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Why I Will Be Fasting For No New Permits

I’m a high school math teacher in North Carolina. I love my job and my students and so I don’t mind putting in a lot of hours preparing lessons, grading quizzes, and doing all the things teachers do.

But to do my job well, I know that I have to do more than just teach algebra. If I leave behind a planet decimated by catastrophic climate disruption, sea level rise, and ecological collapse, then I will have failed my students no matter how much math I taught or how nurturing I was. Caring about kids means acting now to address climate change. Waiting, distraction, timidity, and avoidance behaviors are not options.a

Let’s be honest. Right now we’re addicted to fossil fuels. But earth’s climate system won’t cut us slack just because we’ve been foolish enough to paint ourselves into this corner. We can’t make physics adhere to our preferred schedule for weaning ourselves off of energy sources that produce greenhouse gases and sicken local communities. Rather, we have to understand and conform to the timetable demands of physics. We have to use cleaner sources of energy now. We have to leave fossil fuels in the ground where they belong.

You might think that such a daunting challenge would leave me feeling overwhelmed and discouraged. After all, the problems are so big and I am so small. But you’d be wrong! As important as it is to know about climate change, it’s just as important to know about social change: how ordinary people like you and me make it happen and how hard work can sometimes bring about the impossible seemingly in the blink of an eye.


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Here’s what I’m working on now. In Washington there’s a very powerful agency on First Street called the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). FERC has been granted broad powers by Congress to regulate the interstate transmission of electricity, natural gas, and oil. FERC supplies the permits for interstate gas pipelines, gas compressor stations, underground gas storage facilities, and liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminals. Unfortunately, these pieces of fracked gas infrastructure aid and abet the release into the atmosphere of carbon dioxide and methane, two tremendously damaging greenhouse gases, and their construction runs roughshod over local communities concerned about air and water quality and their control of their own homes and land.

The trouble with FERC is that it is staffed and run through a revolving door with the industry it’s supposed to regulate. FERC is essentially unable to resist giving the gas industry anything it wants. This means billions of dollars are being spent on new infrastructure which will lock in fossil fuel dependence for another generation. At the precise time we need to be using our limited financial resources to transition to a new kind of economy based on clean energy, the gas and oil companies want us ratepayers to underwrite their efforts to squeeze the last remaining profits from their dirty and outdated businesses.

So that’s why Beyond Extreme Energy is organizing a water-only Fast For No New Permits in front of FERC from September 8th–25th. Participants will gather in DC where some will fast for the entire period while others will join it as they are able. The fast coincides with Pope Francis’ visit to the United States and his address to the Congress and the United Nations. Francis will speak about using all of our physical, moral, and spiritual resources in the fight for climate justice. We in Beyond Extreme Energy plan to take up that challenge immediately with respect to FERC.


I know what you’re thinking: “How can fasting stop FERC from issuing permits to companies to build things which hurt us?” It’s a logical question. The answer is that the campaign to hold FERC
Screen Shot 2015-07-31 at 6.26.22 AMaccountable—to change it from an institution that promotes global warming and corporate predation to one that combats it—does not start or end with the fast. Recall what I said about ordinary people creating social change. There is just no substitute for persistence and hard work. That’s why people are speaking out, submitting comments, disrupting meetings, and even getting arrested for pushing FERC to change.

The pressure is constant and it is always increasing. In November of 2014 and again in May of this year BXE and its allies shut down FERC in week long nonviolent direct action protests. Increasingly, FERC-impacted towns and communities across the country are reaching out to each other and are no longer isolated and powerless. And as they have built power, the intimidating shroud of mystery around FERC has seemed to melt away. It turns out that FERC’s nameless and faceless bureaucrats have both names and faces. We know that they are human beings who can be held accountable.


Fasting creates radicals in the sense of people newly able and willing to go to the spiritual and moral root of a problem.

There is a reason that social movements throughout history have used fasting to build power and topple their opponents. Fasting’s secret is that it does far more than merely get attention for a cause. Fasting creates spiritual clarity while simultaneously stripping bare the ego to reveal one’s personal capacity for seriousness and sacrifice. And the good news is that the vast majority of us do have that capacity in large measure even if we haven’t often drawn upon it before. Fasting creates radicals in the sense of people newly able and willing to go to the spiritual and moral root of a problem.

Because of my teaching job, I am unable to make it to Washington in September. I will instead fast in support from September 6th to the 11th in my own community in western North Carolina. I’ve elected to make my fast during the workweek for a particular reason: I want to thoroughly entangle these two important parts of my life, my teaching and my activism. Each enriches and strengthens the other. And that’s good and right:  I’d like my fast in some small way to undermine the neat separation of our daily lives away from issues of ultimate importance like climate, racial, or economic justice. That segregation is what gets us into these messes. But bringing the two parts back together can get us out.

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To sum up, if we are disengaged from and in denial about the problems exemplified by, but not limited to, FERC and fracked gas, then we will deservedly succumb to their effects. But when we join together in giving of ourselves wholly in body, mind, and spirit, we discover there is still time to find solutions. We can fight (and win!) battles on behalf of the places and people which we love. I really believe that. That’s why I’m asking others to support and join this Fast For No New Permits.

I’m proud of my daughter, Anna, who is going to organize her friends into a “rolling fast” of a day or more each at her high school (not the one where I teach) over the entire September 8th–25th time period. My son, Will, is going to do something similar with friends from college. We will be posting these young people’s pictures and stories online as we receive them. Also, the DC fasters will be bringing printouts of their posts each day pinned to a bulletin board to display in front of FERC in Washington. We will demonstrate that the power and effectiveness of this Fast is strengthened both by the distances it surmounts and the unexpected participation it generates.

Could your family, school, faith community, or civic organization follow Anna and Will’s examples by organizing from home to support the Fast For No New Permits? If you live in a front line community which directly suffers the impacts of FERC decisions, we need your strength and experience. And if you understand that on a warming planet we all live at climate ground zero, then, likewise, we need your body and your voice. The pictures you send, the words you write, and the connections you make with others like you through this effort are going to contribute to meeting our goal of stopping new fossil fuel infrastructure.

We are the raw materials for this life-giving and life-affirming project. Together we can resist the deadly whisper in our ears suggesting that we dare not confront the powerful and corrupt fossil fuel industry. We can. We can build and create a new future in which we and our children live and breathe free. It begins here. FERC: NO NEW PERMITS!

Click here for more information about joining the Fast either in Washington or at home and/or supporting this work with a financial contribution.
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