But the jury is still out, so to speak, as to what he will accomplish.
St. Francis of Assisi is perhaps best known across faiths for his love of nature and is often depicted in paintings and statues with birds and children at his feet. Those children are symbolic of all children across the ages for which we are saving God’s creation.
“Climate change is a fact. When our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy,” President Obama said in his State of the Union address, “I want us to be able to say yes, we did.” He
also said: “Over the past eight years, the United States has reduced our total carbon pollution more than any other nation on Earth.”
I applaud the president’s initiative to “set new standards on the amount of carbon pollution our power plants are allowed to dump into the air.” But just how much real progress has yet been made is debatable. It seems likely that much of it (emissions) has been transported to China and other nations, according to Bob Doppelt, head of The Resource Innovation Group, and “when off-shored emissions are accounted for, along with emission drops due to the poor economy, I’ll bet the U.S. has barely made a scratch on real emission reductions — though I hope I’m wrong.”
Importantly, President Obama heeded the call of more than a dozen Evangelical faith leaders and others who have asked that Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and his Administration to take steps to balance energy development with conservation of our public lands:
My administration will keep working with the [oil and gas] industry to sustain production and job growth while strengthening protection of our air, our water, and our communities.
The president needs to get more engaged in making sure this happens. It is still the case that his “all of the above” approach to energy has led to some bad things — such as poorly-sited energy development on public lands that is harming ecosystems and worsening our carbon
pollution. And right now, the oil and gas leases on public lands granted by this Administration to private companies still trump new allocations for wilderness, national parks, monuments and the like, many times over.
So can we take the president at his word that he’ll find a “balance”? I’d say he is going to need some steely resolve (and our prayers!), since the power of the modern-day Oil and Gas Industrial Complex, particularly with its friends in the Republican Congress, is a powerful entity that is known for running rough-shod over any opponents. To wit, are the voices of faith leaders on “creation care” not more protective of the common good than those who stand to personally profit from oil and gas leases on public lands?
The president also hinted in the State of the Union address at his authority under the Antiquities Act to act where Congress has failed to protect America’s most impressive landscapes across the country — our legacy for the future: “And while we’re at it, I’ll use my authority to protect more of our pristine federal lands for future generations…” If the president means what he says, he should do just that — take executive action and protect new parks and monuments, which Congress has failed to do.
In fact, a very different mentality operates on the other side of the aisle in Congress. For example, last October, the House and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on a bill called the “Disposal of Excess Federal Lands Act of 2013 (H.R. 2657) from Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) that would mandate that public lands in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming be sold off to the highest bidder as a way of reducing the deficit. This is the exact opposite of what President Obama has called for. It’s a shame, if you ask me. Truth be known, it also is against what every opinion poll says American voters are in favor of.
Here are the president’s own words and what we will all have to fight for:
The America we want for our kids — a rising America where honest work is plentiful and communities are strong; where prosperity is widely shared and opportunity for all lets us go as far as our dreams and toil will take us — none of it is easy. But if we work together; if we summon what is best in us, with our feet planted firmly in today but our eyes cast towards tomorrow — I know it’s within our reach.
Hallelujah! President Obama and Pope Francis will have much to discuss.