• sunset

    FAITH ... And God saw all that he had made ....

  • glacier

    SCIENCE ... and behold, it was very good.

  • girl-holding-hand

    JUSTICE ... As you did for the least of these brothers of mine...

  • people-holding-buckets

    ACTION ... you did it for me.

  • banana-leaf

    RESOURCES ... books, videos and online tools for earthkeepers

If Climate Change Is So Bad, Won’t God Step In and Stop It?

The outlook for a world disrupted by too much climate pollution is grim. Researchers speak freely these days of a sixth “mass extinction event,” like the one that doomed the dinosaurs. Others depict a world awash with climate refugees, fleeing from drought, famine, resource conflicts and rising sea levels. Military commanders warn of political instability and conflict on an unmanageable scale.

Most of us shy away from these nightmares, not because we necessarily discount the risks, but because the nearly inevitable human reaction is a numbed sense of avoidance and paralysis. It simply must not be true, and if it is, there must be something less depressing to occupy my thoughts at this moment.

But for Christians, we have to ask: What about God? Where is he in all this? We sing and believe that “his eye is on the sparrow” – surely the future of his creation is in his hands, not ours? God would not allow us to destroy his creation, would he?

A remarkable answer to this question comes from Rev. Ed Brown, author of the excellent book, “Our Father’s World: Mobilizing the Church to Care for Creation.” In fact, the question posed above is framed by Brown himself. Here’s a bit of his answer:

“If we choose to destroy our home, God will not stop us.

“Unless, that is, God were to step into history the way he usually does, through human beings who have aligned their lives with him and who are committed to accomplishing his purposes in their own small histories. Remember God’s invitation to Moses in Exodus? God said, ‘I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out … and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them’ (3:7-8).

“And then the clincher: ‘So now go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.’ When God wants to do something in the world, he does step in, but he does it through people.”

Christians wrestle long and hard with the meaning of God’s sovereignty in his world, and meaningful answers can hardly be reduced to short sound bites. But surely Brown is on to something. And for those addicted to New Yorker cartoons (like me), maybe here the theological debate is best framed with a chuckle, and then a renewed commitment to learn, pray and act.

New Yorker Magazine, January 2016

New Yorker Magazine, January 2016

And if you’re wondering about ways to do that, you might want to take a look here.

The Hezekiah Syndrome: Why We Don’t Worry About the Kids

In the time of the prophet Isaiah, Judah’s King Hezekiah watched with alarm as his Hebrew kin in the Northern Kingdom were carried off into cultural genocide in Assyria. He managed to hold out in Jerusalem, however, and became widely regarded as one of the few “good guys” among Hebrew kings. But when Isaiah pronounced God’s judgment on Hezekiah, the strangest thing happened.

You remember the story, right? Hezekiah welcomed into his treasure vaults some ambassadors sent from another rising power – Babylon. He must have felt like a big shot parading out of all the gold and jewels he had amassed. This prompted Isaiah to deliver a terrifying verdict: All of your precious wealth will be carried off to Babylon. Worse yet, your sons will be led into captivity in chains. There, they will be castrated to serve as eunuchs and slaves of the king of Babylon.

Like a man under a terminal diagnosis, Hezekiah wanted to know how long he had left. The prophet’s good news – I suppose – was that the axe would fall only on the next generation, after his death. The king’s reaction – to me, at least — was stunning: Well, okay then! “Why not, if there will be peace and security in my days?” (2 Kings 20:19)

Picture4Parents everywhere swear that their overarching goal is to leave a better life for their children – or at least politicians love to tell us so. But the story of Hezekiah confronts us with an enormous challenge. Why doesn’t the Bible seem to condemn this betrayal of the kids? Why is it the scripture’s verdict that Hezekiah “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord?” And when was the last time we heard a sermon decrying Hezekiah as an intergenerational villain?

Creation care advocates see the “Hezekiah Syndrome” at work among us all the time. Sure, it’s starting to look very bad these days. Yes, global heat records are being broken year after year. And greenhouse gases are pouring into the atmosphere faster than ever. Sure, extreme weather is destroying crops and inundating coasts. And refugees are on the move en masse. The extinction of species is accelerating beyond anything seen by paleo-science in eons. And in just a few decades, the world’s oceans have become dangerously acidic, threatening much of the world’s food chain.

But whatever we see today, all the evidence tells us that this pales in comparison to what’s in store for those who will be living later in the century, and beyond. And this would lead us to expect that we would all spring into action, right? Since everyone’s got kids, grandkids or nieces, then surely they will take the climate challenge seriously. At least, they’ll read some actual research, from journals like Nature or Science, or from the National Academies or NASA.

But time after time, we’re disappointed. It would appear that we’re not all that concerned about what might be in store for the kids. If we’re looking to find motivation for responsible climate action, concern for the children simply is not very potent.

It’s not that we haven’t tried. One climate activist has asked us which question we’d rather hear in our old age: “What were you thinking? Didn’t you see the North Pole melting before your eyes?” or, more happily “How did you find the moral courage to solve the crisis?” But we’ve learned that appeals to intergenerational justice have curiously little power.

Now, British researcher George Marshall has given us some solid data about this phenomenon. Marshall cites studies by Haddock Research & Marketing in the US, Canada and the UK which demonstrates that people with children are actually less concerned about climate change than childless people. Really — less concerned. In Canada, “people with children were 60 percent more likely to say that climate change was not really happening than people without children,” says Marshall.

You’d think, wouldn’t you, that the opposite would be true? Parents will naturally sympathize with those whose diapers they changed, or so you’d think. But the Hezekiah Syndrome prevails for reasons that behavioral scientists have explored at some length.

Climate change is sometimes called a “wicked problem” – one that defies some of our most basic human responses. It’s not solvable by any individual acting alone; it lacks an obvious villain to mobilize against; its effects are felt most acutely by those far removed from us, by space, time, race or culture; it lacks a happy ending in human time-scale; and its narrative is mired in “research-speak,” replete with arcane statistics and carefully-worded probabilities.

If a bully is hitting your daughter on the playground, you don’t have to debate what to do. You’ll risk life and limb to protect her. BUT …

  • if it’s “very likely” that the average temperature of her world will be 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit warmer about 30 years from now;
  • if that proves to be a “threat multiplier” driving drought, flooding, hunger, political instability and resource conflicts in many places of her world, possibly her places;
  • if rising sea levels “probably” will force her to abandon Miami, New Orleans, or any of the beaches you enjoyed as a child;
  • if climate refugees will “likely” overrun many distant countries and fuel stronger calls to build border defenses in our own;
  • and if the solutions to these likelihoods seem expensive, uncertain and offensive to some of your friends …

… then maybe, the normal human response mechanisms will lead you to wonder whether all this stuff is just “alarmism.” You brought her into this world, didn’t you? Why would you subject her to all these risks?

“Wicked” problems are tricky that way. Instead of pulling out all stops to address them, maybe it’s understandable why so many parents hardly dare to think about solutions. After all, Marshall says, we can always immerse ourselves “in the daily routine of tears, laughter, and the hunt for the missing shoe, and put climate change into that category of tricky, challenging things we would prefer not to talk about.”

For parents – and indeed for all of us – climate change is a wicked problem. And the response to wicked problems bears all the marks of the Hezekiah Syndrome. Perhaps our reply to Isaiah is not that much different from Hezekiah’s. Oh well, who knows what God and his world will do several decades from now? At least I have peace in my time.

Can we bear to ask whether this might be what we’re saying?

The Iowa Caucus & the Story of Farmer Dog

Now that the Iowa Caucuses are over, the rest of the country might want to know about the Renewable Fuel Standard, that healthy-sounding thing that almost all the candidates from both parties swore to enforce (while campaigning in Iowa, of course). Here it is in terms you can read to your kids. It was written in 2011, and some things have changed since then. But the basic story line is as true as ever:

In a faraway country called Cornlandia, there lived a dog named Farmer Dog.  Farmer Dog was a free dog.  He depended on nobody, and he liked it that way.  He drove his tractor when he wanted to, and he plowed his ground when he wanted to.  He was a free dog.

Farmer Dog on his tractor

Farmer Dog on his tractor

One day, his neighbor told Farmer Dog that he wasn’t as free as he thought.  The gasoline that he used to fill his tractor was bought from a bad duck named Qadaffy, who lived in a foreign land.  Qadaffy Duck pumped oil from deep beneath his ground, and put it on a ship that sailed to Cornlandia.  Recently, Qadaffy Duck had been charging more and more and more for his oil.

Qadaffy Duck had the oil that Farmer Dog needed, so he wasn’t really free.  This made Farmer Dog mad.

But Farmer Dog was a resourceful dog.  So he decided to make his own gasoline out of something that he could grow in Cornlandia – CORN.   It wasn’t really gasoline.  It was called Ethanol.  But Farmer Dog could make plenty of Ethanol.  All he had to do was grow plenty of corn.

Qadaffy Duck sold Farmer Dog the oil for his tractor

Qadaffy Duck sold Farmer Dog the oil for his tractor

So Farmer Dog climbed onto his tractor to plow the ground and plant the corn.  But there was a problem:  he had no gas in the tank!  Farmer Dog was a resourceful dog.  Even though he was mad, Farmer Dog asked Qadaffy Duck for ten buckets of oil for his tractor.  It took one bucket of oil to run the pump, and Farmer Dog went away with nine buckets.  But crude oil isn’t gasoline, so Farmer Dog went to a neighbor who could turn the remaining oil into gasoline.  It took another bucket of crude to run the refining machine, and Farmer Dog went back home with eight buckets of gasoline.

He poured four of those buckets into his tractor, and it roared to life, plowing the soil, planting the seeds, cultivating the ground, and harvesting the mature corn.  When he was done, his wagon was full of bright yellow corn, but the four buckets of gasoline were used up.

He took the corn to the distiller and asked him to make it into Ethanol, so he could be free from the evil Qadaffy Duck. The distiller needed Farmer Dog’s last four buckets of gasoline to run the distilling machine.  Now the last of the gasoline was all gone.  Farmer Dog watched as the distiller worked.  Ethanol poured from his machine, bucket after bucket!  When the distilling was finished, there were eighteen buckets of Ethanol, which Farmer Dog happily took home.

But there was a problem.  The Ethanol didn’t provide as much power as Qadaffy Duck’s gasoline.  It was about one-third weaker!  Farmer Dog was not happy.  All this work to be free from Qadaffy Duck’s oil, and only enough Ethanol to equal about 12 buckets of gasoline: only two more buckets than the ten he had bought from Qadaffy Duck to start with!

All that work and all that cost to gain only two buckets of fuel!

Farmer Dog was not happy, but he was a resourceful dog.  He had an idea: What if he could get the people of Cornlandia to give him a little extra money for every bucket of Ethanol he made with his corn? Better yet, what if he could make all his neighbors buy a little of his Ethanol to mix with their gasoline?  Then, maybe it would be worth it.

Off he drove to visit Governor Mutt, Cornlandia’s top dog.  The Governor thought Farmer Dog’s idea was brilliant, and he made all Farmer Dog’s neighbors give him extra money for every bucket of Ethanol he made.  He also made them all buy a little of Farmer Dog’s Ethanol to mix with their gasoline.

Governor Mutt made everyone buy Farmer Dog's ethanol

Governor Mutt made everyone pay for Farmer Dog’s ethanol

Farmer Dog was happy, and he made more and more Ethanol, since everyone had to buy some.

But there was a problem.  Farmer Dog’s neighbors were not happy at all.  The corn they had once bought to feed their chickens and dairy cows was now gone for Farmer Dog’s Ethanol.  Now the chickens laid no eggs, and the cows gave no milk!  They had to buy Farmer Dog’s Ethanol.  And worse yet, they had to pay Governor Mutt’s tax for every bucket he made from his corn!

Farmer Dog was selling so much Ethanol that he needed more and more gasoline to run his tractor and the distilling machine.  Qadaffy Duck sold him all the oil he needed.  Qadaffy didn’t seem to be such a bad duck any more.

And Farmer Dog and Qadaffy Duck lived happily ever after.

** THE END **

Ethanol graph

 

 

 

 

Note to reader:  I actually made this story up.  But here are a few actual facts for you (current as of 3/2011):

FactWorld corn prices have increased by 73% since June 2010, according to a World Bank January 2011 report.

FactAccording to the World Bank, rising global food prices swelled the numbers of those in extreme poverty by 44 million souls last year alone – people living on less than $1.25 per day.

FactA 2008 report by the World Bank attributed 70-75% of the world food price rises to subsidies for biofuels like corn ethanol.

FactOne tankful of ethanol consumes more than enough corn – 8 bushels – to feed one African person for an entire year.

Fact34.9 percent of the U.S. corn harvest went to make ethanol last year, almost as much as for animal feed. This year, about 36 percent of the American corn harvest will be ethanol.

FactU.S. acreage to grow corn for ethanol last year was as big as the entire state of Ohio, or Virginia or Tennessee.

FactU.S. law requires the use of ethanol in fuels:  13.2 billion gallons of it last year.

FactAmerican taxpayers paid $23 billion in taxes or government deficits last year because of subsidies for corn ethanol. The Congressional Budget Office reported that the cost to U.S. taxpayers from ethanol subsidies totaled $1.78 per gallon of ethanol produced.

FactWhile researchers disagree on the exact number, they all agree that making ethanol uses a lot of fuel.  Some argue that it uses more fuel than the actual ethanol produced.  But even the most optimistic admit that for every unit of ethanol produced, you have to consume at least two-thirds of that amount in petroleum.

FactIf we used all the corn grown in the U.S. for nothing but ethanol, we would only satisfy 12% of our gasoline demand.  But if we count the petroleum used to make the stuff, we would only have about 3% more fuel – and no corn at all for that old-fashioned practice … eating.

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.   Isaiah 55:2

Thanks for reading, and may God bless you.

The Third Door: Donald Trump As God’s Servant

In 2012, a respected friend in my church asked me, in passing, who I was supporting in that year’s presidential elections. “Do you like Romney?” he asked. “Or maybe Gingrich or Santorum?”

For a moment, I was at a loss for words. It wasn’t that political conversation was off limits in our church, which is evangelical and Reformed, but not openly partisan. It was the unexamined assumption that my support would go to one of those three, or perhaps Bachman, Cain or Perry –all vying for the GOP nomination.

In fact, I wasn’t crazy about any of those candidates. I was one of the millions of Christians who, four years earlier, had suspended past party allegiances in the wreckage of the banking disaster, the Great Recession, climate denial and reckless unfunded wars – to vote instead for “hope and change.” The awkward fact was, four years later, I wasn’t ready to go back just yet.

Evangelical Christianity among white Americans in recent years has seemingly become almost synonymous with allegiance to the Republican Party. The Pew Center tells us that 56% of evangelicals identify as Republicans, a gaping 28-point spread over the 28% who identify as Democrats.

Evangelicals are presented with two "batch ideologies" today

Evangelicals are presented with two “batch ideologies”

But it’s not necessarily intuitive, is it? For argument’s sake, some might imagine that Christians would gravitate toward political platforms focused on “good news to the poor,” maybe? For better healthcare for those who can’t afford it, and for livable wages for the disadvantaged? For medical assistance to the poorest, such as Medicaid? Or for wider voting rights assuring a voice to every person?

We might suppose that those who affirm that “the earth is the Lord’s” would be among the first to support efforts to clean up toxins in the air, soil and water. As followers of the Prince of Peace, they might be among the most cautious regarding runaway military spending and the use of deadly force abroad. At home, they might entertain serious doubts about the proliferation of weapons that can snuff out sacred human lives in an instant. They might prioritize biblical welcome for “sojourners,” immigrants fleeing hunger or violence in their homelands.

But curiously, few of these moral issues seem to have mattered enough yet to shake evangelical allegiances to the GOP. One issue would seem to silence all others: If you’re a “pro-life” politician regarding abortion, evangelicals would seem to be willing to overlook all manner of life-threatening postures that would seem strange to many readers of the biblical Gospels.

It’s not that it’s so strange that evangelicals haven’t become Democrats. What’s strange is that so many are so unquestioningly aligned with the Republicans, libertarians, or free-market conservatives.

But this year, things might possibly be different. I have the hardest time imagining any of my fellow congregants asking me seriously if I intend to support Donald Trump. No matter how many times Trump waves his confirmation-class Bible and swears that it’s his favorite (or second-favorite) book, Christians understand that he has little clue as to its contents, nor much interest in its directives.

And that’s why I’m wondering – seriously – if Trump doesn’t perhaps have a special place in God’s plans for his church in America. Trump, I believe, just might be God’s anointed servant in 2016.

Trump? God’s servant? I admit, it does sound outlandish. But consider biblical history. The prophet Jeremiah must have sent shock waves throughout Judah when he proclaimed to Jerusalem that King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon was God’s servant. The pagan King of Babylon, poised to carry them into exile, was specially chosen by God: “I have given all these lands to … my servant …. All nations shall serve him” (Jeremiah 27:4-8).

The prophet Isaiah bestowed the same honor on Cyrus, the King of Persia, naming him as God’s anointed.  “I will go before you,” Isaiah prophesied regarding the pagan Cyrus. “I call you, I name you, though you do not know me…” (Isaiah 45:1-6).

If God anointed the kings of Babylon and Persia as his servants, why couldn’t he use the Boss of “The Apprentice?” The Master of Trump Tower?

Okay, in theory at least, I might just have a point. But what on earth might God have in mind for the vulgar real estate billionaire? What role could megalomania and narcissism have in God’s plans?

Well, maybe it’s this: What if the greatest obstacle to God’s purposes for America was something other than ISIS, underemployment, or intrusive bureaucracy? What if it had something to do with political idolatry that has crept into the community of faith – merging the Way of Jesus with the way of Ronald Reagan? And what if Trump’s crassness, egotism and petulance should simply prove too much for evangelicals – driving them to critically evaluate those seeking positions of power from either Party?

In our day, religious people are presented with two “batch ideologies” to choose from – two brightly painted doors at the end of the hallway to the voting booth. Behind the Red Door is public declaration of faith in the Christian tradition, individual liberty, gun ownership, opposition to abortion, law and order, military muscle, aggressive foreign policy, American exceptionalism and tax cuts. Behind the Blue Door is secular tolerance, assistance for the poor, legal abortion, multilateral foreign policies, inclusive governance, racial reconciliation, progressive taxation, regulation of commerce and protection of the environment.

In our world, it seems that there are only two doors. We must enter one or the other, and check all the boxes as our own. For the most part, white evangelicals have chosen the Red Door.

But it wasn’t always so. In the 1960’s, American Christians split their votes about evenly between the two Parties. Before Reagan, they supported Carter in droves. Perhaps they somehow recognized that allegiance to Christ superseded any single ideology. Maybe they knew that the call of individual rights found its basis in the Bible, but so did the communitarian vision of “Shabbat shalom.” Maybe the scripture enshrined personal liberty, but also mandated practical equality among all.

Can there be a Third Door for Christians?

Can there be a Third Door for Christians?

Maybe God was neither Republican nor Democrat.

Today, perhaps, maybe there is a Third Door. Maybe that door is neither Blue nor Red, but one that stands apart, supporting and confronting politicians from an ethic rooted in the Prophets, in the Gospels, in the Torah. Maybe “Jesus is Lord” means that Caesar is NOT Lord – nor Kennedy, nor Reagan, nor anyone else.

The Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright sums this up possibly as well as anyone: “The followers of Jesus are to live under the rulers of the world, believing them to be appointed by God but not believing that that makes them perfect or that they do not need to be held accountable. On the contrary. Because they are God’s servants they may well need to be reminded of their duty, however dangerous and uncomfortable a task that may be.”

If so, then surely, Donald Trump could be God’s servant in this age, sent to break the bond that shackles evangelicals to one single incarnation of Caesar in our day. Surely Trump could be the man who can lead us as Christians – unknowingly, perhaps – to the Third Door.

Herod and Caesar, Then and Now

My pastor preached a great sermon yesterday morning from the Gospel according to Matthew, Chapter 2. It’s the story of the Magi, wise men who studied the heavens, finding a new star, and seeking the newborn King of the Jews. There was problem, of course. The Jews already had a king – Herod. “Herod the Great,” he was called. And he wasn’t amused at news of potential newborn rival kings.

We like to think of Herod as unusually brutal, and perhaps he was. There are all kinds of flawed rulers, governors and congresspersons who don’t resort to murdering their wives and children, as he did. Or to ordering the wholesale slaughter of baby boys in a district rumored to be harboring a new child-Messiah. But in fact, in ways subtle or brutal, kings and governors don’t get along at all well with the Messiah. To their credit, they understand the words of the apostle Paul: “The Kingdom of this world has become the Kingdom of our God and of his Christ.” As Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright puts it: “God is king, and the kingdoms of the world are thereby demoted.” And nobody wants to be demoted, especially kings.

Leon Cogniet, 1824, Musee des Beaux-Arts, Rennes, France

Leon Cogniet, 1824, Musee des Beaux-Arts, Rennes, France

This understanding was second nature to the early Christian church. Paul told the Corinthians that no one could affirm that “Jesus is Lord” without the Holy Spirit’s aid. Because in so doing, such a person was also affirming that Caesar is not Lord; that Mammon is not Lord; that he or she is not Lord. And each of these carries costs which can hardly be borne without the help of the Holy Spirit. Maybe it’s poverty; or humility; or injustice; or martyrdom.

How I wish for a renewal of this awareness in the church today! If Jesus is Lord, then Herod and Caesar are not Lord. And neither are progressives, or conservatives, or free marketeers, or Keynesians, or Republicans, or Democrats. Neither are oligarchs, or monarchs, or capitalists, or socialists. Neither is the Chamber of Commerce or MoveOn.org. Jesus is Lord, and the kings of this world aren’t happy about it one bit. None of them.

N.T. Wright again: “In almost every letter Paul demonstrates that Jesus is Lord, and that Caesar isn’t; that the ‘gospel’ of Jesus upstages the ‘gospel’ of Caesar; that the true salvation is achieved through Jesus, not Caesar; that the world needs God’s justice, not Roman justice; and with great irony, that the cross, a hated symbol of Roman rule, had been transformed into the life-giving symbol of God’s self-giving love.”

What have we lost in the church of our day? At least in part, it’s this: We’ve come to believe that our political and economic brands are, to a degree, endorsed by the Refugee of Bethlehem. We can choose “the package of the Right,” says Wright: “rigid social structures, hierarchy, law and order, a tough-minded work ethic and a strong view of national identity. Then there is the package of the Left: freedom and revolution, overthrowing hierarchies, blurring old lines, doing things in new ways. It is assumed that, with local variations, you are basically in one camp or the other, and that many other decisions are determined by it.”

Well then, do we argue that Christ-followers should withdraw from engagement with the power structures of our world? Hardly! What the gospel offers us, says Wright, is inaugurated eschatology: “Like the Israelites under their monarchy, chafing at its imperfections and looking for the fulfilment to come, the followers of Jesus are to live under the rulers of the world, believing them to be appointed by God but not believing that that makes them perfect or that they do not need to be reminded of their duty, however dangerous and uncomfortable a task that may be.”

In this time of the American election cycle, we can hardly escape the cacophony of Herods and Caesars demanding our allegiance to their lordship. But for some of us – for me, I hope – Jesus is Lord, and the rest are just governors, or senators, or billionaires, or the latest ideological fashion-mongers.

If Jesus is Lord, then I’m just beginning to fathom the list of all the things that are not. Caesar, Herod? You had your day, I suppose you top the list of the Demoted. But you’ve got plenty of company from our day.

Why I’ve Decided to Start Writing my Congressman

Causes everywhere ask us to write to politicians. If you’re like me, you seldom do. But unless we’ve all bought into the narrative of implacable political hostility and irredeemable polarization, then we’ll recognize that most people believe they’re doing the right thing, and at some level will be responsive to appeals and persuasion. Here’s my offering today, to my NJ congressional representative, Scott Garrett:

Dear Rep Garrett:

I am conscious that when writing to you, I am speaking to a person who sincerely shares my faith in Christ. Scripture says that makes us brothers in a real way, even in this world of bitter political divisions. As such, I hope to speak to you with optimism and hope, drawing on our shared vision for the rule of God on earth.

Anglican bishop N.T. Wright has given us a clear idea of how Christ-followers are to relate to their ruling officials: “Like the Israelites under their monarchy, chafing at its imperfections and looking for the fulfillment still to come, the followers of Jesus are to live under the rulers of the world, believing them to be appointed by God but not believing that that makes them perfect or that they do not need to be held accountable. On the contrary, because they are God’s servants they may well need to be reminded of their duty, however dangerous and uncomfortable a task that may be.”Picture1

So today, I hope to remind you of a duty, as a brother. I have just returned from two weeks in Paris, where I have joined with numerous Christians from around the world, praying for the success of the Paris summit, and for meaningful global action on climate. What I heard there was hopeful, but also deeply embarrassing to me as an American, and as an evangelical Christian. The narrative from virtually every quarter, including global Christians, is that only America, among all countries in the world, is prepared to sacrifice the interests of the poor to the ravages of climate pollution; and that only the GOP, of all the political parties in the world, is threatening to sabotage action that every country views as necessary to protect their people and their children; and finally, that only American evangelicals, of all the faith groups in the world, are devoted to a political “batch ideology” that lumps willful disregard for climate justice together with its more noble principles.

I know that this narrative oversimplifies the actual facts: that the National Association of Evangelicals has endorsed action on climate change as an outgrowth of care for the creation, a “core element” in the gospel; that 65 percent of American evangelicals now acknowledge the dangers of climate change; that more than half of Republican voters agree on the need for climate action. But all that means rather little if Republican lawmakers and candidates stand in the way of serious action on climate pollution.

And so I would ask you as a brother in our shared faith, to please consider that faith when your party’s leaders call for unified resistance to action so desperately needed by our world today, which are becoming increasingly undeniable with every passing year. Specifically, you could begin this by adding your name to the Gibson Resolution, whereby Republicans are making clear that they, too, recognize the crying need for climate action, on behalf of God’s suffering world and its people.

Thank you. I look forward to discussing this with you in the near future.

If you’d like to read N.T. Wright’s complete essay cited above, you can find it here. If you want to find your Congressional representative’s contact information, you can click here. For more help from Beloved Planet on writing, look here.

American Christians at Paris Climate Summit Respond to Doubters Back Home

Here at the global climate change summit in Paris, it seems Christians are everywhere. We have been leading prayer vigils, encouraging our national negotiators, and acting in concert with our brothers and sisters from all over the world. We share two things in common: a conviction that the earth and all its people belong to the Lord; and the understanding that the natural systems that all creatures depend on for survival are imperiled by runaway pollution from burning fossil fuels.

So you can imagine the surprise that we Americans felt when we were shown a article in the Fox News Online opinion pages signed by 383 people who identified themselves as Christians. The title made the message crystal clear: Far from addressing an acute threat perceived by every nation, the global effort here in Paris would “doom billions to live in extreme poverty.”

Delegates from every nation at the Paris Climate Summit

Delegates from every nation at the Paris Climate Summit, COP-21

My goodness! The whole world is gathered here working feverishly day and night; they all agree on the basic facts of climate science; they are supported by the leaders of virtually every Evangelical, Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox association in the world, plus leaders of virtually every other world religion.

And yet their efforts will doom billions to extreme poverty? Really?

Well, as you can imagine, the first thing we wanted to know was: Who are these people who seem to know what no one else does? Well, the Fox op-ed article listed seven theologians and academics, who called their fellow signatories “nearly 400 other climate scientists, physicists, mathematicians, economists, theologians, philosophers, and ethicists.” Now that’s impressive! 400 climate scientists and other scholarly types. But I figured it would be worthwhile scrolling through the names, just to see what popped out.

383 is a lot of names, so I settled on the names beginning with “S.” There were 43. Six of them listed no academic degree whatsoever; 10 boasted bachelor’s degrees; 11 had master’s degrees; and 16 held doctoral degrees in topics ranging from theology to engineering, history, biomedicine and economics.

Hmm. So where were the “nearly 400 climate-scientist” types? Well, to be fair, I did find one. He was a meteorologist whose work is so controversial that the editor-in-chief of a peer-reviewed science journal resigned when the journal elected to publish his research. Later peer-reviewed research concluded that this scientist cherry-picked from less than half of his own data sets to support his conclusions.

Okay. So maybe the “nearly 400 climate scientists” look a little more like a gaggle of signers from scores of specialties, or perhaps no specialties at all, plus at least one climate scientist with a very controversial C.V. But an informed reader of the signatories list will also notice something remarkable: It’s who’s NOT there.

Not on the list are mission sending agencies, whose people are laboring among those already beset by climatic upheavals. Not on the list are Christian relief and development organizations – like World Vision, Tear Find and Christian Aid – who affirm that climate change is the greatest threat to all their progress to date. Not on the list are the representatives of the worldwide evangelical Christian church, like the Lausanne Movement, the World Evangelical Alliance, or even the U.S. National Association of Evangelicals.

Their absence speaks volumes. Those who live and work among the world’s poor haven’t touched this letter. Those who are committed to relieving poverty are nowhere to be seen. Those who unite the voices of Christians from every country have kept their distance.

But let’s not throw the whole thing out just yet. Why, exactly, were these writers arguing against the climate action supported in Paris by virtually every country in the world? Well, because they claim that the science is “uncertain.” The only reasons to fear, they write, are “computer climate models,” and those models are biased to make future global warming look worse than it will be.

Now from our perch here in Paris, this is a remarkable claim indeed. The best experts from every country in the world are here. They are debating, even today, whether global warming of 2.0 degrees Celsius should be the target limit, or whether the world should pull out all stops to limit climate change to 1.5 degrees. Island and low-lying nations like the Philippines and Bangladesh note that 2.0 degrees will doom their homelands to inundation beneath the rising seas. Comparatively safer countries reply that the earth has already warmed by 1.0 degrees, and substantial further warming is already “committed,” or baked in by our greenhouse gas emissions to date.

They would be surprised indeed to hear that the whole problem is nothing but a few biased climate models that overstate the problem. The writers who hold these assorted degrees (or none at all) should definitely catch the next plane to Paris, and relieve these exhausted negotiators of their worries.

Of course, we’re not actually here because of computer models at all, whether or not the Fox News op-ed criticism holds any water at all (which I suspect it does not). We’re here because all the critical data tells us that the world is even now heating dangerously. Consider:

  • Global heat records are being broken year after year, with 2015 expected to demolish the prior record set in 2014. In fact, 13 of the 15 years of this century have broken all prior heat records, with the only competition coming from 1997 and 1998.
  • Arctic sea ice coverage is declining at an alarming rate of 13.3 percent per decade.
  • Worldwide, glaciers are retreating at unprecedented rates, imperiling societies that depend on stable river flows.
  • The Antarctic Ice Sheet is losing 134 billion tons of ice per year, and Greenland is losing 287 billion tons per year.
  • Oceans have become 30 percent more acidic than a generation ago, as they soak up ever greater amounts of atmospheric carbon, imperiling coral reefs and plankton that form the base of the food chain.
  • Damage claims from extreme weather events are rising sharply. Even adjusted for inflation, billion-dollar weather events demonstrate a clear upward curve.
  • Sea level rise is now a clearly established fact, up 200 mm since the Industrial Revolution, and accelerating with ocean warming and ice sheet melting.
  • Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are now far above any levels observed in Antarctic and Greenland Ice cores from samples trapped in snow and ice over hundreds of thousands of years.
  • Atmospheric methane levels are similarly higher than any historically measured levels.
  • Ocean heat content is also rising fast, as the ocean absorbs greater surface heat.

And in the face of all this data recognized by the world gathered here in Paris, the Fox News authors tell us that we have no need to worry, because they have issues with a few computer models.

Of course, anyone can tell that these “nearly 400 climate scientists” – or whoever they are – evidently have something else in mind. It will sound familiar to those who observed the tobacco wars of the last generation, when Phillip Morris and others labored for decades to belittle and undermine the science that demonstrated the links between smoking and cancer, and the dangers of secondhand smoke.

More recently, others will recall that in 1997, Exxon CEO Lee Raymond used the Fox News op-ed language almost verbatim. Contrary to the advice of his own Exxon scientists, Raymond said: “Forecasts of future warming come from computer models … which are notoriously inaccurate.” (Exxon’s scientists had acknowledged that this was nonsense more than a decade earlier, both publicly and in internal documents. And in the early 1990’s Mobil’s chief scientist affirmed that “the science of global warming is well established and cannot be refuted,” according to lawyers currently pursuing shareholder fraud actions against the company.)

So, to the nearly-400-climate-scientists-or-whatever, we Christians in Paris wish you were here. We wish you could hear the testimony of Filipino Bishop Efraim Tendero, who leads the World Evangelical Alliance with its 600 million members. We wish you could hear the leaders of Tuvalu, Kiribati and Seychelles, who are contemplating the disappearance of their homelands. We wish you could hear our English Lake District friends, or our Norwegian brothers and sisters, who are this week enduring the worst floods on record. Or those from the Maldives, also suffering record rain storms. Or even our own countrymen from Washington State, which just shattered its daily rainfall record in freak storms.

The problem is not computer models. The real problem was summed up by climate scientist Gus Speth in an address to religious leaders in 2009. “I used to think the top environmental problems facing the world were global warming, environmental degradation and eco-system collapse, and that we scientists could fix those problems with enough science,” said Speth. “But I was wrong. The real problem is not those three items, but greed, selfishness and apathy. And for that we need a spiritual and cultural transformation. And we scientists don’t know how to do that. We need your help.”

Please, Fox News writers, whoever you may be, please join us in extending a helping hand to the world’s nations gathered here in Paris. God’s creation is groaning for his children to rise to their calling.