THE IRRITATING THING about the Bible—well, one irritating thing about it—is that it keeps instructing us, in unambiguous terms, to do things we don’t want to.
On the first page it tells us to take care of the earth, which is quite embarrassing now that we’re fiddling with the thermostat and killing off large numbers of the creatures that we are supposed to look after.
Of course, it gets much worse once we reach the gospels and we’re told to take care of the poor and—well, I mean, come on, stop the steal. Nastiest of all is the quite specific demand to welcome the stranger. Clearly, we’re not into that—nearly three-quarters of white Christians voted for the candidate whose senior policy adviser, Stephen Miller, once said, “I would be happy if not a single refugee foot ever again touched American soil.”
These various unreasonable demands become even more unreasonable as time goes on, because they start to converge. Because we failed to take care of the earth, instead burning massive amounts of coal and gas and oil, we raised the temperature, and because hurricanes draw their power from the heat in the ocean, we now have more of them—this past season we set a record in the Atlantic, with a nonstop procession of storms that exhausted the regular alphabet and drove us deep into the Greek one. Hence, it was storms Eta and Iota that crashed into Central America in November, causing incredible wreckage: By some early estimates, Honduras saw damage equivalent to 40 percent of its GDP. (Katrina, one of America’s worst storms, cost us 1 percent of our GDP.) Not surprisingly, Honduras is now an even more difficult place to live—indeed, for many people an impossible one, given that food and shelter, which are actually necessary for survival, can’t be found.
Addressing climate change is a faith-based obligation to “protect God’s creation,” say 81 percent of American religious voters surveyed in a poll released this morning from Climate Nexus and Yale and George Mason’s respective programs on climate change communications.
Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was one of the worst environmental justice disasters in modern U.S. history. It was also one of the first times that I, then a teenager, consciously connected animal justice and racial justice. Kanye West’s declaration “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” is often remembered as the statement on racism in Katrina, but another expression that needed no words circulated among black people in the hurricane’s immediate aftermath: a picture of pets being evacuated on an air-conditioned bus.
While black people were abandoned, dead, and dying on rooftops, corpses floating bloated in flooded streets, people’s pets were evacuated to safety.
Black people have long understood as racist the disparate treatment of nonhuman animals and black people. In 1855, Frederick Douglass wrote that “The bond-woman lives as a slave, and is left to die as a beast; often with fewer attentions than are paid to a favorite horse.
As a Christian, I believe God calls us to a total and radical re-imagination and transformation of our relationship with others and the earth. We yearn for a vision of complete reconciliation for all of God’s created order. As political leaders, especially those of you grounded in faith and values, I implore you to respond faithfully and with full force to love God and neighbor by enacting just, compassionate, and transformative climate policies that rise to the challenge of the climate crisis.
8-year-old activist Havana Chapman-Edwards, also known as the Tiny Diplomat, closed that day with a powerful statement on climate justice intersectionality. “I am here today because climate justice issues are not separate from other justice issues. It’s not right that wildfires, droughts and other climate disasters are being ignored. Black, indigenous, and people of color are doing the least damage to the planet but we are the ones who are paying the price first.”
MAYBE YOU’VE HEARD a land acknowledgement at a conference, sporting event, or worship service. These brief statements name the Indigenous territory on which an event takes place, a small sign of respect to the people who stewarded this land for millennia and whose deep relationship to the land continues today. For any of us who’ve settled on that land, these statements are intentionally unsettling, a way “to counteract the ideologies operating in the Doctrine of Discovery by naming that the land was not empty when Europeans first arrived,” as one group of Canadian churches put it.
But land acknowledgements become trite—an easy checkmark in the social justice box—if they are not part of ongoing relationships with local Indigenous communities. These relationships must include settlers being quiet and listening to some hard truths from Indigenous people about history, responsibility, and reparations.
CHANGE YOUR LENSES, please. Okay, maybe you can’t simply change lenses right now, but would you at least notice the lenses you are currently wearing? If you are like, say, 99.9 percent of us in the U.S., you have been influenced by a very particular set of perspectives that interpret life from an Enlightenment-bound Western worldview.
All of our lenses have various perspectival tints, but Western worldviews seem to have several in common, including the foundational influence of Platonic dualism, inherited from the Greeks. This particular influence absolutizes the realm of the abstract (spirit, soul, mind) and reduces the importance of the concrete realm (earth, body, material), disengaging them from one another. In dualistic thinking, we are no longer an existing whole.
Western worldviews tend to have other related assumptions—such as hierarchy, extrinsic categorization, individualism, patriarchy, utopianism, racism, triumphalism, religious intolerance, greed, and anthropocentrism. But the influence of dualism empowers these other concerns.
What difference would it make if life were viewed instead as a fundamental whole, if the earth itself were seen as spiritual? And how would such a worldview square with Jesus’ approach to such matters?
IF YOU’RE LIKE me, your first response to the title of Eduardo Sasso’s book was “What?!” But, as unusual as the pairing of climate change and sex is, Sasso proves that their association is fitting. A Climate of Desire argues that the challenge of today’s climate crisis is ultimately not about technology, science, or political will. Rather, like sex, it’s “about desire: about what we long for and about the consequences of our longings.”
Our longings have always been ripe for co-optation. Sasso’s book shows how, throughout history, from the tower of Babel to the tech frontier of modern California, people have been tempted to forsake their God-given humanity for an artificial substitute. Our problem today, though, is that our refusal to learn from the past comes with an exorbitant price tag. Fossil fuels have enabled the unrestrained indulgence of our misplaced desires, transforming our cities into engines of unprecedented ecological devastation.
In A Climate of Desire, Sasso reminds us that the Spirit-inspired imagination of ancient truth-tellers such as Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Jesus himself has a great deal to offer us in our current predicament. Calling their contemporaries to repentance, these holy dreamers denounced the harlotry of cities and nations that were running after false gods of wealth and power. They proclaimed visions of the holy that bordered on the psychedelic and grasped that at the heart of injustice and violence is misplaced desire.
Sasso finds tremendous strength in these ancient voices. But he also gains inspiration from recent campaigns for civil rights and contemporary initiatives for ecological renewal, such as the Transition Network and the fossil-free divestment movement.
THERE ARE SEVERAL good and interesting arguments to be had about climate change: Should we tax carbon? How much? Concentrate on electric cars or on public transit? How best to reduce the factory farming that creates so many emissions? Dealing with this crisis will involve the biggest and most rapid transition in economic history, so it would be strange if there weren’t debates about how to proceed.
But one debate not to have is: Is global warming real? By now it’s entirely obvious that the scientists are basically right—that’s why there’s half as much ice in the Arctic as when they started warning us, and half as many coral reefs. Donald Trump aside (there’s a nice thought), this one is so clear even the oil companies don’t dispute it, though of course they try to delay and minimize the need for real change.
Deprived of that point of contention, those who want to disrupt the push for climate action fall back on two particularly dumb straw-man arguments, which are worth engaging just long enough to dispose of.
One is that climate activists want to “turn off fossil fuels tomorrow.” You hear this from oil companies, but you also hear it from liberal politicians who don’t want to take strong action against oil companies. When local environmental justice groups, for instance, asked then-California Gov. Jerry Brown to stop permitting new oil wells next to their schools and homes, he responded with roughly the sensitivity and candor of Oklahoma’s climate-denying Sen. Jim Inhofe. Environmentalists, he said, wanted him to “snap my fingers and eliminate all gasoline in all California gasoline stations.” And if he did that, he said, “What would happen? Revolution? Killings? Shootings?”
PEOPLE WHO are sensitive to creation know that creation is in constant flux. Continents drift, climates change, magnetic poles flip-flop, and bogs gradually give way to wet meadows and then various kinds of forests. There’s a natural succession out here under the sun, and I think there’s a kind of natural succession going on theologically for many Christians as well. ...
First, increased concern for the poor and oppressed leads to increased concern for all of creation. The same forces that hurt widows and orphans, minorities and women, children and the elderly also hurt the songbirds and trout, the ferns and old growth forests: greed, impatience, selfishness, arrogance, hurry, anger, competition, irreverence—plus a spirituality that cares for souls but neglects bodies, that prepares for eternity in heaven but abandons history on earth. ...
Stormwater pollution is the fastest growing source of pollution in the Chesapeake Bay watershed—a 64,000 square mile drainage basin that sprawls across parts of Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia, New York, and Washington, D.C. One of the contributors: religious congregations.
The United Nations climate negotiations in Katowice, Poland — the follow-up to the blockbuster 2015 Paris conference — came to a dramatic close on Dec. 15 with the adoption of the "Katowice Climate Package." The package represents significant progress on global climate action and will allow nations to move forward in setting and meeting greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets over the next five years. However, the roadmap will need major improvements to reach the level of “ambition” the scientific community says is needed to protect the most vulnerable.
A dystopian scene is unfolding across California. Charred car skeletons sit idle on the side of roads in the working-class town of Paradise, Calif. In one video, a camera pans to reveal what looks like an apocalyptic movie set — passing the remains of an abandoned school bus, begging us to ask what happened to those who were inside.
As a civil rights activist from the civil rights movement of the ‘60s, I continue to believe that everyone has constitutional rights. Thousands of Americans are being denied their civil and human rights because insensitive or politically manipulated legislators are creating policies that are destroying the environment. When profits, rather than the well-being of human and environmental life, determine the survival of the planet, it is a civil rights issue.
This weekend, more than 80 faith communities in Maryland will lift up climate justice as part of the fourth annual “Climate in the Pulpits / on the Bimah / in the Minbar” event. Jointly organized by Interfaith Power & Light (DC.MD.NoVa) and the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, the event is a multi-faith effort to carry the message of creation care from the pews to policy makers.
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.
Catovic, 53, is an American Muslim of Bosnian-Anglo descent who lives in New Jersey and serves as the senior Islamic advisor to GreenFaith, an interfaith coalition for environmental issues. He believes the responsibility of fighting climate change begins with the individual, but stresses that the Green Hajj is “not just about the more privileged parts of the Western World. I am just one person who is making this commitment. There are many other millions of people who are doing this too.”
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.