Letters From The Earth

Do you believe?

By Calvin Frost | October 9, 2012

Since I’ve been writing this column I’ve tried to follow a schedule of topics that I believe are important and interesting to our industry. I create the schedule late in the fall and as the year progresses gather information on a topic in order to share pertinent and technical data that I believe is important. Admittedly, something occurs that catches my attention and I go astray. My schedule of topics remains incomplete. This year, besides health and safety, carbon footprint and a few others, I intended to cover bioplastics and recycling and synthetic pressure sensitive adhesives. With two columns left for the year everything would work out perfectly.  Unfortunately, it’s not going to happen. Here’s why:  two activities that are very important to me and that have distinct correlation to the problems that we face in our industry is gathering a groundswell and begs the question, “Did you get the message?” They are focused on environmental issues, climate change and energy. While I have written on these subjects before I hope to bring a different slant to them and make the message less confrontational. At the end of the day it’s all about focus and what is important. It’s about how the message is delivered so it makes sense in every aspect of our personal and professional lives.

It starts with believing. Do you believe your boss? Do you believe in our political leaders? (Don’t answer that one!) Do you believe that our country wants to make environmental improvement? Do you think our entire industry is committed to change for environmental improvement? Do the leaders in our supply chain get the message?

Sometimes in my frustration I want to shake people who don’t believe in climate change or renewable energy. I suppose it’s my intolerance for those who don’t believe, because in the case of climate change we have scientific fact developed by thousands of scientists proving – without a doubt – that it is occurring. Trust me, they can’t all be wrong. My intolerance is directed to those who base their belief on “ideological chauvinism” or a “reflective anti-science bias.” My anxiety and frustration grows and I find myself arguing. The ongoing debates don’t bring solutions, they merely bring confrontation. This isn’t the right approach. The right approach is to persuade change with patience, facts and respect for the other opinion. A great example of this is the story of Katharine Hayhoe, a renowned Texas Tech University climate scientist, who is also a deeply religious Christian, and her husband, an evangelical minister who just plain didn’t believe in climate change. The encounter led Hayhoe into a sort of  “scientific ministry.” Hayhoe’s story demonstrates that even the most cynical non-believers can be persuaded by clear facts, deep patience and genuine respect. Ultimately, these characteristics of listening and humility gain the day.

Hayhoe lives in Lubbock, Texas. If you’ve ever been there you’d agree it’s in the Bible Belt, very conservative, and certainly not eco-friendly. Hayhoe’s husband is Andrew Farley, who is the rector of a church called Ecclesia. Quite a marriage, right. Katharine, a scientist, focused on climate change and proving that much of it is man-made and Andrew, the evangelical, born-again Christian, following scripture very literally. Andrew was a skeptic and equated environmentalism with “the hippie, liberal-left agenda.” Wow, think of the relationship for the two of them. Love ultimately wins out which is great: happy endings are always comforting. But what really happened is the two sat down and Katharine, armed with her computer, went to the NASA website on climate change and guided Andrew through the information on global average temperature. Andrew “realized that he had to conclude either that the entire NASA organization had been duped, or that - maybe - the problem was me.” Ultimately, Katharine encouraged Andrew to do his own research and he became persuaded that the science was sound.

I really like Katharine’s response. She never demeaned her husband but engaged with him with patience and respect. It was a “revelation,” she said. “If you relate to the other person as a human being, then they’re going to give you the benefit of the doubt.  They may say, ‘You know what? I don’t necessarily agree with you. But I like you. Let me try and figure out what your reasons are’.” Hayhoe used not just the NASA climate change website, but her own graphs and charts to explain the implications of global temperature rise. Her “one-two punch of scientific rigor and cheerful unflappability” convinced Andrew that he was wrong and needed to change his thinking.

Ultimately, the two collaborated and wrote A Climate for Change:  Global Warming Facts for Faith-Based Decisions. While their book has been published for three years there is no clear indication that large numbers of evangelicals will do what Andrew Farley has done. The change is little more than regarding climate change differently from other issues that separate conservatives and liberals. “Thermometers aren’t Christian or atheist,” he says. He now admits that his doubt was the “residue of associative bias: he was convinced, as many conservative Christians still are, that by accepting the science on climate change he would somehow be ratifying other scientific assertions that may, in fact, contradict his religious faith.” So, love wins another one. Thank you, Katharine Hayhoe, for the use of scientific fact with patient persuasion.

The second activity is less of a love affair. In fact, it’s anything but, pitting a big corporation against a small community in a corner of Canada’s British Columbia. What really caught my eye was that Enbridge, the huge Canadian pipeline company, is trying to add pipeline capacity from Alberta’s tar sands production area to a refinery just south of Chicago where I live. It is quite controversial because Enbridge has been responsible for two serious toxic bitumen spills, one into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River in 2010 and the other this past spring right outside of Madison, WI. While that’s another story, those spills here in the Midwest are testament to the potential for a catastrophic disaster. Why chance it? What’s the message? Why doesn’t Enbridge focus on renewable energy instead of black gold?

Enbridge wants to build a double pipeline from Alberta’s tar sands to the part of Kitmat in Hartley Bay.  The import line would carry 193,000 barrels of foreign condensate (a gasoline like substance) brought in by super tankers (like the Exxon Valdez) and pump it to Alberta to the tar sands to dilute the heavy crude, in order for it to be carried back to the coast. The 193,000 barrels of condensate translates into 525,000 barrels of diluted bitumen moving every day 750 miles. The Northern Gateway pipeline is not the same as the Keystone XL pipeline. Northern Gateway is a separate project funded largely by Chinese-owned oil companies. Keystone XL is for America’s mega oil oligarchy while the Northern Gateway is for China’s mega oil oligarchy, both risking an environmental impact far greater than the Valdez or Gulf spills. What’s the message? To me it’s a total disregard for community, health and welfare. It is the big guy against the little guy, in the case of the Northern Gateway project, the Gitga’ people who live in the corner of British Columbia. The Gitga’ belong to Coastal First Nations, an alliance of 10 nations totaling 20,000 people living along the coastline.

Interestingly, I think Americans and, I hope, Canadians, are learning more about tar sands, especially as opposition has grown to pipelines such as Keystone XL and Northern Gateway. Along with these there is also an effort to increase the volume of tar sands oil here in the Midwest and the Northeast. These pipelines are more complicated than others because sand oil is more toxic and corrosive and has a greater potential to cause spills than traditional oil. At the end of the day the risks far outweigh the rewards.

The correlation between tar sand and climate change is simple: tar sand extraction is energy intensive and generates three to four times more greenhouse gas pollution than the production of conventional oil. The building of pipelines like Keystone XL and Northern Gateway take us further and further away from the goal of halting climate change and moving us toward the ultimate goal – a clean energy future.

The message, it seems to me, is that shareholders of big corporations like Enbridge have to understand their fiduciary and environmental responsibility to the community at large. Proper understanding, factual and scientific data, along with a readiness to listen objectively to the other side will bring about more thoughtful conclusions. Did you get the message? Are we doing everything in our industry to listen and make changes that contribute to a more stable and friendly environment? I firmly believe it is our responsibility to leave a better, less spoiled place and, as Lester Brown likes to say, tell the entire environmental truth along the way.

Another Letter from the Earth.

Calvin Frost is chairman of Channeled Resources Group, headquartered in Chicago, the parent company of Maratech International and GMC Coating. His email address is
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