Watch Aaron in the film Holy Wars

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Congress should give the interim deal with Iran a chance

After a decades-long standoff, Iran and the West (plus China and Russia) have signed an interim agreement to halt Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for modest sanctions relief. While some are calling it a historic breakthrough along the lines of Nixon’s visit to China, the U.S. media has been mostly skeptical. And in a rare display of bipartisanship, Congress is already looking for ways to derail the deal by passing legislation to impose new sanctions on Iran and tie the President’s hands for future negotiations. Despite the fact that President Obama has successfully passed tougher sanctions on Iran than any previous administration, the U.S. media in lockstep with Congress continue to thumb their noses at anything that resembles diplomacy when it comes to Iran. And while other U.S. allies in the region—primarily the Gulf States led by Saudi Arabia—have expressed their concerns over this deal, few Americans care about what the Saudis think. As representatives of the American people, what Congress really cares about is what Israel thinks.

That’s where things get dicey.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has wasted no time in calling the deal a “historic mistake.” Consistent with his hard-line views on Iran, Netanyahu believes that Iran has bamboozled the world, and has ramped up the rhetoric for a unilateral military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. And because the Israeli Prime Minister gets to send his spokespeople to talk to the U.S. media, it would be very easy to conclude that the “Israeli perspective” is to prefer military action instead of diplomacy.

That conclusion is wrong.

The Israeli military establishment and intelligence community have long been at odds with Netanyahu on how to handle the stand off with Iran. Israeli intelligence has concluded that Iran has not yet made the decision on whether to build a bomb , and that a military strike on Iran would lead to further destabilization of the region, while (at best) delaying the nuclear program by a year or two. In essence: not only would a war with Iran tank the world economy and send oil prices skyrocketing. It wouldn’t even accomplish its objective. Israeli investors seem to agree with the military establishment. After news of the deal, the Israeli stock market went up, showing that Israeli investors see the deal as diminishing a risk of a military confrontation, rather than augmenting it.

Those opposed to the interim deal with Iran should consider what would have happened had there been no deal at all at the Geneva talks. According to CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, in 2003 Iran approached the United States with an offer to talk about its nuclear program, but the Bush administrated believed that Iran, having been battered by sanctions, would either capitulate or collapse if Washington stayed the course. The result was that Iran had 164 centrifuges operating in 2003. Today it has 19,000 centrifuges. Given that the interim deal is the first time in a decade that Iran has halted any aspect of its nuclear program, it appears that talking has a better success rate than not talking.

Does this mean that the U.S. and its allies should trust Iran? No. It doesn’t. And given that both parties in Congress are actively trying to derail this deal by unilaterally imposing harsher sanctions, Iran has good reasons for not trusting us either. But that’s why the interim deal, though far from perfect, is at least the start of something good. It opens up Iran to unprecedented levels of inspections, forces them to neutralize uranium enrichments beyond what is needed for electricity, and puts them in a position to where if they decided to cheat or renege on their end of the deal, they would have to do so openly in the eyes of the world. Up until now, Iran could claim that U.S. style diplomacy is do-what-we-say-or-we’ll-strangle-you. At least now, if Iran balks, the U.S. and its allies can credibly say that they gave peace a chance.

Before Congress jumps the gun, it needs to take a deep breath… and let the diplomatic process continue.

Aaron Taylor is on the steering team of Evangelicals for Peace, a network of Evangelicals dedicated to the principles of just peacemaking. This article appeared on Sojourners.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Is Climate Change to Blame for Super Typhoon Haiyan?

The super typhoon Haiyan that just touched down on the Philippines is the strongest storm in recorded history. While the death toll isn't known yet, estimates are that it could be up to 10,000 people, with millions displaced. Interesting timing in light of the UN sponsored climate talks happening in Warsaw right now. So interesting, in fact, that the Philippines ambassador to the talks has vowed to fast until some sort of consensus is reached.

Is Climate Change to blame?

Here are two insightful articles on the topic:

The consensus: It's difficult to attribute any one event to climate change, but it's remains true that climate change has already brought about an intensification of extreme weather, and will bring about more intense storms in the future.

Watch the ambassador's tearful speech here

This was originally posted on the website: We Know Not What We Do

Monday, November 04, 2013

The things we should be doing anyway

I wasn’t meditating on a mountaintop when the idea came to produce a documentary about climate change. I was at a Rudy’s Barbecue. My wife and I had just moved to the Albuquerque area. I had been traveling the world for years doing missionary work. While we enjoyed the life of ministry, it became clear that God was moving us on to something new. For no other reason than to have a little fun, I had started taking acting classes, but Rhiannon wasn’t so hot on the idea. She knew that whatever I threw myself into would have to have a sense of purpose, or I wouldn’t be happy. Her exact words to me on our lunch date were: “If you’re going to make films. Why not make films that matter?” That was all I needed. Within a few weeks, I hired a director and was off to the Appalachian mountain region filming a story about Christian college students doing community health surveys in towns impacted by mountain top removal.

As I talk to people about the urgency of climate change, a consistent response I get is that nobody really knows what to do about it, which isn’t true at all, but I think that too often climate change communicators with Ph.D’s speak above the average person.


So let me put it plainly.

In order to mitigate the worse effects of climate change, the world has to come together and do two things:

1. Stop burning oil, gas, and coal.

2. Plant lots of trees.

No more blowing up mountains for six inches of coal. No new pipelines. Don’t even think about drilling in ANWR or expanding offshore drilling. Immediately transition to clean, renewable energy like wind, solar, geothermal, hydro -power, and bio-fuels…..And plant lots of trees.

As controversial as some of these things are, the fascinating discovery I’ve made in the process of making this film is that everything we need to do to combat climate change are things that we need to do anyway for reasons unrelated to climate change. So, if you’re a person who believes that global warming is a U.N. inspired socialist conspiracy designed to steal your freedoms and implement a one -world government, sorry to break the news to you, but it doesn’t really matter. The things that the 97% of the world’s climate scientists who are allegedly in on the conspiracy say we have to do—well, we still have to do them.

For one thing, fossil fuels are finite. We will run out of them. Virtually every aspect of modern society—from transportation to electricity to plastics, cosmetics, and food production—depends heavily on fossil fuels that will eventually be gone. Once we run out of fossil fuels, if the world hasn’t made the transition to 100% renewable energy, then down goes civilization as we know it. It’s that simple. Transitioning away from finite energy to renewable energy is something the Bible would call prudence, and something others would call common sense.

Then there are the health and water issues.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the pollution from coal plants is literally making us sick . This is especially true in areas impacted by mountain top removal, where communities in the Appalachian region have seen increases in cancer, heart attacks and asthma. Coal plants also spew toxins, particulates, and mercury, which seep into our air and our water, causing all kinds of health problems, which also raise health care costs. Coal plants also require billions of gallons of water to cool them. So if you believe that everyone should have a right to clean air and clean water, and that water should be conserved as much as possible, then you’re halfway there. Not only do coal plant pollution, and—to a lesser extent— natural gas fracking, use insane amounts of water, they also poison our air and our water, which in turn makes our children sicker.

Let’s talk about trees.

According to , deforestation contributes 20% of the CO2 emissions that are warming the planet and placing human survival in danger, but even if you think that’s 100% malarkey, it’s still a good idea to plant trees. Deforestation increases contaminants from soil erosion. It also causes less rain to fall, which in turn affects food production. A simple way to clean up pollution, bring more rain to drought-stricken areas, increase food production, and restore a healthy ecosystem is to reforest the earth, whether by planting trees or by allowing trees to grow back naturally.

In all of my studies into climate change solutions, I haven’t found a single solution that doesn’t have an additional positive benefit unrelated to climate change. Changing light bulbs, insulating your home, and installing solar panels are all good for the environment, but they happen to be good for your pocketbook too. Riding your bike to work is good for the environment. It also happens to be good for your health.

Lastly, with apologies to Rudy’s Barbecue, methane is the gas that cows produce when they fart. It’s also a greenhouse gas that traps heat 22 times more powerfully than CO2 (though it doesn’t stay in the atmosphere as long), so in addition to planting trees and burning fewer fossil fuels, we should all be eating less red meat. Isn’t it strange that one of the primary things your doctor says you should do to reduce your cholesterol is to eat less red meat? Why not chicken or fish?

It’s as if God, or if you prefer—the universe—is telling us something.

Aaron Taylor is the producer of We Know Not What We Do.