Texas high school biology textbooks battles are once again in progress in Austin, with lines drawn between those who want textbook material based only on established mainstream science and those who are anti-science. As an evangelical Christian and a botany professor at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas, I am all too familiar with the battle for scientific authenticity in our state’s textbooks.
The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) wields an enormous influence over which textbooks are adopted by school districts in Texas. And because the Texas market for public school textbooks is one of the country’s largest, publishers use the curriculum and content from Texas books in those they print for the rest of the nation. For this reason, what happens in Texas doesn’t stay in Texas. This is why it is so important that we ensure that publishers produce books based on mainstream science.
I just completed my first Climate Ride, journeying 300 miles by bicycle over five days with 200 other climate activists. Climate Ride began five years ago, and the riders raise money for organizations that work on sustainability and climate change. They’re also a way to spread the word about the growing and increasingly determined climate movement. For those of us who take part – by now, thousands of us have – the rides have a deep and lasting impact.
These are my reflections from the last day of the ride; you can read reflections on the first four days of the Climate Ride here.
As the Creation Care campaign associate at Sojourners, my job is to get people thinking about God’s call for us to care about the creation. Usually, I do that from behind a desk in Washington, D.C., but recently I got to do it from a boat out on the bayou in Louisiana, in a tiny community that has been hit by eight disasters in eight years (seven hurricanes and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill). I took 100 people out to the town of Jean Lafitte, less than an hour from New Orleans, to hear from people who live on the front lines of climate change.
One of the obstacles to igniting a passion about climate change is that it feels so abstract; it feels like a future problem, a global problem. But it’s really a here and now problem. We took folks out on the Louisiana bayou to meet with those who are living in the midst of climate change – people who don’t think of themselves as environmentalists, but who can bear witness to the impact that climate change and our use of dirty energy have had on their lives, personally.
The town of Jean Lafitte is an old and diverse town, a close-knit community where faith is important to many people, including the mayor. It’s a town that sounds a lot like the early Christian church. We were told that homelessness is not a problem there – if your neighbor loses her home, why wouldn’t you take her in? We were told that when the state government showed up two weeks after Hurricane Katrina, the town had recovered so quickly that the government thought the hurricane hadn’t hit them. This community comes together, and because it knows how to survive, it often gets forgotten by government responders and by oil companies like BP.
I always thought of climate change as something that affected developing countries. Through my work at World Renew, an international disaster response and community development organization, I am well acquainted with the devastating effects of changing growing seasons in Africa and environmental refugees in Bangladesh. I probably shouldn’t have been so surprised to learn that there are ecojustice issues here in the U.S. — but I was.
Last week I had the opportunity to tour the town of Jean Lafitte just outside New Orleans. Hosted by Sojourners, it was one of the “Go and See” options during the Christian Community Development Association conference.
Our tour began with a presentation by the Rev. Kristina Peterson and Mayor Tim Kerner at the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve. There we learned that since the 1930s, Louisiana has lost a football field of wetlands every 38 minutes. At the current rate, the state will lose an area of wetlands the size of Rhode Island by 2050. According to Peterson, 36 percent of the wetland loss can be attributed to the activities of the oil and gas industry — in particular, the canals they carve out.
In my state of Minnesota, there are literally hundreds of faith-based green teams doing a variety of good works. We’ve collectively tackled solar panels and bike racks. We’ve individually been consuming less, doing energy audits of our homes, and taking action in our neighborhoods. It is important work. And yet when I talk to the lay leaders in these congregations, they report that enthusiasm has waned and that their groups have become stale. As one tired (and yet tireless) leader confided in me: “I don’t know what it is, Julia, but it’s like we are swimming in molasses.”
As the new executive director of Minnesota Interfaith Power & Light I am trying to pay attention. What is this feeling of stuck-ness? If it’s not working, what then is the special sauce that will help these tireless leaders to ignite their communities?
A few observations about humans:
This Wednesday on Capitol Hill, the House subcommittee on Energy and Power held a hearing to discuss the Obama administration’s climate change policies and activities. The policies in question were the president’s Climate Action Plan, announced this summer, which has three main pillars:
- cutting carbon emissions,
- leading international efforts to combat climate change, and
- preparing the United States for climate change impacts.
The Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy and the Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz were present to answer questions about the president’s plan, which works with new and existing programs in both agencies to reduce our climate change pollution and increase our resilience to climate change. Some of the programs are required by a recent Supreme Court decision that labeled carbon dioxide a pollutant; others, as Moniz pointed out, would happen to carry the benefit of energy efficiency.
For some members of Congress, this is a problem because they do not wish to cede any ground to the executive. For others, it is a problem simply because they do not wish to do anything about climate change.
David vs. Goliath: Residents in a Colorado city are fighting their local coal monopoly for the chance to move their city to clean energy. The coal company has more money – a LOT more money – but the organizers have more heart. This short 6-minute video is well worth watching.
40,000 jobs sound pretty good: According to the new 2013 second quarter clean energy report form Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), clean energy and sustainable transportation projects launched this year created close to 40,000 green jobs in the U.S.
Editor's Note: The following is an excerpt from Fred Bahnson's new book Soil and Sacrament: A Spirtual Memoir of Food and Faith.
The garden is our oldest metaphor. In Genesis God creates the first Adam from the adamah, and tells him to “till and keep” it, the fertile soil on which all life depends. Human from humus. That’s our first etymological clue as to the inextricable bond we share with the soil. Our ecological problems are a result of having forgotten who we are—soil people, inspired by the breath of God. “Earth’s hallowed mould,” as Milton referred to Adam in Paradise Lost. Or in Saint Augustine’s phrase, terra animata—animated earth.
The command to care for soil is our first divinely appointed vocation, yet in our zeal to produce cheap, abundant food we have shunned it; we have tilled the adamah but we have not kept it.
During the week leading up to the “Summer Heat” demonstrations — protesting the Keystone XL pipeline and urging for action on climate change — about 25 people started a hike from Camp David to Washington, D.C. Midway through the 100-mile hike, they were joined by another 50 people at Harper’s Ferry, W.Va. They called their journey the “Walk for Our Grandchildren.”
The name gives away the motivation — the walker’s sense of duty to future generations to leave a healthy planet. When they reached DC, many were arrested in an act of civil disobedience at the offices of Environmental Resources Management, a consulting firm given the task of writing the environmental review of the Keystone XL pipeline — a firm which also works for TransCanada, the energy company seeking to build the pipeline. Many others spent that Friday night at a church, and joined the Summer Heat demonstrations at the White House the next day.
Climate change is expected to take a turn for the better following the Senate's approval of Gina McCarthy to serve as the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency. McCarthy won over the Senate on July 18 in a 59-to-40 vote. The New York Times reports:
The president told Ms. McCarthy that his environmental and presidential legacy would be incomplete without a serious effort to address climate change.
Read more here.
Expressing her opinion that climate change is no longer about energy efficient behavior but rather about national policy, spiritual leader Marilyn Sewell argues the importance of what it takes to preserve the Earth’s atmosphere. Expressing her concerns about the lack of community and church involvement, Sewell insists policy immersion is crucial toward resolving future matters surrounding climate change. The Huffington Post reports:
So where is the parish church in all of this? Mostly silent, it seems. Churches continue to be concerned with individual sin as opposed to systemic sin, even in regard to climate change. Congregants may be admonished to recycle and change their light bulbs, but not to become politically active. The fact is we're way beyond changing our light bulbs. We need to bring that unhappy, startling truth to the pulpits of our land.
Read more here.
In a report obtained by the Los Angeles Times, the Energy Department said Thursday that power plants are at risk of being shut down due to the effects of climate change. With the rise of temperatures and sea levels and decreased water resources, the Energy Department advises officials to become more environmentally aware of their natural disaster plans as their ideas could permanently affect the future of Earth's climate. The Los Angeles Times reports:
The report calls on federal, state and local governments to more urgently prepare crucial infrastructure - particularly coal, natural gas and nuclear plants - for the compounded risks posed by floods, storms, wildfires and droughts.
"All of our science goes in one direction: The damages are going to get worse,” Assistant Energy Secretary Jonathan Pershing said. “It will take dozens of actors from government and private sectors planning what to do and how to make it cost-effective.”
Read more here.
When you think of an evangelical Christian, do you think of a climate scientist who is passionately concerned about the impact of climate change?
After this week, you should.
Over 200 top scientists who identify as evangelical Christians from across the country released a letter this week calling on Congress to act on the moral and scientific imperative to address climate change. The letter — framed in scripture — points to the call to care for the poor and steward God’s creation as key elements contributing to their concern.
As climate change takes its toll on the Earth, many people are paralyzed by inaction—perhaps not out of fear or guilt, but because of despair. To confront climate change, we may need to first deal with our sense of grief, argues Katharine M. Preston in “Mourning for the Earth” (August 2013, Sojourners).
Watch this film essay to learn more about the five stages of climate grief.
In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul writes: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God …” (Romans 8:18-19)
And who are God’s children in the immediate context? Paul explains the “children of God” are those whose spirits cry “father” when referring to God. “For,” according to Paul, “all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” (Romans 8:14) If this is true, then why is creation longing for the children of God (those led by God’s Spirit) to be revealed?
In Genesis 1, the author writes, “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.” The Hebrew words for “very good” are mehode tobe. Mehode means “forcefully” and in the Hebrew context tobedoes not necessarily refer to the object itself. Rather it refers to the ties between things. So, when God looked around at the end of the sixth day and said, “This is very good,” God was saying the relationships between all parts of creation were “forcefully good.” The relationship between humanity and God, men and women, within families, between us and the systems that govern us, and the relationship between humanity and the rest of creation — the land, the sea, and sky and all the animals and vegetation God created to dwell in those domains—all of these relationships were forcefully good!
“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.