Building a Movement Stronger than the Weather

“Hurricane Sandy & Marblehead [Front Street 9]” by Flickr user Brian Birke, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.
I am no climate scientist. I have no authority to claim that climate change was a significant factor in causing Hurricane Sandy, the “frankenstorm“, although much of what I have been reading sees a strong case for the linkage. Never mind this summer, where a number of people were puzzling over the possibility that one of the ten worst US droughts of the past century was correlated with climate change.

I do, however, grow worried when freak weather gets too closely linked to climate change. Or, rather, when freak weather becomes the only time we feel concern over the slow, gradual damage we are doing to the planet.

Why do I worry?

Because weather is only a day-to-day thing, and even if we got CO2 down to a perfect number of parts-per-million, freak weather would still be a once-every-couple-of-years thing. All the while, we live with our climate every day. Even on the pleasant days of scattered clouds and warm temperatures, our finely-tuned Earth is being knocked out of equilibrium. Icecaps and glaciers are disappearing from the only place they belong, while deserts are popping up where they should not be. With sea levels rising and coral reefs dying, the equivalent of dozens of frankenstorms are happening gradually each year, and (thanks to the hard work of numerous scientists) in plain sight (although we are too self-absorbed to see it).

Because some years ago I spent three weeks in New Orleans and the surrounding area. From that experience, I still flinch at the environmentalist take-over of the 2005 Hurricane Katrina disaster, best epitomized by the hurricane-out-of-smokestacks poster for Al Gore’s 2006 documentary An Inconvenient Truth. Yes, there may have been some truth in the hypothesis that global warming supercharged Katrina. But it was not rising sea temperatures so much as poor levee design and incompetent government response – all wrapped up in a tangle of racism and poverty – which took thousands of American lives.

And because the troubling possibility that if the most creative, sustainable way to mobilize the masses around the challenges of climate change is through freak weather phenomena, then climate activists are bound to get caught in a catch-22:  to create positive change, they will need to place their hope in tragedies. And not just any tragedy, but tragedies that are well-timed (for example, near the end of presidential elections characterized by climate silence) and well-placed (would we be having this conversation if the same storm struck China?).

“HURRICANE SANDY Taxi Terminal in Hoboken NJ” by Flickr user That Hartford Guy, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

Some of you may know that recently I have been pondering the possibility of what it would like if the church were to save the planet from the worst of climate change. Let me outline my head-heart-hands argument that, for Christians (if not everybody), it should not take a frankenstorm to realize that something should be done about climate change.


Christians, especially evangelical Christians, have had a tenuous relationship with science in the midst of the last century’s so-called “culture wars.” But a number of scholars have seen a positive connection between the monotheistic, biblical world view (for example, that God has placed us within a rational, ordered cosmos governed by laws of cause and effect) and the historical rise of modern science.

As Christians, we know that there are simply some big questions about life and significance that science alone cannot answer. But we also know that there are questions which science does have the answer to – ranging from the low-budget high school science experiment to the highly ambitious attempts to model what climate change is and what it looks to be. And those ambitious models are remarkably consistent: even on days the weather is nice outside, our climate is under duress.

Some scientists find cures and are celebrated. Others point out urgent problems in society, but society in turn mocks them for their efforts, not unlike how the prophet Jeremiah was persecuted. Therefore, we can ask ourselves: upon hearing difficult news, would Jesus shoot the messengers?


Christians are called to seek after the welfare of the poor, the orphaned, the vulnerable. So when faith-based international relief organizations like World Vision and Bread for the World make major statements on how climate change is impacting the communities and nations they seek to do work in, Christians need to perk up and listen closely.

The worldwide poor are affected by climate change, not just when frankenstorms hit, but throughout the whole year. Climate change almost always hits the poor the hardest, because they lack the means to adapt to their changing environment (in fact, the super-rich have the obnoxious luxury of thinking how they can benefit from climate change).

Loving the poor through climate action is clearly abstract. We won’t directly see the smiles we might witness in a soup kitchen or through a mission trip. While there is something significant from these ministries of presence, ultimately loving the poor has never truly been about the “warm fuzzy feeling,” but rather part of the radical call of discipleship given to us by our Savior.


Everything I have said so far would be moot if it was not for the fact that Christians are not merely hearers, but doers. We see good work as the expression of our faith’s vitality.

It takes some care to see how a tough, 1st century text like the Sermon on the Mount translates into a call to action for the tough, 21st century reality of global warming. But at the end of Jesus’ speech comes the parable of the wise man who built his house upon a rock – and, in our case, the message works both figuratively and literally.

Unlike his foolish downshore neighbor, who built a house upon sand, the wise man built a house that was able to withstand rains and floods and wind. This is what climate action looks like: instead of picking up pieces after the storm, taking the appropriate action now. Instead of serving quick profits, making the responsible sacrifices to ensure our planet’s sustainability not just for our generation but for our grandchildren’s generation.  The decisions that ensure our planet’s integrity, to the glory of the God of all creation.

None of the above will not be easy, but that is not a excuse.

“Aerial photos of New Jersey coastline in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy” by Master Sgt. Mark Olsen, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

I sincerely hope that Hurricane Sandy was a wake-up call, not just for the American people but also for our politicians and our news media and our risk-adverse investment bankers. But I also realize that to create a world more resilient to freak weather, it is going to take a well-rooted movement to counteract the slow, strong creep of climate change, a movement that exists regardless of how pleasant the weather is.

It is my belief that the church cannot afford to miss out on being a part of that movement, nor can the planet cannot afford the church to stand by idly.

Next Steps:

Right now, there is work to be done in Hurricane Sandy’s – and yesterday’s nor’easter‘s – aftermath. Covenant World Relief, an organization I did my college internship with, has set up a fund to help storm victims.

But after the band-aids have been applied, we will need to redirect our energies towards climate change.

First off, there is the lifestyle stuff. Like winterizing your house and driving less and turning off the lights when you aren’t using them. Consider having a green resolution for New Years.

But it is going to require a coordinated effort, stronger than the sum individual willpower of a couple of hippies and hippie-wannabes, to make a dent versus climate.

Where to start?

“Hurricane Sandy – NC12” by Flickr user NCDOTCommunications, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

Your church (or other religious community) may be a good place. Don’t be afraid if you think your church is not all that into climate issues: if 100 people don’t care but 5 people do, you have the foundation for a ministry (trust me, I work in a church. I know how this happens).

Also, now that the the election is over, go find out who your elected officials are. Not just the president, who has enough on his plate, but also (and perhaps more effectively) your representatives and senators. Stay informed. You don’t have to “like” them on Facebook, but you can at least engage them on Twitter. (Remember, our do-nothing Congress had a single-digit approval rating this last go-around, but if you don’t know who represents you how can you expect to keep them accountable?)

And while we are talking about social media, perhaps it would not be a bad idea to add some of these as a regular part of your news feed: Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, Evangelical Environmental Network,  Catholic Climate Covenant and Interfaith Power and Light.

If for some reason, religion is not your thing but you’ve read this far, check out the secular movement (although, FYI, the head of this movement, Bill McKibben, is a strong Methodist).

And buy tickets to’s Do the Math event, so you can be informed and network with other like-minded people committing themselves to climate action. You can bet I’ll be at the one later this month in Chicago – regardless of the weather.

Building a Movement Stronger than the Weather

7 thoughts on “Building a Movement Stronger than the Weather

  1. Kaleb,

    The counterpoint is that an essential ingredient to lifting people out of poverty is cheap energy, which necessarily comes from burning fossil fuels (read: coal for electricity and oil for transportation). This is rooted in the laws of energy science in general and the laws of thermodynamics in particular. To develop an effective approach to climate change, the realities of energy science have to be understand with all their unwanted implications.

    One more thing. As evangelicals, we must also ask what He is doing. To which I respond, the unavoidable contradiction between climate science and energy science leads us (eventually) to Him. Trying to get Ben to understand this as well.

    1. First, my response to the counterpoint:

      I make two assumptions: first, that the rich are disproportionately responsible for adding GHGs to atmosphere. Second, that the poor are disproportionately vulnerable to changes in climate. It may be simplistic, but I believe this is an accurate picture.

      Moving towards a just society, the rich have responsibility to accomodate for the negative consequences of the GHGs that will make life more difficult for the poor. In other words, because climate is undeniably a public good, belonging to everyone, the burden must fall on the rich to finance the welfare of the poor.

      The rich have two options: financing adaptation to a warmed planet, or taking sacrificial measures that mitigate climate change through reduced GHG output. I humbly admit that how much of either option is pursued is not for me to say (perhaps levees, FEMA and foreign aid are cheaper than solar, wind, and efficiency measures), but if climate change is not consistently acknowledged in the public dialogue my fear is that neither option will be pursued.

      Second, I’m still trying to see your connection between the contradiction between climate & energy science and the work God is doing. Are you suggesting that there are signs of God actively intervening in this area?

  2. Kaleb,

    This is why I brought up the issue of Original Sin to your post in early October; it makes the Ought issue very, very messy. Also, focusing only on the moral issue of climate change ignores the reality of why we burn fossil fuels in the first place. They are packed with energy stored up over millions of years of the earth’s existence; renewables like wind and solar do not even come close from an engineering standpoint, and this forms the source of the contradiction. Bill McKibben makes the point that with our burning of fossil fuels that we are outlaws against the laws of physics and chemistry; he does not realize that it is precisely because we understand the laws of physics and chemistry that we burn fossil fuels. Exploring this tension/contradiction eventually leads to existential questions about what human beings are and whether they are more that intelligent apes wearing pants.

    I do not see active intervention by our Lord in this area, but then again I’m just a pipsqueak. Rather, I am trying to piece together a puzzle of what is going on that matches what I read about Him in Scripture (especially the OT prophets). As part of this I seek out other believers (such as those at YECA) that are asking similar questions.

    1. Randy – I’m working my head around your point about fossil fuels. Perhaps it is easy to forget that – precisely because they are millions of years in the making – fossil fuels are a precious gift. There might be a need to make nuance between the merits of “reduced use” and “wise use.”

      Again – thanks for contributing your thoughts!

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