Clothesline in Winter

Clothesline in Winter

Friday, May 31, 2013

Richard Cizik: Climate Change and the 'Burn-it-all-Downers"

Written by Rev. Richard Cizik. This article first appeared in the Washington Post On-Faith blog on May 21, 2013. Content reproduced by permission of the author.
Rev. Richard Cizik. OdysseyNetworks
Rev. Richard Cizik. OdysseyNetworks
Pastor Mark Driscoll, who ministers in Seattle, told a Catalyst gathering a few days ago that “I know who made the environment and he’s coming back and going to burn it all up. So yes, I drive an SUV.” No joke. That’s what he said. Actually, Driscoll says it was all just a joke.
A lot of people didn’t get the humor. Maybe it was because last week scientists declared that CO2 levels had reached 400 parts per million (ppm), and released their film, “Do the Math” on the crisis of climate change.
Reputable scientists in this impressive film say “civilization is in jeopardy.” [Disclaimer: I am in the film saying oil companies should be held liable.]
Researchers at Columbia University, in a study published this week in the journal Nature Climate Change, estimate deaths linked to warming climate may rise by some 20 percent by the 2020s, 90 percent or more 70 years hence.
Adverse health effects from rising temperatures will hit major cities, like New York and other urban areas, especially hard.
“Heat events are one of the greatest hazards faced by urban populations around the globe,” said coauthor of the study Radley Horton, a climate scientist at the Earth Institute’s Center for Climate Systems Research.
How Americans view these events is strikingly dissimilar, however.
According to Public Religion Research Institute, nearly two-thirds (65%) of white evangelical Protestants believe that the severity of recent natural disasters is evidence of what the Bible calls the end times. By contrast, more than six in 10 (63%) of Americans say the severity of recent natural disasters is evidence of global climate change. Only half (50%) of white evangelical Protestants agree that the severity of recent natural disasters is evidence of global climate change, less than that of Catholics (60%) and religiously unaffiliated Americans (69%). In other words, there’s a big disconnect between how a lot of evangelical Protestants view the links between natural disasters and climate change and how most Americans see it. The consequence of this is all too apparent politically.
Nevertheless, Pastor Driscoll got some push-back and tried to respond: “For the record, I really like this planet. God did a good job making this planet. We should take good care of this planet until he comes back to make a new earth, like the Bible says he will.” Pastor Driscoll went on to say that his family’s green activities would make a “hippy happy,” which struck quite a few people as ridicule and got him into more trouble. But I’ll take the pastor at his word.
Needless to say, the current political polarization over the environment and climate change has got to change if we are to ever slow the impacts of climate change and the escalating number of deaths already occurring. Evangelicals can be a source of societal healing and political action if they understand their Bible correctly. Alas, we evangelicals (I count myself among this tribe) are still way behind the moral curve.
When I was speaking in chapel at a few years ago at Harden Simmons University, deep in the heart of Texas, a student walked to the main aisle in the middle of the chapel and shouted as loud as he could, “This [creation care] doesn’t matter, Jesus is coming back!”
My audience went instantly quiet, waiting to hear how I would respond.
“Let me answer that question,” I said, as if he’d asked one, and went on to cite God’s command to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” Can you pollute your neighbor’s water, air, and land, and still say you love God? Of course not.
Those who subscribe to the “God-will-burn-it-all-down school” pop up everywhere. At a family wedding, an in-law asserted his knowledge of scripture, “Don’t you know it’s all going to be burned up?, citing as evidence 2 Peter 3:10: “The day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud voice, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and the works that are upon it will be burned up.”
The best translation of this passage (Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 12, Frank Gaebelein, General Editor) is “everything in it will be laid bare.” It could mean all human products will be destroyed or it could mean that all that man does will be known in the judgment. (I Corinthians 3: 13-15).
This is where some knowledge of Greek comes in handy. The word for “fire” in the Scriptures is a multivalent symbol and can mean both extinguished and refined, and the latter usage [Peter 3:10] is the best interpretation. The earth will be “refined,” not utterly destroyed. Besides, if God was going to destroy the earth as was insinuated by the “burn it downers,” why would the Apostle John in Revelation 11:18 write that there will be a time “for destroying the destroyers of the earth”?
God, it seems, will hold polluters responsible. The grandfather of the creation care movement, Dr. Cal DeWitt, at the University of Wisconsin, once told me that he had asked Dr. Billy Graham about Revelation 11:18, but the greatest evangelist of the 20th century, possibly of all time, admitted he was unfamiliar with the verse, and replied, “I should preach on it some time.” Maybe his son, Franklin Graham, can be persuaded to do so.
A kind of environmental skepticism is associated with the Left Behind series that taught a secret rapture of believers from this world prior to a final bloody battle between good and evil known as Armageddon. Dr. Tim LaHaye, the co-author of the book, a well-known conservative, nonetheless claimed no such warrant for apathy was justified.
Evangelicals, aided by good scholarship and biblical hermeneutics, are rejecting pre-millennial pessimism, which holds that the earth is going to hell in a hand basket, and there’s nothing we can do about it. One of America’s premier pre-millennial dispensational theologians, Dr. Charles Ryrie of Dallas Theological Seminary, author of the Ryrie Study Bible, told me over lunch at Palm Beach Atlantic University in Florida that he believes “we need to care for this earth,” much as he said he cares for his human body by daily exercise.
About the general principle of creation care, Ryrie was very clear: “The Bible affirms that we must care for the earth as stewards.” That prestigious seminary, moreover, is leading the way in greening its facilities, as is another similar theological institution, BIOLA, the Bible Institute of Los Angeles, which is now a liberal arts college with secular academic credentials.
You can even find a Green Bible in most Christian bookstores. There are so many “green” verses that call us to environmental stewardship, much like the red-letter Bible which put in red the verses uttered by Jesus, that any faithful Christian would have to be blind not to pay attention.
As a matter of fact, that’s exactly true about the skeptics. Larry Schweiger, head of the National Wildlife Federation, says you have to engage in “willful blindness” not to see what’s happening to Planet Earth. Turning a blind eye, so easily done just a few years ago, is no longer apparently tolerated even in conservative evangelical circles. And, Pastor Driscoll, it’s not about joining the “happy hippie” crowd. It’s about joining the most significant new recruits to the environmental movement — faithful Christians. No joke.
The Rev. Richard Cizik served for 10 years as vice president for governmental affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals. He has been an advocate for bringing evangelicals and scientists together on climate change issues.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Racialization of Climate

I recently returned from several weeks in Kenya, where a group of North American scientists, teachers and church leaders were examining the impact of global climate disruptions on poor farmers in that country. We travelers shared a profound commitment to creation care. We also shared a sincere faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

As we met with farming and church groups, we heard dolefully repetitious themes: the planting seasons are disrupted, often cutting harvests from two per year to one or less; droughts are much more frequent; more intense floods are washing away fertile soils; changing climatic patterns result in new crop pests never seen before….

At every visit, we took pictures of our new Kenyan friends. But I can’t help noting: They all look so different from me. Their suffering moves me. But at some level, it’s a bit harder to see their suffering as my suffering. Would it be different if they looked, spoke and dressed like me?

This is the question addressed by Albert Hamstra, a career missionary with the Christian Reformed Church, and a member of our traveling team.

A Question

Written by: Albert Hamstra

What if the main people who were suffering from the effects of environmental degradation and climate change were white? Would the reaction to it be any different in the USA and Canada than it is today?

Hamstra planting a tree near Nairobi
One of the reasons these problems are so difficult to address is because they have been racialized. Whenever “the other” is of another race, sustained empathy with them is extremely difficult and rare. It becomes easier to find reasons for our indifference and inattention.

This scenario has been played out repeatedly in many situations so that most, if not all, of our major social/ethical challenges are racialized.

We Christians have been given the grace to escape from the destruction of racialization and the racism that accompanies it. This is a significant reason why the Church is especially qualified to address issues of the abuse of creation. We know God the Creator; therefore there is no “other” whom we can dismiss as having less value.

I encourage us to spend a few minutes imagining what it would be like if the main people who were suffering from the effects of climate change and environmental degradation today were white. What does that image say to us?

Albert Hamstra serves the CRC as its Global Impact Director. This post first appeared on May 1, 2013 in the CRC’s World Renew volunteer website.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Privilege of Skepticism

Written by Kyle Schaap

Kyle Schaap
If you are reading this and are from North America (and perhaps even if you aren't), you are no doubt aware of just how divisive the issue of climate change is in the US and Canada. Experts from both sides of the issue are regular installments on the 24-hour news networks, presenting the latest data in favor of or disputing the warming of the planet. Policy experts offer the pros and cons of legislation aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Law makers debate possible action steps. Facebook posts supporting or refuting climate change turn into hotbeds of political (and sometimes a little bit of personal) attacks. Friends bicker; family relationships are strained. 

This is simply the reality of the political climate in North America, but the existence of such rigorous debate is no coincidence. If warming trends continue the way that scientists are currently projecting (4 degrees Celsius by the end of the century), things in North America won't look all that different. We'll probably experience more droughts, our growing zones will shift, and Michigan will have the climate of Tennessee.  Even if things do get bad in North America, we have the money and technology necessary to adapt fairly well to any changes in weather patterns or growing seasons that we might experience. In short: North America can afford not to worry about climate change—at least for a while.

But what will happen to other parts of the world if warming continues at the rate projected? The predictions are staggering: the inundation of coastal cities; increasing risks for food production, potentially leading to higher malnutrition rates; many dry regions becoming dryer, and wet regions wetter; unprecedented heat-waves in many regions, especially in the tropics; substantially exacerbated water scarcity in many regions; increased frequency of high-intensity tropical cyclones; and irreversible loss of biodiversity, including coral reef systems. A recent report commissioned by the World Bank Group identifies some of the most vulnerable cities to be in Mozambique, Madagascar, Mexico, Venezuela, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam. In short: utter catastrophe for much of the Global South.

So how do we explain the existence of such ambivalence in North America toward climate change in the face of such shocking predictions? I believe that part of the answer is that we have the privilege of skepticism. We have been largely shielded from the effects of a warming world. As such, we have the freedom to debate the existence of the climate disruption that scientists are telling us about. "I don't see any substantial changes to weather patterns. Are we sure this is really happening?" 

Something I've been struck by during my time here so far is that a changing climate isn't a debate in Kenya; it is a daily reality. It is a daily reality for the farmers we talked to who can no longer predict the rains and do not know when to plant their crops. It is a daily reality for villagers whose centuries-long river-fed water supplies are dwindling ever lower by the day. 

Increasing severe drought drives a desperate search for water
There is no doubt the debate over climate change will continue to rage in North America for some time to come. Figures will be cited, studies will be pointed to, voices will be raised. As long as we continue to be largely sheltered from the effects of a warming world, doubt will infuse our public discourse. But as we continue to exercise our privilege of skepticism, people in Kenya—and in other vulnerable places around the globe—will continue to pay the price of our ambivalence. Because make no mistake: Inaction costs something. We just aren't the ones that are paying for it.

Kyle Schaap is Policy Analyst/Advocacy Fellow for the Christian Reformed Office of Social Justice. This post originally appeared at World Renew's Volunteer Blog. Kyle recently led a group of Christians to Kenya to witness the impact of climate disruptions on the poor.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Cooking Without Fire

About ten days ago, a massive mudslide swept away three little Kenyan girls in the small town of Kijabe. We arrived in Kijabe only a few days after the flood, to find scores of local people cutting up fallen trees, carting away mud and clearing roadways.

We reported on the Kijabe mudslide a few days ago. Recall that in one month alone, Kijabe has received more rain than its annual average over the last three decades. On the night of the disaster, 5.5 inches more fell in less than two hours. The saturated soils simply could not absorb the torrent, and they gave way in a lethal wall of clay-red African mud.

Kijabe forests couldn't keep mud from swamping the town
It happens that Kijabe is home to one of the best medical centers in East Africa, the AIC Kijabe Hospital. The hospital treats more than 150,000 patients every year, who wind their way up or down the Rift Valley escarpment to Kijabe, perched midway between the clouds and the valley floor. But the narrow roads were rendered impassable by the mudslide, and the hospital’s water source was also cut, its collection tanks now sitting idle and empty.

You may recall our lament at the cruel impact of climate change on this key lifeline for so many vulnerable Kenyans.  But assessing the impact of climate change can be tricky business. Usually climate disruption creates the background condition on which more proximate ills take their toll. The Darfur genocide, for example, may have been predictable by anyone looking seriously at the desertification of the African Sahel, driving migration of largely Islamic nomadic pastoralists in search of water and grasslands into largely Christian farming communities. But the news outlets mainly brought us images of President Omar Al-Bashir’s hordes sweeping down on helpless villagers. What caused the Darfur tragedy? Climate disruption? Ethnic hatred? Or a genocidal ruler? Of course, it’s a false choice.

I’m beginning to see Kijabe’s current predicament that way too. Sure, floods like these have never happened before, and the story of extreme weather is being repeated all over Kenya. But two men on the ground are showing us another story too. Craig Sorley and Jeff Davis live and work in Kijabe, and spend countless hours trying to defend the hillside forests from illegal cutting for the charcoal trade. From a distance, these forests look healthy, but venture inside, and you see a wounded landscape, with many tree stumps and abundant signs of charcoal pits – the handiwork of illegal poachers. It is this depleted forest that released the torrent of mud that wreaked havoc on the town below last week.

Sorley & Davis after Kijabe's mudslide: Was it the rain, or deforestation?
Craig and Jeff do some old-fashioned law enforcement to protect this corner of the creation, tracking down poachers and hauling them before the local magistrates.  But you might be surprised at some of the simpler, sensible things they do to erode the demand for the illegal cutting that now threatens their town. One of my favorites is a simple contraption that you can make at home to cut your own energy use. It’s called the “fireless cooker.”

Davis' fireless cooker
The fireless cooker is little more than a wicker basket, sized to accommodate a cooking pot. The basket is lined with a thickly insulated quilt, and the top is covered with a round pillow, sized to fit inside the basket lid. That’s it. Nothing more. Now, you bring your beans, your rice, your potatoes or stew to a boil on the stove in a lidded cook pot with only short handles, and then plop it into the fireless cooker for the rest of the cooking time. Come back in thirty minutes, and the rice is cooked. Come back in a few hours, and your beans are ready.

It turns out that today’s Kenyan fireless cookers are nothing new. Your great-great grandma knew about these things. She might have called them “hay boxes” – named for their ability to deliver hot food to field workers racing to bring in the hay while the weather held. Others were used by westward travelers who couldn’t take the time to look for firewood at the noon meal.

Our friends in Kijabe swear by it today. So yesterday, I decided to test the idea. I boiled a pot of dried beans in a large saucepan on the stove, and then turned the fire off. In a larger pan, I lined the bottom with a few dish towels, and set the saucepan inside. I then wrapped the whole thing with a small throw-blanket. A couple hours later, I came back to check my “fireless beans.” Completely cooked!

Other styles of cookers; same result
So, Craig and Jeff, I’m planning on joining up by making a real fireless cooker of our own. Who knows, maybe one of our readers will launch a cottage industry to save people millions in energy costs, and spare the earth higher greenhouse gas pollution in the bargain. But in Kijabe, it is one of many sensible initiatives that are coming together to save a threatened forest, and protect the lives of vulnerable Kenyans and forest creatures.

I’d bet you’ve come up with practical ways to care for God’s injured world on your own. Why not share them with us, so we can pass on the good news?

Thanks for reading, and may God bless you.

J. Elwood

More images from Kijabe

Jeff Davis, forest-keeper in spare time

AIC Kijabe Hospital's water tanks: disabled & empty
Cooking pot fits nicely inside Davis' fireless cooker

Sorley with one of many replanted saplings
Kijabe people clearing debris from mudslide

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Give Us This Day Our Daily Toilet

Kibera. The biggest slum in Kenya. Second biggest in all of Africa.

From all over Kenya, they pour into this place, a sprawling community in southeast Nairobi, home to as many as one million living souls. Many come here from family farm plots that have become too small from subdivision; others are driven off the land by failing rains, extreme floods and erratic seasonal patterns; some are the victims of soil depletion from unsustainable farming practices. Whatever the reason, they are here looking for a better life.

Kibera: Last stop in Kenya's urban migration
A better life? It’s hard for me to imagine what a worse life might look like. An uncountable throng in a continuous stream up and down muddy alleys, paths and narrow clay-red streets; unbroken ranks of tin and mud shacks crowding against each other and squeezing into serpentine pathways; vendors selling plastic sandals, maize, charcoal or other essentials at virtually every hut; open cooking fires everywhere; trash mixed with mud and sewage underfoot; and the air above choked with acrid smoke.

And what am I doing here? I’m the only mzungu in sight among thousands and thousands of residents going about their daily routines – my alien skin and gray hair a neon presence amidst an ocean of beautiful African humanity. I am accompanied by Rahab Mbochi, an irrepressibly cheerful spirit, who finds friends at virtually every turn in the winding alleys of mud and waste. And by David Quest, another Kenyan working with a waste-management NGO.  And – of supreme importance – by Jeshua, our giant local guide and keeper, a guarantor of safety for a helpless outsider like me.

Tin and trash: the constants of life in Kibera
Think of the names: Rahab, the redeemed harlot whose progeny includes the one called Savior by Christians; David, the man after God’s heart; Jeshua, the real name of Jesus of Nazareth; and even John, the disciple whom Jesus loved. All winding our way into the heart of the largest – and perhaps foulest – slum in East Africa. Rahab confidently strides out in front. The stranger makes sure he stays within reach of Jeshua.

Did I mention what I’m doing here? Primarily, to visit Peepoople. That’s Pee-poop-le. Pee, as in pee. Poop, you know. Add the last syllable, and I imagine you’ve got something like this:  “The people who have devised a way to help deal with all this filth you live in.”  And it’s brilliant. Let me explain.

Kibera has no sewage disposal system. The huts have no toilets; the roads have no drains. Imagine a city of maybe a million tightly-packed people, all looking desperately for somewhere to go. Of course, they do go. People use a small tin bucket, and dispose of the waste outside, where it finds its way into the grayish-brown rivulets that trickle down every path and alleyway. This isn’t just where we’re walking; this is where the children play. Admittedly, there are a few toilet stations here and there, but they cost five shillings – about six cents U.S. – and money is oh-so-scarce here.

Children and sewage don't mix
And – if you’ve resisted the impulse to stop reading in disgust – there’s another thing: At night, it’s unsafe to step out of the hut. So the waste is collected in plastic bags which get hurled into the black sky – Kibera’s infamous “flying toilets.”

America’s attention was riveted a couple of months ago by the ordeal of a stricken cruise ship whose passengers had to make it a week or so without working toilets. I’m afraid Kibera is like a thousand of those ships, with no port anywhere in sight.

And that’s where Peepoople comes in. They have developed an ingenious solution. It’s a waterproof single-use bag made of a compostable organic material, with a bit of granulated urea inside. The bag – a PeePoo bag – is placed like a liner inside a small plastic pail, which together form a sanitary toilet. After use, the bag is tied off in a tight seal enclosing everything, including soiled tissue, and the urea goes to work destroying the pathogens by which human waste spreads so much disease. The used bags are returned to collection centers, where they are composted to provide fertile garden soils and to grow trees.

PeePoo bag ready to return for composting
And for most of Kibera’s people, the cost isn’t overwhelming. The Peepoo bag costs two shillings. But upon return to the collection station, the user gets a one-shilling refund.  So the overall cost per use is just a little more than a U.S. penny. In the bargain, streams of sewage are reduced, potentially lethal pathogens are destroyed, and fertile soils are developed for local gardens.

Now, solutions to vexing problems are seldom as simple as they sometimes sound. Peepoople is in its infancy. Adoption rates are still low in Kibera. There are five or six collection stations, and Kibera needs hundreds. Composting and pathogen testing is ongoing, before Kenyan authorities will permit compost use in sensitive areas.

But Kibera today is a picture of much of the world tomorrow. We know that climate disruptions are driving a tsunami of human migration, as farming systems stagger under the burden of unseen challenges like today’s extreme weather events. Whether in Karachi, Johannesburg, Dhaka, Bangkok or Los Angeles, cities will have to deal with an influx of migrants struggling to survive and unable to afford basic services like clean, safe sewage systems.

Peepoople's Rahab Mbochi, with Japheth
Hats off to Peepoople, to Rahab, to Jeshua, and to the thousands of Kiberans working to provide basic human services where none exist today. If you’d like to learn more about Peepoople, take a look here. And if you’re ever in the neighborhood of Good Hand Farm, and feeling really adventurous, I’ve bought fifty Peepoo bags, and would be glad to share one with you. If you bring it back after use, it’ll only set you back one Kenyan shilling.

Thanks for reading, and may God bless you.

J. Elwood