Earlier this Spring, a Robin built a nest on a mature grapevine right outside our front door. What a gift it was for Guari and I and our daughter Serena and her grown kids who live with us. As we watched the care with which she built the nest, we decided to block off the front deck and come in and out the back door so we would not disturb her.
At first the mother spent time away from the nest–even overnight. (Out with her boyfriend?) More recently, the mother bird has been so careful–sitting on the nest through unseasonably cold weather (we lost the early fruit on the grape vines and fruit trees) and keeping a watchful eye when we come to the window or near the front deck, which we have pretty much abandoned. Now, just a few weeks later, the first two eggs have hatched. We are waiting for the last one.
The devoted mother has been acting differently now, sometimes nesting with them, sometims standing over them and putting her head down, apparently feeding them. Meanwhile, the father is around more. He’s been vigilant, standing on a nearby wire or, when the mother is away, on the edge of the nest. He even brought back a worm, but then he flew away with it. Evidently both parents are trying to figure out how this works and what to do.
Having this little bird family here and being able to observe them so closely reminds me of how much they are like us, or perhaps how much we are like them. We may get the idea that we humans are removed from the natural world, with our towns and cities and busy lives, but we are not. We are mortal, made from the same elements that make up the rest of creation here on earth. We are part of the interconnected and interdependent community of life. These birds, along with the skunks and foxes and deer and quail and other creatures around us, are our brothers and sisters. They care for their young, as we do. Even in the midst of the many disasters taking place all around, there is still so much beauty left to be saved.
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Humanity is facing a code red alert because of how much and how fast the planet is heating up, and most of the warming is unequivocally the result of human greenhouse gas emissions. That’s the message from the latest scientific report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. All over the world, extreme weather-related disasters are shattering all records. Here it has been heat waves, droughts, and wildfires.
The recent fires have been traumatic for our community. They started during Pastor Gail’s first month here! She had been preaching a four-part sermon series on the mission of Nevada City United Methodist Church, “the light at the top of Broad Street.” She hadn’t even fully unpacked when the sky filled with smoke and evacuations began. Initiation into our community by fire! That’s when Pastor Gail invited me to preach today about climate change.
Hold this image in your mind: our church at night, in the dark of winter, during Victorian Christmas, with all the lights shining. Solar panels on the roof now power those lights. The mortgage was paid off recently and our energy bills are much reduced. It’s a beautiful image—a solar-powered beacon at the top of Broad Street. It’s a sign of our church’s willingness to act on climate and a witness to the God of Love who cares for all creation. It’s a way to let our light shine so that others may our good works and give glory to God. We care. God cares.
One of the most important things we can do as a church in this time of climate change is to help change the values and metaphors and assumptions of the dominant culture. That’s what Jesus did. This passage comes right after Jesus’s teachings on wealth. He says, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth,” but rather, “in heaven.” “You cannot serve both God and wealth,” or “You can’t serve both God and money.”
“Therefore, he says, “do not worry” or (in some versions) “do not be anxious” about food or drink or clothes or tomorrow or even your own life. Rather, live simply, trusting God. This has been called “the most radiant passage on Christian simplicity in the Bible.” It is an antidote to our culture of instant gratification, overconsumption, overuse and misuse of the gifts of the earth.
Jesus instructs his followers to consider how God cares for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. Sadly, such reflections on creation can bring us face to face with our deep anxiety about the worrisome loss of species and humanity’s impact on the planet. We experience not only the glory of creation but also its pain. But as we move out of denial and face our feelings, we allow space for the Holy Spirit to intercede for us and for all creation, with sighs too deep for words. And we find a deeper peace, the peace of Christ that passes understanding.
In Matthew 10 Jesus assures us that not one sparrow “will fall to the ground outside of God’s care,” and says, “even the hairs of our head are all numbered.” God’s loving care extends to us and to all parts of creation. We are creatures, part of God’s creation, dependent on God for life and breath and all things, and interdependent with the whole community of life. In John Wesley’s words, “God is the soul of the universe.”
This passage will inform us as we consider how our church can respond to climate change, in addition to solar panels. We’ll look at relief, resilience, and mitigation.
First, relief. When fires threaten and smoke fills the skies, we can offer immediate relief to people who are impacted by climate related disasters. Our church is good at giving to those who are in need… through our Christmas and Thanksgiving outreach, our regular work with Hospitality House, our organized support for Interfaith Food Ministry, and in many other ways.
During the recent fires and even now in the aftermath, our whole community responded with generosity, raising money, offering food and clothes and shelter for evacuees, even space for people who lost homes. Many of us helped out.
One thing we could do as a church is to organize in advance disasters. We could support members of our church and community in becoming fire safe and fire ready. We could even offer our church as a resource and become a hub in the community’s disaster response network.
Second, resilience. Immediate disaster relief is not enough. How can we be a light at the top of Broad Street when the smoke settles? One way is by joining with other groups and individuals to help build a resilient community that can adapt to future changes that we know are coming.
Building a resilient community would include working for food security by supporting local small farms and local businesses. It would mean holding local officials accountable in protecting our soil, air quality, and water and in conserving energy and moving to renewable power. Building a resilient community would also mean fostering just relations for all of God’s people. Our work on behalf of racial justice and LGBTQ inclusion can’t be ignored. No one can be left behind. All these things will be important in adapting as a community as the climate warms.
Third, mitigation. In climate change lingo, this means reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. Even as the smoke clears, the impacts of climate change will continue. Scientists make clear that the magnitude of the problem is beyond the scope of any individual solutions. We need bold policies to reduce emissions now.
Working toward mitigation means advocating for an immediate transition away from fossil fuels to just and sustainably sourced forms of renewable power, advocating for policies that would keep fossil fuels in the ground without harming the poor. But this advocacy can only be successful if we join others in building a movement for climate justice that is strong enough to pressure the powers that be to make it happen. Fortunately, there is such a movement… it is strong, it’s growing, and it is global, on every continent. Its slogan is “another world is possible.”
None of this sounds easy. So let’s turn again today’s passage from Matthew six. Note that Jesus is not just saying “don’t worry, be happy,” as the song goes, or “relax and take it easy, and leave everything up to God.” Not at all. Jesus says, “Strive first for the kingdom of God and its righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
But just what does this mean? The proclamation of the kingdom of God (or the kingdom of heaven) was central to Jesus’s ministry. He talked about it in different ways. It’s like a small seed that grows into a big tree. It’s like a treasure buried in a field or a pearl of great price that is worth everything we have. He talked about it as a present reality: “The kingdom of God is within you” and “The kingdom of God is among you.” At the same time, he talked about the coming of the kingdom of God, and he called people to “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.”
Jesus is talking about a reality that is already present, but not yet fully revealed. He tells his followers to strive for God’s kingdom and teaches us to pray: “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” These are two ways of praying for the same thing. For when God’s will is done on earth, God’s kingdom is revealed.
Biblical scholars and theologians refer to it in different ways, as “God’s intended world” or “God’s dream, ” or God’s Domination-Free order. It’s been called “Love’s Domain,” or “Love’s Rule,” because “the Kingdom of God is where the God who is Love rules.” Martin Luther King, Jr.’s term “The Beloved Community” is another way of talking about the compassionate and inclusive community that Jesus proclaimed and created when he walked on earth. Theologian Jurgen Moltmann refers to this understanding when he says that Christian hope is “hope that the world can be different.” Or in secular terms, “Another world is possible.”
We are called to pray and strive for the coming of God’s reign here on earth, even in the midst of climate change. That’s what it means to follow Jesus. As the light at the top of Broad Street, we point not to ourselves but beyond ourselves to Jesus, doing our small part to be faithful in a time of climate change. Our mission is to be a faith community that prays for and strives for vision of the world as God intends for it to be, for God’s reign of compassion and justice for all creation, for God’s will, God’s dream, Love’s domain. And we reflect that vision as best we can to our community and world.
So don’t worry. Turn your worry into prayer. God’s got us. We’ve got each other.
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Other blog postings about climate change can be found here.
Hi Friends, I published this post to support our local struggle to keep from reopening a gold mine in Grass Valley:
As we residents of Nevada County struggle to adapt to extreme drought, heat waves, water shortages, periodic power outages, and threat of forest fires, Rise Gold is trying to persuade us that reopening the Idaho-Maryland mine would do us good. Yet regardless of its recent flawed and deceptive survey, the mine would negatively affect the community in many ways, including in our ability to adapt to and mitigate the impacts of climate change.
In June, our region got a taste of a record-shattering heat wave which, further north, led to many deaths. We are in a historic “severe to exceptional drought,” resulting in depleted reservoirs and mandatory water restrictions. Fire insurance rates are skyrocketing and policies are being cancelled as fire season extends to almost year-round and as wildfires become ever-more ferocious, burning more acres. Even as we pack our go-bags and create fire safe spaces around our homes, we know that catastrophic forest fires could come at any time. Reopening the mine would only make these climate-related impacts worse.
The leaked report of the 2022 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns of “progressively serious, centuries’ long and, in some cases, irreversible consequences” that will impact people around the world with multiple climate calamities at once: drought, heatwaves, cyclones, wildfires and flooding, leading to widespread hunger and disease. So far, the earth’s average global temperature has risen slightly over 1 degree Celsius, which is about 2 degrees Fahrenheit. Just imagine what it will be like if it rises to 3 or 4 degrees Celsius! The IPCC report warns, “Life on Earth can recover from a drastic climate shift by evolving into new species and creating new ecosystems… humans cannot.”
Nevada County has had the foresight to respond proactively by adopting the Nevada County Energy Action Plan, which was developed by the Sierra Business Council, with support from PG&E, in collaboration with Nevada County and community members. The plan, based on scientific climate forecasts in the context of our region, states: “From record temperatures to proliferating wildfires and changing precipitation patterns, climate change poses an immediate and escalating threat to the region’s environment, economic strength, and public health.”
The plan is intended to “guide local government decisions that will help achieve greater efficiency, reduce costs, and demonstrate the County’s commitment to energy independence and community resilience” and to “inspire residents, businesses, and other public agencies in Nevada County to participate in community efforts and maximize energy efficiency, renewable energy, and water efficiency.”
This plan should guide analysis and decision-making about the mine as it relates to climate. It points to goals, strategies, and ways to implement policies that will enable us, as a community, to adapt to projected climatic changes and mitigate harm by lowering greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. But reopening the mine would take us in the opposite direction.
Adapting to climate change means developing resiliency so that we human beings, our fellow creatures, and coming generations can survive and thrive as much as possible. This means carefully preserving our region’s air, land, and water. The mine would further pollute our air, replace life-sustaining ecosystems with mine waste, and deplete our precious groundwater, putting wells at risk and sending millions of gallons of treated wastewater daily down Wolf Creek. Adaptation means generating sustainable forms of livelihood, housing, education, business, agriculture, and more—locally-based as much as possible—and moving away from fossil fuels to justly-sourced renewable power. Many community members, local businesses, and local nonprofits are working to attain just such a vision. Rise Gold’s extractive business model does not align with these goals.
Because it is a global problem, we must also do our part to mitigate the harm of climate change by reducing our regional carbon footprint. The Nevada County Energy Action Plan calls for gradually reducing annual residential electric use by 12 percent. Rise Gold’s projected electrical use would cancel out this goal by annually using electricity equivalent to 5,000 new homes and could strain our already overburdened power grid.
Even more significant would be the massive carbon emissions caused by diesel-powered heavy equipment used for: constant construction during the first year and half; ongoing continuous excavating, underground blasting, drilling, rock crushing, loading, hauling, unloading, spreading, and compacting to create engineered fill up to seven stories tall; continuous mine de-watering by pumping, treating, and sending millions of gallons of wastewater down Wolf Creek; increased new diesel truck traffic (up to 100 round trips a day, seven days a week, sixteen hours a day). This would result in significant increases of GHG emissions rather than decreases as outlined in the County’s Energy Action Plan.
Please, let’s put this debate to rest once and for all and not waste everyone’s time and energy by pretending we should seriously consider reopening the Idaho-Maryland Mine every time another penny-stock company comes along to propose it. The County has taken a proactive approach with its plan to foster resiliency and mitigate the harmful effects of climate change. Let’s not turn back now.
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In late May, I travelled to Minnesota by train with three other local grandmothers, Janie Kesselman, Shirley Osgood, and Joyce Banzhaf, to join a 31-member delegation of 1000 Grandmothers for Future Generations. Our purpose was to highlight the intergenerational nature of the struggle to stop construction of the Enbridge Line 3 dirty tar sands oil pipeline. Together, we visited and helped out at the Water Protectors Camp which serves as a welcome center for visiting Line 3 activists, we hosted young Indigenous activists from a frontline camp for a memorial ceremony on the 1st anniversary of George Floyd’s death, and we held two public demonstrations, including one at the Minnesota Governor’s Mansion in St. Paul See video of that action here and See pictures of the trip here.
The delegation included Lakota grandmothers from South Dakota, including Madonna Thunder Hawk and Mabel Ann Eagle Hunter, who have been activists struggling for Indigenous rights and the rights of Mother Earth for over 60 years; Alcatraz was in 1968, and was not their first big action! They were engaged in an ongoing way with the American Indian Movement (AIM). Their daughters and niece, now also grandmothers, had also been involved with AIM as children and teens and were also part of this delegation. All of us were motivated by concerns for today’s children, for the natural world and our other-than-human relatives, and for future generations.
Our grandmothers’ trip was a precursor to the Treaty People Gathering that is taking place early in June in support of the Anishinaabe people, whose treaty rights are threatened by this pipeline. (See #TreatyPeopleGathering). Massive demonstrations are taking place along the route of pipeline construction. Thousands are participating, including Indigenous leaders, celebrities, climate justice activists, and others who understand what is at stake if the construction of oil and gas pipelines and other fossil fuel infrastructure continues to extend the fossil-fuel era. People are engaging in major public actions, including nonviolent civil disobedience at pipeline construction sites.
The Nevada County contingent stayed an extra day and participated in an action led by Indigenous youth where two young people were arrested for trespassing and stopping workers from continuing construction by climbing onto the newly-laid pipeline. The four of us did not risk arrest and made it to the train for our return trip that night. We returned home grateful for being welcomed and included, sobered by all that we had learned and have yet to learn about the issues related to Line 3 and about respecting Indigenous leadership.
The Enbridge Line 3 Pipeline would run from Canada through the Mississippi headwaters and Minnesota’s lake country, threatening its pristine waters. It also runs through sacred ancient wild rice beds, traditionally harvested by the Anishinaabe people. This land is under treaty with the Anishinaabe, who have the rights to hunt, fish, and gather wild rice, all threatened by this pipeline. Treaty rights are the law of the land, with priority over federal or state laws.
Enbridge, a Canadian corporation, has a terrible safety record, with over 1068 pipeline spills before 2013, leaking 7.4 million gallons of oil. Disastrous spills continue. Enbridge calls the new Line 3 a “replacement pipeline” although it is constructing 300 miles of pipeline along a new route, abandoning the old pipeline to deteriorate in place, and doubling the quantity of dirty tar sands oil.
Climate activists make the case that long-lasting fossil fuel infrastructure such as pipelines locks us into increasing greenhouse gas emissions and rising global temperatures for decades. This project alone would have the climate impact of 50 coal mines, counteracting Minnesota’s plans to reduce climate change by investing in renewable energy, green jobs, energy-efficient buildings, and electric cars.
Since 2011, the United States has been a net exporter of fossil fuels. Under the Paris Climate Accords, our exports of fossil fuel are not counted. So even if we reduce emissions nationally, by continuing to increase our exports of fossil fuels we cancel out our stated intentions to reduce global climate change. Stopping construction of new oil and gas pipelines is a necessary step to addressing climate change.
Finally, solidarity with Indigenous peoples in their struggles for a livable world is a way to affirm indigenous wisdom and perspectives that move us from a worldview that promotes organizing society around the market to a worldview that promotes organizing around concern for the whole community of life. This lays a foundation for actions that impact the future in ways that further the good and heal the past.
For anyone who is convinced that the struggle against Line 3 is an important effort, there are many actions that we can take. Indigenous leaders are requesting that supporters call on President Biden to cancel this pipeline. Find a petition here: https://www.stopline3.org/take-action. Go to https://www.stopline3.org/biden for more information on how to contact Biden and make it clear to him that there is a large and diverse intergenerational movement to #StopLine3.
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It has been a long time since I have written a blog post, but I’m happy to report that I recently turned in a manuscript for a book that I have been working on all year, so here I am. I’ll tell you more about it when it gets closer to time for publication.
Next up: now that I am fully vaccinated, I am getting ready to take a train trip to Minnesota with three friends to join about 25 other members of 1000 Grandmothers for Future Generations. We will be joining members of the Anishinaabe tribe who are resisting the construction of the Enbridge Line 3 crude oil pipeline that would go through their territory. We are going at their ,invitation. While we are there we will support their efforts however we can, when we get back we will share their story and how it ties in to the larger struggle for a livable future.
Climate activists and others are joining together to support the Anishinaabe in their attempts to defeat Line 3. Public pressure led by Indigenous people and supported by environmental groups led to the defeat of the Keystone XL Pipeline, helped along by creative coalitions such as the “Cowboy and Indian Alliance” that included ranchers along the pipeline route. Likewise, public action drew international attention to the Standing Rock Sioux’s struggle against the Dakota Access Pipeline, which a judge recently ruled as being illegal. Similar coalitions are now at work to stop Enbridge Line 3.
Where does stopping construction of new oil and gas pipelines fit into the overall struggle for a livable future? Long-lasting oil and gas infrastructure such as pipelines not only vastly increase the capacity of fossil fuel development but lock in the extraction, transport, processing, sale, and burning of such fuels over decades, accelerating climate change into the future. Pipelines pollute lands and waters along their routes through their frequent spills.
The very definition of climate justice is that we need to listen to and serve as allies to those who are on the front lines and at most risk of harm related to fossil-fuel extraction and climate change: people in sacrifice zones where fossil fuels are extracted, transported, and processed, usually communities of color; people in poor countries and communities (often communities of color) where the impacts of climate change are often first and worst; children and young people whose futures will be made much harder because of policy choices made today; and yes, species that are struggling to survive as ecosystems are degraded and destroyed.
On Earth Day this year, the organization I work with, Earth Justice Ministries, published a commentary about The Rights of Indigenous People and the Rights of Mother Earth. Acknowledging the rights of Indigenous people and centering their voices about caring for creation is critical if our work to create a livable future is to bear fruit. This awareness is essential for anyone concerned about climate change and other environmental damage, for simply changing our lifestyles or working piecemeal on individual policies will not bring about the overall systemic change that is needed. It will also require a change of worldview and frontline communities taking nonviolent action to keep polluting fossil fuels in the ground.