy their entire way of life. They are not expendable and neither is the loss of their way of life.

Construction of this pipeline along its proposed route would endanger the Ogallala aquifer, the largest fresh water aquifer in the country.  The fresh water in that aquifer is irreplaceable.

The decision on whether to approve the pipeline needs to take into account the threat it presents to our water,  the danger posed by global climate change, and the human rights of the people whose health and livelihood are most threatened by the production of Tar Sands oil and its transport by pipeline.

As people of faith, we are called to be responsible stewards of our planet and its fragile web of life.  This requires us to respect and care for the God given gift of our living planet and the interdependent web of life upon which we all depend.

As people of faith, we share a commitment to justice for all of God’s children.  In light of these concerns and commitments, we ask you to disapprove the construction of this pipeline.

Rev. Craig C. Roshaven, Witness Ministries Director
Unitarian Universalist Association”

Fracking in the Delaware River Basin – NO!

The folks from Food and Water Watch recently contacted the UUA to let us know about an important anti-fracking action in Trenton, New Jersey.

What is fracking?

“Fracking (aka, hydraulic fracturing or industrial gas drilling) is a dangerous way of getting oil and gas and a shortsighted energy strategy. It’s poisoning our air and water and on its way to jeopardizing the health of millions more Americans.  We can find a better way—one that protects our health and gives us clean, safe energy sources that never run out.” — Earth Justice

“Relatively new drilling technology, high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing, now makes it possible to reach natural gas reserves that underlie much of the state of Ohio.
Commonly referred to as “horizontal hydrofracking” or just “fracking,” deep-shale natural gas drilling uses high-pressure injection of water, sand, and chemicals to release the trapped gas.
The environmental and health impacts from high-volume, horizontal hydraulic fracturing in other states are shocking and well documented, with a significant number of spills, blowouts, leaking wells, and other accidents and releases of contaminants.” — Ohio Environmental Council

If you want the positive spin on fracking you can visit Energy Tomorrow. NOTE that this is information from American Petroleum Institute who will reap all of the benefits of natural gas extraction while placing all the risk on the American public and the interconnected web of life.

Fracking, much like the Tar Sands, that have most recently been featured on this blog, will only continue our country’s reliance and dependency on oil and gas detracting attention from developing renewable energy resources.  Fracking is an environmental justice issue mostly because it puts the risk on people especially people who have historically been oppressed and marginalized.

The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) is meeting on Monday, November 21, 2011 (note: this is a change from the original date) to vote on whether or not to allow fracking in the Delaware River Basin, which spans parts of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware.

In response to this Food and Water Watch and their supporters and networks will are planning a massive demonstration rally prior to the vote “to show commissioners that people are opposed to fracking.”

You are invited to join the demonstration rally – take your 350.org signs, your congregational banners, Standing on the Side of Love swag, etc to show that as a person of faith, you oppose fracking.  Food and Water Watch is arranging for buses and vans to bring people to Trenton, NJ.

If you can’t make the rally on Monday, November 21st sign the online petition to stop fracking in the Delaware River Basin.

An excellent resource about fracking is the film Gasland by Josh Fox.

A friend of UUs who joined the Tar Sands Action

Credit: Josh Lopez, tarsandsaction

Guest Author, Jerome Wagner
Jerome is a member of the UUA-supported Globalwarming email list

On Tuesday August 23, 59 of us were arrested (most for the first time in their lives) in front of the White House. We were participating in the Tar Sands Action, which is aimed at incenting President Obama to deny permits for expansion of a pipeline. This was the second time this year that I was arrested for what I classify as global warming responses; the first arrest was in April, when 21 of us were arrested for a sit-in at the Department of the Interior.

This second arrest was both harder and easier than the first one. It was harder because I knew for weeks ahead of time of the pending action and that I would likely be risking arrest there. I had friends and family to tell and explain it to, some of whom, including my youngest daughter, had strong misgivings to my being arrested again. From that perspective, this was a choice made very deliberately.

It was also an easy choice. We were being led by example, by a leader for these times, in a movement for these times. That leader – Bill McKibben – was with us at evening trainings and at morning send-offs. He was there in the media, arguing for a rethinking of our energy system. It was easy to respond to Bill’s call.

This Tar Sands Action focused on one portion of the climate change problem. That being said, though, the opportunity to highlight the decision, for both the public and the President, was unique and very well chosen.

Credit: Shadia Fayne Wood, tarsandsaction

In reflecting on how participation affected me, two instances jump to mind. Towards the end of the Action, a panel discussion was held in a local restaurant. A young lady – an indigenous native of southwestern Canada, where the extraction occurs –gave a slide presentation of the impacts of tars sands operations on her way of life. As she started to talk about impacts on wildlife migration, her voice broke. I could not see her, but imagined that she was actively choking back tears. That sadness was so tangible, her pain so palpable: to not see the large flocks of birds or the packs of caribou moving across the landscape…

The second instance involves a young indigenous man, again from the Tar Sands mining area. He repeatedly challenged us to look at our individual lifestyles – at all the plastics we use, at all the fossil-fuel based energy we use in our lives – and to associate those back to the points of extraction or of processing; and to consciously consider the real, full costs of our lifestyles, on cultures, ways of life, landscapes, eco-systems, people, the environment.

It is humbling to be involved in an issue which is profoundly affecting many already. It is intimidating to be among people who have been activists all their lives, or who know so much more than I do. It is still hard to maintain hope.

But the people encountered and the sense of doing something constructive are enriching and empowering.

Sunday, Nov. 6th: Help us circle the White House

Photo credit: Josh Lopez, tarsandsaction.

Are you inspired by Sue Kirby, Carlo Voli, Terry Wiggins, Rachel Mark, Gaye Symington, the 14 UUs arrested on the Tar Sands Interfaith DayTim DeChristopher, or any of the 1253 people who were arrested August 20 – September 3 at the Tar Sands Action protest in front of Washington, DC?

Do you want to put your UU values into action?  Do you want to connect what you know in your head and feel in your heart so that you are moved to witness on behalf of the Earth, First Nations communities in Canada, Native American tribes along the pipeline route, and everyone else who lives downstream?

On Sunday, November 6th the Tar Sands Action folk including Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org,  will be organizing people to circle the White House in an act of solemn protest.

Winston Churchill is quoted saying “I never worry about action, but only inaction. ”  The Tar Sands folks don’t know if they’ll be able to get the thousands of people they need to circle the entire White House.  They aren’t even sure that this is the best course of action.   And yet they are taking a risk.  Meister Eckhart said “The price of inaction is far greater than the cost of making a mistake. ”  So I’m appealing to you to join us in this historic action.

We need YOU to show up on Sunday, November 6th to participate in this action (along with your friends, neighbors, fellow congregants, and perhaps even enemies).  Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see a large number of yellow Standing on the Side of Love t-shirts helping to encircle the White House?  “To remind President Obama of the power of the movement that he rode to the White House in 2008. This issue is much bigger than any individual person, President or not, and that we will carry on, with or without him.”

For more information about the Sunday, November 6th action contact uua_greensanctuary@uua.org

Stop the Keystone XL Pipeline by attending Public Meetings

I would like to invite you to join us in an effort to stop the Keystone XL Pipeline.

The Keystone XL Pipeline will be built from the Tar Sands in Canada, across the US, down to Texas refineries.  First Nations communities in Canada and Native American tribes along the pipeline route in the U.S. have demanded the destruction of their sacred lands cease.  People impacted by the construction and the “state of the art technology” predicted to leak every seven years don’t want to see it built.  People of color and the poor are at a significantly greater risk of health impacts from dirty fossil fuels, and are amongst the first to suffer from the impacts of climate change.  Concerns about the Tar Sands Pipeline include the risky extraction methods, the dangers of the pipeline itself, and the long-term climate change consequences.

At the end of August, during a rolling 2 week protest at the White House, 1,253 people were arrested.  UU World reported that 15 UUs were arrested on the designated interfaith day and we know that many more were arrested on other dates.

The decision to issue a permit for the Keystone XL is in President Obama’s court, and will probably be decided by the end of November.  He alone must make the decision, although he will be advised by the State Department. Fortunately, congress doesn’t have anything to say about it.

We need your help.  The State Department will be hosting a “Public Meeting following the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Proposed Keystone XL Pipeline.”

“All members of the public are welcome to attend the meetings and state their comments for the administrative record.”  I am writing today to ask you, a UU, someone who understands the interconnected web of life, to go to one of these meetings and sign-in to speak for 3 minutes on why you, as a person of faith, oppose the Keystone XL Pipeline.

The Public Meeting are in Port  Arthur, TX; Topeka, KS;  Glendive, MT; Lincoln, NE; Austin Texas; Pierre, SD; Atkinson, NE; and Midwest City, OK

Information from the State Department about the Public Meetings can be found at http://www.keystonepipeline-xl.state.gov/clientsite/keystonexl.nsf?Open.

You can read about UU involvement in stopping the Keystone XL Pipeline at the Green Sanctuary blog at http://greensanctuary.blogs.uua.org/ and on the Inspired Faith, Effective Action blog at http://socialjustice.blogs.uua.org/ .

If you are willing to attend one of these meetings please contact Robin Nelson, UUA Environmental Stewardship Manager at Rnelson@uua.org. If would like additional information or help in preparing your comments or connecting with others to attend the meetings, please feel free to contact the UUA.

What would lead an ordinary person like me to the White House fence?

Guest post by Terry Wiggins
First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee

What would lead an ordinary person like me to the White House fence?

My immediate inspirations were three: Tim DeChristopher, my daughter Erica, and Bill McKibben.

Terry Wiggins (blue shirt) sits in front of the White House at the Tar Sands Action between the UUMFE and UUA banners.

I found Tim’s actions to be truly inspirational. His civil disobedience in 2008, for which he was sentenced to two years in prison this year, and his words upon being sentenced – “I do not want mercy; I want you to join me” were powerful.

Erica’s plea, “Mom, why didn’t you do this earlier,” referring to my environmental activism, came back to me.

Bill McKibben clinched the deal that I would go when he publicized the action he had organized, and said that “those of us without kids or careers to worry about” should be the ones on the front lines.

Other inspirations were probably in the back of my mind, including my husband Bruce, my granddaughters, and fellow religionists. When I met Bruce, he had participated in anti-war work and demonstrations; I had never done any such thing. His actions were a model.

We now have two adorable granddaughters (thanks, Erica!) to whom we want to leave a livable world.

A couple of decades ago, we became Unitarian Universalists, and met people who truly had the courage of their convictions, and moved (not just stood up) for what they believed in.  Also, I learned to be a conservationist (the original conservatives?) from my parents.

What is the Tar Sands issue, and why is it important?

There are sands under boreal forests, especially in Alberta, Canada. Those who want to exploit them call them “oil sands” and those of us who want to protect them call them “tar sands.”  There’s no oil, only gunk called bitumen, mixed with sand.

Oil companies would pipe the gunk in the Keystone XL Pipeline from the Alberta Tar Sands, south to Texas refineries, and then sell the result to the highest bidder. First Nations communities in Canada and Native American tribes along the pipeline route in the U.S. have already experienced some desecration of their lands, and have demanded the destruction ceases.

Keystone would cross the Ogallala aquifer in Nebraska, a major water source, including for much of American agriculture, and it’s predicted to have relatively frequent leaks. Another concern about the Tar Sands Pipeline is the long-term climate change consequences: climatologist James Hansen has said that “if the tar sands are thrown into the mix it is essentially game over” to stabilize climate and “disastrous global climate impacts.”

For all these reasons, and more, building the pipeline wouldn’t help get the US off foreign oil (much less get off oil altogether), it would be an environmental injustice to First Nations/Native Americans and to future generations. In general, it would be a disaster for our society. “Silence is deadly,” as Hansen recently titled a paper.

What Now?

The decision to issue a permit for the Keystone XL is in President Obama’s court, and will probably be decided by the end of November.  He alone must make the decision, although he will be advised by the State Department. Fortunately, congress doesn’t have anything to say about it.

States will be holding hearings around the country later this month, in Port  Arthur, TX; Topeka, KS;  Glendive, MT; Lincoln, NE; Austin Texas; Pierre, SD; Atkinson, NE; and Midwest City, OK.  I hope to attend at least one of the hearings. Will you join me?

What economic straightjackets are we putting this new generation into…

Gaye Symington with one of her sons.

Guest post by Gaye Symington
Mount Mansfield Unitarian Universalist Fellowship
former Speaker of the Vermont House of Representatives, Jericho, Vermont

Several weeks ago I signed up to get arrested.  I was inspired to sign up for a protest at the White House after listening to author Bill McKibben articulate the dangers of the Keystone XL pipeline.  If approved by President Obama, it would pump crude to Texas, after extracting it from Canadian tar sand deposits using massive amounts of energy to mine, process and heat the crude so it will flow in a pipe.

They say we need cheap oil.  Who’s kidding whom?  If oil prices hadn’t been rising so reliably, would it be financially viable to extract and process and heat this crude and pipe it the length of our country to refineries and then pipe or truck it to our homes?

They say, Canada is our friend.  Sure, why wouldn’t they be friendly when we’re considering dumping zillions of dollars from the US economy into the Canadian economy?

They say the pipeline creates jobs.  So does heroin.  Rather than create jobs pumping poison-laden crude into our economy and destructive emissions into the atmosphere, let’s instead create jobs at home, insulating and air sealing existing housing stock and designing new homes that are more affordable to heat and cool year round.  Let’s create jobs building clean renewable power generation.  Let’s carpool or telecommute.

Jim Hansen, who directs the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies at Columbia University, has said “If we have any chance of getting back to a stable climate “the principal requirement is that coal emissions must be phased out by 2030 and unconventional fossil fuels, such as tar sands, must be left in the ground.” … “if the tar sands are thrown into the mix it is essentially game over.”

After work last Thursday I drove to New York from where I planned to take the train to DC for the protests.  But as I drove south I listened to Northeast governors and mayors plead with residents to evacuate areas during hurricane Irene and to prepare for disruption after the storm passes.  I eventually heeded their pleas and headed home Friday morning.  Back in Vermont, I watched the destructive power of Irene’s heavy rains: lost lives, hundreds of road cave-ins, and destroyed bridges, crops, businesses, community landmarks and homes.

I’m not a scientist, but ninety seven out of one hundred climate experts agree that changes in the earth’s climate (more frequent extreme weather events, higher sea levels, rising global temperatures, warmer oceans, melting glaciers and ice caps) is attributable to human activity.

I’m not an economist, but when I learn that Vermont is spending more to heat our buildings than all the revenues brought in by our dairy industry, I know that represents a drain our economy cannot sustain.

I am a mom of young adults.  Irene’s torrents of water destroyed farms recently established by young entrepreneurs intent on contributing to Vermont’s new agricultural economy.  A pizza parlor landed in the middle of the road.  Covered bridges that have stood through, literally, centuries of previous high water events were carried downstream.

What economic straightjackets are we putting this new generation into as they build new businesses in a natural environment that can turn on them so violently?

It is not in our national interest to build a pipeline that would tighten this straightjacket.  President Obama needs to break, not feed, our addiction to fossil fuels.  He should help build economic opportunity, not stifle it under the constant threat of destructive climate events.