Mapping Catholic land; fighting climate change

Molly Burhans, a liberal arts graduate of Canisius College, a Catholic college in Buffalo, is leading a major project to help the Catholic Church map its vast landholdings in order to help it fight climate change. David Owen of The New Yorker tells the inspiring story of how Burhans put her studies in philosophy, science, and mathematics to work-out her Christian faith in the world. Here is a taste:

In the summer of 2016, Molly Burhans, a twenty-six-year-old cartographer and environmentalist from Connecticut, spoke at a Catholic conference in Nairobi, and she took advantage of her modest travel stipend to book her return trip through Rome. When she arrived, she got a room in the cheapest youth hostel she could find, and began sending e-mails to Vatican officials, asking if they’d be willing to meet with her. She wanted to discuss a project she’d been working on for months: documenting the global landholdings of the Catholic Church. To her surprise, she received an appointment in the office of the Secretariat of State.

On the day of the meeting, she couldn’t find the entrance that she’d been told to use. She hadn’t bought a sim card for her phone, so she couldn’t call for help, and, in a panic, she ran almost all the way around Vatican City. The day was hot, and she was sweating. At last, she spotted a monk, and she asked him for directions. He gave her a funny look: the entrance was a few steps away. A pair of Swiss Guards, in their blue, red, and yellow striped uniforms, led her to an elevator. She took it to the third loggia of the Apostolic Palace, and walked down a long marble hallway. On the wall to her right were windows draped with gauzy curtains; to her left were enormous fresco maps, commissioned in the early sixteenth century, depicting the world as it was known then.

Burhans has been a deeply committed Catholic since she was twenty-one. For a year or two, when she was in college, she considered becoming a nun. Later, though, as she grew increasingly concerned about climate change, her ambitions broadened, and she began to think of ways in which the Catholic Church could be mobilized as a global environmental force. “There are 1.2 billion Catholics,” she told me. “If the Church were a country, it would be the third most populous, after China and India.” The Church, furthermore, is probably the world’s largest non-state landowner. The assets of the Holy See, combined with those of parishes, dioceses, and religious orders, include not just cathedrals, convents, and Michelangelo’s Pietà but also farms, forests, and, by some estimates, nearly two hundred million acres of land.

Read the rest here. This piece is so good it was hard to find an excerpt for the blog.

My case for Joe Biden

Many have asked me to weigh-in on the election. Let me begin by saying that my choice of a candidate was not difficult.

Donald Trump is immoral. He is a pathological liar. He is a narcissist. He is a racist who empowers White supremacists. He is a misogynist. He disrespects American institutions. His presidency draws on some of the darkest moments of our national past. He has manipulated the Christian faith to advance his own unrighteous ends. I made this case in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump and I stand by it.

Trump has poisoned American culture and cannot continue as President of the United States. He is not a leader. He has no interest in bringing the country together. He is incompetent. He is a con-man. He is a rainmaker. Those who vote for him in 2020 are empowering another four years of this mess and, without another election looming over Trump’s head, it is likely to get worse.

For evangelicals concerned about life:

A Columbia University study recently concluded that Trump’s administration is responsible for up to 210,000 COVID-19 deaths. He continues to ignore the pandemic. Doctors and scientists say things are going to get worse unless the president starts taking this pandemic seriously. As Ed Yong recently argued at The Atlantic: “America is about to choose how bad the pandemic will get.” This election is about life. Trump’s handling of the coronavirus is promoting a culture of illness and death.

Black men and women are dying in America. Those who are still alive fear for their lives because racism is embedded in our culture. Donald Trump does not believe in systemic racism and does not want to address it. Trump does not even have the decency to condemn White supremacy at a nationally televised debate. A good economy will not end systemic racism. A plan to give money to Historically Black Colleges and Universities will not end systemic racism. More evangelical conversions will not undo the damage done by centuries of racial oppression, especially if such converts are taught that systemic racism is a Satanic lie that “cultural Marxists” are propagating on the nation.

Donald Trump wants to overturn Obamacare and replace it with his own healthcare plan. So far the public has not seen this plan. I doubt it exists. Meanwhile, the end of Obamacare will undermine the health care of millions of people. This is not a pro-life position. Joe Biden is the pro-life candidate here.

Many conservative evangelicals connect their “pro-life” convictions to their “pro-family” convictions. But Trump separated thousands of children from their parents at the Mexican border. More than 500 of those children have yet to be reunited with their parents. Is this how a “family values” president acts? Moreover, let’s not pretend that our children are not watching his flawed character, hate-filled speeches at rallies, and Twitter feed. Trump’s garbage has come into our homes via our television and computer screens. Finally, Joe Biden has championed policies related to health care, child care, taxes, working parents, family leave, and education that will help struggling American families.

Donald Trump’s views on climate change will eventually lead to more poverty, more death, and a planet that may be uninhabitable sooner than we think. This is a life issue. It many not affect us right now, but people will die in the future if we don’t care for the creation that God has entrusted to us. Narcissists are selfish. They only care about themselves in relation to the moment in which they live. Republican citizens, on the other hand, understand their place in the larger expanse of the human experience–past, present, and future. Biden’s plan for environmental justice and his pledge to rejoin the Paris Agreement will ultimately result in saved lives.

I am always struck by anti-abortion activists who admit that Roe v. Wade will not end abortion in America, but yet still support overturning Roe because it is part of the work of chipping away at laws upholding a women’s right to choose. Someone recently described this to me as “taking the long view.” I understand this argument, but why do we “take the long view” on abortion, but fail to take the long view on climate change?

And speaking of abortion:

Trump gives lip service to abortion. He knew in 2016 that he needed to be pro-life in order to get the GOP nomination. So he became pro-life. Trump executed the Christian Right playbook to perfection. He appointed the right Supreme Court justices, made an appearance at pro-life events, and mentioned abortion in his speeches to evangelical audiences.

In the process, Trump continued to promote the idea that the best way to end abortion in America is to overturn Roe v. Wade. For nearly 50 years, white evangelicals have funneled their money to, and casted their votes for, “pro-life” candidates who promised to reverse this Supreme Court decision. That is nearly a half of a century with no results. As I have argued multiple times here at this blog, and as Christian writer and podcaster Skye Jethani has shown in an excellent video, the pursuit of political power will not end abortion in the United States.

If Christians really want to reduce the number of abortions, they will elect a president who wants to fund health care for women, deal with the systemic racism that keeps many black women in poverty, raise the minimum wage, and address the income gap between White people and people of color. The abortion rate has been dropping consistently since the 1990s. Spend some time on the Guttmacher Institute’s website.

Christian and pro-life voters should urge Joe Biden, if elected, to talk more about how he plans to continue this reduction of abortion. I hope he changes his mind about the Hyde Amendment and goes back to his original position. But if you care about the reduction of abortions, Biden is still the best candidate.

Some will say that it doesn’t really matter if abortions are in decline because it is still immoral for a Christian to vote for a nominee of a party that supports the ending of a baby’s life in the womb. Ramesh Ponnuru & Robert George recently made this argument in a piece at The National Review. I agree with much of their article. Abortion is a moral atrocity. But they offer no realistic or pragmatic solution for ending the practice. Ponnuru and George want us to vote our conscience. It is an argument rooted in moral purity.

I am a realist on this issue. In an imperfect world, politics is about achieving things that are possible. Abortion has been part of American life from the beginning and our culture has inherited this immoral practice. We thus must do everything possible to reduce the number of abortions in America. But purity of conviction is not going to accomplish this. While we take our moral stand and wait for the Supreme Court to act, babies will continue to die in the womb. Without a change of strategy, more poor women of color, and families who don’t believe they can afford another baby, will continue to choose abortion as an alternative. We need to create a world in which abortion is not the default option for an unwanted pregnancy.

In Believe Me, I quoted theologians Stanley Hauerwas and Jonathan Tran:

When Christians think that the struggle against abortion can only be pursued through voting for candidates with certain judicial philosophies, then serving at domestic abuse shelters or teaching students at local high schools or sharing wealth with expectant but under-resourced families or speaking of God’s grace in terms of ” adoption” or politically organizing for improved education or rezoning municipalities for childcare of creating “Parent’s Night Out” programs at local churches or mentoring young mothers or teaching youth about chastity and dating or mobilizing religious pressure on medical service providers or apprenticing men into fatherhood or thinking of singleness as a vocation or feasting on something called “communion” or rendering to God what is God’s or participating with the saints through Marion icons or baptizing new members or tithing money, will not count as political.

We must accept the fact that legalized abortion is not going away. Pro-lifers will never have complete victory. This is why we should support candidates who are dealing with the social, cultural, and economic issues that lead women and families to consider abortions. Ironically, Joe Biden, a representative of a pro-choice party, is that candidate. Donald Trump, who has the support of the Christian Right, is not.

Finally, what should we think about potential threats to religious liberty in a Biden campaign? If Biden is elected, I will work to push the new president to consider what John Inazu describes as a “confident pluralism.” Inazu asks Americans to work at living together with people of different ideological commitments. This will require creative thinking about how to find common ground without abandoning our deeply held beliefs. Confident pluralism requires mutual respect and a willingness to tend to our democratic life. One example of such creative thinking is the legislative bill known as “Fairness for All.” We need to create a culture that takes such bills seriously as a way of moving forward.

There is a good chance that a Biden administration may threaten the deeply-held convictions of religious institutions. But the Supreme Court has a strong track record of upholding religious liberty. As conservative writer and former religious liberty lawyer David French said in a debate with court evangelical Eric Metaxas:

[On] Religious liberty things have been fine. But I’ve got news for you, they have been fine for a long time. There is a fifteen case winning-streak on religious liberty at the Supreme Court of the United States dating back to the Obama administration….Most of those cases are won by 7-2, 6-3, no matter what screaming voices on Fox News will tell you, your religious liberty does not hang in the balance.

And if we do lose, we should take John Piper’s advice to pastors seriously:

May I suggest to pastors that in the quietness of your study you do this? Imagine that America collapses. First anarchy, then tyranny — from the right or the left. Imagine that religious freedom is gone. What remains for Christians is fines, prison, exile, and martyrdom. Then ask yourself this: Has my preaching been developing real, radical Christians? Christians who can sing on the scaffold, “Let goods and kindred go; This mortal life also; The body they may kill; God’s truth abideth still; His kingdom is forever.”

That is the crux of my case. I delivered my sealed ballot today. I checked the box for Biden-Harris.

I like how Christian theologian John Stackhouse puts it in his book Making the Best of It: Following Christ in the Real World.

Sometimes, then, some of us must improvise. As Bonhoeffer reminds us, in certain extreme situations we cannot settle for living ‘correctly’ according to some neat ethical calculus we have devised and congratulating ourselves for our integrity…We are responsible to care for the earth and to love our neighbor as best we can, and if we think we can do that better in an unusual way that leaves us vulnerable to second-guessing and maybe even to error, we nonetheless should do it. For what is the alternative? It is to shrink back from this possibility and settle for the safety of the rule book, the comfort of the clear but circumscribed conscience. Most of the time, then, we know what to do and must simply do it. Sometimes, however, the politician has to hold his nose and made a deal…So we hold on to God’s hand, and each other’s, and make the best of it.”

I’m holding on to God’s hand.

How did the court evangelicals respond to last night’s debate?

They loved it, of course.

Let’s begin, one more time, with American religious historian Grant Wacker from his biography of Billy Graham:

The crucial point is that Graham continued to defend Nixon long after most Americans smelled a rat. When the first hint of something amiss came to light in 1972, Graham dismissed it as pettifogery.

As I noted in an earlier post today, Ralph Reed said he condemned Trump’s policy of separating children from parents. Tony Perkins, on the other hand, wants to talk about cages. Let me repeat that, there are 545 kids without parents and family values guy Tony Perkins want to talk about who built the cages.:

The oil industry pollutes. it is bad for the environment. Tony Perkins mocks alternative forms of energy:

You can tell Perkins is getting desperate. It’s late in the election and his guy is trailing. He is condemning Biden for not meeting with a North Korean murderer and dictator. This is really getting sad.

Perkins mocks mask-wearing and claims that Biden is the candidate who “covers things up.”

If Napp Nazworth’s reporting is correct, Johnnie Moore, the guy who claims to be a “modern day Dietrich Bonhoeffer, is probably on the phone right now with The Christian Post asking them to do a piece on how Trump won the debate.

Like Tony Perkins, Ralph Reed tweets Biden’s view on fossil fuel and the oil industry as if reducing our reliance on these things is a bad thing:

The same goes for Charlie Kirk:

It seems like the court evangelicals are divided over the performance of moderator Kristen Welker:

I can no longer write about Robert Jeffress without thinking about his fellow court evangelical Richard Land’s line: “the most dangerous place in Texas to stand is between Jeffress and a television camera.” Expect Jeffress to repeat this tweet tonight on Fox News with Lou Dobbs:

And here is the Liberty University Falkirk Center crowd:

This weekend Charlie Kirk will be bringing this to an evangelical megachurch near you:

I am sure “Falkirk Fellow” Jenna Ellis will be pushing this narrative today on Fox News:

“No rational American believes this”:

No rational American believes this:

Again, these court evangelicals try to deflect from the fact that 545 kids are not with their parents by focusing on the construction of the cages. Where is the empathy and compassion among these evangelical Christians affiliated with Liberty University?:

I just wanted to get this on the record. It was tweeted at a moment when COVID-19 is surging again:

11 more days.

What COVID-19 exposed about the United States

Corona Healthcare

All of these points come from Ed Yong’s recent piece at The Atlantic: “How the Pandemic Defeated America.”

  • We under-fund public health.
  • Our health-care system is weak.
  • Too much of what we do spend on healthcare is wasted.
  • We have not dealt sufficiently with systemic racism.
  • Our attempts to shred our nation’s social safety net has failed us
  • Social media is destroying us.
  • We are a nation of anti-intellectuals who do not believe in expertise.
  • The media only enhances our anti-intellectualism, rejection of expertise, and belief in conspiracy theories.
  • Individualism has its limits.
  • Our country lacks leadership, especially in the White House.
  • Our president lies to us.
  • Politics is more important than truth.
  • We don’t believe in climate change.
  • We don’t care about the natural habitats of animals.
  • We are xenophobes.
  • We fail to heed warnings.
  • Our prisons are overcrowded.
  • Our nursing homes are woefully understaffed.
  • We view health as a matter of personal responsibility rather than a collective good.
  • 20th century advances in medicine have made us complacent in the 21st century.
  • We treat the elderly as “acceptable losses.”
  • We treat people with intellectual disabilities and dementia as second-class citizens.
  • There are Americans who ignore the government and follow science.
  • Our failure to cultivate strong international alliance has failed us.

Read the Yong’s piece here.

Does “End-Time Apathy” Explain Why So Many Evangelicals Don’t Care About the Environment?

The Gospel of Climate ChangeIf Jesus is coming back at any moment to “rapture” his church, why should evangelicals care about the environment? As religious studies scholar Robin Globus Veldman writes, this theory has been “widely accepted” by environmentalists to explain evangelical apathy about climate change.  But is it true?  Veldman is the author of The Gospel of Climate Skepticism: Why Evangelical Christians Oppose Action on Climate Change.  Here is a taste of her interview with Eric C. Miller at Religion & Politics:

Religion & Politics: This book offers an extended examination of what you have called the “end-time apathy hypothesis.” What is that, exactly?

Robin Globus Veldman: The basic idea is that evangelicals don’t care about the environment because they think that Jesus will return soon. It has been widely accepted, especially among environmentalists, but had never been empirically investigated. It was always just kind of thrown out there. E.O. Wilson, Al Gore, and Bill Moyers, for example, have all talked about the potential for end-time beliefs to discourage concern about climate change. As Moyers says, why care about the earth when you and yours are about to be rescued in the Rapture? But I wanted to treat it as a hypothesis because no one had actually examined it. Though I could have approached evangelical attitudes on climate from the angle of politics or theology or anti-science prejudices, this struck me as a more productive research question. There seemed to be a lot of lay interest, and it was something that I was curious about too. So that’s where I started.

R&P: Is the hypothesis correct?

RGV: My argument is that it’s onto something, but it’s not the best way to conceptualize what’s going on. End-time beliefs are a very important part of modern evangelicals’ religious worldview. They are a key element of the faith, and they play a central role in a lot of evangelical culture. But I found that end-time beliefs are deeply enmeshed in a larger matrix of influences from which they can’t be separated. They can’t be considered in isolation. I spend the rest of the book mapping that matrix.

R&P: The hypothesis relies on an end-times eschatology known as premillennialism, and you divide your subjects into “hot” and “cool” millennialist camps. What is this distinction and why is it important?

RGV: One of the tricky things about this research is that it required a deep dive into evangelical eschatology—the study of end times—and that required learning some jargon, especially as it concerns two key ideas. Premillennialism refers to the belief that Jesus will return to earth before the millennium, which is understood as a thousand-year period of righteousness over which Christ will preside. Postmillennialism, by contrast, refers to the belief that Jesus will return after a thousand-year period. Premillennialism suggests that the condition of life on earth will deteriorate until Christ returns, while postmillennialism suggests that it should improve. This is how evangelical theologians divide the different beliefs about the end times.

But when I went into the field and started speaking with people, I found that these categories did not map cleanly onto actually existing beliefs. Since most people who hold these viewpoints have not studied them in-depth or gone to seminary or anything, they don’t have this sort of erudite understanding. Instead, the clearest distinction that I saw in terms of how to categorize people was between what I call “hot” and “cool” millennialists. Hot millennialists are people who are really excited about the end times. They think that Jesus is coming back soon, they’re paying attention to signs, and the possibility gives them a feeling of hope. Cool millennialists are people who believe in Christ’s return but do not believe that it can be predicted with accuracy, and so are less directly motivated by the anticipation. As one gentleman told me, “We live like he’s coming today, but plan like he’s coming tomorrow.” This is by far the more common view, which ends up being very significant for attitudes on climate change because the end-time apathy hypothesis imagines a large constituency of hot millennialists. But these are far fewer, and I ran into a very small number of people who seemed to be enthusiastic about climate change as a harbinger of the end. If the hypothesis were correct, you’d expect to see a lot more of that sort of energy.

Read the rest here.

What Will American Religious Historians Say About the 2010s?

3c837-pope-francis-009

Over at The Anxious Bench, historian Philip Jenkins asks, “what will future scholars of Christianity highlight when they write the history of the 2010s?  What tremors reshaped the landscape of faith?”

Here is part of Jenkins’s answer:

I would start with the papacy of Francis in the Roman Catholic church, with all that has meant for controversies within the church, and the struggles for an against reform.

Within the United States, I would include, for instance:

-The Rise of the Nones, people admitting no religious affiliation, and what that might mean for secularization trends.

-The 2016 election and the conflicts within evangelicalism: charges that white evangelicals follow conservative politics at the expense of religious principles. See: a great many posts at this blog by multiple authors.

-Growing calls for women’s leadership within many churches, especially among evangelicals. See: a great many posts at this blog by multiple authors.

-The establishment of same sex marriage as mainstream social orthodoxy (the Obergefell decision 2015), with all the actual and potential clashes that sets up for churches, and for individual conservative Christian believers.

-Activism and concern about climate issues and global warming becomes a leading cause for US churches.

Read the entire piece here.

In addition to Jenkins’s mention of women leadership, I would add the influence of the #MeToo movement in evangelical churches and denominations. (Bill Hybels, Paige Patterson, John Crist, etc.)

It also seems that white churches are coming to grips with questions of structural racism like never before.

Why Christians Should Be Concerned About Climate Change

Climate change

Last night I went to a George Will lecture on campus and listened to him question whether climate change was man-made.  (This was not the focus of his lecture, but the subject came-up during the Q&A period).

When it comes to climate change, I think I will stick with the climate scientists who actually know something about the subject.  One of these scientists is Katharine Hayhoe, an evangelical Christian who co-directs the Climate Center at Texas Tech University.  Yesterday Hayhoe published a piece on Christians and climate change in The New York Times.  Here is a taste:

I’m not a glutton for punishment and I don’t thrive on conflict. So why do I keep talking about climate change to people who are disengaged or doubtful? Because I believe that evangelicals who take the Bible seriously already care about climate change (although they might not realize it). Climate change will strike hard against the very people we’re told to care for and love, amplifying hunger and poverty, and increasing risks of resource scarcity that can exacerbate political instability, and even create or worsen refugee crises.

Then there’s pollution, biodiversity loss, habitat fragmentation, species extinction: climate change makes all those worse, too. In fact, if we truly believe we’ve been given responsibility for every living thing on this planet (including each other) as it says in Genesis 1, then it isn’t only a matter of caring about climate change: We should be at the front of the line demanding action.

But if caring about climate change is such a profoundly Christian value, then why do surveys in the United States consistently show white evangelicals and white Catholics at the bottom of those Americans concerned about the changing climate?

Read the entire piece here.

Robert Jeffress: Environmental Activist Greta Thunberg Needs to Look at a Rainbow and Read Genesis 9

Here is court evangelical Robert Jeffress on 16-year-old environmental activist Greta Thunberg:

“God said he created the environment to serve us, not for us to serve the environment. This Greta Thunberg, the 16 year-old, she was warning today about the mass extinction of humanity. Somebody needs to read poor Greta Genesis chapter 9 and tell her the next time she worries about global warming, just look at a rainbow; that’s God’s promise that the polar ice caps aren’t going to melt and flood the world again.”

Watch Jeffress and Fox News radio host Todd Starnes compare climate change to the Tooth Ferry and Big Foot.

Robert Jeffress: Climate Change Is an ‘Imaginary Crisis’ That God Won’t Let Happen from Right Wing Watch on Vimeo.

Right Wing Watch cuts off the video there, so I can’t say if there is any additional context beyond this that might nuance what Jeffress and Starnes are saying about climate change.  But I doubt it.

I am also guessing that Jeffress believes that the world is flat, the earth is the center of the universe, and that God created the world in seven literal 24-hour days.

Here is the video of Thunberg at the United Nations:

“How dare you!”

 

 

Overcoming Fear with Hope: On Climate Change

Bridge

Jonathan Franzen’s recent New Yorker essay on climate change is sobering.  But is also hopeful.

Franzen argues that we are investing too much time and money into trying to reverse the consequences of climate change when it is probably too late to do anything about it.  Instead, we should be spending our time and resources thinking about how we are going to survive the devastating impact of climate change.  Hope, he argues, is part of the answer.

Here is a taste:

I’m talking, of course, about climate change. The struggle to rein in global carbon emissions and keep the planet from melting down has the feel of Kafka’s fiction. The goal has been clear for thirty years, and despite earnest efforts we’ve made essentially no progress toward reaching it. Today, the scientific evidence verges on irrefutable. If you’re younger than sixty, you have a good chance of witnessing the radical destabilization of life on earth—massive crop failures, apocalyptic fires, imploding economies, epic flooding, hundreds of millions of refugees fleeing regions made uninhabitable by extreme heat or permanent drought. If you’re under thirty, you’re all but guaranteed to witness it.

If you care about the planet, and about the people and animals who live on it, there are two ways to think about this. You can keep on hoping that catastrophe is preventable, and feel ever more frustrated or enraged by the world’s inaction. Or you can accept that disaster is coming, and begin to rethink what it means to have hope.

Even at this late date, expressions of unrealistic hope continue to abound. Hardly a day seems to pass without my reading that it’s time to “roll up our sleeves” and “save the planet”; that the problem of climate change can be “solved” if we summon the collective will. Although this message was probably still true in 1988, when the science became fully clear, we’ve emitted as much atmospheric carbon in the past thirty years as we did in the previous two centuries of industrialization. The facts have changed, but somehow the message stays the same.

Psychologically, this denial makes sense. Despite the outrageous fact that I’ll soon be dead forever, I live in the present, not the future. Given a choice between an alarming abstraction (death) and the reassuring evidence of my senses (breakfast!), my mind prefers to focus on the latter. The planet, too, is still marvelously intact, still basically normal—seasons changing, another election year coming, new comedies on Netflix—and its impending collapse is even harder to wrap my mind around than death. Other kinds of apocalypse, whether religious or thermonuclear or asteroidal, at least have the binary neatness of dying: one moment the world is there, the next moment it’s gone forever. Climate apocalypse, by contrast, is messy. It will take the form of increasingly severe crises compounding chaotically until civilization begins to fray. Things will get very bad, but maybe not too soon, and maybe not for everyone. Maybe not for me.

Read the entire piece here.

Scientists Need the Humanities to Address Climate Change

Climate Change Manifest Destiny

What is the relationship between Manifest Destiny and climate change?

“I want to do something about climate change, but I don’t like science and I am not good at it.”

“I love history, literature, or philosophy, but I don’t see these disciplines advancing real change in the world.”

If you can relate to these statements, I would encourage you to read Steven Allison and Tyrus Miller’s piece at The Conversation: “Why science needs the humanities to solve climate change.” Both men teach at the University of California-Irvine. Allison teaches ecology, evolutionary biology, and earth systems science.  Mller is the dean of the School of Humanities.

Here is a taste of their piece:

Scholars in the humanities interpret human history, literature and imagery to figure out how people make sense of their world. Humanists challenge others to consider what makes a good life, and pose uncomfortable questions – for example, “Good for whom?” and “At whose expense?”

Going beyond science, humanists can define cultural forces driving climate change, such as the fossil fuel dependence of industrialized societies.

In her book, “Living Oil: Petroleum Culture in the American Century,” literature scholar Stephanie LeMenager asserts that 20th-century culture – novels, poetry, films, photography and television – generated a mythology of “petro-utopia.” Images of gushing oil derricks implied that the American good life meant unfettered consumption of fossil fuels.

Popular culture, land use and economics reflected this ideal, particularly in California. Even as the Golden State strives to lead the nation in combating climate change, the legacy of petro-culture endures in suburban sprawl and jammed freeways.

Humanist scholars like LeMenager help to uncover the root causes of complex problems. Yes, rising carbon dioxide levels trap more heat in the atmosphere – but values matter too. Defining features of American identity, such as independence, freedom, mobility and self-reliance, have become entangled with petroleum consumption.

Read the entire piece here.

Katherine Hayhoe: Climate Scientist and Evangelical

Hayhoe

The Washington Post is running a really interesting piece on Katherine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech University and an evangelical Christian. (Her spouse is a Christian author, pastor, and radio host). Those evangelicals who want to reach public audiences in their religious tribe can learn a lot of Hayhoe’s approach.  Here is a taste of Dan Zak’s post:

Her skills of communication do seem miraculous by the standards of modern climate politics: She can convert nonbelievers. She knows how to speak to oil men, to Christians, to farmers and ranchers, having lived for years in Lubbock, Texas, with her pastor husband. She is a scientist who thinks that we’ve talked enough about science, that we need to talk more about matters of the heart.

For her, that means talking about faith.

“We humans have been given responsibility for every living thing on this planet, which includes each other,” Hayhoe said at the conference. “We are called to tend the garden and be good stewards of the gifts that God has given us.”

You might say that the climate problem, while understood through science, can be solved only through faith.

Faith in each other.

Faith in our ability to do something bold, together.

Faith that the pain of change, that the sacrifices required, will lead to a promised land.

Does this sound believable? Maybe in some places, to certain people. In Washington, at the climate conference, Hayhoe was preaching to the choir. But the prophet wasn’t just in town to talk to believers. She was here to talk to Congress.

Getting activists to clap for fossil fuels was the easy part.

Read the entire piece here.

Evangelicals Call for Renewable Energy in Indiana

Kyle Schaap

Kyle Meyaard-Schaap

21,000 evangelicals that is.  Learn more from Rebecca Thiele’s piece at WFYI (Indianapolis).   A taste:

A group of evangelicals in Indiana wants the state to expand wind and solar energy. The Evangelical Environmental Network delivered more than 21,000 signatures to Gov. Eric Holcomb Wednesday demanding 100% renewable energy in the state by 2030. 

“It gives [lawmakers] freedom to pursue solutions at the speed and scale that we need to address environmental pollution and the climate crisis,” says Rev. Kyle Meyaard-Schaap, director of outreach for the EEN.

The EEN calls itself a ministry that mobilizes christians to care for God’s creation, which includes the environment. It says Indiana’s reliance on coal led the United Health Foundation to rank the state near the bottom for air quality.

Read the rest here.

 

The Effects of Climate Change

Climate change

We had a good discussion at my dinner table tonight about the Fourth National Climate Assessment.  As a young evangelical, my seventeen-year old daughter is passionate about this issue and it was fun to see her so engaged.  She is appalled at Donald Trump’s refusal to believe the findings.  By the way, she will cast for her vote a president for the first time in 2020.  She is heading off to a yet-to-be-determined Christian college in the Fall and will represent, I pray, the future leadership of the church on this issue and others.

As I said before, I think evangelicals must take this report seriously and treat it as a “life” issue.  Sadly, I think most evangelicals will ignore it or shrug it off because they are afraid it will divide their churches.  But my prayer is that some pastors and church leaders will have the courage to confront this head-on.  If your evangelical church is addressing this is in some meaningful and purposeful way I would love to hear about it.

Over at CNN, Jen Christensen provides fifteen “takeaways” from the report.  They are:

  1. Crop production will decline
  2. Cows could have it bad
  3. Food sources from the sea will decline
  4. Food and waterborne illness will spread
  5. Bugs will bug us more
  6. It will be hard to breathe
  7. Mental health will be challenged
  8. More of us will die
  9. We won’t be able to work as much
  10. We won’t be able to get around as easily
  11. Water infrastructure will be challenged
  12. Floods will be more frequent
  13. Wildfires will increase
  14. History will be lost
  15. There will be more snakes and other invaders

Read how Christensen develops these points here.

The Fourth National Climate Assessment Report is Here and it Doesn’t Look Good for the Planet

Wildfires

Read it here.

What is this report?  A taste:

The Global Change Research Act of 1990 mandates that the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) deliver a report to Congress and the President no less than every four years that “1) integrates, evaluates, and interprets the findings of the Program…; 2) analyzes the effects of global change on the natural environment, agriculture, energy production and use, land and water resources, transportation, human health and welfare, human social systems, and biological diversity; and 3) analyzes current trends in global change, both human-induced and natural, and projects major trends for the subsequent 25 to 100 years.”

The Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4) fulfills that mandate in two volumes. This report, Volume II, draws on the foundational science described in Volume I, the Climate Science Special Report (CSSR). Volume II focuses on the human welfare, societal, and environmental elements of climate change and variability for 10 regions and 18 national topics, with particular attention paid to observed and projected risks, impacts, consideration of risk reduction, and implications under different mitigation pathways. Where possible, NCA4 Volume II provides examples of actions underway in communities across the United States to reduce the risks associated with climate change, increase resilience, and improve livelihoods.

This assessment was written to help inform decision-makers, utility and natural resource managers, public health officials, emergency planners, and other stakeholders by providing a thorough examination of the effects of climate change on the United States.

Key points from the report:

  1. “Climate change creates new risks and exacerbates existing vulnerabilities in communities across the United States, presenting growing challenges to human health and safety, quality of life, and the rate of economic growth.”
  2. “Without substantial and sustained global mitigation and regional adaptation efforts, climate change is expected to cause growing losses to American infrastructure and property and impede the rate of economic growth over this century.”
  3. “Climate change affects the natural, built, and social systems we rely on individually and through their connections to one another. These interconnected systems are increasingly vulnerable to cascading impacts that are often difficult to predict, threatening essential services within and beyond the Nation’s borders.”
  4. “Communities, governments, and businesses are working to reduce risks from and costs associated with climate change by taking action to lower greenhouse gas emissions and implement adaptation strategies. While mitigation and adaptation efforts have expanded substantially in the last four years, they do not yet approach the scale considered necessary to avoid substantial damages to the economy, environment, and human health over the coming decades.”
  5. “The quality and quantity of water available for use by people and ecosystems across the country are being affected by climate change, increasing risks and costs to agriculture, energy production, industry, recreation, and the environment.”
  6. “Impacts from climate change on extreme weather and climate-related events, air quality, and the transmission of disease through insects and pests, food, and water increasingly threaten the health and well-being of the American people, particularly populations that are already vulnerable.”
  7. “Climate change increasingly threatens Indigenous communities’ livelihoods, economies, health, and cultural identities by disrupting interconnected social, physical, and ecological systems.”
  8. “Ecosystems and the benefits they provide to society are being altered by climate change, and these impacts are projected to continue. Without substantial and sustained reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions, transformative impacts on some ecosystems will occur; some coral reef and sea ice ecosystems are already experiencing such transformational changes.”
  9. “Rising temperatures, extreme heat, drought, wildfire on rangelands, and heavy downpours are expected to increasingly disrupt agricultural productivity in the United States. Expected increases in challenges to livestock health, declines in crop yields and quality, and changes in extreme events in the United States and abroad threaten rural livelihoods, sustainable food security, and price stability.”
  10. “Our Nation’s aging and deteriorating infrastructure is further stressed by increases in heavy precipitation events, coastal flooding, heat, wildfires, and other extreme events, as well as changes to average precipitation and temperature. Without adaptation, climate change will continue to degrade infrastructure performance over the rest of the century, with the potential for cascading impacts that threaten our economy, national security, essential services, and health and well-being.”
  11. “Coastal communities and the ecosystems that support them are increasingly threatened by the impacts of climate change. Without significant reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions and regional adaptation measures, many coastal regions will be transformed by the latter part of this century, with impacts affecting other regions and sectors. Even in a future with lower greenhouse gas emissions, many communities are expected to suffer financial impacts as chronic high-tide flooding leads to higher costs and lower property values.”
  12. “Outdoor recreation, tourist economies, and quality of life are reliant on benefits provided by our natural environment that will be degraded by the impacts of climate change in many ways.”

Read more about all twelve of these points here.  Here is a Washington Post article on the report.

I am glad to learn so many young evangelicals are taking this seriously.  It is time for our churches to do the same.  This is a LIFE issue.

Young Evangelicals and Climate Change

climate-change-2-412-dsp-2-climatechange_020jpg-7190dd-1600

Jeremiah 29:7: “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

What might the application of this verse mean for the evangelical role in fighting climate change?  How might creation care and environmental justice help the “welfare” of the cities where live and work?  For me and many others, this is a “life” issue.  It is something that churches must address as part of their missions.

The college students behind Young Evangelicals for Climate Action (YECA) agree.  Check out Meera Subramanian’s profile of this group at Inside Climate News.  A taste:

Climate science isn’t questioned at Wheaton College the way it often is in the wider evangelical community. The school is a brick-and-mortar rebuttal to the myth that science and religion must be at odds with each other. When Wheaton students step into their-state-of-the-art science building, for instance, they are greeted with signs stating that a “sound Biblical theology gives us a proper basis for scientific inquiry,” and a display featuring locally excavated Perry the Mastodon, which carbon dating shows to be more than 13,000 years old.

The school is not alone in intertwining commitments to love God and protect the earth, often referred to as “creation care.” The Cape Town Commitment, a global agreement between evangelical leaders from nearly 200 countries, includes acknowledgement of climate change and how it will hurt the world’s poor (and it is required reading for Wheaton freshmen). Katharine Hayhoe, an atmospheric scientist at Texas Tech University and an evangelical, has been an outspoken advocate for climate action. And in addition to YECA, there are numerous groups active in this arena, including the Evangelical Climate Initiative, Climate Caretakers, Care of Creation and A Rocha.

In late 2015, the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE)—the biggest umbrella group of evangelicals in the country, representing 43 million Americans—issued a statement accepting climate change, acknowledging the human contribution to it and encouraging action. YECA’s advocacy helped bring that statement, called “Loving the Least of These,” into being. In it, NAE argues that Christians should be compelled to care about climate change as a matter of social justice, equating those without the resources to adapt to failed farming or dry wells or rising seas as the modern-day equivalents of the widows and orphans of Jesus’s day.

Read the entire piece here.

Hoaxes

First there was this:

Now there is this:

Believe me.  These hoaxes are real.  Believe me.  🙂

Trump Evangelicals Line-Up Behind Scott Pruitt

Pruitt

Scott Pruitt’s ethical problems are abundant.  Here is how Aaron Weaver describes them in his recent piece at Sojourners:

A $50-a-night condo deal from a lobbyist pal. More than $100,000 for first class airfare and $40,000 on a soundproof phone booth. A twenty person 24-hour protective detail and emergency sirens en route to a French restaurant. Travel costs closing in on $3 million. Big raises for top aides and demotions for officials who dare question the spending habits of their boss and head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt.

Yet many evangelicals are standing by him, including Family Research Council president Tony Perkins.

Here is another taste of Weaver’s piece:

The evangelical leaders called Pruitt “well qualified” to head the EPA and said he deserved “the full support of the United States Senate in his confirmation.” These evangelicals aimed to counter the claims of climate change denialism leveled against their Southern Baptist brother, insisting that he had been “misrepresented as denying ‘settled science.’” Pruitt had just called for “a continuing debate” on the impact and extent of climate change, they said.

With this public defense of Pruitt, these evangelicals were continuing down a path started more than a decade ago as awareness about the urgent global challenge of climate change was increasing within evangelicalism. In 2006, a coalition of well known evangelical pastors and professors calling themselves the Evangelical Climate Initiative released a declaration urging environmental concern and imploring Congress to adopt legislation to curb carbon emissions. Shortly after, the Southern Baptist Convention adopted a statement warning that climate change was “threatening to become a wedge issue to divide the evangelical community” and distract its members from “the priority of the Great Commission.”

Read the rest here.

 

 

The Author’s Corner with Sam White

51eyPpHtiAL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Sam White is associate professor of History at The Ohio State University. This interview is based on his new book, A Cold Welcome: The Little Ice Age and Europe’s Encounter with North America (Harvard University Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write A Cold Welcome?

SW: About seven years ago, I finished a book about climate and crisis in the Middle East—The Climate of Rebellion in the Early Modern Ottoman Empire. Researching that book had meant a lot of time away from family reading through difficult records in archives in Turkey and Europe, and so this time I wanted to work on something closer to home. Colonial American history also attracted me because, while its narrative may seem familiar, a closer look reveals that there is always so much more going on underneath the surface and more ways to find it out.  By bringing in new perspectives from ongoing historical, archaeological, and scientific research, I could tell a story much more compelling than the one I had learned in school—and much more relevant to the present day.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of A Cold Welcome?

SW: In A Cold Welcome, I show how the first European explorers and settlers came to North America unprepared for the continent’s stronger seasons and the extreme weather characteristic of the Little Ice Age. Thanks to new research, we can understand how those challenges shaped colonial history in ways both subtle and profound.

JF: Why do we need to read A Cold Welcome?

SW: First, these early colonial ventures make for fascinating stories. I wrote A Cold Welcome to be a book that anyone could read and enjoy. Second, the rapid climatic and environmental change of our own times means that we need to rethink the ways we look at the past as well. We have new climate data that can give us remarkable new insights into historical events. Moreover, I believe there are lessons in our history as we confront global warming, and these lessons are not as simple or straightforward as we might imagine. 

JF:  When and why did you decide to become an American historian? (Or if you are not an American history, how did you get interested in the study of the past?)

SW: That’s a long story—and even with the book out, I’m still not sure I’d call myself an American historian. To me, A Cold Welcome is not so much a story about America as a story about the confusion of people from one continent encountering a new continent with different climates and environments. It was that historical experience—and its parallels to our experience of rapid environmental change—that concerned me most as I wrote this book.

JF: What is your next project?

SW: At the moment, I’m mostly working with historical climatologists on technical issues of how we can combine natural records (such as tree rings) with man-made records (such as weather diaries) in order to better reconstruct historical climate variability and its impacts. I’m the lead editor of a big textbook on that subject, The Handbook of Climate History, which is coming out in early 2018. Beyond that, I’d like to write a book about disasters and migration to the United States from colonial times to the 20th century.

JF: Thanks, Sam!