Category Archives: Climate Change

St. Olaf Natural Lands Play an Important Role in Conservation Efforts for Native Species

A story in the Star Tribune newspaper highlights how St. Olaf College’s 350 acres of natural lands not only serve as a hands-on learning laboratory for students, but also play an important role in conservation efforts for native species like the bluebird. “The 143-year-old Lutheran college is part of a greater survival story to rebuild Eastern bluebird populations that had declined in the 1960s and ’70s due to loss of savanna – their preferred habitat – and competition from nonnative birds,” notes Star Tribune writer Shannon Prather. Since 1989 the college has conducted extensive natural habitat restoration projects on hundreds of acres of land it owns adjacent to the campus. This includes a bluebird trail comprised of 64 specially designed birdhouses through woodlands and prairies. For more information on St. Olaf’s natural lands, click here.



Concordia College in Moorhead Hosts Successful Community Tree Planting Event (2017)

A recent community tree planting event was a huge success. More than 60 students, faculty, and staff helped plant trees on the east side of campus. With shovels and good spirits, the campus community jumped into the tree planting project Oct. 14.

Overcrowded and diseased trees just south of the high tunnel garden near the soccer fields were removed last spring. They were replaced with 52 trees — each more than 8 feet tall. Volunteers, organized through the Student Environmental Alliance, were given a tutorial on tree planting by college horticulturalist Jerry Raguse before getting to work. “I’m amazed so many people would come out on a cold Saturday morning to plant trees,” says Haylee Worm ’19, organizer and SEA co-chair. “It is cool that there are so many different groups of people here that have a passion for the environment. It really demonstrates that they do care.”



Capital University Utilizes “Green Thread” Environmental Sustainability Platform

Through Green Thread, Capital University’s environmental sustainability platform, innovative and efficient solutions are brought to life. Green Thread helps employees and customers minimize environmental impacts in their operations and in their communities. Green Thread places special emphasis on responsible sourcing, waste minimization, efficient operations, and transportation management. Green Thread also measures the university’s impact, holds them accountable, and enables continuous improvement.


Augsburg Awarded $475,000 to Help Infuse Sustainability Into All Facets of College Life (2017)

In 2017, Augsburg University launched initiatives to build capacity for integrating environmental sustainability across all curricular, co-curricular, and operational aspects of campus life. The initiatives are made possible by a grant from Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies. The Minnesota-based foundation believes that college and university campuses can serve as models of operational sustainability for the society at large, testing practical solutions that others can adopt.

Augsburg University President, Paul C. Pribbenow, believes that efforts to achieve sustainability must give consideration to the environment, the economy, and issues of equity. “As a college of the Lutheran Church, we’re called to prepare our students to address and overcome global challenges such as climate change, hunger and food insecurity, and limited access to clean water,” said Pribbenow. “As a liberal arts institution embedded in a diverse, urban environment, we’re accustomed to collaboration across disciplines and beyond the classroom. These important initiatives will better position us to meet these challenges head on.” For more information on this initiative, click here.

Youth Gather and We All Grow!

Back in the summer of 2018 hundreds of youth and group leaders visited our Lutherans Restoring Creation space in the Interactive Educational Area during the National Youth Gathering in Houston.

Every visitor was asked to spend about 5 minutes walking through a “tour” of their typical day and consider how their daily decisions impacted their global neighbors. 

Thank you Notes to GOD – for all the gifts given to us that we don’t have to pay for.

We don’t have to let it end there though!  Get your youth group (or adult forum, or bible study, or family…) to read through the tour with pledge form in hand (or on screen) and find solutions in a prayerful way of living.  If you use our online form we can stay on touch with you and let your synod leadership know what you’re aiming for.

Click here to download the “walk through” program – share it as a power point or print it out to pass around. Pledge form in pdf form can be downloaded here (let us know how it goes!) 

The two most requested tools for Youth Groups to use as follow up to this discussion starter:

Story of Stuff 20 minute video. (Ask your group what challenges they have with their “golden arrow.”)

Know No Trash Program


ELCA Welcomes the Global Climate Agreement

On Saturday, December 12, 2015 leaders from 195 nations concluded the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris by approving a global agreement to address climate change. This agreement includes a commitment to keep global warming well below 2 degrees. The ELCA welcomes the Paris Accord, and we renew our own commitment to care for all of God’s good creation.

“We stand at a critical moment, when the world has come together to decide the framework for our shared future,” said Interim Advocacy Director Mary Minette, who traveled to Paris last week as part of a delegation representing ACT Alliance, of which the ELCA is a member.

“People of faith showed up in unprecedented numbers for the climate talks in Paris because we believe that this moment includes a moral obligation to our most vulnerable neighbors, to future generations, and to all of God’s creation to act on climate change.

The Paris agreement sets the world on a pathway to stewardship, justice and sustainability. All countries have, for the first time, agreed to take concrete steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to review and increase their commitments over time.

The Paris agreement includes financial pledges to help developing countries adopt  clean energy technologies and adapt to already-occurring impacts of climate change.  It also includes provisions that will help the most vulnerable countries avoid the worst of human suffering from irreversible climate damage in the future,  and it sets the world on a more sustainable, low carbon, development pathway.

The outcome of the Paris talks reflects momentum brought by a growing global movement of people and communities around the world, including communities of faith, who are leading the way in pushing for a better future.

As we leave Paris and return to our own communities, we must continue to act in solidarity with those who are most vulnerable to climate change, with those yet to come, and with all of God’s creation.

Along with membership in ACT Alliance, the ELCA is also a member of the Lutheran World Federation and World Council of Churches. Together these organizations had a delegation of over 100 in Paris for the summit. You can read ACT Alliance’s response to the Paris Accord here.

To learn more about the Paris summit and how the ELCA continues to be involved in caring for God’s Creation, visit and read Mary’s updates from Paris on our ELCA Advocacy blog

ADVOCACY: national/global advocacy, public witness
Issue-based advocacy, climate change
ELCA materials/resources

Interfaith Environmental Network of Houston

This regional organization shares the experts in their midst with the wider audience online across the globe. Check out the series of lecture series on their YouTube channel and follow along with them on their Facebook feed to be sure to know what they are sharing next.

Tool Kit on Climate Change Connections

Take yourself, your class, or your congregation on a journey that explores the intersections between climate change and hunger. These toolkits are designed to be a program-in-a-box or customizable segments of information and activities for use in many congregational or educational settings. [Read More Here]



Living Earth Reflections from the ELCA Advocacy Office

ELCA Advocacy Office Relections

Living Earth Reflections from ELCA Advocacy offers writing from staff and guest writers on a variety of issues. Search on the ELCA Advocacy site to download reflections and use for Adult Forums or Bible Studies or as a preaching resource.

Subscribe to receive these reflections by email.

ELCA Advocacy Updates

The National ELCA Office of Advocacy offers updates from what’s going on in our capital and news from various affiliate offices around the country. Be sure to stay up-to-date with your area by signing up for these – CLICK HERE.





2016 Churchwide Assembly Passes Memorial To Move Towards A Responsible Energy Future

2016 Churchwide Assembly Passes Memorial To Move Towards A Responsible Energy Future

During the months leading up to the August 2016 ELCA Churchwide Assembly, a group of people promoted memorials to suggest that the church divest from fossil fuels and/or invest in renewable energy, and worked to ensure that the issue was properly discussed by voting members.
Read their position paper and follow their efforts as reported on our Facebook page  See also information on Key differences between divestment and shareholder advocacy
We still have a ways to go – but with the advocacy office, Portico, and a handful of dedicated “restorers of creation” progress is being made.

From minutes of Plenary 8 session – August 13th, which can be found in full here.


To receive with gratitude the memorials of the Saint Paul Area, Metropolitan New York, Northeastern Pennsylvania, Upper Susquehanna and Northwestern Pennsylvania synods related to climate change and fossil fuels;

To urge all ELCA members, congregations and synods to inform and educate themselves about the effects of climate change through the lens of the “Caring for Creation: Vision, Hope and Justice” social statement, and to advocate for policies that reduce energy use and our dependence on fossil fuels and encourage development of renewable energy sources as an expression of our commitment to address climate change and caring for God’s creation;

To affirm the action of the 2013 Churchwide Assembly and subsequent action of the Church Council in 2014 related to the development of revised or additional investment screens on fossil fuels, and to support and commend ELCA members, congregations, synods, the churchwide organization, and related institutions and agencies such as ELCA Endowment Fund and Portico Benefit Services for their leadership efforts to invest in companies that are taking steps toward a sustainable environment;

To affirm Portico’s balanced approach to supporting this church’s principles and directives as stated in the social statements — including the commitment to help transition to an economy less dependent on fossil fuels.

That approach includes has included:

1. shareholder advocacy (filing and supporting resolutions on environmental issues, including 150 resolutions in 2015),

2. focused investment screening, which has identified 113 companies screened for environmental reasons, and

3. ramping up positive social investments, such as investments in companies that develop solar, wind and water power generation systems, repurposing waste products and reducing toxic emissions;

and now:

To call upon Portico to evaluate the viability of an optional fossil -free fund for retirement plan participants; and To call upon the ELCA to heed the call of the Lutheran World Federation Council in 2015 to member churches “not to invest in fossil fuels and to support energy efficiency and renewable energy companies, and to encourage their institutions and individual members to do likewise”; and

As part of this church’s response to the Lutheran World Federation’s call, to request that the ELCA churchwide organization review the ELCA’s applicable social teachings and Corporate Social Responsibility policies and procedures, with the goal of not investing in, and removing the largest fossil fuel companies as identified by Carbon Tracker, and investing in corporations which are taking positive steps toward a sustainable environment.





Evangelical Lutheran leaders argue for Ohio energy efficiency and renewable energy

The president of a major Lutheran seminary and one of the three bishops overseeing the 550 Ohio congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America are opposing a bill that would stall efficiency programs and the further growth of wind and solar power mandated since 2009. [Read More]

You and Your Congregation Can Sign the Paris Pledge!

Take the Paris Pledge, as an individual or as a congregation, and commit to reducing your carbon pollution. Together, we can make a real difference. Interfaith Power & Light will provide you with helpful resources and tools so you can reach your goals.

National Preach-In on Climate Change: Sermon for Epiphany 5A

Sermon for Epiphany 5A, the Rev. Lisa E. Dahill, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Worship and Christian Spirituality, Trinity Lutheran Seminary
IPL Climate Preach-In, Trinity Lutheran Seminary
Epiphany 5A, February 12, 2014
Isaiah 58:1-12; Psalm 112:1-10; 1 Corinthians 2:1-16; Matthew 5:13-20

This week is the annual Preach-In on Climate Change sponsored across the country by Interfaith Power and Light.  This Preach-In urges pastors, priests, ministers, rabbis, faith leaders of all kinds to call attention to the ways climate change is destroying God’s creation already and threatening future life on Earth.  All across the U.S. preachers will be preaching this Friday, this Saturday, this Sunday. Here at Trinity we too are taking part, so I volunteered to preach.

I signed up to preach… about climate change.  Kind of a big topic.  Just a bit – overwhelming.

How big?  You know: the forms of the future of life on Earth at stake… millions of species going extinct… catastrophic storms and droughts killing the poorest already – and no idea how much hotter and more chaotic the climate will become just from the emissions we’ve already burned – let alone all the emissions we’re planning to keep on burning since even with all the disruptions so far and the warming and acidification of the oceans and the deforestation of jungles around the world and the rising seas and wilder storms and unpredictable growing seasons – even with all this already threatening the fragile hold the poorest humans on Earth have to life, we are apparently helpless to find a new way – helpless to stop the gas guzzling and the petroleum-based food systems, stop the fossil fuel extraction, stop the burning and the burning and the burning…  Why should we cut carbon emissions when China’s not going to?  Why should China cut emissions when we’re not going to?  Why should we mobilize to pull together in sacrificial action across national borders or even, heck, just across political boundaries within our national borders, and act already when, it’s just too big, too diffuse, too far off, the danger screened from our view… and we keep ourselves busy with other things.

So how on Earth do you preach about this?  How??  Dr. Langknecht – how am I to preach about this?  You senior preachers – how…??  It’s too big, too huge… there are no words.

There are no words because the ones who would say them – who are right now shouting for the world’s attention – will drown when the monster storms and rising seas finally wash over their Pacific Islands home, lowest-lying islands of the world

There are no words because what can we say?  God will fix this?  Science will save us?  The promise of magical salvation doesn’t convince the peasant farmers who rely on meltwater from the Kilimanjaro glaciers that will be gone soon.  Once their children too have starved, there will be no words.

There are no words because in the face of danger too big to address we hide… of course we do!  We shut down.  We shut up.  We preach about other things – needs we can address, not the ones that jolt us awake in fear for great-grandchildren who will never know a planet as beautiful and abundant and healthy as the one we were born on.  We can’t bear to hear the cries of those not yet born – there are no words.

Or, even worse – we do hear them, we do hear the science, but how can we act?  It’s not like we want the heating of our homes and the running of our seminary to addright this minute to the poison in the air and the heating of the Earth – but what choice do we have?  We’re all enmeshed in this.  We might want to speak out, but what would we say?  There’s no easy place to grab hold and mobilize; it’s too complex and huge and pointless – the system’s broken, the powerful won’t listen, why speak?  Why put ourselves at risk, speaking out when no one else is?  [In an earlier generation Christians watched the rounding up of the Jews, week after week, and said nothing – because we’re afraid, because it could get us in trouble, because what good would it do anyway?]  There are no words.  It’s too big.

In fact, there is only one Word big enough to hold all this chaos and the planet itself – one Word small enough to inhabit the finest structures of each delicate hair on an insect’s back, each drop of water on Earth.  We who love this Word – this living Word, this Logos through whom all things were made, and are made – we who have no words for our planet’s future, but who love this Word through whom it all was made, are poised in an unprecedented place.  More starkly than any previous generation of Christians, we are faced globally with this choice: to participate in the speaking now of this living Word, in all its beauty and power, or to be increasingly complicit in the actual ongoing silencing of this Word, the Logos of God in all that is.  For make no mistake: it is precisely this living Word, the Logos permeating the creation in unique and marvelous forms all over this Earth, that our present way of life is exterminating.  This living Word in all its complexity is the very thing our Earth-destruction isunraveling, the very voice and Word and heart and Logos of God woven throughout the intricacy of species and life-forms.  Letting ourselves be silenced in the face of this ongoing erasure will permit more and more of that Word being silenced, day after day after day.  The longer we continue our present course, the fewer there will be left – of any species – to speak the Word…

That’s one option, to be silent about all this.  It’s safer and quieter and more sickening.  But it’s not the only way.  This day we also hear the call to SPEAK that Word incarnate throughout creation, enfleshed in Jesus, poured out into us!  For what do we hear this Word of all-that-is saying, this week?  Shout out, do not hold back!  Raise your voice like a trumpet!  Call the people to conversion!  Be fearless: you’re salt!  You are light!  Don’t suffocate yourself under a bushel – speak!

This can only be a communal call, this speaking the living Word in an eco-cidal age.  Alone it’s too hard.  We are a GreenFaith seminary – what will that mean?  How will we act?

It’s not all up to the president and the Board – but we need the President and the Board to set us on a course for real prophetic ecological witness to a threatened world, and to authorize bold discernment and action.  Geo-thermal, anyone?

It’s not all up to the faculty – but we need the faculty to use this curriculum process to think even further outside the box, to equip leaders for radically immersive connection to the Word alive in the natural world, the voice of God spoken and alive, just as deeply as we teach our students to love the Word in the Scriptures.

It’s not all up to the staff, to the students, to the spouses, to our congregations – but we need every single voice and heart, everyone’s best creative joyful imagination, to grow this place into a vibrant seedbed where we learn how to step off the grid and into the soil, how to use our land responsibly and how to breathe the sky and the Spirit and [to give up our privilege and] to rattle the cages of Congress and local leaders and join with others as long as it takes till there’s change, and life, and to invite inner-city kids to the woods – and to learn ever more fully to pray in the languages of our creek and our trees and wind and storm and garden.

This living Word is calling us all on Earth to a new immersion in the Logos through whom all things were made, a new intimacy and immediacy of senses, a much bigger circle of kin, a congregation wide enough to include all Earth-systems of life.  We are creative people – we are reforming people – we are imaginative people, sacramental people, and we are people of the Word, this Living Word, who calls to us through this Earth and gives us voice when we’ve lost our voice.  When we have no words, in the face of all we’ve lost already and all we will yet lose in the years ahead – when we have no words in the face of our fear and pain this Word itself carries us.  In life and in death we belong to this Lord, woven into our very cells.  And this Word enfleshed in all that is will never cease to fill us and breathe in us and come pouring roaring bursting out: Shout out, do not hold back!  Raise your voice like a trumpet!  We are salt!  We are light!  Let’s go!

The Rev. Dr. Lisa E. Dahill



National Preach-In on Climate Change: Sermon for Epiphany 6A

Sermon for Sixth Sunday in Epiphany, Year A
Deuteronomy 30:5-20
Saint Andrew and Emmaus Lutheran Churches, Racine WI
February 16, 2014 – National Preach-In on Climate Change
Dr. Peter W. Bakken
Executive Director, Wisconsin Interfaith Power and Light

May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

In our first reading, from Deuteronomy, this morning, we heard some of Moses’ final instructions to the Hebrew people. He had led them out of slavery in Egypt and through forty years of wandering in the desert. They were about to cross the river Jordan and enter the Promised Land, though he would not be going with them.

Moses makes it clear that in their new home they will face fateful choices, choices that will determine whether their future will be one of prosperity or adversity, blessing or curse, life or death.

His words also make clear that their choices will be made and their future lived out as creatures within creation: as dwellers in the land in the presence of heaven and earth.

Moses says:

“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the LORD swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.”

Like the people of ancient Israel, we are faced with choices that mean life or death, blessings or curses for ourselves and for our descendants.

Creation is God’s gift to us – of a world of abundance, beauty and mystery, a living and life-sustaining planet with water to drink and air to breathe and fertile soil in which to grow food; a world of forests and prairies, of oceans and mountains, of an unimaginable variety of plants and animals from the sparrows, squirrels and dandelions in our back yards to tropical rain forests, polar bears and coral reefs.

Creation is indeed God’s gift to us – but not for us alone: rather, it is a gift for all people and for all creatures.

Sadly, though, throughout our history as a species, we have not always treated creation and other creatures with the respect they deserve. We have not always justly shared the earth and its fruits with our neighbors. Too often, we have not chosen to walk in God’s ways, in the ways of justice, peace, and the care of the earth. To often, we have chosen instead to bow down to and serve the gods of greed, hatred, domination, and self-indulgence.

Past generations have made both good and bad choices, and we, and the rest of creation, live with the consequences of those choices.

One of those choices has been to get the overwhelming majority of our energy from fossil fuels – from coal, oil, and natural gas. In Wisconsin, nearly three-quarters of our energy comes from coal – which we have to import, because we have no coal of our own, at a cost of over eight and a half million dollars every year.

That choice has brought both blessings and curses, life and death.

In many ways, fossil fuels have been a blessing. They have been a treasure trove of millions of years of stored sunlight that we have released in the twinkling of an eye, geologically speaking. With that energy we have created industries and technologies that have brought undreamed of prosperity – although not for everyone. And the livelihoods of many people are dependent on the fossil fuel industry, although for some, like coal miners, it may be at the cost of their health and safety.

The use of fossil fuels may not have been the wrong choice in the early stages of the industrial era. But as a society we have clung to that decision in spite of growing evidence that it is not sustainable, that the costs of continuing on this path are outweighing the benefits.

Some of the costs are quite clear and immediate. There have been quite a few news stories recently of trains carrying crude oil exploding, rivers contaminated by coal ash spills, and coal processing chemicals infiltrating water supplies.

Other costs are more indirect: health problems from breathing the by-products of burning fossil fuels such as fine carbon particulates, nitrous oxide, and ozone, or from eating fish contaminated with mercury.

And others may be less obvious but are no less real: the increasing amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that is causing acidification of the oceans and disruptions in the earth’s climate as a result of global warming.

These are matters of justice because many of these costs fall more heavily on those who are the most vulnerable, like children, the chronically ill, and the elderly. And they are also borne by those who live in poor and minority communities. They are often more directly exposed to pollution from power plants and have fewer resources to protect themselves from flooding, heat waves, and crop failures caused by climate change.

As a society, we can debate the relative weights of various costs and benefits, the advantages and disadvantages of alternative technologies, the details of particular scientific projections and analyses. But surely we can and must demand a cleaner, healthier, safer world for ourselves and our descendants. Surely we want to be remembered as a generation that chose life rather than death. Surely we can do better than this!

We can’t turn back the clock. We may not be able to retrieve and contain all the toxic chemicals we have released into the environment. We can’t resurrect every extinct species. We can only reduce, not stop, global warming.

But we still have choices, important choices that will have consequences for ourselves; for the most vulnerable neighbors in our communities and the world; for our children, grandchildren, and descendants; and for the creatures with which we share this planet.

I had the privilege and pleasure of spending last night not far from here, in the hermitage at the Racine Dominicans Eco-Justice Center. In real and practical ways, the Center is a signpost pointing to the sorts of choices we must make and the path that we need to follow if we and future generations are going to live long on this gifted and graceful earth in faithful obedience to God, with love and justice toward our neighbors, and with care and respect for the whole of creation.

If you haven’t done so already, I encourage you to visit the Center and see for yourself the wind turbine, the solar panels that provide electricity and hot water, and the gardens and the chickens, bees, alpacas, goats and other creatures they care for. And you can see their respect for the history of that place, even as they help to teach schoolchildren the knowledge and values that we all need to learn in order to create a more sustainable society.

The people of Israel said farewell to their prophet Moses before they crossed the river Jordan into the Promised Land. Not long ago, we took leave of a latter-day prophet with a passion for justice and care for the earth, who for decades used music and humor to cajole us into making choices that will lead to life rather than death. In his song, “Rainbow Race,” Pete Seeger sang,

One blue sky above us,

One ocean, lapping all our shores.
One earth so green and round,

Who could ask for more?

And because I love you

I’ll give it one more try.
To show my rainbow race

It’s too soon to die.

Go tell, go tell all the little children!

Go tell mothers and fathers, too:
Now’s our last chance to learn to share

What’s been given to me and you

One blue sky above us,

One ocean, lapping all our shores.
One earth so green and round,

Who could ask for more?

Heaven and earth will bear witness, in very concrete ways, to the choices you and I make today.


Climate Change and Poverty in the Household of God

Climate Change and Poverty in the Household of God

by Brian E. Konkol

Brian Konkol served in South Africa as ELCA Country Coordinator of the Young Adults in Global Mission program.

Since the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNCCC) came into force in 1995, the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UNCCC has met annually to assess progress in dealing with global climate change.  From November 28 until December 9 in Durban, South Africa, the Conference of the Parties will meet again, for the 17th time, thus the title “COP17”.  Among other things, COP17 will bring together various world leaders in order to adopt decisions and resolutions, publish reports, and attempt to establish legally binding legislation for developed countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.  While some are skeptical as to how much progress may be achieved due to power politics and global economic stagnation, there is a growing sense of optimism surrounding COP17 and enthusiasm is expected to increase as the gathering draws closer.

While one could reflect upon a wide range of topics surrounding climate change and the complexity of multi-national negotiations, I find it necessary to offer a few observations from the perspective of a North American Christian residing within the borders of South Africa.  In specifics, as I prepare for my own involvement surrounding COP17 in Durban through the local faith-based community, the following observations come to mind: 1) Climate Change skepticism seems to be a USA-based phenomenon, 2) Climate Change and Poverty are intimately linked, and 3) The Christian Church has much to offer surrounding resistance and responses to climate change and poverty.

Climate Change skepticism seems to be a USA-based phenomenon

According to the Pew Research Centre, a 2009 survey found that only 57% of USA citizens believed in global warming, which was a twenty-point drop from a similar survey taken in 2006.  In addition, the study found that only 36% of the 1,500 adults questioned believed that human activities – such as pollution from power plants, industry, and vehicles – are behind an increase in global temperatures, which is down from 47% in 2006.  While there are many reasons given for a decline in environmental emphasis, the numbers reveal that USA citizens tend to be more skeptical of climate change when compared to the majority of people from other nations.  As a result, it is not surprising that the USA government has a reputation around the world as the primary roadblock to global legislation that would require more legally binding sustainable environmental standards.

In contrast to the ongoing public and political debate in the USA surrounding the legitimacy and urgency of climate change, the global scientific body of knowledge appears to be overwhelmingly clear, as highlighted in The Great Disruption by Paul Gilding:

  • …every major grouping of qualified scientists that has analyzed the issue [of climate change] comes to the same conclusion and has done so consistently over time and around the world… The broad conclusion they all come to is that we face a significant risk of major change that undermines society’s prosperity and stability, we are a substantial contributor to the risk, and to reduce the level of risk we should dramatically reduce emissions of the pollution that causes the problem.
  • The consensus position on climate change is reflected in the rigorously peer-reviewed journals in which research is presented and issues are debated.  One study by Naomi Oreskes, published in the journal Science, demonstrated that of the papers whose abstract contained the keywords global climate change between 1993 and 2003, none questioned the consensus position – not one.  Oreskes’s subsequent book, Merchants of Doubt, revealed how many who once fronted the tobacco industry’s anti-science campaign to deny the link between smoking and lung cancer are also now prominent and vocal climate change skeptics, and they are often funded to create doubt that has no credible scientific basis.

With the above thoughts in mind, it is clear that – from the basis of consensus scientific knowledge from credible specialists around the world – climate change is real, serious, and is growing worse due to human activity.  While a number of skeptics will persist, and frequent streams of propaganda – often funded by energy companies and political lobbyists – will continue, humanity cannot continue to live in denial, for failing to take action will have dramatic and far-reaching implications.  In many ways, the science reveals that climate change is merely not about politics, religion, money, or morality, but it is about the survival of the planet and the existence of life as we know it.  In other words, climate change is an issue that impacts each and every living being that God has created.

Climate Change and Poverty are intimately linked

While some argue that an increased emphasis upon environmentalism is a hindrance to economic growth, the scientific body of knowledge reports to the contrary, for climate change actually increases poverty, especially within the developing world.  Among other things, extreme weather has an impact upon productivity and can raise the price of staple foods, such as grains, that are important to households throughout the world.  In addition, studies have shown that global warming will likely increase the frequency and intensity of heat waves and drought in many areas.  These various and significant realities will have a deep and dramatic impact upon developing nations, and because of the growing inter-connectedness of globalization, they will also have a impact upon Europe and the USA.  All together, the choice between environmental sustainability and economic growth is no choice at all, for one cannot exist in the long term without the other.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), climate change is a global concern, for it increases poverty and halts sustainable development in the following ways:

  • There has been considerable research surrounding climate change and agriculture.  Among other things, climate change impacts rainfall, temperature, and water availability in vulnerable areas, thus it has a strong influence upon productivity, agricultural practices, and distribution of rural land.  In addition, climate change could worsen the prevalence of hunger through effects on production and purchasing power, thus some have predicted the number of people to be impacted by malnutrition may rise to 600 million by 2080. 
  • Of the 3 billion growth in population projected worldwide by 2050, the majority will be born in countries already experiencing water shortages.  As the climate of the earth warms, changes in rainfall, evaporation, snow, and runoff flows will be impacted. 
  • As a result of accelerated ice sheet disintegration, rising sea levels could result in 330 million people being permanently or temporarily displaced through flooding.  In addition, warming seas can also fuel the increase of more intense tropical storms.
  • One of the direct effects of climate change is an increase in temperature-related illnesses and deaths related to prolonged heat waves and humidity.  In specifics, climate change can alter the geographic range of mosquito-born diseases, such as malaria, thus exposing new populations to the disease.  As a changing climate affects the essential ingredients of maintaining good health (clean air and water, sufficient food and adequate shelter), the effects could be widespread and massive. 
  • The report of the World Health Organization’s Commission on Social Determinants of Health points out that disadvantaged communities are likely to shoulder a disproportionate share of the burden of climate change because of their increased exposure and vulnerability to health threats.  More specifically, over 90 percent of malaria and diarrheal deaths are experienced by children aged 5 years or younger, mostly in developing countries.

With all the above thoughts in mind, it is clear that the world cannot afford to engage the false debate of having to choose between environmental sustainability and economic growth, for the two go hand in hand within an interconnected system of globalization.  In many ways, the current global economic downturn and debt crisis within Europe and the USA proves how a failure to promote sustainability will drive economies into further crisis, not only in the developing world, but also within those countries that have enjoyed generations of prosperity.  And so, as increases in climate change lead to dramatic rises of inequality and poverty, those who are most responsible for climate change are called to take responsibility in order to offer sustainable livelihoods for people and places throughout the world.  The issue of climate change – and the resulting consequences of economic crisis, inequality, and poverty – has reached a breaking-point, and a lack of significant and far-reaching action will lead the world further down a dangerous path.

The Christian Church has much to offer surrounding resistance and responses

In order to resist and respond to climate change and poverty, a wide variety of world church companions are seeking innovative and respectful methods to accompany one another in God’s mission of reconciliation, transformation, and empowerment.   As stated by the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makogoba, during his sermon on creation and greed: “God calls us to be part of the solution, not part of the problem – part of the coming of the kingdom, partners in his working of redemption and salvation.”  And so, while many would argue that COP17 should be left to government leaders and scientists, the call of Jesus to seek life in its fullness for all people in all places draws people of faith toward prophetic action, for the common identity as Children of God takes precedence over national boundaries and political agendas.  In other words, as people of faith who believe in a God that created the heavens and the earth, we are called to be faithful stewards of creation in a way that brings life, rather than takes life away.

With such thoughts in mind, the late South African theologian and activist Steve de Gruchy promoted “An Olive Agenda” that is of great importance for churches and people of faith around the world seeking ways to mobilize, for he provided a significant contribution toward the pursuit of resistance and responses to climate change and poverty.  For example, de Gruchy offered a theological metaphor – the olive – that transcends the duality between the “green” environmental agenda and “brown” poverty agenda “that has disabled development discourse for the past twenty years”.  As a result of de Gruchy’s work, instead of falling into the false debate between “green” environmental sustainability and “brown” poverty reduction, an Olive Agenda combines green and brown into olive, and thus provides a “remarkably rich metaphor” that “holds together that which religious and political discourse rends apart: earth, land, climate, labor, time, family, food, nutrition, health, hunger, poverty, power and violence”.  Among other things, de Gruchy’s Olive Agenda is of exceptional value as churches and people of faith around the world seek to understand the mission of God within the context of climate change and its impact upon inequality and poverty.

According to de Gruchy, an Olive Agenda finds its theological foundation in the concept of “oikos”, translated as “the household of God”.  As ecology (oikos-logos) concerns the wisdom of how a home functions, economy (oikos-nomos) is about the rules that should govern the home, and because there is only one “home” for humankind (the earth), economy and ecology are thus “both intimately concerned about the earth, about the way human beings live upon the earth, relate to the earth, make use of the earth’s bounty, and respect the integrity of the earth”.  Therefore, the social implications of these theological affirmations are that while both brown and green agendas are “fundamentally right, taken in isolation each is tragically wrong – and thus we must integrate economy as oikos-nomos, and ecology as oikos-logos in search of sustainable life on earth, the oikos that is our only home.”  As stated previously, this Olive Agenda has the potential to dramatically transform the ways that world church companionships and people of faith respond to economic and ecological exploitation and other factors that prevent fullness of life around the world.

Moving Forward

One of the common metaphors of social development is “give someone fish and they eat for a day, but teach someone to fish and they eat for a lifetime”.  In the 21st century this statement is not fully accurate, for one has to consider who has “access to the pond”, and of course, we need to recognize that climate change is causing “the pond” the shrink.  When the pond, both literally and figuratively, is shrinking, it creates a global situation in which competition and warfare surrounding limited resources takes priority over cooperation, and survival of the fittest takes precedence over mutuality with humanity and creation.  With such realities in mind, and in light of the Olive Agenda as first articulated by Steve de Gruchy, we recognize that environmental sustainability is not merely an option for the future, but it is the only option if a future is what we truly seek.

While climate change and poverty are global concerns, one recognizes that certain nations have additional responsibility for the challenges, and as a result, must take bold leadership in promoting solutions.  For example, according to the WorldWatch Institute, the wealthiest 500 million people in the world (roughly 7% of the global population) are currently responsible for 50% of carbon dioxide emissions, while the poorest 3 billion are responsible for just 6%.  In addition, from 1900-2004 the whole of Africa generated just 2.5% of cumulative carbon dioxide emissions while the USA accounted for 29.5%.  Although these gaps have narrowed slightly in recent years, historical emissions are relevant because carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere to exert a greenhouse effect for many decades, and thus the negative impact of emissions upon development persists long after the pollution is first created.  And so, the scientific body of knowledge is clear in stating that those who are most vulnerable to the impact of climate change are those that carry the least historical responsibility for its existence.  As a result, while the entire world must rally around answers for climate change, the primary responsibility to promote such resolutions and reverse environmental injustice falls most upon the wealthiest global citizens, for anything less would be unjust, short-sighted, selfish, and irresponsible. 

With all the above in mind, the time has come to recognize that God’s mission is about the promotion of sustainable livelihoods, not merely for life after death, but also for life after birth.  As a result, the time for silence on matters such as climate change and poverty is finished, for as Martin Luther King, Jr. stated: “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transformation was not the strident clamour of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people”.  As a result of the crippling ecological and economic impact of climate change, the time has come for Christian Churches around the world – especially those within the USA – to seek responsible and respectful systems that reverse injustices and offer life for all that God has created.  The time has come for churches to call upon wealthier countries to repay their climate debt by undertaking severe cuts in emissions.  In addition, it is time for people of faith to model environmental values and advocate for the increased financial support of renewable energy sources such as solar and wind.  In other words, it is time for churches to insist that all countries involved in COP17 support legally binding legislation that values the entirety and integrity of God’s creation.

The scientific evidence surrounding climate change is clear, and the implications for both the environment and humankind are many, thus the response to such global challenges needs to be persistent, organized, and significant.  As Jesus calls upon humankind to “love they neighbor”,  and as the Old Testament prophets remind us to strive for justice, we recognize that within a deeply connected world “neighbor” implies all that God has created, and injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere.  And so, an implication of Jesus’ words and actions is to share and receive the Good News not only on Sunday mornings, but through daily acts of long-term advocacy that promotes sustainable livelihoods.  With COP17 in South Africa on the horizon, the time has come to mobilize around an Olive Agenda, as silence or neutrality on such matters will allow climate change and poverty to continue and grow worse.  The time has come when humanity can no longer afford to fight over the limited resources remaining in our shrinking pond, and the moment is upon us to pass legally binding legislation that values the gifts of creation that God has entrusted us to manage.  The time is now.  God has allowed humankind to serve as stewards of creation, and the time has come to embrace this sacred responsibility, value the resources that God has so graciously offered, and ensure that all of God’s creation – in this generation and the next – receives the fullness of life that God has promised. 



Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change

Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change by Elizabeth Kolbert (New York: Bloomsbury, 2006)
Long known for her insightful and thought-provoking political journalism, author Elizabeth Kolbert now tackles the controversial and increasingly urgent subject of global warming. In what began as groundbreaking three-part series in the New Yorker, for which she won a National Magazine Award in 2006, Kolbert cuts through the competing rhetoric and political agendas to elucidate for Americans what is really going on with the global environment and asks what, if anything, can be done to save our planet.

Now updated and with a new afterword, Field Notes from a Catastrophe is the book to read on the defining issue and greatest challenge of our times.