Category Archives: Climate

Is the Inflation Reduction Act a climate game changer?

Are the climate elements in the recently-passed “Inflation Reduction Act” a game changer? Or are they just a way to lessen the disastrous impact of the U.S. inaction over the past decade? Did you personally do anything to help us collectively stand in front of that inaction train as it carried the world toward a climatic wreck? Maybe you have been preoccupied. The news outlets probably won’t help your focus too much. Both newspapers I read put the news about the House passing this huge bill last week second to Donald Trump’s predictable, attention-grabbing violation of the law and the Republican defense of it. I suppose our leaders will be calling for war on each other when Mar-a-Lago is under rising seas.

The climate disaster is here. Temperatures soared across Europe, the US and much of the northern hemisphere this year – it’s a new normal. What scientists have predicted for decades is becoming palpable, indisputable. The deniers keep denying and the fossil fuel oligarchs won’t give up until all the oil is out of the ground and sold, but it is hard to argue against climate change when the Po and Colorado Rivers dry up.  The new, human-caused climate patterns have far-reaching effects – for the natural world, for global food supplies, for health, for infrastructure and for much more. UN chief António Guterres has likened the crisis to ”collective suicide.”

I hope you already knew all that and are figuring out what more you can do – even though we need massive systemic change, not just individual action. We are all in this together, but it is the systems and the leaders of them who must make the planet-changing alterations. Christians who love their Creator should be their main exhorters. But Christians in the US still generally think climate action is “liberal,” which is another atmosphere that burns me up. They are so individualistic and paranoid they think hunkering down in their bunkers will save their families.

Maybe they will change and care for creation. I know some who woke up long ago. You noticed I said “generally” a couple of sentences ago when I indicted “Christians” because I suspect some of you reading are Jesus followers who voted for Al Gore and still wince when you see Styrofoam. But, unfortunately, Christians are generally not known for being at the forefront of climate action

Celebrate climate action

I’m writing today to add a bit more to our knowledge of the massive budget bill the Congress squeezed by the uniformly-opposed Republicans. “Opposed Republicans” when it comes to environmental protection is a recent change, since some of the first environmental activists in government were Republicans. Richard Nixon organized the EPA! I don’t think the present crew in Congress are all opposed to climate action on principle. They are in a death match for instituting a minority government free of pesky laws (the flouting of which dares the FBI to raid your mansion).

I went looking for what was actually in the unfortunately-named Inflation Reduction Act and it was quite hard to find. The Democrats put out a summary but it doesn’t give many details. The House has another summary with more detail. Why do I think you should care about this?

  • Our empathy needs to expand. Overwhelm diminishes our capacity to care. It takes discipline to care about anyone but oneself and one’s own.
  • We face shame when we encounter change. It takes a lot of self and other awareness not to get stuck in resistance.

I think the Holy Spirit brings us into connection and expands our ability to love – even in the face of climate inaction.

Daniel Hunter encourages bird counters to celebrate (click for article)

Let’s look at the amazing and inadequate features

Energy experts assert the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 will help the United States cut greenhouse gas emissions about 40% below 2005 levels by the end of this decade. That puts the Biden administration within striking distance of meeting its goal to reduce greenhouse gases by 50% below 2005 levels by 2030 under the Paris climate agreement of 2016.

Pray with me, here, as I offer my own summary of the bill Biden will sign this week. The planet’s future is hanging in the balance.

Here are the main elements.

  1. It attempts to lower energy costs
  • Home energy rebate programs focused on low income consumers to electrify home appliances and retrofit homes for energy efficiency. ($9 billion)

Just in case you can’t see how rich the U.S. is, if you personally earned $1 million dollars a year, it would take a thousand years to make 1 billion.

  • Tax credits to make homes energy-efficient and fueled by clean energy — making heat pumps, rooftop solar, electric HVAC and water heaters more affordable. (Lasts ten years)

You can get an $8,000 tax credit to install a modern electric heat pump that can both heat and cool buildings. You could get $1,600 to insulate and seal your house to make it more energy efficient.

  • Tax credits for lower/middle income people to buy used clean vehicles ($4,000), or to buy new clean vehicles ($7500).

I apparently bought my new hybrid too soon.

  • Grant programs to make affordable housing more energy efficient. ($1 billion)
  1. It retreats from the global economy and encourages domestic production of climate related products
  • Tax credits to accelerate manufacture of solar panels, wind turbines, batteries, and processing of critical minerals. ($30 billion)

A piece about “critical minerals.”

  • Tax credits to build clean technology manufacturing facilities, like facilities that make electric vehicles, wind turbines and solar panels. (10 billion)
  • Money through the Defense Production Act for heat pumps and critical minerals processing. ($500 million)
  • Grants to retool existing auto factories to make clean vehicles, ensuring that auto manufacturing jobs stay in the communities that depend on them. ($2 billion)
  • Loans to build new clean vehicle manufacturing facilities across the country. ($20 billion)
  • Money to fund National Labs to accelerate breakthrough energy research. ($2 billion)
  1. It begins work to decarbonize the economy
  • Tax credits for clean sources of electricity and energy storage
  • Targeted grant and loan programs for states and electric utilities to accelerate the transition to clean electricity. ($30 billion)
  • Tax credits and grants for clean fuels and clean commercial vehicles to reduce emissions from all parts of the transportation sector.
  • Grants and tax credits to reduce emissions from industrial manufacturing processes, including almost $6 billion for a new Advanced Industrial Facilities Deployment Program to reduce emissions from the largest industrial emitters like chemical, steel and cement plants.
  • Money for Federal procurement of American-made clean technologies to create a stable market for clean products, including $3 billion for the U.S. Postal Service to purchase zero-emission vehicles. ($9 billion)
  • Money for a clean energy technology accelerator to support deployment of technologies to reduce emissions, especially in marginalized communities. ($27 billion)
  • A Methane Emissions Reduction Program to reduce leaks from the production and distribution of natural gas. The bill forces oil and gas companies to pay fees as high as $1,500 a ton to address excess leaks of methane, and undoes the 10-year moratorium on offshore wind leasing established under Trump.

Here is a little local color that includes methane capture.

  1. It includes a focus on environmental justice
  • Environmental and climate justice block grants will invest in community-led projects in marginalized communities (and the agencies poised to use this money) to address disproportionate environmental and public health harms related to pollution and climate change. ($3 billion)
  • Neighborhood grants will support equity, safety, and affordable transportation access. The aim is to reconnect communities divided by existing infrastructure barriers, mitigate negative impacts of transportation facilities or construction projects on marginalized communities, and support equitable transportation planning and community engagement activities. ($3 billion)
  • Grants to reduce air pollution at ports will support the purchase and installation of zero-emission equipment and technology. ($3 billion)
  • Money for clean heavy-duty vehicles, like school and transit buses and garbage trucks. ($1 billion)
  1. It pointedly includes farmers, forestland owners and rural communities
  • Money to support climate-smart agriculture practices. ($20 billion)
  • Grants to support healthy, fire resilient forests, forest conservation and urban tree planting. ($5 billion)
  • Tax credits and grants to support the domestic production of biofuels, and to build the infrastructure needed for sustainable aviation fuel and other biofuels.

This summary of tax implications tells you how complex this all is.

  • Grants to conserve and restore coastal habitats and protect communities that depend on those habitats. ($2.6 billion)
  1. It does not neglect the fossil fuel addiction companies

The big oil companies, fresh off their record-breaking pandemic profits, did not make a big push against the bill, which says volumes. The Democrats agreed to a number of fossil fuel and drilling provisions as concessions to Senator Manchin of West Virginia, a holdout from a state that is heavily dependent on coal and gas. The measure assures new oil drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska’s Cook Inlet.  It expands tax credits for carbon capture technology that could allow coal or gas-burning power plants to keep operating with lower emissions. It instructs  the Interior Department to also hold auctions for fossil fuel leases if it approves new wind or solar projects on federal lands.

What do you think God thinks about all of this? What does Jesus want you to believe and do about it all? Let’s pray today and hope. We are the salt of this poor planet.

FFF #20: My first set of climate action posts.

Climate strike Philly
Climate Strike Philly — WHYY pic

I committed myself to twenty posts in solidarity with Greta Thunberg and her climate strike movement among high school students (and others). Here is #20. I suspect I will be back with 20 more, someday, since there is much to learn and share in this dire time.

For now, I invite you to check in on what you may have missed. The two entries with an asterisk are the most read, so far, in case you are curious what others find interesting.  The entry on Phoenix, in particular, received about five times as much interest as one of my weekly posts.

If you care about climate action, I am with you. It is going to be hard to sustain our efforts when the powers are preoccupied with fighting and fiddling as the Earth burns — they are often in the way. Our experience of community is so weak these days solidarity is hard to find — the pandemic accelerated the development of societal trends and technologies that were already isolating us. But good things are happening, too and people are joining together to make a difference. Even if we fail at keeping under the limits of disaster, I want to fail doing the good I can, don’t you?

FFF #19 — Do you live in a C40 city? I do.

Posting every Friday at noon is how I act in solidarity with young climate strikers all over the world who want their elders to save their future. 

Philadelphia has been a C40 city since 2005. That means my city helped create what many people call the leading edge of climate action: the mayors of large cities. My friend, Chris Puchalsky went to Copenhagen in 2019 for a C40 summit with Mayor Kenney and shared his inspiration with WHYY.

I did not know I lived in a C40 city until I was wandering around city government, exploring what it is doing to take climate action and adding my voice to spur the government on. Turns out Philly has an even bigger government than I thought — even goes global! It does a lot and it gets clogged up a lot. One thing I did not know I give to you, in case you didn’t: we’re C40, Philly people. How about the rest of you?

The C40 cities are deploying a “science-based and collaborative approach to help the world limit global heating to 1.5°C and build healthy, equitable and resilient communities.” In 2006 the Mayors of the C20 invited 22 further mayors, including many from the Global South and became the C40. The name has stuck, even though now the number of member cities is closing in on 100.

The Clinton Foundation’s Climate Initiative was also put into action in 2006 and was an important partner for the Mayors at that point. In 2011, C40 Chair Michael Bloomberg (remember that presidential candidate?) initiated the merger of the Clinton Climate Initiative’s Cities Program with C40. Bloomberg Philanthropies supplied enough funds at that point to make C40 a major climate action organization (choose your chairs wisely!).

C40 member cities earn their membership through action instead of membership fees. Their Leadership Standards set the minimum requirements for all members and ensure the integrity of C40 as a network of climate leaders. That sounds like Jesus telling people his disciples are known by their fruit, right?

Garcetti in Copenhagen

What are C40 Cities doing now?

C40 played an important role at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) last year. There, Chair Eric Garcetti from Los Angeles passed the baton to the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan. They also announced that more than 1,000 city and local governments around the world have joined Cities Race to Zero. What’s more, they presented a report from the C40 Cities and Mayors Migration Council  which deployed a Task Force on Climate and Migration. This warmed my heart, since I got a close-up view of the environmentally-disastrous border wall the U.S. put up on a shocking amount of its Mexican border last year and heard about climate refugees being refused entry.

Part of Eric Garcetti’s work as Chair was to partner with Mayor Gong Zheng of Shanghai to begin building a green shipping corridor between two of the busiest ports in the world. The port businesses and other C40 cities will work with industry partners to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the movement of cargo throughout the 2020s, including a goal to transition to zero-carbon fueled ships by 2030. I drove my VW around most of LA in high school, and it warms my heart to see LA’s mayor subverting the snail-paced national governments

Here are the key decarbonization goals for the corridor, so far:

  • Phase in low, ultra-low, and zero-carbon fueled ships through the 2020s, with the world’s first zero-carbon trans-Pacific container ships introduced by 2030.
  • Develop best management practices to help reduce emissions and improve efficiency for all ships using this corridor.
  • Reduce supply chain emissions from port operations, improving air quality in the ports of Shanghai and Los Angeles and adjacent communities.

A major player in Garcetti’s initiative was the Aspen Institute (for the history of the institute, which is enlightening, here’s the Wiki). Aspen Institute created a collaborative called Cargo Owners for Zero Emission Vessels (coZEV).  This platform facilitates action to speed up the decarbonization of maritime shipping and encouraged the C40 to get onboard. The collaborative is a specific application of their Shipping Decarbonization Initiative (SDI).

I did not know most of this stuff until I bumped into it. Now, when I talk to the PEA (Philadelphia Energy Authority), where all my research started, I might sound like I’ve been trying, at least, to pay attention. My city is involved in important steps to save the planet. Things might not work that well, but there is work being done.

FFF #18 — Farmlink: Young people doing more than speaking their minds

Posting every Friday at noon is how I act in solidarity with young climate strikers all over the world who want their elders to save their future. 

A good way to encourage your donors

The Farmlink Project has only been around since the beginning of the pandemic but it already has volunteers all over the lower 48 states and Mexico. The leaders are all young and, up until recently, were all volunteers. They became so popular with donors, they have hired staff and organized more good things to do. It’s a wonder.

Their seed thought came after the revelation that a lot of food is wasted by grocery stores, restaurants, institutions and families. They discovered that farmers often aren’t able to get their produce off their farms or find a price good enough to make a profit; so they let it rot in the fields. And this waste happens even when food insecurity is epidemic.

They found ways to get the food to food banks with volunteers collaborating with farmers — and with a bunch of donors. CBS and other outlets were so thrilled with these kids they all created segments to laud their work. Here’s one.

Such a waste of a planet

The World Wildlife Fund says “ an estimated one-third of all the food produced in the world goes to waste. … And if food goes to the landfill and rots, it produces methane—a greenhouse gas even more potent than carbon dioxide. About 6%-8% of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced if we stop wasting food.”

The world Wildlife fund was started in 1961 by a squad of super rich people and royals, six years before Buffalo Springfield sang For What It’s Worth. Today’s young activists are a lot better at organizing the rich instead of just talking about them.  I think Farmlink is a good example.

Farmlink relates WWF’s stats more colorfully:  “If food waste was a country, it would be the third largest contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions.” I did not verify their chart but they offer one to make their point:

Over one-third of all produce grown in the U.S. is wasted every year, and it happens at every step of food production. Tens of millions of pounds of edible produce are left unharvested, lost in transit, processing, or retail, or thrown away by consumers.

The majority of food waste that occurs at the warehouse, store, or consumer level is ultimately sealed in a landfill, where it releases methane—a greenhouse gas with over 30 times the heat trapping ability of carbon dioxide. Landfills are responsible for almost 15 percent of the country’s methane emissions, with organic matter making up the largest percentage of total landfill mass.

Crops left in the field don’t expel the same volume of greenhouse gases, but they do account for massive amounts of wasted resources. A 2016 study estimates that 21 percent of water, 18 percent of cropland, and 19 percent of fertilizer in the U.S. are dedicated to food that is never eaten.

I made a donation to Farmlink and they wrote back with more info:

“Since our founding in April 2020, we have delivered nearly 50 million pounds of produce from farms to food banks — or the equivalent of 42 million meals (and counting)! We have provided $3 million in economic relief to farmers and truck drivers, all the while preventing 40 million pounds of carbon emissions.”

People like me wanted to support this good work. Our donations

“made it possible for us to formalize our 501(c)(3) status and take on a full-time staff, thereby ensuring institutional longevity, as well as build out Carbonlink, our carbon offset program for a sustainable food system….While our small unit of full-time staff focuses on operational continuity, our 120-person volunteer base of students continues to serve as the engine of this organization.”

It is a wonder how these young people cared. And it is a wonder that so many people wanted to support them. I think the greatest wonder is their quick contribution to meeting an obvious need: food insecurity and climate change caused by wasted food.

FFF #17 — Brendon Grimshaw and his Seychelles wonder

Posting every Friday at noon is how I act in solidarity with young climate strikers all over the world who want their elders to save their future. 

My friend, Robyn Ryan, posted a story on Facebook a week or so ago about Brendon Grimshaw, who bought a tiny island in the Seychelles, turned it into an interactive arboretum and donated it to be a national park. His work is a strange wonder among the many efforts of conservation and climate change mitigation all over the world.

Moyenne Island

Grimshaw first came to the Seychelles on vacation in 1962. At the time, he was an editor working for some of the biggest newspapers in East Africa. Tanzania had declared independence the year before; Kenya would follow a year later; and Grimshaw, an Englishman, knew his job would soon pass to a local. So he was searching for a new direction that took him closer to nature. He dreamed about owning land in the Seychelles – ideally, he’d buy his own island.

Once in the country  he wondered whether he needed to change his plans. The few islands on the market had jaw-dropping price tags. On the second-to-last day of his holiday, a young man approached him in the Seychelles’ capital, Victoria, and asked Grimshaw if he wanted to buy an island — just like that. They traveled together to Moyenne, a small dot less than 3 miles off of Mahé. He immediately fell in love with its silence and its wild tangle of vegetation. It was close enough to be accessible from the Seychelles’ main island, and yet a world away. He bought it for about $10,000.

He was determined to complete the massive task of restoring the island’s natural beauty. Neglect and heavy-handed human intervention had left Moyenne gasping for air. Weeds choked the undergrowth. The island was so crowded with invasive vegetation, falling coconuts never hit the ground. Birds were noticeably absent and rats foraged in the shadows.

Grimshaw wanted to create a mini-Seychelles, to replicate what archipelago was like before Europeans and tourists came. By his side in the task was a local man named Rene Antoine Lafortune, the 19-year-old son of a local fisherman. The two became inseparable, and together they set about transforming the island, clearing the scrub, planting trees and forging paths through the undergrowth. It was painstaking, back-breaking work – and it became Grimshaw’s life-long obsession. By one estimate, Moyenne now has more plant species per square mile than any other national park in the world due to their work.

Brendon Grimshaw

As tourism grew in the the Seychelles the 1980s and the archipelago became synonymous with a tropical island paradise. Investors turned their covetous gaze towards Moyenne. Grimshaw received offers of up to $50 million (purportedly from a Saudi prince) to sell it. He resisted every overture.

As he grew older, Grimshaw became increasingly aware he had limited time left to protect the island’s future. He had no children to whom he could pass on custodianship of the island. When Lafortune died in 2007, Grimshaw was left alone at 81. He decided to act. He set up a perpetual trust to protect the island and signed an agreement with the Seychelles’ Ministry of Environment which made Moyenne part of Ste Anne Marine Park, and granted it a special status. With that, Moyenne Island National Park became the world’s smallest national park.

The island has no jetty. One wades ashore, barefoot, through the shallows. As you reach dry land and take your first steps along the gently climbing forest trail, the trees close in behind you and you enter another world. Dappled sunlight filters down through the canopy to the forest floor, the temperature is cooler, and the island’s 16,000 trees – mahogany, palm, mango, and pawpaw – planted by Grimshaw and Lafortune, surround you.

Every now and then, you may find your path blocked by one of Moyenne’s nearly 50 free-range giant Aldabra tortoises, which had been on the verge of extinction. You’ll hear the song of 2,000 newly-attracted bird species. Thanks to Grimshaw’s efforts, the once deserted island now hosts two-thirds of the Seychelles’ fauna. An abandoned piece of land has turned into a wonder.

Grimshaw died in 2012 and his grave sits alongside that of his father (who later came to live with him) and the graves of two unknown people which were uncovered during the restoration, usually considered pirates. At his request, Grimshaw’s tombstone reads,

Moyenne taught him to open his eyes to the beauty around him and say thank you to God.

In his last will and testament, he expressed his final wishes:

Moyenne Island is to be maintained as a venue for prayer, peace, tranquillity, relaxation and knowledge for Seychellois and visitors from overseas of all nationalities, colours and creeds.

In 1996, Grimshaw wrote a book about himself and the island, entitled A Grain of Sand. In 2009, a documentary film was produced by the same name. The filmmakers say: “Brendon has provided us with an example of why not all hope is loss in what at times seems an overwhelmingly mad world.” You can watch it on YouTube:

In it you’ll hear Grimshaw say:

“I don’t own the island. God owns the island and I look after it.”

FFF#16 — SpinLaunch: A potential wonder

Posting every Friday at noon is how I act in solidarity with young climate strikers all over the world who want their elders to save their future. 

Every day my Twitter feed has at least a few people adding this to their #climateaction tweet: “None of this matters until we eradicate the fossil fuel industry!”

Climate action advocates tend to be a testy bunch, like my inspiration, Greta Thunberg. Many of them are so appalled at the foot-draggers who are not reducing emissions NOW they have a lot of negative things to offer to the conversation!

Star forming nebula in small Magellanic Cloud

Keep an eye out for wonder

But people are trying — maybe we should look concentrate on how great they are! After all, Proverbs 17:22 says, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”

So let’s talk about SpinLaunch. There is a bit of wonder out there in Long Beach. This company has been in the news all month because they had their first test launch out of SpacePort in New Mexico late last year. (Yes, SpacePort  exists).

Space flight is a pollution nightmare and hugely expensive. SpinLaunch is trying to figure out how to use sun power electricity to spin a projectile so fast in their vacuum chamber it can make it out of the atmosphere, pin a satellite into space, and return to Earth for re-use. They have a much greener and cheaper approach. Although space is going to start looking like a beach on Eleuthera pretty soon with all the trash we throw out there. But let’s try to stay positive.

Here is an excited video about SpinLaunch’s accomplishments. They are the first of fifteen technologies these YouTubers applaud:

You can see what CNBC says about SpinLaunch, too. Here are some internet critics dissecting the video. But let’s stay hopeful.

Will this wonder work?

A more even assessment comes from Michael Barnard at CleanTechnica, where they are devoted to catalyzing the clean tech revolution through industry coverage with journalistic integrity.

Barnard doubts SpinLaunch will create a full-size launcher and doubts their idea will be found necessary until space gets more profitable. But we are looking at possibilities here.

In October, SpinLaunch threw a 10-meter projectile over six miles into the sky and retrieved it. They did it using electricity instead of rocket fuel. And they did it in a novel way that might eventually prove useful.

Their “launcher is a giant solid sling inside a vacuum chamber. It has a big counterweight on a short arm at one end, and a long end that holds the payload at the other. Over 90 minutes or so, it uses electricity to bring the rotating arm with the dart on it up to absurd revolutions per second, about 10,000 gravities of centripetal force. Then, at exactly the right microsecond, they let the dart go. It goes up through a tube with a light plastic sheet keeping the vacuum in and air out, and continues upward under its own inertia for 10 kilometers right now.”

The launcher won’t be too useful until it can throw satellites with final stage rockets into orbit. They have not made something that can do that yet. But their idea was interesting enough to warrant $75 million in funding. $38 million of that went to build the sub-scale prototype, which is the biggest vacuum chamber in the world to date. Their successful test opens the ways for more investment (and the Pentagon has been knocking at their door).

Their intention is to craft a sabot — a surrounding aerodynamic shell — which wraps around a thruster, fuel tanks, and payload. Up in orbit, or near orbit, the sabot will pop apart, leaving the simple space vehicle to deliver the payload to its final orbit before it presumably has its own orbit degrade and becomes a brief flash of light in the sky somewhere.

However, there are a lot of challenges to overcome before SpinLaunch might be considered a competitor to SpaceX, not to mention the much easier target, Blue Origin.

Here are several Barnard listed:

  • The small prototype was an amazing piece of engineering. But the much bigger system is a huge risk to fund.
  • The sabot and payload have to be able to survive 10,000G lateral forces, and then the orbital vehicle and payload have to manage the rocket forces when they kick in.
  • The gripping component of the spinning arm has to be able to support the sabot at 10,000Gs and also release it in a microsecond without causing any wobble. That’s an extreme engineering feat.
  • The rotating arm’s moment of inertia is going to change radically and instantly at release. The buildup of velocity takes 90 minutes, so it’s easy to balance, but the release is instant, with a couple of tons of mass at 10,000Gs disappearing at the long end of the arm. Getting the mechanics of that right is another extreme engineering feat.
  • The bottom parts of Earth’s atmosphere are really hard. When the sabot supersonically speeds through them there will be some sonic booms. They won’t be a good neighbor to have. The whole thing might work better on the moon or Mars. But since no one is planning to mine the moon or Mars any time soon, this big idea might sit on the shelf.

Thank God for brilliant people planning green alternatives to the fossil fuel industry, which must be eradicated before Greta’s home town is underwater.

FFF #15 — Resilience: The faith factor in climate action

Posting every Friday at noon is how I act in solidarity with young climate strikers all over the world who want their elders to save their future. 

There is general agreement about what needs to be done to combat climate disruption:

  • Mitigation: reducing emissions.
  • Adaptation: preparing infrastructure to endure the changes.
  • Resilience: deepening the capacity of people to cope with trauma and build a new way of life.

The third response in the list is even weaker than the previous two.

In his book Transformational Resilience, social systems theorist Bob Doppelt says, “No response to the climate crisis will…succeed unless individuals and groups of all types around the globe understand how trauma and toxic stress affects their minds and bodies, and use skills to calm their emotions and thoughts, learn from, and find meaning, direction, and hope in adversity.” The hard scientists and social scientists are doing great work. But people are the problem. If you think their view matches the often-maligned “anthropocentric” worldview of the Bible, I agree with you. The fate of the earth has been given over to humans to steward in collaboration with one another and God. But love rarely rules. So things often die.

Personal resilience

I’m enjoying reading Sarah Jaquette Ray in A Field Guide to Climate Anxiety as she tries to work on the missing link in climate action: the “personal resilience” of people. What she means by “personal” and “resilience” would be interesting to debate. But you probably get the gist of it. It is the same strength, vision and hope you need to call on when you realize you actually matter and you need to do something important with the skills you have in your present context. When you look into 2022 you may not automatically sense a lot of strength, vision and hope. You may be tempted to go with feelings of despair that lead you to withdraw and merely survive.

Some of you Bible readers, however, probably automatically dialed up Romans 5 when you heard “personal resilience;” you could feel the Holy Spirit drawing you to fearlessness when it comes to 2022:

We have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.
And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.
Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings,
because we know that suffering produces perseverance;
perseverance, character;
and character, hope.
And hope does not put us to shame,
because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts
through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Sarah Jaquette Ray is a Buddhist evangelist, but I think she can align with Paul’s point of view. (Besides, divvying up the spoils between rival religious/political parties should probably be consigned to “pre-climate change.”) She gives some useful suggestions for building resilience (or faith, if you like) in the face of the blooming catastrophe we face. Here are three of them, in brief.

Don’t measure so much

As good consumer capitalists, we hardly do anything unless we think it is a good deal, from buying a washing machine to making love. So when we look at what we should do in response to the huge work of fighting climate change, we shy away from the effort because we can’t guarantee the outcome. You might not do your part because you can’t see your effort resulting in enough impact to justify the cost. But it has often been said in response to such thinking, “If you expect to see the final results of your work, you simply have not asked a big enough question.”

I admire people who can stick with their big questions and stop “counting beans” to measure whether their good is producing the best and most good. I am more with Paul, who knows his vision is limited but knows he serves in an eternal arena.

We do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. — 2 Cor 4:16-18

Fixing our eyes on what is unseen is a big enough question, in itself! Thanks to God, the eternal has been planted in history in Jesus and planted in us by the Spirit so we have strength beyond our own to call on when we face our troubles.

Redefine action

Sarah Jaquette Ray is dismayed to see the movement of climate action in bondage to the left-brain. She says, “Many people want to be problem-solvers and to fix things right NOW. They want less feeling less thinking, less talking and more action. But urgency and its sidekick, non-thinking, result in unintended consequences that can undermine our goals.” Resilience needs the right brain, too.

Our sense of inefficacy may have more to do with whether we think we make a difference than with assessing the difference we make. We may have an “instrumentalist’ view that says the only actions that matter are the ones which make immediate, impressive, large-scale change. If we view ourselves more realistically, accepting our limits, we often gain more energy to do what we can. Our problem is rarely that we have no power or influence; it is that we don’t use the power or influence we have because we think it is not enough.

Christianity has unwittingly taught an “instrumentalist” theology for ages. I think the Bible always starts with “You matter” and THEN gets to “So act like that.” But that truth is often turned around so people think, “I’d better do the right, the best, the most things so I can matter as much as I ought to.”

This Bible passage was often misinterpreted in that way when I was coming up

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God — even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. – 1 Corinthians 10:31-33

I think Paul is in the middle of a big discourse grounded in “You matter” when he writes those lines. So it follows that he says, “If you do anything, do it to the glory of God and you will be fine. You have nothing to lose. Love everyone, build the common good and anything else will follow — you are brothers and sisters with Jesus no less.” Even though I think that is the core of what he is teaching, I don’t know how many times I have been hit with, “You are making someone stumble” as the takeaway I should get. Don’t do anything that could be wrong! A lot of us never do anything because it might be wrong or not right enough! Doing the good we can with the Spirit we have is enough — and who knows, it might lead to more!

There are starting points in climate action everyone can do. Express dissatisfaction with the status quo. Bear witness to a crisis — don’t turn away;  know about it and speak about it. Help people on the front lines. Give money. Build community. Talk about the good action that is happening  — e.g.: a friend posted a picture of a smokestack near his house belching black smoke the other day on FB. You get the idea. Listening to the voice that tells you “You don’t matter” and doing nothing is the sin, not failing to do something spectacular.

Go slow enough

Urgency and action without mindful deliberation and contemplative depth does not serve the mission of climate action.  Resilience takes time. Sarah Ray quotes the writers of the workbook Dismantling Racism as they teach that a relentless sense of urgency makes “it difficult to take time to be inclusive, encourage democratic and/or thoughtful decision-making, to think long-term, to consider consequences” (p. 29). Likewise with climate action, the urgency of problem solving can run over the human and community development which is crucial to solving the problem.

Dee Dee Risher (a Philly hero) writes in The Soul Making Room about how pausing to turn into gratitude slowed down her action-oriented, anxiety-driven life enough to help rejuvenate her strength.

Gratitude is the great demon-vanquisher. We cannot be grateful and carry emotions of fear anxiety or anger. Our wiring is not capable of it. Moreover, gratitude changes our place in the chain of being. Gratitude by its very nature makes us a recipient. We are not the giver. That weight is off our shoulders. Gifts are bestowed upon us and we recognize them. We do not have to produce or be worthy. Instead, moments come into our unsuspecting and outstretched hands. Our job is simply to unwrap them.

In the cause of slowing down for gratitude, some Bible verses should not be made into songs. Like this one:

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. — Matthew 6:33-4

The old song I linked helped me remember a bit of the truth. But it was so sweet so short! Our seeking is long and slow. Righteousness is incremental. What’s worse, verse one of the song (the one most of us will remember) ends with “all these things will be added to you” when it would do better to lead us to check our anxiety about not getting what we imagine we need or deserve. We need to do the best we can to trust God with the trouble at hand instead of thinking about three years from now.

The good things the people of Earth are doing in 2022 to combat climate change may or may not be enough. We know what needs to be done but people will always be the problem with doing it. Will we build one another’s capacity to cope with the trauma and learn how to build a new way of life? Will we find resilience and trust? I think Jesus followers have profound answers to that question and the means to answer it with faith, hope and love.

FFF #14 – Climate change anxiety

Posting every Friday at noon is how I act in solidarity with young climate strikers all over the world who want their elders to save their future. The strikers are probably all out of school today, since it is New Year’s Eve, but the problem of climate change is not taking a break.

We all are carrying the weight of anxiety associated with climate change. More and more, our troubled feelings are topics in therapy, in the church and around our tables. In their 2017 document: Mental Health and Our Changing Climate: Impacts, implications and Guidance, three partners summarized the groundbreaking work people have been doing to assess the impact of the warming atmosphere on mental health: the American Psychological Association (APA), Climate for Health, and EcoAmerica. There is trouble, literally, in the air. We can feel how other people and whole communities are changing and adapting. The experts are helping us sort it all out. If you are practicing psychotherapy, church leadership or any institutional oversight, the health and effectiveness of what you do is being impacted by climate change and the associated mental health challenges we all face.

According to the APA doc, mental health is “the ability to process information and make decisions without being disabled by extreme emotional responses.” As you read through the new names experts are suggesting for what ails us, you can decide how disabled you are. You know that all emotions are part of a fulfilling life. But I think you also know that extreme negative feelings can interfere with our ability to think rationally, plan our behavior, and consider alternative actions. It is easy to see that extreme weather events are sources of trauma; the experiences can cause disabling emotions. You may have already endured such an event. Less-noticed are the indirect effects of climate change which add stress to our lives in varying degrees and are cumulative over time. The stressors to our climate translate into impaired mental health which is resulting in alarming amounts of depression and anxiety.

Everyone has ways to cope with stress. But the accumulated effects of relentless stress can tip a person into mental illness. Just the uncertainty of expecting further trauma can create psychological distress on its own. What’s more, we are negatively affected by hearing about the negative experiences of others, and by fears—founded or unfounded—about our own potential vulnerability.

The stress on the climate also produces stress on the bodies living in it. Compromised physical health creates stress that threatens psychological well-being. Conversely, mental health problems can also threaten physical health, for example, by changing patterns of sleep, eating, or exercise and by reducing immune system function.

The stress is not just about individual well-being. Individual mental and physical health affects communities. The changing climate stresses our community fabric and strains interpersonal relationships. It alters our opportunities for social interaction, the ways we relate to each other, and our connections to the natural world.

I hope talking about climate change anxiety makes it a subject we can discuss and examine and not just a menacing “force” we can’t quite identify. The experts have been hard at work helping us put names to what we are experiencing. Here are a few identifiers which have been coined in the past few years that you might find useful. You don’t need to try each of them on to see if it fits. Let the understanding increase your security.  If you recognize a threat, call on God to help you endure it or let it go.

Eco-anxiety

Over the past several years, climate change has moved from an abstract idea to a reality in many of our lives – a reality that has a lot of us increasingly worried. An APA survey in February 2020 found that two-thirds of American adults said that they felt at least a little eco-anxiety [APA podcast], which is defined as worry or concern about climate change and its effects. Some say eco-anxiety is the chronic fear of environmental doom, which will feel appropriately dramatic (and traumatic) to a few readers, no doubt. In the survey, nearly half of those under age 34 said that stress about climate change affects their daily lives.

Ecological grief

Ashlee Cunsolo, one of the contributors of the 2017 APA study noted above, coined the idea of “ecological grief” to describe what Inuit people experienced as they tried to adapt to the most rapidly-warming place on Earth: the Arctic.

We have so much grief associated with the last few years of Covid: loved ones dying, and all the community and traditional experiences we lost! Then we had fires, floods, drought, wild tornados, habitat loss, and the list goes on. Climate change anxiety may be a feeling closer to the surface than ecological grief. People are grieving both the current changes they are experiencing and the future loss that might be coming. The loss and fear can create a constant sense of anxiety. Young people feel a loss of power when they want to “future proof” a choice or relationship; their hope and imagination can be blunted.

Click pic for article by Ray in Sun Chronicle

Climate hostage

Many of these terms are collected in Sarah Jaquette Ray’s book A Field Guide to Climate Anxiety: How to Keep Your Cool on a Warming Planet. She’s an activist and undergrad professor who realized the fact-driven and blame-casting techniques many activists have used in the last 20-30 years have not worked. So she teaches and writes with a more narrative approach full of vision and creativity, not division and damnation.

One of the reasons for her change of direction is most of us feel like we’re hostages to a larger process that is going on in spite of us. The average citizen doesn’t have a lot of power to direct the government or corporations to address climate change. It is important bear witness to this reality, name it, and validate it. It is soothing to validate whatever the problem happens to be in one’s life. It is empowering to elevate it; we lift it up, and say, “This is important.” It is transforming to look at it from different angles and get creative about it, “What are we going to do about this?”

Life is beginning to feel like a prison for many people, an experience we never imagined. It is exhausting. The climate, coupled with the economy, COVID, political polarization is very real anxiety for people. We tend to toggle between grieving, mourning and disorganization and then experiences of growth, new beginnings, and creativity. It is a normal sort of oscillation. So we should not be surprised if climate change anxiety takes us up and down, like we are locked into the roller coaster car. We should look at people charitably to see where they are on the oscillation curve when we are relating. One of my favorite proverbs says:

Like a man who undresses in winter
or a woman who pours vinegar on a wound,
So is anyone who tries to sing happy songs
to a sorrowful heart. (Proverbs 20:20 The Voice)

We can feel or make others feel it is shameful to feel troubled, as if life should be dancing with the stars! It is helpful to check out our own state with some understanding and compassion as well as that of others with the same charity.

Solastalgia

The philosopher Glenn Albrecht in Earth Emotions: New Words for a New World (2019) invented a new word: solastalgia, to describe the experience of being in place in one’s home community, but it no longer looks or feels like home. Solstalgia comes from the Latin word for comfort (solacium) and Greek word for pain (-algia). It names a sense of homesickness without actually leaving home. People experience this when their neighborhoods and churches change around them, of course. But the changing of the whole planet amplifies the sensation. Think of all the native people in the United States and Brazil who have been overrun by the ravages of industrial capitalism. They undoubtedly have felt the profound discomfort of their environment being degraded and changing around them, nevertheless, it is their home.

Anthropocene

The anthropocene is a proposed new geologic age marked by the irreversible ways in which human beings have affected the climate and environment. It has not been approved by the International Geological Conference, yet, but the discussion continues. Some proponents would like to mark the beginning of the age with the Agricultural Revolution 12-15,000 years ago. But more would prefer it to begin with the detonation of the first atomic bomb in 1945.

If you were born between the early 1990’s and 2000’s (the GenZ/iGen marketing label), you are the first to have spent your entire lives within the cultural consciousness and obvious effects of climate change. You are the “climate generation” or the climate change anxiety generation. Stereotypes of this generation include: 1) linking climate change and social justice, 2) feeling  financially insecure and being in debt, 3) being troubled by wealth disparity/the 1%, 4) growing up with  smart phones, social media and internet access to everything, 5) being more stressed, lonely, depressed and suicidal than previous generations, 6) being more aware of and more likely to report trauma, 7) being more ethnically diverse and identity fluid, 8) being less likely to vote or trust any institutions. You are the humans who best represent the anthropocene.

Age of Overwhelm

Laura van Dermoot Lipsky wrote The Age of Overwhlem: Strategies for the Long Haul in 2018 and the description stuck. The following viral YouTube video of an overwhelmed child epitomizes what the age of overwhelm might feel like to children and to your inner child.

Pre-traumatic stress disorder

Lise van Susteren, co-founder of the Climate Psychology Alliance defined the term pre-traumatic stress disorder. The disorder is dread about the future combined with feelings of powerlessness to do anything to shape that future. I contend it is what we are all feeling as the evil fruits of capitalism continue to ripen, unabated. A similar idea is “anticipatory grief” – what you might feel when standing next to a forest about to be logged and you connect that event to all the other desperately-needed forests about to be destroyed. Such feelings of stress, helplessness, fear and fatalism are linked to physical ailments, even a weakened immune system.

Apocalypse fatigue

This aspect of climate change anxiety is the exhaustion of having to make endless moral choices when they don’t seem to make a difference. It is the psychological rebellion against always having to worry about every choice when other people’s lack of concern negates your efforts. Per Espen Stoknes gave a popular Ted Talk on apocalypse fatigue, hoping to help us overcome it.

#BirthStrike

Fearing ecological Armageddon, singer-songwriter Blythe Pepino set up BirthStrike in 2018, an organization based in the UK for men and women refusing to have children because of the climate crisis and bureaucratic inertia over dealing with it. When she spoke to Tucker Carlson she assured him that BirthStrike is different from nihilistic anti-natalism. Rather than trying to convert the masses to childlessness, they are presenting people with a choice. They hope women (and their partners) will channel their mothering skills into activism. Women can soothe the grief of forgoing motherhood with something more active, regenerative, and hopeful for humanity. Pepino teamed up with Meghan Kallman and Josephine Ferorelli of Conceivable Future, a women-led network of Americans who come together to discuss the intersection of climate change and reproductive justice, to put their responses to climate change anxiety into a video.

[Sep 2022 update. Even before I wrote this, BirthStrike had morphed into a support group named “Grieving Parenthood in the Climate Crisis: Channelling Loss into Climate Justice” (see report). Their previous posture was criticized as white privilege.]

Piling up names for our maladies may increase, not decrease climate change anxiety! How did you do? As a Jesus follower I am joined with billions of people in history who knew where to turn in their own “ages of overwhelm.” Hold on to the Lord’s hand as you venture into the unknown threats of our troubling times. You are the beloved of God and God is with you.

FFF #13 — Our plans to go solar

Posting every Friday at noon is how I act in solidarity with young climate strikers all over the world who want their elders to save their future. The strikers are probably all out of school today, since it is Christmas Eve, but the problem of climate change is not taking a break.

They do it on Lake Como. What prevents us?

The family lake house has an expansive roof. It looks like it could be good for solar panels if the trees do not overshadow it too much. We’ve got to do more about climate change, so we are exploring the possibilities. I’ll tell you what we are doing and you can tell me what I am doing wrong, OK?

Consumer nightmare

One of the reasons most of us homeowners are not going solar is because everything in the world is subject to consumer capitalism. The providers need to make a profit; that’s the “bottom line.”

On the way to that dotted line there are many issues. There are a lot of challenges associated with making and selling solar panels. For instance, polysilicon is the semiconducting material refined from quartzite used in most panels. China-based companies bake the material in giant ovens and treat it with chemicals until it condenses into ingots. Those ingots are sliced into wafers using diamond-edged saws, and then cut into squares to make solar cells that transform sunlight into electricity. Recently, several plants in China have been shut down due to ecological disasters. What’s more, gold, silver and solar glass, also used in the manufacturing, have been in short supply and more expensive. So increased cost to consumers is imminent.

Once I started researching this big purchase, I realized why solar energy costs so much. Global competition and conflict, greed and the disastrous shortcuts it causes, and opportunism all shadow every step the panels take toward our roof.

Finding a provider

We shopped around for a provider. Philly-centered Solar States did what they could by looking at our house with Google maps. But they don’t really travel to the Poconos. Green Power Energy, based in New Jersey, became the outfit we started with.

So far, the process is a bit like buying a used car before Carvana. We talked to a salesman who made a proposal from looking at the house from the air. I strung him along as I did some shopping. When I called back, he said he could give me $500 off if I signed up right now. He talked to the manager and came back with more discounts. Now I receive regular emails telling me I can get money for referring my friends — I get more if they actually buy  something.

I have a time constraint issue adding anxiety to my process. The 26% tax break for this project begins to expire in 2022. There may be more breaks coming, maybe not. “So buy now before it’s too late!” I will probably need to put a new roof on to do this project, which is also covered by the tax break but maybe only relating to the percentage of the roof covered by the panels. Nothing is really clear about the process immediately. Green Power works with a roofing company that would do the work. Do I have time to get another, possibly cheaper, roof on before the tax breaks expire? That remains to be seen.

After a lot of proposing based on the aerial views stored in the vast data available to anyone who cares to use it, a workman finally came to the house last week. He crawled into attic spaces, measured everything, and gave some advice he said he was not really qualified to give. He found out I already have a 200 amp electrical service, which is unusual and important since a lot of people need new electrical services when they add solar.

How to heat the home makes a difference

I began exploring the electrical devices I might install so I could get rid of my oil heat and have an all-electric house. The proposal the installers give to my utility (PPL) will not include these future draws, so I have to figure out if I would be over my limits somehow should I install electric heat. So far, my science buddy says I am good (I am not sure how he found this out). The solar sellers don’t really care about such things. They are primarily getting solar panels off their truck and onto the roof. This means I will have to find a heating company qualified to do our work and get into their profit making system.

Will the roofers, solar installers and heating contractors talk to each other and form a cohesive system we can use? They will if I become the general contractor who forces the issue, I suspect. My scientific friend, said I could call him every week about this project. That’s a blessing since he is fount of information. I need help. In this project like all our relationships with corporations these days. Whether we are going to the hospital or having the sewer line replaced (I’ve done both in recent days), we need to be experts on what we are getting into and project managers for the employees who have limited interest in us. Sorry to be cynical, but we can’t trust most of the systems we encounter to help us. They are mostly interested in  making their profit on their segment of the project. They will not be talking to one another. I could hire a project manager of some kind or trust Green Power Energy, but my experience tells me that is expensive and still unreliable. So I think I’m the guy for the job. That daunting assignment is another reason we aren’t all solar yet.

We also have to get our homeowner association board to approve the change we are making to our roof. Our solar panels will be visible from the road. Will they be beautiful? Will they be a blight on our forest? I am very sympathetic to the board’s desire to preserve the aesthetic of our little nature preserve. I would be more sympathetic if they were not assessing our project, of course! They recently approved someone else’s solar plans. I suspect our plans will demonstrate the slippery slope they were afraid of, since our positioning is much more intrusive. That is, our panels will be intrusive if you don’t see solar panels as a climate necessity.

Climate Change Strengthens Earth's 'Heartbeat' — and That's Bad News | Space
Seasonal temperature variations and trends are visualized and depicted on NASA’s “Blue Marble” image. (Image credit: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory)

Should we so it?

So what do you think? Should we do it? So far, we are at an estimate of $31,000 minus $8,000 in tax credits for a total of $23,000. This does not count the cost of the roof or the cost of making the heating system electric. It does not yet consider just how much electricity we can generate due to our angle to the sun, shade from trees, and days without sunshine in wet PA. Will we recover our investment in less electricity cost? The initial estimate from Green Power says it will take 25 years. But the main savings would be in heating oil, which would likely cut that recovery time in half.

More important, are we actually doing our part for the planet? That is the main question that drew us into the process. I might be will to donate $10,000 to the charity called Earth if I thought Earth would actually get the benefits. I am worried about the Earth getting some benefits as we humans drive around in our cars wondering if we can do anything to end our contribution to climate change. The use of coal actually rose last year as the Senator of Coal, Joe Manchin (and fifty other Republican senators, of course), blocked the climate action money in the Build Back Better bill! I know my small actions may not push climate action to a tipping point, but I would rather go down swinging than wringing my hands.

You’ll probably get an update when we get further into the process. Pray for us and don’t be shy about giving some advice in the comments.

FFF #12: Climate messages looking for ears to hear

Posting every Friday at noon is how I act in solidarity with young climate strikers all over the world who want their elders to save their future.

There is no lack of information, no shortage of prophecy when it comes to climate change. But there is a distinct lack of listening and repenting. There is so much hysterical information and misinformation around people tend to generally tune out and miss crucial stuff!

Here is a set of guidelines for communicating in a crisis in a way that does not close the listener’s ears in case you are looking for an audience [link].

Since I decided to add my voice to the process, I have heard a lot of congratulations. But I think my subscribers to my blog tend to skip the titles dealing with the climate and wait to see if something looks more intriguing.  They hear about the climate every day — and media is full of the novel for a reason!

Communicating is important, but finding ways to advocate and act in more communal and personal ways are probably more important. That being said, I want to make sure you have seen two amazing and terrifying stories from two go-to sources: the New York Times and the Washington Post.

From NYT article

On December 13, the  Times published a monumental piece of research to tell us what was happening in every country of the world, one by one, in regard to climate change – 193 stories called Postcards from a World on Fire.  The editorial board summary is a must, “The planet is sending an SOS. Answer it.”

Rainfall in Greenland has been unusual, here seen from Zion’s Church in Ilulissat, Greenland (WaPo)

On December 14, the Washingtom Post published an article about the 2021 Arctic report care from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA): Climate change has destabilized the Earth’s poles, putting the rest of the planet in peril. It says, “Record highs have also sounded the death knell for ice on land. Three historic melting episodes struck Greenland in July and August, causing the island’s massive ice sheet to lose about 77 trillion pounds. On Aug. 14, for the first time in recorded history, rain fell at the ice sheet summit.” Wow!

Maybe you are with my hero, Greta Thunberg, who hears old people talking and says, “Blah. Blah. Blah.” I know I feel that way. So what if we feel that way? What shall we do? There are a lot of people who are telling us exactly what is happening and exactly what needs to happen.

Jesus laments

“Though seeing, they do not see;
    though hearing, they do not hear or understand.”

In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:

“‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
    you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
For this people’s heart has become calloused;
    they hardly hear with their ears,
    and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
    hear with their ears,
    understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them. (Matthew 13:13-15)