“But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.” 2 Timothy 4:5 (NIV)
On Oct. 28, I was shocked into a cruel reality when I received an urgent text message as I was about to preach my Sunday sermon at Mount Carmel Baptist Church in Arverne (Far Rockaway), N.Y. We were told to evacuate immediately, and that both of the bridges that lead to and from the western portion of the peninsula would be shut down. Hurricane Irene had proven to be a false alarm in 2011, and we mistakenly thought that Sandy would be as well. I instructed all of our parishioners to leave immediately after service. My family and I packed up and headed out to my sister’s place in Bloomfield, N.J.
When I ventured back on Halloween, it took more than five hours to get to Far Rockaway, a peninsula that lies between Jamaica Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. What I saw on the way was sobering, if not devastating: boats in the middle of the street, debris everywhere, no electricity for miles and miles of Queens and Long Island, and homes – hundreds, if not thousands flooded — many destroyed. My own home and church in Arverne took on nearly 7 ft. of water. At Mount Carmel, our offices, fellowship hall, kitchen, and bathrooms were destroyed.
As a nutrition student in college, I paid attention to the food we would eat on campus and became keenly aware of how much plastic and material was used and disposed of because of the way our food was packaged. It upset me to see so much packaging thrown in the trash every day. I raised concerns with the Dining Services committee and became a staunch advocate for a better recycling program on campus.
That was my first foray into understanding the relationship between the food system and environmental concerns and their consequent impact on health – something that became a much larger part of my life upon graduation, when I read the book The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan and joined a network of dietitians focused on Hunger & Environmental Nutrition.
The more I read and learned, the more I came to understand the sobering facts about the impacts that our industrial food system has on our society. Power in agriculture has become more and more concentrated over the past several decades, leading to many “monocrops” – large swaths of land devoted to growing only one type of crop rather than a diversity of crops that keeps fields vibrant and healthy. We’ve seen unprecedented extinction of species as a result. Artificial fertilizers lead to soil runoff, nitrous oxide emissions, and pesticides polluting our waterways.
Forget about future generations – climate change is already hitting poor people around the world, not to mention contributing to natural disasters in the U.S. from New York City to Arizona. Apparently that’s not enough for some members of Congress, who have chosen to use their authority to try to block any and all attempts to do something about the problem.
Earlier this month, President Barack Obama announced a major, comprehensive plan of action on climate change – changes that would do much to protect human health, the poor, and future generations by mitigating some of the worst impacts of climate change. A central part of the plan is to address climate pollution at its largest source: coal-fired power plants.
Unfortunately, many members of Congress are already taking steps to decry the president’s plan as a “war” – on coal, on American energy, and yes, even on America itself. Leaders from John Boehner to Michele Bachmann to Joe Manchin have made it pretty clear that they view attempts to care for creation as an assault on our country.
In order to gain substantial backing in the 2014 midterm election, Republicans are beginning to flaunt major environmental and economic issues regarding President Barack Obama’s climate change policies.The New York Times reports:
Elected officials and political analysts said the president’s crackdown on coal, the leading source of industrial greenhouse gases, could have consequences for Senate seats being vacated by retiring Democrats in West Virginia and South Dakota, for shaky Democratic incumbents like Mary L. Landrieu of energy-rich Louisiana, and for the Democratic challenger of Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader.
Read more here.
Yesterday was a momentous day for the creation care movement: after years of inaction from Congress, President Obama announced a major, comprehensive plan of action on climate change. President Obama’s new “Climate Action Plan,” which he laid out in a speech at Georgetown University Tuesday, addresses the country’s largest source of climate pollution — carbon dioxide from power plants — as well as boosting energy efficiency standards, renewable energy production on public lands, and resilience for cities, towns and roads.
President Barack Obama revealed his approval of the Keystone XL pipeline project during his climate change speech on Tuesday. With the effort to reduce carbon pollution, Obama has agreed to move forward with the process providing that the Keystone XL pipeline doesn’t release an increasing amount of greenhouse gasses into the environment. The Hill reports:
“Our national interest will be served only if this project doesn't significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution,” Obama said in speech laying out his second-term climate agenda, including greenhouse gas emissions for power plants.
“The net effects of the pipeline's impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project can go forward.”
Read more here.
With hopes to reduce mass amounts of pollution, President Obama has begun forming a list of ideas to condense the amount of carbon dioxide entering earth’s atmosphere. He plans to act quickly as such a process could take years to accomplish. The New York Times reports:
The administration has already begun steps to restrict climate-altering emissions from any newly built power plants, but imposing carbon standards on the existing utility fleet would be vastly more costly and contentious.
Read more here.
Thomas Tidwell, the chief of the United States Forest Service, told Congress hotter, dried conditions produced by climate change are causing America's longer wildfire season and increasing the amount of land burned. Since 2000, the forest service has almost doubled its spending on fighting fires from $540 million to $1 billion last year. The Guardian reports:
"Hotter, drier, a longer fire season, and lot more homes that we have to deal with," Tidwell told the Guardian following his appearance. "We are going to continue to have large wildfires."
Read more here.
I’ve believed that climate change is the greatest moral issue facing us, and something I want to work on in my congregation. But how? I asked someone who had conducted a survey in our denomination, and he said that most churches discussed the issue but had little or no concrete action. I talked to activist congregations whose members were experiencing burnout and no longer meeting as a group. In a meeting with concerned congregations, I found that they experienced a big separation between climate-change interest groups and social action groups. In my congregation, we formed a “Green Team” that was concerned with saving energy, but it was reluctant to do any political action.
After much prayer and many conversations and group meetings, our Social Justice Minister called a group together that he called “The Climate Change Initiative.” Twenty-five of us showed up, and after we introduced ourselves, our minister said he had noticed three groupings emerging: Practical, Political, and Spiritual Action.
We started to meet in three subgroups, but still collaborated. A year later, I met a leader of a United Church of Christ congregation who had pioneered and formed the UCC national denominational emphasis. She said the same three elements were evident in their congregation work, and that had, she thought, contributed to the pattern for change.
An overwhelming 97.1 percent of peer-reviewed papers in scientific journals agree that climate change is caused by humans. This finding can be used as a rebuttal against those who believe the scientific community is still debating the causes of climate change. Public opinion is still mixed with only 42 percent agreeing that human activity is the main cause of climate change. The Guardian reports:
"Our findings prove that there is a strong scientific agreement about the cause of climate change, despite public perceptions to the contrary," said John Cook of the University of Queensland, who led the survey.
Read more here.
The residents of Newtok, Alaska could see their village washed away within five years, making them the first American climate refugees. Newtok is surrounded by the Ninglick River, which continues to carry off 100ft or more of land each year. The highest point in the village could be underwater by 2017. The small community of 350 will be scattered across Alaska, with Newtok ceasing to exist. The Guardian reports:
"The snow comes in a different timing now. The snow disappears way late. That is making the geese come at the wrong time. Now they are starting to lay their eggs when there is still snow and ice and we can't go and pick them," Tom said. "It's changing a lot. It's real, global warming, it's real."
Read more here.
A recent study by biologists and climate researchers finds 57% of plants and 34% of animals will see their habitats cut by 50% or more by 2080. At the current rate worldwide temperatures are expected to rise 7 degrees by 2100. This change will make habitats in sub-Saharan Africa, Central America, Amazonia and Australia unsuitable for animals and plants. USA Today reports:
"The terrifying loss of biodiversity predicted by this study shows that climate chaos will fundamentally transform our planet," Shaye Wolf of the Center for Biological Diversity, a conservation group, says in a statement on the study. "We need to cut emissions now, before our ecosystems suffer catastrophic damage."
Read more here.
We have come to Kenya to hear our brothers and sisters bear witness to the ways environmental degradation and recent changes in the climate are harming them. Their testimony is disturbing and compelling. We are privileged to hear their stories, and honored by their trust in us as bearers of the message that they and their land, water, and air are suffering. Their words are a painful reminder of the brokenness of our world.
It is the most vulnerable in our world who suffer primarily and predominately from climate and other environment-related problems. While here, we are reminded that it is the poor who are affected first of all, and most of all, by these problems. The loss of one season’s crop can be catastrophic for those who live on the margins. Today, we are looking at massive dislocations in the ecosystems which sustain our world and all the life on it. Of these dislocations, the world’s poorest bear the brunt.
The U.S. climate change envoy proposed allowing countries to create their emissions reduction plans rather than working toward one goal. The U.S. hopes to bring more countries to the table and energize U.N. climate negotiations. The Guardian reports:
"Countries, knowing that they will be subject to the scrutiny of everybody else, will be urged to put something down they feel they can defend and that they feel is strong," Stern said from Berlin during a summit of environmental ministers focused on ways to advance the UN climate talks.
Read more here.
A study published May 1 from two researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Colorado found the widespread belief in "end-times" and the "Second coming" of Christ could impact the environmental policy movement negatively. The Huffington Post reports:
A belief in the Second Coming reduces the probability of strongly agreeing that the government should take action by more than 12 percent. In a corresponding manner, a belief in the Second Coming increases the probability of disagreeing with government action to curb global warming by more than 10 percent.
Read more here.
If you are reading this and are from North America — and perhaps even if you aren't — you are no doubt aware of just how divisive the issue of climate change is in the US and Canada. Experts from both sides of the issue are regular installments on the 24-hour news networks, presenting the latest data in favor of or disputing the warming of the planet. Policy experts offer the pros and cons of legislation aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Law makers debate possible action steps. Facebook posts supporting or refuting climate change turn into hotbeds of political (and sometimes a little bit of personal) attacks. Friends bicker; family relationships are strained.
This is simply the reality of the political climate in North America, but the existence of such rigorous debate is no coincidence. If warming trends continue the way that scientists are currently projecting (four degrees celsius by the end of the century), things in North America won't look all that different. We'll probably experience more droughts, our growing zones will shift, and Michigan will have the climate of Tennessee. Even if things do get bad in North America, we have the money and technology necessary to adapt fairly well to any changes in weather patterns or growing seasons that we might experience. In short: North America can afford not to worry about climate change — at least for a while.
A NASA led study found climate change may increase rainfall in some areas and drought in other areas. The study predicts for every 1 degree Fahrenheit increase in global average temperature, heavy rainfall will increase globally by 3.9%. The Los Angeles Times reports.
"These results in many ways are the worst of all possible worlds," said Peter Gleick, a climatologist and water expert who is president of the Pacific Institute, an Oakland research organization. "Wet areas will get wetter and dry areas will get drier."
Read more here.