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the Empathy List #107: Hot Girl Summer
Climate Change is Hot and Hard to Talk About...
Hello friend, Liz here.
This summer has been hot. Very hot.
You might even say it’s been a “hot girl summer.”
And, no, I don’t mean sexy. I mean literally hot—as in, scorching, sweating, dehydrating, overheating.
I mean, top-out-the-thermometer-and-set-new-highs hot, as happened in Death Valley, California, where meteorologists recorded a reading of 128 degrees Fahrenheit.
I mean, so hot that the houseless have faced an epidemic of heat stroke and heat-induced death, as in the streets of Phoenix, Arizona and other American cities.
I mean, so hot that the Colorado River is on the verge of evaporating, leaving the American Southwest dessicated, returning farmland and cityscape back to desert.
I mean, so hot that Canada has not stopped burning.
I mean, so hot that the coral reef on the coast of Florida has cooked to death, shrinking an essential eco-system and leaving coastal states vulnerable to tropical storms.
However, even though these facts are incontrovertible, I find acknowledging these truths challenging. Because it’s no fun to hear bad news.
After all, who wants to acknowledge that our home planet is dying?
Who wants to admit culpability in killing a planet?
Who wants to face our helplessness in changing how we ourselves live, let alone changing a corporation, a country, a continent, a globe?
…But now that my summer hiatus from this newsletter is officially ended (my kids are back in school—cue the halleluiah chorus ;-)), I want to stare down these climate truths. Because we must.
Today’s newsletter is my way of measuring the climate’s current state of being and also my way of account my role in its demise.
So, here’s the headline: it’s not looking good for our hot planet.
Our atmosphere is nearing a breaking point.
This break point will not affect the residents of planet Earth equitably. Those least responsible for the planet’s warming—the poor—will and already are experiencing the worst effects of climate change.
Animals are going extinct. Regions are drying. Developing nations are afflicted by famine. Poor communities on coastlines are suffering loss of livelihoods and homelands.
But in a cruel irony, those of us who are most culpable will skate by (we already are). I am speaking to those of us in the developed world, we who spend more of Earth’s resources than we need to live.
We are guilty of the worst offenses against our environment, yet we may find that we have the means to escape the worst effects of climate change…at least for now.
As with so many other BIG ISSUES, the first step in restorating balance and health is to take note. Those of us on the “top” of the food chain must acknowledge the state of our climate and our role in bringing it about.
Acknowledgement leads to lament leads to change. So, as we stare hard at the reality, we should also seek to make restitution… and we should try to move quickly.
It may be helpful to note that I do not generally spend much time castigating myself for the state of the planet. Nor do I spend hours dwelling in the panic that afflicts many of my activist compatriots.
Partly, this is because I understand that I am a blip. My individual role in harming the Earth’s environment is small. Driving my two children to and from school and to their sports practices does not, on its own, cause ecosystems to collapse. My personal air conditioning expenditures do not cause greenhouse gases to exceed healthy limits. My importation of coffee and chocolate has not directly led to those extreme weather events in the Caribbean.
And here, we find a sneaky trap that activists sometimes fall into.
Systemic failures are placed onto the backs of individual members within that system so as to divert attention from the real culprits, from those most responsible and most guilty.
Capitalism tells us that we are individuals responsible for our own individualist destinies; but this is simply not the case. We are interdependent communities, even the most introverted and isolated among us.
The diversion tactic typically goes like this:
See that plastic grocery bag floating in the Mariana Trench, the bottommost point on our planet where hardly any human has ever wandered? Welp, it’s because of you, you evil suburbanite mom in Denver, Colorado. So go on, own up to it. And stop using plastic straws to pay penance. (Because obviously, that will solve our trash island problem, right? …Um, no.)
The fact is, I am guilty of soiling the planet. But I cannot control any of the systems that make me guilty.
Those who could make a difference don’t or won’t. These are the biggest players on our globe—the corporations, nations, warring nations, developed nations—these are the ones who are the most guilty and most capable of affecting change.
Still, I can admit that my own personal carbon output is not zero, not even net zero, not even close.
Here are just a few of my climate sins:
This summer, my air conditioning has run nonstop.
I have not eliminated plastic from my home. (Ziplock bags and Saran Wrap Press ‘N’ Seal are both SO HARD for me to give up!).
I drive a fossil fuel-powered car. And even though our family only owns one car—instead of two like the normative two-adult family in the U.S.—I will happily buy a second when we can afford it.
Natural gas powers my stove, my water heater and my furnace.
Watering my garden, my chickens and my children requires many, many gallons of water in a drought-afflicted region.
I rely heavily on my refrigerator and freezer. And did I mention the air conditioning unit? ;-)
I also use the internet heavily. (In 2020, 3.7% of all greenhouse gas emissions came from using the internet and in supporting the systems that keep the internet up and running.)
Worst of all: I STILL USE AMAZON!!!!;
Yet, I’ve also taken some positive actions to offset my failures. The most notable example has to do with how my family and I eat.
This summer, I have eaten as locally as possible. This eliminates the carbon cost of delivering food from half a world away to my plate. It also sustains an entirely separate food economy from the norm of factory farms and fertilized acreage.
(To read about one element of our local eating adventure, here’s the story of how we became chicken people.)
I am aiming to ditch off-season produce altogether, I have sworn off factory farms where animals face horrific conditions before slaughter, I have tried to keep my money in the pockets of local growers and makers who work within a few miles of where I cook my family dinner.
But do these small actions matter to the larger goal of fixing the Earth’s climate?
Some would argue no. It’s too individual, too local, too insiginicant in the global scale.
Yet I believe that spending SO MUCH TIME on the food that I eat matters profoundly, even if my small shifts do not tip the scale from unhealthy to healthy planet.
Remember how tiny Jesus said the kingdom of God was when it arrived? A mustard seed. That’s it. I prefer to think of it as a poppy seed. My children began as poppy seeds, too. So does heaven on earth.
My actions may not fix a planet, but they will fix me. They will inspire my children. They will help me to live in right relationship with my neighbors, including my crawling and swimming and winging neighbors.
Do not despise small acts of love, my friends.
As St. Teresa of Avila once wrote, “Christ has no body on earth but yours.”
These actions I perform daily to feed myself and others, to care for the soil, to nurture living things within my sphere matters as much as sharing a bottle of water with an unhoused person at a stop light. One drink matters to one person. Because we are relational beings.
Further, when I opt out of a system that oppresses the poor and ravages the planet, I am acting out hope and resistance with my body. I am creating and sustaining a newer, healthier system. There is no more meaningful way to spend my life.
I do not believe the ending of our climate narrative is already written.
Likely, the climate will grow worse before it gets better. That may mean apocalypse of a kind. Again, I mean that literally: our planet may not always be hospitable for human life. But is that truly the end of the world? For me, as a Christian, the answer is no.
Because how I live during the apocalypse—whether I live with honesty and generosity, whether I consider my neighbor—that still matters, even as we go down in flames. ;-)
Whether the world is ending or whether it’s thriving, I believe there are people and creatures here who matter and that the way I treat them matters, too.
And also, absurdly, I believe in resurrection.
Nature itself offers glimpses of resurrection—like those seeds that only crack open after a wildfire rips through a landscape. Like those starfish who regrow their limbs after an amputation. Like those aspen groves that regenerate through their vast network of roots after one section expires.
When I living as if I believe in resurrection, I am also asserting that people can change. And resurrection is not confined to individuals alone, but to organizations, environments and entire planets. Resurrection says communities can change, too.
Entire systems can come back to life.
It’s a strange tension to hold: we are helpless and we are powerful. We are lamenting and we are hopeful.
Yet our human work is to wrestle with these paradoxes. We pray, we hope, we surrender, we work, we love, we spend ourselves, we release the outcomes. We are not God, but we are God’s body in the meantime.
And we must cultivate a comfort with paradox, never giving up on the fact that change is possible—in me, in you, in us, on earth and in heaven, today and in the future.
Say it with me: change is possible. Even now.
Thanks for reading.
Warmly, Liz Charlotte Grant
P.S. If you’ve read this far, would you leave me a note to say hi? What’d you do this summer? Highs? Lows? Tell me how you’ve been! :)
I think it’s worth acknowledging that, for decades, we in the developed world have been the most egregious climate offenders. We have ignored the bad news of climate change for so damn long… ESPECIALLY us Christians!
Consider how, in the 1980s, warnings about climate catastrophe began to blare in the media. Back then, when I was an infant and many of you were only children, our parents’ generation of politicians and business leaders heard these warnings and ignored them. Instead of acting, they plugged their ears and shut their eyes and tried to pretend they had never heard the bad news at all. And their inaction has cost us dearly. Because faking ignorance did not magically heal our world.
The evangelical Christian journey with climate policy is particularly complex. For a good primer, I recommend this podcast from NPR’s Rough Translation: “The Loneliness of the Climate Change Christian.”