Monthly Archives: August 2013

Why Should Christians Care About Dirt?

 

“The earth was given to man, with this condition, that he should occupy himself in its cultivation…. The custody of the garden was given in charge to Adam, to show that we possess the things which God has committed to our hands, on the condition that – being content with a frugal and moderate use of them – we should take care of what shall remain.

John Calvin, Geneva

John Calvin, Geneva

Let him who possesses a field, so partake of its yearly fruits, that he may not suffer the ground to be injured by his negligence; but let him endeavor to hand it down to posterity as he received it, or even better cultivated.”  John Calvin, Commentary on Genesis, Geneva, 1554 AD

I can almost guarantee that you haven’t been thinking much about dirt lately, especially as it relates to your faith commitments. But this summer, the American breadbasket in Iowa has lost so much of the life-giving stuff that even city-dwellers are starting to become alarmed.  In one five-day period in May this year, Iowa farms lost 5 tons of topsoil per acre, due to heavy rains and conventional farming practices. That’s 6 million tons of nutrient-rich topsoil stripped off of Iowa farms, and headed for the “dead zones” in the Gulf of Mexico. In five days. From Iowa alone.

Christians read their Bibles, and find that God placed the man he made in his garden for one stated reason: to tend (“avad”) it, and keep (“shamar”) it (Genesis 2:15). The words – avad and shamar – more accurately mean to serve, and to protect. God placed our race into his creation to serve and protect it, as Reformed scientist Calvin DeWitt so eloquently argues: To serve that garden – the one we now see washing slowly down the river.

And so I take note when an Iowa farmer raises his voice and tells us all that our approach to producing food simply must change. John Gilbert, who raises dairy cows, corn and soybeans in Hardin County, Iowa issued a public challenge to farmers, and I think we should listen in.

We Cannot Continue to Treat Our Soils Like Dirt

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John Gilbert, Des Moines Register

Following the worst soil damage in decades and an expanding dead zone in the gulf, Iowans can’t keep farming the same way. What happened all over the Midwest so far this year was some of the worst soil damage in decades, if not generations. Our current situation is not sustainable. We cannot continue to treat our soils like dirt.  Continue reading

Does a Faithful Christian Fear Climate Change?

Two weeks ago, we saw a revealing  exchange between a talk radio host and a Christian pastor regarding the nexus between global environmental threats and the Christian faith. It began with a cynical argument hatched by Rush Limbaugh that followed this line of reasoning:

Christians believe that God rules his creation. Climate science warns that man-made climate change poses an existential threat to much of that creation. However, since no one but God can “destroy the world” he’s made, such notions betray unbelief, or worse.

Along came Rev. Mitch Hescox, leader of Evangelical Environmental Network, who exposed Limbaugh’s silliness for what it was. We posted Hescox’s riposte here. But as right as the pastor certainly was, I think that some of us would do well to ask some serious questions about the Christian gospel and today’s climate crisis. In particular, what assurance can we find in the gospel – if any – that the potentially calamitous consequences of climate change will not befall our race, or the ecosystems upon which we – and all other creatures – rely?

This issue actually comes up all the time. In one example, I was talking last year with a brilliant environmental leader at the height of the struggle over the Keystone XL pipeline. As we discussed our planetary headlong rush into climate imbalances not seen for millions of years, the conversation turned to my faith in a sovereign God.

“I envy you,” she told me. “I wish I had that kind of hope.”

Fair enough. A robust faith in Christ certainly does offer hope that eludes even the most optimistic agnostic – a hope rooted in the physical resurrection of Christ and the promised reconciliation and renewal of the entire creation. Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright sums it up beautifully:

What you do in the present—by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself—will last into God’s future. These activities are not simply ways of making the present life a little less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day when we ‘leave it behind altogether.’ They are part of what we may call building for God’s kingdom. (Surprised by Hope, p. 193) 

Gospel hope isn’t rooted in a vague notion that everything will work out all right in the end, but in the sure and certain hope in the resurrection of the dead and the coming kingdom of God.

But hold on a moment! What does gospel hope really mean in concrete terms now as we face today’s imponderable ecological catastrophes? What consequences of our race’s abuse of God’s creation can the faithful rule out? What extinctions? What famines? What floods? What pandemics? What resource conflicts?  Continue reading

An Open Letter to Rush Limbaugh

By Rev. Mitchell Hescox

Dear Mr. Limbaugh,

Blessings in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Mitch Hescox, President of Evangelical Environmental Network

Mitchell Hescox, President of Evangelical Environmental Network

As a lifelong Republican and an evangelical pro-life clergyman who pastored a local congregation for almost 20 years, spent fourteen years working in the coal industry, and now leads one of the oldest creation care ministries, I ask you to refrain from your harmful rhetoric on climate change. It is simply wrong.

Recently, you stated that “If you believe in God, then intellectually you cannot believe in man-made global warming.” Nothing could be further from truth.

You made this false claim as part of a rhetorical sleight of hand wherein you posited a straw-man position, which you then defeated, saying that only God has the power to destroy his creation. But in “winning” such a false argument, you take people further from the truth. I am aware of no one who is saying that human-induced climate change will completely destroy the earth.

From the beginning we were created to be God’s stewards or caretakers of His creation; we were given the freedom to care for it and for each other, or go our own way and selfishly look to our own interests and desires. Sadly, human history shows us that too often we have chosen the latter.

Today, human-induced climate change works against our call to love others and care for God’s creation. Its impacts on creation are already a threat to our children and therefore a pro-life concern. Overcoming climate change is an act of discipleship, stewarding what was created for and through Jesus, the ChristContinue reading

Round Up: Summer Reading for Earthkeepers

  1. Congress protects dirtiest power at DC plant: Two miles from the White House stands the Capitol Power Plant, the largest single source of carbon emissions in the nation’s capital. The plant, which powers the sprawling Capitol campus — 23 buildings that include Congress, and the Supreme Court — is operated by Congress, which killed a move away from coal in 2000, and defunded a Green-the-Capitol plan in 2011. http://mobile.nytimes.com/2013/08/09/us/politics/just-across-town-a-test-of-obamas-emissions-goals.html
  2. Bumps in the road on the way to climate adaptation: Gadam, a fast-maturing, drought-tolerant sorghum variety introduced in Kenya as a solution for farmers trying to adapt to changing climate conditions, turns out to have an unexpected drawback – wild birds are eating it just before it can be harvested. For hungry Kenyans, this is more than just an unfortunate setback. Messing with the creation is perilous business. http://www.trust.org/item/20130807112810-q5vw8/?source=dpagehead
  3. Kansas and Al Qaeda: Tom Friedman looks at two surprisingly linked movements, both fueled by oil: the U.S. Midwest big-Ag farm monoculture, threatening the survival of the U.S. grain belt; and the Middle East religious monoculture, threatening the future of Arab societies. Diversity is the solution proposed for both. http://mobile.nytimes.com/2013/08/11/opinion/sunday/friedman-kansas-and-al-qaeda.html?from=sunday-review
  4. Why are the manatees and dolphins dying? Florida’s Indian River estuary, one of the richest marine ecosystems in the continental United States, is the scene of a murder mystery: 280 manatees, scores of dolphins and hundreds of pelicans dead this year. Researchers suspect pollution, killing sea grasses and feeding algae explosion. http://mobile.nytimes.com/2013/08/08/us/deaths-of-manatees-dolphins-and-pelicans-point-to-estuary-at-risk.html?from=science
  5. NOAA chief calls record-breaking 2012 climate “new normal:” Warmest year ever for U.S.; Arctic sea ice at record lows; highest-ever sea levels; record high CO2 emissions – NOA report warns that this is now normal for our world. http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/08/07/2403951/2012-climate-new-normal/
  6. Habitat for Humanity builds “zero-carbon” houses in DC:  Solar power and efficiency measures for the rest of us – sustainable housing made affordable drives new Habitat homes. http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/08/06/2404071/habitat-decathalon-electricity-bill/
  7. Alberta tar sands spilled 280,000 gallons this summer: The oil company calls it “seepage.” Environmentalists describe it as a “blow out.” Either way, the leak at the oil sands project in Northern Alberta is stoking the controversy over the energy source. http://mobile.nytimes.com/2013/08/09/business/global/leak-at-oil-sands-project-in-alberta-heightens-conservationists-concerns.html?from=homepage
  8. Arctic methane pulse debated by scientists: Rising temperatures in the Arctic Ocean could see 50 billion tons of methane that’s currently frozen in the seabed released into the atmosphere, a comment piece published in the journal Nature argues. But the scenario is unlikely, other scientists say. http://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2013/07/how-likely-is-a-massive-arctic-methane-pulse-we-find-disagreement-amongst-scientists
  9. GOP guts energy research spending: House bill cuts energy research budget by 81 percent. Andrew Revkin asks George Will to speak up to his political allies and support science. http://mobile.nytimes.com/blogs/dotearth/2013/07/11/as-g-o-p-guts-energy-research-spending-wheres-george-will-science-defender/?from=dotearth
  10. James Hansen pushes nuclear energy as climate solution: Can renewable energies provide all of society’s energy needs in the foreseeable future? It is conceivable in a few places. But the U.S., China, India, or the world as a whole is almost the equivalent of believing in the Easter Bunny…. I think the only hope we have is … to have to have alternatives and at this time nuclear seems to be the best candidate. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CZExWtXAZ7M&feature=youtu.be
  11. Louisiana Agency Sues Energy Companies for Damage to Wetlands: “This protective buffer took 6,000 years to form,” said a state board. “It has been brought to the brink of destruction over the course of a single human lifetime.” http://mobile.nytimes.com/2013/07/25/us/louisiana-agency-to-sue-energy-companies-for-wetland-damage.html
  12. After wildfire, talk of global warming still delicate: Scientists agree that climate change was very likely one of the underlying triggers for the Yarnell Hill wildfire in Arizona that killed 19 firefighters. But much of the media won’t touch it. The ethical question: Amid loss of life in weather disasters, when is it appropriate to speak of climate change? http://insideclimatenews.org/news/20130718/after-wildfire-tragedy-talk-global-warmings-contribution-delicate-matter
  13. New York streets now flood with the tide: One recent Sunday, saltwater poured off Jamaica Bay onto West 12th Road in New York City. Tidal flooding occurs about twice a month in the neighborhood. Residents bolted out of their front doors to move their cars…. Some older residents were all but imprisoned in their homes until as much as three feet of water receded. Children splashed around, oblivious to the looming threat. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/10/nyregion/debate-over-cost-and-practicality-of-protecting-part-of-queens-coast.html?pagewanted=all
  14. A vote for a carbon tax: Mark Bittman (Omnivores Dilemma) urges prompt climate action. Respondent proposes revenue-neutral carbon tax as a nonpartisan means of making this happen. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/09/opinion/a-vote-for-a-carbon-tax.html
  15. China goes capitalist to cut pollution: More than a million Chinese die prematurely each year from breathing its dirty air; warming temperatures portend rising sea levels and disruptions to food production. So the Communist country is borrowing a capitalist approach to address the problem: market incentives – cap and trade – to reduce emissions. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/10/opinion/pollution-economics.html?emc=edit_tnt_20130810&tntemail0=y

American Geophysical Union Issues Stark Warning on Climate Change

Yes, another scientific society has once again issued another urgent call to act on climate change. But lest we glaze over from an overdose of expert – and sometimes conflicting – climate statements, let me review with you some excellent guidance from a leading evangelical Christian denomination.

Last year, the Christian Reformed Church adopted a sweeping declaration and call to action regarding the threat of manmade climate change and its impact on vulnerable communities. Recognizing that churches hear many voices both endorsing and disputing mainstream climate science, they addressed the core question: Whom do we believe?

Their answer was both measured and thoughtful. But at its core was the distinction between individual debaters on the one hand, and consensus reports from established scientific societies on the other: “When a broad community of experienced and reliable experts, utilizing the checks and balances implicit in scientific review, agrees on consistent conclusions over a period of several decades, it is reasonable to accept these broadly based conclusions and plan for the future” CRCNA Report, p. 39.

Earlier this week, the world heard one of its largest and most respected scientific societies issue an unequivocal warning about the danger of climate change, and mankind’s obligation to act to mitigate the harm. The American Geophysical Union (AGU) issued a statement titled “Human-induced Climate Change Requires Urgent Action,” declaring that “humanity is the major influence on the global climate change observed over the past 50 years” and that “rapid societal responses can significantly lessen negative outcomes.”

AGU

“Human activities are changing Earth’s climate,” they said in the clearest layman-ready language to date.  “Human-caused increases in greenhouse gases are responsible for most of the observed global average surface warming of roughly 0.8°C (1.5°F) over the past 140 years. Because natural processes cannot quickly remove some of these gases (notably carbon dioxide) from the atmosphere, our past, present, and future emissions will influence the climate system for millennia.” Continue reading

GOP and Climate: Four Old Sheriffs Ride Back Into Town

The debate in Washington over climate change in America today is pretty hard for us outsiders to comprehend. Think of two duplex owners discussing their old, leaking roof:

  • Water’s pouring in. We’ve got to replace the roof.
  • I don’t think it’s leaking. And if it is, we can’t afford a new one.
  • It’s getting worse with every rain. If we don’t replace it, the whole house will be shot.
  • You just want to make me spend more money. I don’t see water coming in on my side.
  • Whatever you see, the inspection report warned us that the roof needed replacement. Now mold is growing everywhere.
  • Those inspectors are in cahoots with the roofing contractors. The cost of a roof will break me.
  • I need a new neighbor, or else my house is history.
  • I need a new neighbor, who won’t bother me with all this leak hysteria.

In today’s polarized environment, President Obama and many Democrats want to fix the roof – or in this case, the climate crisis. Most Republican politicians wish they’d just back off.

But it wasn’t always that way. In fact, the GOP has a rich heritage when it comes to environmental protection. And a couple of days ago, four old GOP sheriffs rode back into town to help us clean up this mess. They’re the leaders of the EPA who served under Nixon, Reagan, Bush-one and Bush-two. (That’s every elected Republican president since Eisenhower.) Together, they were responsible for setting up the EPA in the first place, banning the pesticide DDT, setting auto-emission standards, phasing out toxic lead from gasoline, limiting ozone-destroying CFCs, cleaning up the PCBs from the Hudson River, controlling acid rain, cleaning toxins out of the Chesapeake Bay, and countless other measures to protect us, our children and our ecosystems.

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Nixon set up the EPA; Reagan cleaned up the Chesapeake.

You may not even know their names: William Ruckelshaus served under Republican presidents Nixon and Reagan; Lee Thomas ran the EPA for Reagan; William Reilly served under George H.W. Bush; and Christine Todd Whitman was George W. Bush’s EPA chief. If you’re breathing clean air, drinking clean water, or eating food free of toxins, you can probably thank one or all of them.

They’re Republicans. They’re smart. They understand environmental hazards as well as just about anybody.

And last Friday, they published a joint call on Congress that they called A Republican Case for Climate Action.

“The United States must move now on substantive steps to curb climate change, at home and internationally,” said the former EPA chiefs. “There is no longer any credible scientific debate about the basic facts: our world continues to warm, with the last decade the hottest in modern records, and the deep ocean warming faster than the earth’s atmosphere. Sea level is rising. Arctic Sea ice is melting years faster than projected.”  Continue reading

Climate Denial in Storm-Battered New Jersey?

Almost everybody hates Congress these days. Its job approval rating has sunk to a paltry 17 percent. It only passed 23 laws this year – including one to name a bridge, and another to promote fishing in some river. But strangely, politicians don’t seem to be all that worried. And that’s because of a curious disconnect among voters: We hate Congress, but fully half of us are okay with our own representatives.

They’re a total disaster, we say. But don’t blame my guy (or gal).

Here in New Jersey, I keep wondering how long this disconnect can survive. Of all states, we’ve suffered among the most from environmental chaos. We absorbed the direct hit from super-storm Sandy. We’ve suffered three straight years of major power outages due to severe weather. We’ve dealt with 100-year storms on a nearly routine basis. We’ve experienced increases in both extreme rainfall and drought, and broken virtually all records for hot weather.

Congress, however, has shot down all legislative attempts to deal with the changing climate, and forced the President Obama to rely solely on executive measures. What a mess! But – perhaps we reassure ourselves – my congressman is probably okay.

And then again, maybe not. Take my congressman, Scott Garrett. Reelected for a sixth term in Congress, he most recently captured 55 percent of the vote here in New Jersey’s 5th District. Despite what we’re suffering here in the Garden State, Garrett still openly doubts the findings of climate science. Continue reading