One of the most startling things shown by climate opinion surveys is that most of the American public is worried about global warming, but spends little time talking about it. There are hopeful signs that may be changing though, from recent in-depth reporting such as the full hour program on Meet the Press, to the recent poll data suggests a notable uptick in concern among the American public.
Much of the climate discussion in recent months has been stimulated by the release of several key reports on the state of climate change (the IPCC special report, and the 4th National Climate Assessment), and by the as well as the United Nations Climate Change Conference (“COP24”). For those following these events, we’ve learned some important new things about climate change, and have a renewed sense raised the urgency for what needs to change. The increased attention to climate change has another effect – it brings a mix of emotions ranging from grief to hope.
So how should we respond to these reports, and to the emotions they evoke? At CSCS, we’ve asked 10 people to reflect on what the recent reports mean from their professional and personal perspectives. In the vignettes that follow, these folks speak from their heads to explain what the reports mean for their professions, and they speak from their hearts to convey their feelings about the news on climate change. We hope these responses from a community of people who care about climate change will keep the conversation going!
We’ve asked people to respond to the following questions:
- What does this mean for your field, and/or how are people in your field responding to this?
- From the perspective of your field, how do you personally respond to this?
Select a picture below to read a response to the IPCC report from a particular Mennonite perspective:
Environmental Scientist, Doug Graber Neufeld
Doug teaches environmental sustainability at Eastern Mennonite University, works with water and pollution issues locally and internationally with Mennonite Central Committee, and is the director of the Center for Sustainable Climate Solutions.
These reports are welcomed by environmental scientists, who overwhelmingly agree that these 1) represents good quality science, and 2) both confirms and adds to what we already know about climate change. These reports, as well was what we hear from COP24, are consistent with the trajectory of what is being increasingly understood by the many climate scientists who work hard in their disciplines to critically analyze the data – that climate change is real, is caused by humans, and is serious. What’s striking for environmental scientists is how these reports raise the bar both on the urgency of the issue (we have less than a dozen years to make changes), and on the scope of the impact (climate change will have a wide range of interconnected impacts).
Most of us environmental scientists are in our field of work because of an element of joy – joy at a world which fills us with awe in its intricacy, beauty and sheer scale. The words of Ghanian environmentalist Baba Dioum “…we will love only what we understand…” ring true – studying the natural world has deepened my own love for the natural world. But the words of Aldo Leopold also hold true: “One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds”, and so along with joy and love comes a deep sense of loss, as we live in a world of accelerating destruction. So we environmental scientists welcome the publicity of these reports and events, as they link the conflicting emotions of joy and loss that we have when we look at the world around us.
Pastor, Doug Kaufman
Doug is pastor at …, and serves as Director of Pastoral Ecology for CSCS.
Some may wonder about a pastor responding to the IPCC reports. I have been told it is too political or too scientific. However, climate change is a problem of human behavior and so it will only be addressed well if we engage it wholly, morally and spiritually as well as individually and globally.
The reports are both dire in the possible consequences of our carbon profligacy yet with a sliver of hope that we can avoid the most catastrophic outcomes if we make major changes now. These are changes that need to happen in our personal lives, in our social lives, and in our global political economy. Christian hope is not just based on optimism, on the probability of a positive outcome. Christian hope is based on God’s call to be faithful to the creator by faithfully relating to the creation. We can make the changes needed. But will we?
Farmer, Hannah Breckbill
Hannah lives in Decorah, Iowa, and is co-farmer and founder of Humble Hands Harvest, an organic vegetable farm feeding stomachs and spirits.
I am a farmer, and I entered the field with a simple desire to do something meaningful and connective–to feed people locally, and to connect them, through the food I raise, to the earth. As I’ve developed as a farmer, though, I’ve learned more about the industrial food system, the state of our soil, and the urgency of climate change. Agriculture is commonly pointed at as one of the causes of climate change: all of the fuel that goes into mono-cropping corn and beans with giant tractors; methane from ruminants like cattle being fed corn in feedlots; soil eroding away from being tilled and sprayed and losing structure; trees cut down to provide more space for annual mono-cropping systems. Simultaneously, though, farmers know that photosynthesis is the “technology” that people are looking for to capture carbon from the atmosphere–and so, agriculture can be seen as a solution to the issue of climate change. We can plant diverse perennial plants and manage them in ways that build soil organic matter, which is carbon taken out of the atmosphere–from intensive rotational grazing of ruminants that stimulates growth of grass to production of nut trees that sequester carbon in their bodies and in the leaves that fall every year.
That’s why I think of myself as a “regenerative farmer.” My deepest goal is to build soil on my farm, and I am doing that through planting hundreds of nut and fruit trees and rotating sheep on pasture, along with growing organic vegetables intensively with lots of cover crops. But the IPCC report told me that the scale of this crisis is such that doing my small work on my 22 acres is not enough–we need more and more farmers taking risks to shift production systems into ones that sequester carbon while feeding communities. Furthermore, we need people who don’t farm, but who depend on agriculture for their lives and their future, to invest in regenerative farming practices. It’ll take a community effort to get more farmers on more of the land, doing this urgent soil-building work, and I am excited to see how we can transform our economy to support this kind of work instead of further subsidizing unsustainable agriculture systems.
Ecological Economist, Jim Leaman
Jim teaches economics and finance at Eastern Mennonite University through an an integrated lens of sustainability, stewardship and justice. His current research focuses on sustainable housing, renewable energy, and transportation.
These recent climate reports (IPCC, COP24, and others) are not surprising to ecological economists, who have been sounding the alarm for several decades, but this perspective is still working its way into the disciplinary mainstream. Economics focuses on the allocation of scarce resources, which should place the field squarely at the heart of environmental challenges, but there are branches within the discipline that operate from very different perspectives and assumptions. The classical school places economic activity, growth, and humans at the center and views natural resources on par with other forms of scarce capital. An environmental economics view emerged in the 1970s that began to acknowledge the critical role of natural capital as foundational for healthy economic activity; this approach aims to value environmental resources and impact in prices as a signal to consumers about the full cost of their choices. Ecological economics emerged in the 1980s and was the first Earth-centric view, recognizing the limits of nature and the subservient role of economic activity within the broader scope of Earth’s biosphere.
Ironically, the issue of climate change is drawing these three branches together in a more integrated understanding and approach. One example of this convergence is the recent Economists’ Statement on Carbon Dividends, originally co-signed by 27 Nobel Laureate Economists, four former Chairs of the Federal Reserve, and 15 former Chairs of the Council of Economic Advisors. This renowned group, representing all three of these economic traditions, acknowledges that economic activity is embedded within a natural biosphere (ecological view), recommends policy intervention to internalize the environmental impact in prices (environmental view), and employs market-based solutions that retain individual choice and freedom (classical view). Since climate change is largely the result of economic activity, the discipline needs to be integral in identifying and implementing solutions. This challenge will push ecological perspectives into the mainstream of the discipline, and it gives me hope that the tools and analysis of economics are sufficient for the cause.
Immigrant, Lyubov Slashcheva
Lyubov is a public health, geriatric, and special needs dentist residing in Iowa City, Iowa. She serves in leadership with Mennonite Healthcare Fellowship, the Global Anabaptist Health Network, and the Center for Sustainable Climate Solutions. She is married to Scott Roser, a Mennonite Pastor who is transitioning into vegetable farming; they co-parent two adopted teenage boys.
I was a mere five years old when my family was transplanted from the foot of the Altai Mountain range in Kazakhstan to the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. As with most immigrants, reunification with extended family was the primary intent of our move, but the lure of the rumored American Dream was certainly a motivating factor. Growing up within a tight-knit Slavic cultural and faith community, my assimilation into American society was balanced with an ever-present reminder of my heritage and the persistent international connections that it offers, both in the general form of attentiveness to global news as well as personal contacts abroad. In this sense, perhaps immigrants identify as a global citizens more readily than some who claim the United States of America as their country of origin.
My experience as an immigrant informs how I receive and respond to the climate reports and the ripple effect of articles relating to health and faith. On the one hand, I envision the current and future detrimental impacts on the regions from which my family and I came, both in the ways that the landscape of what we called home will change and how those we know personally will be affected. On the other hand, I see how my residence as a North American is implicit in the econo-political (Capitalism, Materialism) and socio-cultural (The American Dream) structures and norms that contribute to climate change, as well as the disparities in those detrimentally affected and where they live. Though some of my immigrant peers are either too caught up in pursuing The American Dream or too oppressed by exploitative economic structures to take note of the reports or climate issues, I suspect that many immigrants share my tension in a tangible dread for the harm of foreign lands and people to which we have a connection as well as a sense of responsibility for mitigating the North American contribution to this injury.
Student, Gabe Miller
Gabe lives in Goshen, Indiana, and is a student studying sustainable food systems and journalism at Goshen College. He represents Goshen College as one of the seven CSCS climate ambassadors located at Mennonite colleges in the U.S.
These reports remind my why I’m studying food systems. Climate change is testing the stability of our food systems, and threatens our ability to feed a growing population. The reports bring a refreshing sense of urgency to the conversation, building on existing knowledge. We already knew that depleted soils are highly susceptible to droughts and floods. We already knew that pest populations are expanding north, altering the ecology of agricultural systems. We already knew that our food system needs to change, but now we know by when. As we approach the threshold of 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, the study of sustainable food systems is more important than ever, and I am grateful to be involved in this movement for change.
I am beginning to experience changes in the way I perceive time. As each year passes, the semesters get shorter and shorter, advancing with the reckless energy of a snowball rolling down a hill. When scientists report that we have until 2030 to drastically cut global emissions, my perspective on the passage of time shifts even further. I am compelled to think differently about what comes next. What will I do with the next eleven years of my life? How will I navigate my nascent adulthood in a world of uncertainty and change? COP24 and recent climate reports leave me with more questions than answers, but in the midst of it all, two truths are a constant source of stability: my ability to learn and adapt, and the global community of actors working toward sustainable solutions. Let’s take action together.
International Development Practicioner, Durga Sunciuri
Durga lives in Kathmandu, Nepal, and has worked as a program coordinator for Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Nepal since 2015, and previously as a program officer for various NGOs in Nepal. He has experience and expertise in managing agriculture and disaster relief projects.
I feel good that the countries agreed to put the 2015 Paris agreement into practice. It will bring some good results if it is followed, especially if the governments will measure, report on and verify their emissions-cutting efforts. However, I am sad that the issue of carbon credits, which are awarded to the countries for their emissions-cutting efforts , has been put off until next year. The developing countries and most vulnerable of climate change impacts would have benefitted if there was an agreement to implement them this year. This also shows that the developed and rich countries are not very serious to be accountable for their contribution of carbon emission.
The current targets of the world set for 3oC of warming from pre-industrial levels is very sad because the scientists say this would be disastrous. It should have been set at no more than 1.5oC. If the developed and rich countries don’t want to change their actions of consuming too much and using the energy the way they are doing, it doesn’t make much sense for them to agree to implement the 2015 Paris agreement.
My hope is that many people in the US who used to deny that the climate change was not real will believe the facts of these reports and start acting to reduce the carbon emission. I think this report needs to be disseminated widely and there should be an action plan in place to address the issues of the environment and climate change raised by this report.
Renewable Energy Entrepreneur, Brent Alderfer
Brent lives in New Hope, Pennsylvania and is CEO and co-founder of Community Energy, Inc., a company founded to ignite the market for fuel-free energy.
Climate change as a debate is old and tired, and following a longer-than-expected life is now taking its last breaths. Climate change as a reality is awakening with a roar, gathering strength with every record-setting hurricane, draught-fueled forest fire, and ear-splitting crack of retreating glaciers dropping city-sized chunks of ancient ice into rising oceans. Fear is a very rational response, as is denial, anger and resignation. Doing nothing unfortunately is not. Animals run for the hills on the early premonition of an earthquake or tsunami, which are minor spasms in comparison to climate change.
As a twenty-year veteran of the energy industry, I can offer a rational and calming thought. We have the technology and the wherewithal to convert the biggest climate-change culprit, energy, to a family-safe, smoke-free life. Advances in wind, solar and battery storage in the last five years mean that there are now huge customer savings from retiring old fossil plants in favor of new solar and wind generation, backed by batteries and natural gas. Look for headlines like these in your neck of the woods: “Utility to invest billions in renewable energy to save customers $100s of millions in rates.” Electrification of transportation, building heating, and industrial processes pays similar dividends. And if you don’t like thinking about energy or saving the world, consider that the inevitable deployment of new energy technology launches a new global economic era, producing jobs and investment opportunities at a scale never before seen in the history of the world. If any of this sounds like hyperbolic rantings of an energy entrepreneur, I urge you to google it and see what you find.
Policy Professional, Tammy Alexander
Tammy lives in Washington D.C., and is the senior legislative assistant for Mennonite Central Committee.
In November 2018, the U.S. government released its Fourth National Climate Assessment, prepared with input from 13 federal agencies. The summary findings state that, “climate change creates new risks and exacerbates existing vulnerabilities in communities across the United States, presenting growing challenges to human health and safety, quality of life, and the rate of economic growth.” Even with these serious challenges identified, the U.S. government’s response to climate change in recent years has been to begin the process to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement and to roll back regulations of greenhouse gas emissions.
The House of Representatives is reviving the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis but critics have raised concerns that its mandate will be narrow and its power limited. Some freshmen House members are pushing for a Green New Deal to take significant steps to address the various threats from our changing climate. But such ambitious policy changes will only be possible when members of Congress feel enough pressure from their constituents to make climate change a priority and to take bold action to address the suffering of current and future generations.