News, views, notes, and quotes

Signs of the Times  •  6 June 2017  •  No. 122

Processional.Toss the Feathers,” The Corrs. (Thanks Ivan.)

Above: Photo of a fire coral in Great Barrier Reef, off Australia’s northeast coast, is the largest living structure on earth. Watch this National Geographic video (4:14). In 2016 the Reef suffered a serious “bleaching” event, caused by rising sea temperature, that threatens its existence.

Special Issue

INTRODUCTION. President Trump’s move to withdraw the US from the Paris Climate Agreement (or Accord) shouldn’t surprise us. Bullies relish poking all perceived competitors in the eye.
        Does this move impair the urgent work of “decarbonizing” the globe? Yes. Does this then represent a fatal blow to our work? No. What follows is an attempt to sort out the meaning of this moment.

Invocation. “O God, enlarge within us the sense of fellowship with all living things. We remember with shame that in the past we have exercised the high dominion of [humankind] with ruthless, cruelty so that the voice of the earth, which should have gone up to thee in song, has been a groan of travail.” —Basil  the Great, 4th century bishop in Cappadocia (modern-day Turkey)

Call to worship. “Like crafters working on a great cathedral, we have each been given instructions about the particular stone we are to spend our lives carving, without knowing or being able to guess where it will take its place within the grand design.” —N.T. Wright

Hymn of praise. “Lord of the starfields / Ancient of Days / Universe Maker / Here's a song in your praise.” Bruce Cockburn

Confession. “Most of our populace and all of our leaders are participating in a mass hallucinatory fantasy in which the megatons of waste we dump in our rivers are not poisoning our water, the hydrocarbons we pump into the air are not changing the climate, over fishing is not depleting the oceans, fossil fuels will never run out, wars that kill masses of civilians are an appropriate way to keep our hands on what’s left, we are not desperately overdrawn at the environmental bank, and, really, the kids are all right.” —Barbara Kingsolver

Hymn of lamentation.Woe is Me,” Thomas Tomkins, performed by the Tallis Scholars.

This is amazing. “We can brag that the city, this city of Las Vegas, is one of the few cities in the entire world that can boast using all of its power from a green source,” Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman said in a news conference [19 December 2016]. Watch this video (0:58).

In a nutshell—and there’s no way to sugarcoat this. There is “scientific consensus that human civilization cannot survive in any recognizable form a temperature increase more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). Given that we’ve already warmed the earth about 0.8 degrees Celsius, that means we have 1.2 degrees left,” a measure involving the release of 565 gigatons of additional carbon.
        The globe’s proven fossil fuel reserves are estimated to be 2,795 gigatons. In other words, what is available for use in energy production is more than five times the amount that would result in virtual extinction of the biosphere.
        Therefore, the challenge we face is “force the powers that be . . . to leave 80% of the carbon they have claims on in the ground.” —Chris Hayes, “The New Abolitionism,” The Nation

Words of assurance. “Jump for joy, oh people! For amid the screaming commercials and blithering campaign ads, the Redeemer has heard our aching voice. God hears! God knows! This is our assurance against all blistering deceit.” —continue reading “Bounty and abundance,” a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 116

Left: Just as the United States was pulling out of the Paris climate agreement last week, China was flicking the switch on the world's largest floating solar energy plant, cementing its status as the top producer of solar energy on planet Earth.

Best summary I’ve found.5 Changes That Could Come From Leaving The Paris Climate Deal.” —National Public Radio

¶ “Poverty is both a cause and a symptom of environmental degradation. You can't say you'll deal with just one.” —Wangari Maathai, from Kenya, the first environmental activist to receive the Nobel Peace Prize (2004)

Professing our faith. “It's also important to understand what marching and sign waving don't do. By themselves, they don't make change. They can even be a distraction and a hindrance if we are naive enough to think that they should. As impressive as today's events will be, we run a risk of depression and despair tomorrow when we realize that our moment on stage didn't budge the needle one iota on the amount of carbon daily pouring into the atmosphere. . . .
        “No, what is going to swing that needle will not be one (or even many) large, telegenic media moments. We will preserve ourselves and our communities by the sustained application of hope and dissatisfaction to what is by comparison very small. We are on a path to learning to be ambitious about the small.” —part of a statement read at a climate change march in Asheville, NC, by Greg Yost who, at the time was among the 300,000 participants in the 2014 “People’s Climate March” in New York City

Hymn of resolution.A Better Man,” Keb’ Mo’.

This is important. “Contrary to what you might be forgiven for thinking after seeing some of the more hyperbolic headlines making the rounds, the White House announcement is deeply regrettable – but it’s not the end of the world. Here’s why.” —“Why the US Leaving the Paris Agreement Isn’t the End of the World,” The Climate Reality Project (Thanks Marti.)

¶ “Whatever the reasons, the end result [of the Paris climate deal] was an agreement that has a decent temperature target, and an excruciatingly weak and half-assed plan for reaching it. Which is why, when it was first unveiled, James Hansen, arguably the most respected climate scientist in the world, called the agreement ‘a fraud really, a fake,’ because ‘there is no action, just promises.’” —Naomi Klein, “Will Trump’s Slow-Mo Walkaway, World In Flames Behind Him, Finally Provoke Consequences for Planttary Arson?” The Intercept (Thanks Graham.)

On the other hand, the Paris accord furnished a significant psychological value, a sense of momentum, shared burden, sustained attention and public accountability, with virtually all the nations of the world devoting measurable levels of commitment to achieving a common goal. These qualities do make a difference.

Left: A group of high school math students helped their teacher, Greg Yost, create this banner for use in several actions dramatizing climate change. Displayed here as part of worship at Circle of Mercy Congregation, Asheville, NC.

Short story. Versova Beach in India used to be one of the dirtiest in the world. Then Afroz Shah got to work. (1:12 video. Thanks Evelyn.)

Hymn of intercession.Rock of Ages,” Fernando Ortega.

Trump should listen to the military. “On July 23, 2015, the Department of Defense released a report titled, ‘National Security Implications of Climate Related Risks and a Changing Climate’ saying ‘DOD recognizes the reality of climate change and the significant risk it poses to US interests globally.’” —Keith Martin, “By withdrawing from the Paris Accord, Trump will make America sicker, poorer and much less secure,” LATimes

By the numbers. Numbers can be tricky. I recall, some years ago, the big news that China surpassed the US as the world’s #1 emitter of carbon dioxide (CO2). I don’t remember any journalist reminding us that China’s population is more than four times that of the US. On a per capita basis, China’s CO2 rate is 7.7. In India, the second largest polluter, that figure is 1.9. The US rate is 16.1. —see more data at Wikipedia

¶ “A slab of ice (right) nearly twice the size of Rhode Island is cracking off of an Antarctic glacier, and the rift between it and the southern continent is growing longer and wider every day. This 1,000-foot-thick piece of floating ice is quickly fracturing off of Antarctica's prominent peninsula, likely due to rapid human-caused global warming.” Dave Mosher, Business Insider

Preach it. “If the concept of God has any validity or any use, it can only be to make us larger, freer, and more loving. If God cannot do this, then it is time we got rid of Him.” ― James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time

With dyraulic fracturing (fracking), natural gas is now less expensive a fuel source than coal. That’s good, right?
        No. Natural gas is mostly methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas, trapping 86 times as much heat as carbon dioxide. Some of it leaks during extraction. “Fugitive methane emissions may counter the benefit over coal with respect to climate change.” Not to mention the billions of gallons of toxic wastewater created in fracking. —see more at Reynard Loki, “8 Dangerous Side Effects of Fracking That the Industry Doesn’t Want You to Hear About,” Alternet

Can’t makes this sh*t up. “As a Christian, I believe that there is a creator in God who is much bigger than us,” Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI) said at a town hall last week in Coldwater, Mich. “And I’m confident that, if there’s a real problem, he can take care of it.”

The Spirit’s call to the table.Because I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know,” Amy Winehouse.

¶ Among the numerous examples of creative organizing are these two.
        •As of this writing, “246 US Climate Mayors commit to adopt, honor and uphold Paris Climate Agreement goals.”
        •An as-yet-unnamed group of governors, mayors, university presidents and business leaders are already underway to submit to the United Nations a plan to meet the Paris Accord’s targets on limiting greenhouse emissions.

The most engaging theological reflection on climate justice is Ched Myers’ work on “watershed discipleship.” Read his “A Watershed Moment.” Read it alongside Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, “Laudato Sí.’ (Read online or download for free.)  And if you want an advanced course in ecological analysis, Bible study and theological reflection, read Ellen F. Davis' Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Bible.

Best one-liner. “Whether we and our politicians know it or not, Nature is party to all our deals and decisions, and she has more votes, a longer memory, and a sterner sense of justice than we do.” —Wendell Berry

For the beauty of the earth.How the Oceans Move,” graphically illustrated video (0:37) of ocean currents. (Thanks Anne.)

Altar call. “We are, largely, innocents who must lose our innocence to inherit a future other than the fatal consequence of our transgressions. We have hard work to do, patient work, risky work, but worthy, inspiring, hopeful work. Take a hand. Make your vow. Gird your loins. Step over your threshold.” —continue reading “Confrontation at the Cannonball: The Dakota Access Pipeline controversy

What to do about climate change? The list is as long as an ocean wave—and just as varied. The roots of profound change begin at home, so at the very least get serious about the 4 “R”s of consumption: recycle, reduce, reuse, refuse. Make a concrete, measurable commitment; educate yourself and those in your web of relations; speak out on public policy issues; take bold public actions. Find a starting place and allow that to deepen your analysis and commitment.

Disputators needed. The work of Beyond Extreme Energy, which engages in nonviolent direct action strategically focused on opposing the infrastructure of fossil fuel transport and storage, deserves wider attention. In the long run, reduction (and eventual cessation) of fossil fuel extraction will turn on numerous factors; but one of them requires reduced handling capacity.

Benediction. “Fear not the times when your back is against the wall. / The seed of faith already buried deep in your soul / is enough to keep you anchored in the coming storm, / when all invested in the way things are / will rail against the Way that is to come. / Trust this Way even when the black-and-blues rain like hail.” —continue reading “Justification by faith,” a litany inspired by Romans 5:1-8

Recessional.Brother John,” Stephen and Jim Bennett. (Thanks Duane)

Lectionary for this Sunday. Creation itself cheers on the water protectors and related advocates: The heavens themselves, the moon, the stars, declare the Blessed One’s beauty and bodacious bounty, along with the splendorous vocation of humanly stewards. —kls, adaptation of Psalm 8:3-8

Lectionary for Sunday next. “Eons ago, ‘the Lord’—in the guise of three traveling strangers—ventured into Abraham’s and Sarah’s oaken camp at Mamre, were given hospitality, and then announced the promise of a fertile womb beyond all conceivable prospect.” —continue reading “Mamrean encounter,” a meditation on the threat of refugees, the burden of strangers and the bounty of God,” inspired by Genesis 18:1-15

Just for fun. "The worst sheepdog in the world." (0:35 video. Thanks Mary.)

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Featured this week on prayer&politiks

• “Bounty and abundance,” a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 116

• “Great commission,” a litany for worship inspired by Matthew 28:16-20

• “Justification by faith,” a litany inspired by Romans 5:1-8

• “Mamrean encounter,” a meditation on the threat of refugees, the burden of strangers and the bounty of God,” inspired by Genesis 18:1-15

©Ken Sehested @ Language not otherwise indicated above is that of the editor, as are those portions cited as “kls.” Don’t let the “copyright” notice keep you from circulating material you find here (and elsewhere in this site). Reprint permission is hereby granted in advance for noncommercial purposes.

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