Ecologist Rick Lindroth is among a small but growing number who argue faith is important to combatting hopelessness. Getting ‘re-enchanted with the Earth,’ he says, is the key.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison ecologist belongs to an evangelical church and has struggled with deep despair over climate change. He has had a front-row seat observing the effects of a warming atmosphere through the aspen trees he has studied for decades. But he lacks the support of many within the evangelical community.
We can imagine what his problem is. White evangelicals are less likely than other religious groups in the U.S. to see a strong connection between human activities and global climate change, according to the Pew Research Center. Just 54 percent of White evangelicals say that human activity, such as the burning of fossil fuels, contributes to global climate change, compared with 76 percent of all U.S. adults, a Pew study in January found.
When looking at the United States one can only see that lots of conservative Christians seem to be more concerned about their right to wear weapons and to have industry providing work for them than the impact of that industry on nature.
A few years ago, there was even a farmer who denounced the PFOS pollution (perfluorooctanoic acid (chemical compound) and was consequently vilified by his fellow citizens, who mainly found work at DuPont 3M company. Only a few years later, when there had been several very serious illnesses and premature cancer deaths, did the people agree to take DuPont to court.
The majority of American Christians do not want anyone to affect their livelihood by imposing climatic measures on companies.
Lots of those Christians who voted for Trump have their purse as their first priority. Like a flock of sheep, they want to follow whoever offers them the most attractive option without further thought. They forget that the choices they make to continue to industrialise their country shall have a terrible impact on their environment. At the moment, most of them are not interested or do not want to know, that they destroy their own surroundings. Many of those conservative evangelicals believe God will protect them and therefore they themselves do not have to take any measures, do not have to vaccinate themselves, and can use everything that is lying in front of them the way they want to use it and can use it.
Scientists and other leaders have raised alarm about people’s anxiety and despair because it can lead to inaction. Lindroth is part of a small but growing movement of people talking about climate change through the lens of hope motivated by faith.
As much as Rick Lindroth believes in scientific research, he sees a need for more investment in shifting the public discussion away from denial and more toward love for nature. He wants to connect with people on another level that is less data-driven.
Conservative Christians have long debated humans’ role and responsibility in environmental activism. Since the 1800s, many American evangelicals adopted a view of the end times that the Earth will be ultimately destroyed. Many of these same evangelicals also believe they are just passing through Earth on the way to heaven, so they question whether humans should prioritise care for the environment. Some point to verses in Genesis that people are supposed to “rule” or “have dominion” over God’s creation to justify oil drilling and other practices.
But Lindroth and others interpret the same passage to mean that Christians should rule over creation as God rules, with benevolence, care and nurturing. Christians, he believes, are called to love what God loves and to care for what he cares for because creation’s purpose is to bring praise to God.
To motivate people to care for God’s creation, he said, people first need to have a “creation connection” that combines information with experience in nature. He does this by taking nature walks with friends, searching for salamanders when he visits his grandsons and taking canoe trips in the wilderness.
“I want people to be re-enchanted with the Earth, one nature connection at a time,”
“That’s a lofty goal that’s grounded in reality.”
Though today, lots of people have no connection anymore with mother earth. They also do not make a lot of walks in nature. The majority of youngsters are glued to their little screens, watching YouTube videos, Instagram and Facebook messages.
Many parents are even not aware that a lot of deceases we got the last few years came up because of all the additives in their food. In the last few decades we could see an explosion of allergies and intolerances to foods, and have more people with asthma, diabetes, cancers, attention deficit disorders, autism, anxiety, and suicide. It looks like not many see the connection between what went wrong and how society preferred to make cheaper food in higher quantities (but lesser quality). People even went so far as to look for possible ways to get artificial food.
According to a 2021 study published by the Yale Program on Climate Communication, among young people there is some positive evolution, and them starting to see that climate change is a serious problem. They get, at last, somewhat worried about global warming. But are they willing to look for a solution, or to make work of reducing pollutant emissions?
Some American churches try to make their folks afraid by doomscenarios. But people should not be brought to doomerism. It can well be that in the States there is a renaissance blooming in the climate movement: leadership that is more characteristically feminine and more faithfully feminist, rooted in compassion, connection, creativity, and collaboration. While it’s clear that women and girls are vital voices and agents of change for this planet, they are too often missing from the proverbial table.More politicians, members of government and ministers should talk more openly of the reason why we should opt for another way of life and for going for a lifestyle of reducing the carbon footprint and not making them feel guilty or set up uncomfortable conversations.Lindroth is convinced that small practices in nature can rewire our brains. He asks people to look for patterns or disruptions in the forest. Many trees in the forest were flattened to the ground due to wetter springs and high-intensity storms, which uproots them.
“It’s real, it’s us, it’s bad, it’s going to get worse, there’s hope if we act now,”
“There you go, climate change in 17 words.”
Lindroth’s beloved city of Madison, Wis. has been called a “climate haven” because it sits away of the path of hurricanes, wildfires and rising sea levels. But the city gets torrential downpours, and Lindroth’s own neighbourhood experienced flooding in 2018. He worries about the health of his two grandsons who experience California’s wildfire smoke.
After Donald Trump was elected president and Lindroth believed the country’s advances on climate change were severely damaged, Lindroth had a conversation with his daughter about helping her sons become resilient. All too often a generation forgets that the next one shall not get the same life surroundings like they had in childhood. The world they’re inheriting is not the one you grew up in, Lindroth told her. Get them out in nature, he urges his daughter, encourage free-range play, encourage them to take risk. He gives the book “How to Raise a Wild Child” to new parents.
To keep his own despair at bay, Lindroth embraces personal practices like reciting scripture and meditating in nature that help connect him to the wider world and to the divine. He has a pattern of how he understands climate news:embrace the facts, lament them, acknowledge how he’s complicit, repent, then move on.He believes that sometimes you just lament, and sometimes you adjust your lifestyle.
“Whenever we’re faced with a great challenge, we devise a way out of it and start taking steps on the pathway, and just the taking of steps can be hopeful,”
he said, drawing on “hope theory” from psychology.
Lindroth also finds hope in science and technology to find ways to help deal with climate change through recent advances in renewable technologies. There may be a possible positive thought if people finally wake up and listen to the many scientists who have been warning us for years about the coming danger of global warming. But many American conservative Christians must come to realise that they themselves bear great responsibility for the many things that happen around them and in the world. They cannot close their eyes to the mishandling of the environment that many around them are maintaining.
We are fortunate that very good scientists are able to present us with options for turning the tide. But we must act.
“We have the technology,”
Lindroth says, pointing to the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
“We need the political goodwill.”
The country’s inability to enact policies necessary to stop global temperatures from rising to catastrophic levels frustrates him deeply. But pointing to a quote attributed to the Christian theologian Saint Augustine, he sees the strange combination of anger and courage as hope’s “two beautiful daughters.”
Lindroth can see what’s going on and finds that he has reason enough to be angry but he does not have to stop there. It motivates and informs him
“to work in a courageous way toward change.”
Lindroth plans to retire this fall and would like to focus on woodworking and photography, but he feels compelled to help his friends and neighbours — anyone who will listen — understand the urgency of climate change and a collective need to act quickly. As his wife has said, the work of getting people to take action is relational.
“People will care for the things that they love,”
“They love the things they’re intimately connected to.”
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