A desire to care for the environment also stems from the Christian traditions of compassion and love. Congregations have long worked to alleviate hunger, lift the poor and the vulnerable, and comfort the sick. Creating community gardens, making energy more affordable, and working to avoid the worst effects of climate change, which are disproportionately felt by low-income communities, stem from these traditions.
I confess it is so easy, and tempting, for me to become exorcised over Donald Trump’s daily deceits, narcissism, and shredding of public virtue. But a deeper threat looms, begun many decades before. Humanity is destroying the integrity of God’s creation. The most flagrant and catastrophic assaults are now altering the globe’s climate in ways that already are impacting the world’s most vulnerable people and threatening us all. President Trump’s policies are aimed at liberating constraints on the burning of more coal and carbon, come hell or high water.
It seems the role of climate change is seldom mentioned in many or even most news stories about the multitude of fires and heat waves. In part, this is because the issue of attribution is not usually clear. The argument is that there have always been wildfires, and how can we attribute any particular wildfire to climate change?
“Our current economies are running a Ponzi scheme with our planet,” Mathis Wackernagel, chief executive and co-founder of Global Footprint Network, said. “We are borrowing the Earth’s future resources to operate our economies in the present. Like any Ponzi scheme, this works for some time. But as nations, companies, or households dig themselves deeper and deeper into debt, they eventually fall apart.”
When Climate change floods regions around the world, deepwater rice could thrive while other species die.
LESS THAN 100 YEARS AGO, the introduction of air conditioning made Miami one of the most desirable tourist destinations in America. Today, with a metro area population of nearly 3 million, it’s an even bigger cosmopolitan hot spot, with residents of all socioeconomic backgrounds vying for land in a sea of traffic and, to some degree, rising tides.
Like most of America’s urban centers, Miami is facing widespread gentrification. Plagued by limited public transportation and a desire to work and play in artsy urban districts, increasing numbers of affluent and middle-class residents have been moving inland, pushing immigrants, minorities, and the working class far into the suburbs or beyond county lines.
Climate change, according to some community activists, is exacerbating this phenomenon. In fact, it could soon make Miami a major U.S. focal point for climate justice.
Historically, being on the teal-colored ocean or bay was a priority for the privileged, so the poor were relegated to the interior—with black people specifically being subject to redlining and segregation—removed from much of what gave Miami the nickname “Magic City.” But on average, Miami is only about six and a half feet above sea level, so as the climate warms and tides rise, some investors and renters are moving inland, searching for higher ground in historically black neighborhoods such as Overtown, Liberty City, and Little Haiti. It’s a phenomenon local activist Valencia Gunder refers to as “climate gentrification.”
Gunder, 33, grew up in Liberty City, popularized by the Oscar-winning 2016 film Moonlight, which speaks to the juxtaposed joys and struggles of black Miami. This northwest neighborhood was built in the 1930s to alleviate population density in downtown Miami’s Overtown, one of the only neighborhoods for people of color during segregation. It accommodated middle-class African Americans with modest single-family homes and yards. Over the years, endemic poverty and racism would take its toll, as would South Florida’s tumultuous drug wars of the 1980s and 1990s. But Gunder says Liberty City still had a lot of perks.
He said there was a "very solid scientific consensus" that the planet was warming and that people had to "combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it" because greenhouse gases were "released mainly as a result of human activity."
Starting today, Presbyterian activists are walking from denominational headquarters in Louisville, Ky., to the PC(USA_ General Assembly in St. Louis, Mo., to pressure delegates at the assembly to divest all of the denomination’s fossil fuel holdings. It’s a bold, dramatic action within a denomination that’s often better known for being decent and in order, than for causing a stir.
DON'T LET THE prestigious academic publisher put you off: The Violence of Climate Change is engagingly informative as it fuses theory and praxis through the narratives of inspirational nonviolent activists. Nor is it satisfied with the ideal, as it honestly and realistically engages current counterarguments and positions throughout. As such, it’s exceptionally suitable for undergraduates, who are often surprised, then pleased, to discover religion and theology’s relevance for addressing urgent ethical issues.
And what could be more pressing and threatening today than violence—in our city streets and between or within other nations, especially the growing possibility of nuclear war—and climate change? So I hope this book also finds its way to Sunday schools, adult religious education sessions, book club meetings, or pretty much anyone involved in the climate justice movement.
Author Kevin J. O’Brien, dean of humanities and associate professor of Christian ethics at Pacific Lutheran University, defines the problem of climate change as also a problem of structural violence, caused primarily by privileged, powerful nations, corporations, and individuals through simple decisions and complex systems over the generations. Those least responsible are also the most vulnerable and more detrimentally impacted.
IN THE REMARKABLE speech that God delivers beginning in Job 38—God’s longest soliloquy in the Bible, Old Testament or New—we hear of the mountain goat, the raven, the lioness, even the wonderfully silly ostrich, redeemed by her wild speed. But nothing of the beaver! Doubtless this is because Job, confined to the old world, had not come across Castor canadensis, and so God did not want to confuse him (Job was freaked out enough already). But if God had been aiming at a North American audience, there is no doubt the beaver would have starred in the account, because there may be no finer creature under heaven.
FIVE HUNDRED YEARS after Martin Luther’s charge semper reformanda (“always reforming”), we stand on the precipice of climate disaster.
In Marrakesh, Morocco, people of faith met at the 2016 U.N. Climate Change conference (COP22) to face an impending climate disaster—a disaster that now seems likely to be exacerbated by U.S. political leadership rather than mitigated by it.
The World Council of Churches held an event in Marrakesh to emphasize how transitional justice- and rights-based approaches, alongside faith-based moral perspectives, can address challenges as complex as natural-resource management and ecological, humanitarian, and spiritual crises exacerbated by climate change. WCC organizer Henrik Grape hoped that “COP22 will take steps forward to fulfill the expectations from Paris and that nations will raise their ambitions to keep the temperature [rise] well under 2 degrees Celsius.”
A wide variety of church bodies were represented at the gathering. The Lutheran World Federation brought youth delegates from Africa to Marrakesh to promote intergenerational collaboration and solidarity with people most affected by climate change. “One of our thematic approaches to the commemoration of 500 years of Lutheran Reformation is the theme ‘Creation: Not For Sale,’” said Caroline Bader, youth secretary for the federation. The Act Alliance, a coalition of 143 churches and parachurch organizations, established a gender-climate change working group to address sustainability among poor and marginalized people through a gender lens.
Catholic theologian Guillermo Kerber believes that Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment is a turning point for the social doctrine of the Catholic Church, by including ecology in the social concerns of Catholics. “The celebration of the 500 years of the Reformation should be an opportunity to express an ecological conversion of all Christian denominations,” said Kerber.
WE ARE TOLD, in the classic story of Oedipus, about the king who managed to bring devastation to his city and family, a king who, when he finally learned the truth of his crimes, blinded himself.
I thought of that epic tragedy when I read of one decision by our current ruler, one event amid all the dozens of others. And this one was less immediately tragic—it didn’t involve pulling an immigrant with a brain tumor out of a hospital for deportation, nor forcing transgender Americans to produce a birth certificate before they pee. No, this tragedy will play out over a longer time.
In early March (and, of course, late on a Friday afternoon), his new team at the Commerce Department announced that they intended to cut the climate satellite program at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration by 22 percent. They proposed a lot of other terrible cuts the same day: virtually zeroing out the environmental justice programs at EPA and cutting the environmental education budget by 94 percent. But the one that future historians will, I think, obsess over is the satellites.
Consider: In the last few months, we’ve learned that 2016 set the all-time record for the hottest recorded year on planet earth. We’ve seen, over the last few years, the highest wind speeds ever recorded in one ocean basin after another, as record-hot water produces amped-up hurricanes. An iceberg a quarter the size of Wales (not a whale—Wales) is about to break off from the Larsen Ice Shelf in the Antarctic. And we’re going to blind ourselves? We’re going to start paying less attention?
REMEMBER THAT you are dust, and to dust you shall return. The prayer said around the world on Ash Wednesday wielded a rather pointed moral to the tail end of the hottest February on record where I live. Penitents in my neighborhood church shuffled in a sun-kissed line to receive ashes on tanned foreheads, summer sandals slapping the floor. Outside, overeager daffodils bloomed their Easter welcome. A strange one, this backward Lent: balmy with a side of dread.
This existential reversal felt nothing if not timely—all through the winter, a collective litany of weary newsfeeds asked whether we really needed quite so much of it. The first months of this year have witnessed a steady erosion of trust in whatever institutions we had left: the federal government, the electoral process, our checks and balances, our freedoms, our faith, each other. Some trace our hard skid sideways to the election, or the Super Bowl, or the Oscars. (I peg it to the Cubs’ win in November. I grew up in Chicagoland—I know reversing a curse has consequences.)
But there’s something particularly dizzying about the separation of church and earth. The globe is getting hotter every year now, but the effects of this ecological trauma, like any grief, are far from linear. If warming simply meant the usual weather, shifted a month early or late, we could figure out how to recalibrate—but our snowfall is breaking records and our ice caps are melting. A winter afternoon can begin as warm as an early summer day and suddenly drop 25 degrees to freezing rain.
Pricing Carbon Fuels
Thank you for your fine article on climate change (“Shattering the Silence on Climate Change” by Teresa Myers, Connie Roser-Renouf, and Edward Maibach, May 2017). There is no larger long-term challenge facing humankind. The mention of Citizen’s Climate Lobby deserves expansion. This grassroots, nonpartisan, national group has a very workable, market-friendly proposal to help us move forward: enacting a steadily rising federal fee on all carbon-based fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas). The net revenues from this fee would be returned on an equal per capita basis to all legal U.S. residents. Such a fee would correct a failure of the market to properly price the environmental and social costs associated with use of these resources. It would have a positive impact on economic growth, would favor a transition to nonpolluting energy resources, and would be fair to low-income residents.
Grand Rapids, Michigan
The Pride of Milwaukee
One of the names in Lisa Sharon Harper’s “Find the Cost of Freedom” (May 2017) was instantly familiar to me: James Cameron, the only young man “spared” from lynching, by imprisonment. I only wish Harper could have gone further in highlighting Cameron’s life. Having lived most of my life in the Milwaukee metro area, I have heard so much about Cameron—an extremely studious man and founder of the Black Holocaust Museum, a one-of-a-kind exhibition. Cameron was an exemplary man. He should be much more well-known than he is, and for much more than that he escaped a lynching. He was (and still is, as his heritage lives on) a very important man for Milwaukee residents.
Heartless Housing Policy
I was very happy to read the recent article “Raise Your Hand if You Live in Subsidized Housing,” by Neeraj Mehta (June 2017). It helps to uncover how we “allocate resources to people we value” and shows the inequality of how we subsidize housing in America. From my work with Hearts for Homes in Macomb County, Mich., it is clear to me that negative biases and stereotypes of low-income renters justify inaction on the part of policy makers and middle-class Americans. With the numbers of homeless children on the rise, at a time when employment is the highest since 2001, we still easily blame the poor as “not being responsible” or “having bad spending habits.” However, we seem unable to acknowledge or take responsibility for a housing system that requires many families to pay more than half of their income in housing expenses, putting many at risk of homelessness.
Mt. Clemens, Michigan
Reading Danny Duncan Collum’s piece on Reinhold Niebuhr (“The Niebuhr We Need,” April 2017) and viewing the new documentary by Martin Doblmeier sent me back to my own review of America’s cold war theologian (“Apologist of Power,” March 1987). I write to commend James Cone’s chapter on Niebuhr in The Cross and the Lynching Tree (Orbis, 2011). Cone argues that Niebuhr’s theology of the cross was so abstract that it never occurred to him to recognize the most obvious representation of the former in the latter. Though still faculty at Union Seminary, Cone was not interviewed for the film.
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Tuxedos on Ice
Need a cold distraction from summer heat? Love penguins? Want to be inspired by rugged scenery and a field biologist’s enthusiasm for his work, despite harsh conditions, endless counting, and climate change? The documentary film The Penguin Counters is now out on iTunes and DVD. First Run Features
Find What’s Missing
In the picture book Who Counts? 100 Sheep, 10 Coins, and 2 Sons, biblical scholar Amy-Jill Levine and children’s book author Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso imaginatively retell three of Jesus’ parables. Suitable for kids 4 to 8. Includes afterword for parents and teachers. Illustrated by Margaux Meganck. Westminster John Knox
An American Story
Amir Hussain’s Muslims and the Making of America is a compact overview of how Muslims have been an intrinsic part of American society, politics, and culture since the colonial era. Released last fall, but timelier than ever as anti-Muslim rhetoric and actions grow. Baylor University Press
In Grieving a Suicide: A Loved One’s Search for Comfort, Answers, and Hope , Albert Y. Hsu explores the hard emotional and spiritual questions survivors face. First published in 2002, this newly revised and expanded version includes updated resources and a discussion guide for suicide-survivor groups. IVP Books
A coalition of faith leaders took to the steps of the Interior Department April 19 to ask Secretary Ryan Zinke to curb methane leaks at natural gas drilling sites. Notably, the group included a representative from the evangelical community.
The survey illustrates the intersectionality of race and environmental justice, referencing research by the NAACP that found that race is the principle indicator of the level of susceptibility to environmentally-caused negative health outcomes, as well as economic and pyschological impacts.
Karenna Gore: When we talk about interfaith dialogue and religions, the traditional way of doing often includes only Abrahamic religions — Islam, Judaism, and Christianity — and certainly that’s a very robust interfaith dialogue, but then when you add the non-Abrahamic traditions of Hinduism and the Indic traditions, and Buddhism and the East Asian traditions, you often have a very different conversation about whether nature itself is a subject.
IF YOU'RE LOOKING for the climate movement this year, you’ll find it at city councils arguing for 100 percent renewable energy, at pension boards demanding fossil fuel divestment, and in farm fields trying to block pipelines. But you’ll also need to track down a few ramshackle houses in swing states across the country.
Those houses will hold hundreds of young people—at least it will hold them late at night, once they’re done with the long work of knocking on doors, handing out voter guides, and going to rallies. These “movement houses” are the most visible face of the Sunrise Movement, one of those reminders that even the poisonous politics of our moment holds real possibilities.
The young people who founded Sunrise weren’t actually anticipating a Trump victory. “We had had a plan to focus on building popular support for climate change, anticipating that a Democratic president would be pushed to take action on climate if a majority of Americans wanted it and made enough noise,” Varshini Prakash, the group’s engaging spokeswoman who cut her teeth as a highly successful divestment activist at UMass Amherst, said in an interview last summer. But then came that fateful November day, and “our world turned upside-down.” Now it wasn’t about pushing Clinton harder—it was about pushing back against the desperate threat that Trump represented: to the Constitution, to vulnerable people, and to the climate, which can’t wait a decade or two for sanity to return to our national life. “When the dust settled we came to an important realization: We have to figure out how to win elections.”