Earth

Calls for Climate Justice in Paris

Demonstrators protest the role of climate change in forest fires and drought in Nevada City, Calif. Image via Guarionex Delgado.

I was part of the United Methodist delegation to Rio de Janeiro in 1992 during the world’s first major gathering of world leaders, nongovernmental organizations, and corporate heads to focus on climate change and related environmental and development issues. It was clear even then that environmental concerns could not be effectively addressed without simultaneously addressing poverty and inequity.

As of Nov. 30, government officials, corporate leaders, and nongovernmental organizations are meeting for the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 21) for climate negotiations, this time in Paris. World leaders and other official summit attendees will be protected by greatly enhanced security because of recent terrorist attacks. Civil society won’t enjoy such protections, as indicated by the prohibition of planned demonstrations in Paris.

Some are still demonstrating in Paris, including people committed to nonviolence who formed a 10,000 person human chain and left 20,000 empty shoes — including a pair of the Pope’s shoes — to represent the protestors who are not allowed to demonstrate. Still, around the world, people are gathering to pray for the success of the climate talks and for peace.

Everything Changes the World

Boys on a beach,
women with cookpots,
men bombing tender patches of mint.

There is no righteous position.
Only a place where brown feet
touch the earth.

Maybe you call it yours.
Maybe someone else runs it.
What do you prefer?

We who are far
stagger under the mind blade.
Words, lies.
My friend in Bethlehem says,
Pious myth-building and criminal behavior,
that’s what.

Every shattered home,
every shattered story worth telling.
Think how much you’d need to say
if that were your kid.

If one of your people
equals hundreds of ours,
what does that say about people?

Naomi Shihab Nye, born to a Palestinian father and American mother, is a poet, novelist, and anthologist of more than 30 volumes. Her newest book is The Turtle of Oman.

Image: A Palestinian women sells grape leaves,  / Shutterstock 

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The Year in Review. (Too Soon?)

Illustration by Ken Davis

IT’S A LITTLE early to be looking back at the past year, but I have to say I’m very disappointed in 2014. It was supposed to be the Year of the Cicada, a time when millions of fat little bugs would emerge from the ground and loudly buzz around the nation’s capital, possibly joining the chorus to impeach the president. (The cries for impeachment haddeveloped a definite bug-like drone.)

Every 17 years or so, the cicadas are supposed to emerge from the ground where they have been gestating and, for the first week of their debut, bring a welcome distraction to life’s problems. By week two, however, they’ve become life’s problems, striking your head and other body parts as you walk outside, or even inside if you leave the screen door open too long for a cat who just ... can’t ... decide.

Fortunately, they all die after a couple weeks, but then venturing out into your backyard sounds like walking on corn flakes, if corn flakes were green and disgusting, and dead.

But none of that happened this year. Instead of the fun and natural wonder of watching bugs freeing themselves from their dark captivity and flying forth into the glorious light of day, we got nada.

No sitting on the front porch watching cicadas celebrating their new world or becoming lunch to passing birds, whichever comes first; no entomological moment of awe; no opportunity to provide learned commentary on nature’s brutal cycle of life to a wide-eyed grandchild. (“So that’s why you should stay in school and not take drugs.”)

Some town across the river got a few hundred of the bugs, but in my block in Washington, D.C., we found only one, lying on its back in a flower bed, and—like a dead corn flake—not moving.

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Forty Shades of Green

I GREW UP IN RURAL IRELAND in the 1950s in a world surrounded by trees.

Close to my home, a ribbon of horse chestnuts lined both sides of the road. Each summer their intertwining canopies shut out the light, which gave the road its name—the dark road. In the fields around our house there were stands of oak, birch, elm, and sycamore. About 40 yards to the south and west, my father planted a shelter belt of Leylandii. We had different varieties of apple trees in the orchard, and two pear trees.

In 1962, just as the Second Vatican Council was beginning, I entered St. Columban’s seminary to be a priest. The seminary was located on a large estate called Dowdstown in County Meath. More than 150 acres were covered in woodlands full of indigenous trees such as oak, hazel, holly, ash, Scotch pine, willow, elm, and rowan. There were also exotic species, including a number of the sturdy cedars of Lebanon, a variety of cherry trees, and even a few California redwoods. The folklore in the area was that the trees had been planted in the 1820s by Gen. Robert Taylor, who had fought alongside Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo.

Trees are the dominant life form on land—and the longest-lived creatures on earth. During my seven years in seminary, while studying philosophy, theology, spirituality, and scripture, we never once looked to the natural world or trees for insight into our relationship with God, other human beings, or other species. And there is so much to learn! Sadly, theology and scripture presentations were isolated almost exclusively to the divine-human relationship, with little consideration given to the rest of creation.

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Reorienting Ourselves to the Earth

Courtesy Odyssey Networks

Courtesy Odyssey Networks

The accelerated pace of climate change deterioration in recent decades is highlighted in the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that was released in December 2013. This report highlights the alarming rates of carbon emissions in recent years and the massive disruptions to the nature that occur as a result. It warns that the disruptions could affect all areas of life and endanger the world’s food supply itself. The worst is yet to come. All this might sound a bit apocalyptic.

Acts 2:14-32 posits a similar scenario. Luke’s Peter predicts the signs that will occur in the last days (vv. 19-20). The Sun will turn into darkness and the moon into blood. There will be blood and fire and smoky mist. Joel 3, Luke’s source text behind these verses, was intended as a warning about potential disturbances in the natural order. Joel posits such calamities as consequences of human wickedness and calls on the people to alter their ways. Peter warns that such last days are about to arrive. They will be marked by disturbances in the natural order and terrible signs that will precede the day of the Lord. Interestingly, people in Jerusalem have already witnessed such (un)natural phenomena during the death of Jesus (Luke 23:44-45).

Acts 2 parallels the account of disruptions in the nature with the account about the death of Jesus (2:19-24). 

Stewardship: Being in and Working with Creation

Rudolf Vlcek/Shutterstock

My dad's best friend Leo explained that he managed the land. Rudolf Vlcek/Shutterstock

When you hear about stewardship in church, you probably think of your checkbook. Stewardship is the term we use to talk about financially supporting our churches and organizations. But another holy use of the word involves being stewards of creation.

When I hear the word stewardship, I feel the crunch of snow and branches under my feet. I see the trees and paths of the woods owned by my parents’ best friends, where I spent much of my childhood hiking, hunting, skiing, picking apples, and feeding chickadees out of the palm of my hand. It’s one of the places where I gradually heard my calling to work for the care of creation. And the word stewardship transports me to a specific day in my childhood, walking in the woods with my dad’s best friend, Leo, when he pointed to a tree and said he would have to take it down.

How could he kill a tree? I hassled him; I got indignant. I said that nature should be left alone to do her thing. But Leo explained that I was wrong — he managed the land. It wouldn’t be just fine on its own; rather, it needed his careful eye to manage the trails, cut down sick trees, and hunt deer.

The Lord Will Destroy the Destroyers of the Earth (Rev. 11:18)

Burning Earth, Igor Zh. / Shutterstock.com

Burning Earth, Igor Zh. / Shutterstock.com

We in our era have accomplished something no other civilization would have considered possible — or desirable. We have taken human wastefulness and self-destruction to never-before-seen levels and we have distorted our scriptures to justify  even celebrate — our own destruction.

Whether it is fracking (with its own legacy of toxic waste) the Keystone XL Pipeline (with its virtually guaranteed oil spills across prime farm land) accompanied by the largest population ever seen on the face of the earth — with its attendant garbage and sewage — we are seeing threats to our climate, food supply, economy, and quality of life on a level never seen before in human history.

Historically, theologies (and philosophy) have put a brake on human avarice, violence, and unbridled destruction of the environment.

Reflection and restraint, for millennia, have been the twin pillars of historic conservatism.

Not now.

Biblical Economics and Ecology for the 21st Century

Caring for the Earth illustration, Sunny studio-Igor Yaruta / Shutterstock.com

Caring for the Earth illustration, Sunny studio-Igor Yaruta / Shutterstock.com

In the secular American political world, even among  progressives, two progressive focuses – social justice and healing of the Earth  – have remained mostly segregated from each other.

But the Bible, in one of its crucial passages, intertwine social justice and the urge toward healing Earth. It is as if the Bible  – after watching the alienation of two May Days (pagan spring and workers’ social justice) from each other –  had shrugged impatiently and said: “Now here’s the way to do it!”

The Bible calls for an entire year of rest for the land and its workers, every seventh year. Deuteronomy adds that in that year, everyone’s debts are annulled. (Deut. 15: 1-3). Thus the Bible sees economics and ecologics as intimately intertwined, and calls for a practice of strong, spiritually rooted regulation of both.

Leviticus calls this seventh year a Shabbat Shabbaton – restfulness to the exponential power of Restfulness, an echo and expansion of the restful seventh day. Deuteronomy calls the year “shmitah”  – “release” or “non-attachment.”

Why all this? Because, says YHWH, YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh, The Interbreathing of all life, “The earth is Mine. You are but sojourners, temporary visiting-settlers, with Me.”  (Lev 25: 23)

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