Thousands of US Catholics spent the First Sunday of Lent at a Climate rally in Washington DC calling for more action on human-induced climate change and standing up for clean energy. People from faith-based and environmental groups joined climate scientists at the ‘Forward on Climate’ rally. With around 50,000 participants from more than 30 states it was billed as the largest climate rally gathering in US history.
It aimed to show President Barack Obama public support for climate solutions, while also challenging him to keep his commitment of making climate action a top priority during his second term.
The rally came less than a week after Obama promised to address climate change during his State of the Union speech. Although Obama has vowed to work on behalf of wind and solar clean energy sources, he also continues to support oil drilling and fracking as well, which are opposed by environmentalists.
Another major concern is the possibility he could give the go-ahead to the Keystone XL pipeline, a TransCanada project that will deliver Canadian tar sands to oil refiners in Texas. The Franciscan Action Network characterises the pipeline as tapping into "the second largest and dirtiest oil reserves on the planet". They were among rally participants demanding that Obama reject the pipeline. Others included the Columban Missionary Society, members of the US-based Catholic Coalition on Climate Change and the ecumenical Sojourners community.
Last Wednesday saw civil disobedience at a pre-rally confrontation with police. Among the 48 protesters were James Hansen, NASA's head climatologist, Robert F. Kennedy Jr, and actress Daryl Hannah. They were arrested for blocking a sidewalk in front of the White House and attaching themselves to the tall iron fence around it.
Hansen said the fact that Obama can talk about promoting renewal energy and oil and gas production "shows he doesn't get it". He continued that, "we have reached a fork in the road, and the politicians have to understand we either go down this road of exploiting every fossil fuel we have - tar sands, tar shale, off-shore drilling in the Arctic - but the science tells us we can't do that without creating a situation which our children and grandchildren will have no control over - the climate system". Kennedy said he prefers to challenge projects in court but chose to be arrested because legal avenues had been closed off by friends of the oil industry.
Long-term climate change fueled by a buildup of atmospheric carbon emissions is a controversial notion politically, but it's one accepted as fact by most scientists. Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, which traps heat, have gone up sharply in recent decades, while global average temperatures are up about 1.5 degrees F since records started being kept in the late 19th century, according to NASA.