Monthly Archives: September 2017

Caring for One Another in Irma’s Shadow

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By: Lee Anne Johnson, a Climate Caretakers in Ft. Myers, FL

There’s a terrible pit-of-the-stomach feeling that accompanies an approaching disaster. Before Irma, I had only experienced it second-hand, such as neighboring cities devastated by a tornado or flood. When my husband and I lived Kenya, a lack of seasonal rains would become drought, and drought became famine. This hit closer to home, because friends were affected and we were part of coordinating relief efforts, but I was still physically insulated from the disaster by my comparative wealth. Worst case, I could always drive to Nairobi and get supplies from a supermarket there. Not to mention, I could stop at an upscale shopping mall while I was there, have a glass of wine at a restaurant, and forget the troubles of the world altogether for a bit.

Many of us in Florida, myself included, watched with dread as Hurricane Irma ravaged its way through the Caribbean and turned north toward us. I quickly murmured prayers as I watched news stories of fuel and water shortages, or gathered containers for water, or packed my most treasured items (drawings of our kids done by a dear friend, a hard drive of digital baby photos). Natural disasters are unpredictable. In as much as we have developed technologies to control the world around us, we still can’t predict what exactly will happen with a hurricane. The uncertainty I felt produced lurching prayers asking God for safety, for lives to be spared, or for divine protection for all who would be affected.

Water has a remarkable ability to store heat. Hurricanes are driven by warm ocean waters – the warmer the ocean surface, the more energy to “feed” the hurricane. Our tropical climate naturally predisposes us to a yearly hurricane season. Over the years, as our climate has warmed, most of that heat energy gets absorbed by and stored in the ocean. The extremely warm waters of the Atlantic basin powered Hurricane Irma, allowing it to reach a sustained size and magnitude that has never been witnessed before. This year, two category 4 storms have ravaged the U.S. within two weeks of each other. Is this a symptom of climate change? Is this to be our “new normal”? Quite possibly. As an individual interested in both science and faith, I know that environment is changing and that the brunt of this change will be shouldered by those living in poverty worldwide.

Natural disasters bring out the best and worst in people. The worst is due to fear, and I get it. The sheer scope of Hurricane Irma made fearing for our survival a reality. And fear makes people hoard and fight over resources. I also witnessed incredible kindness as people went around neighborhoods helping board up homes, volunteering in shelters and offering people places to stay through the storm. Community buoys us up and is a physical embodiment of God’s spirit; it’s one of the ways He provides us comfort and strength to get through the really hard times in life.

While my family and friends came out of Irma relatively unscathed, I know others who weren’t as fortunate in our community. The devastation and loss of life caused by Hurricane Irma was much worse throughout the Caribbean.

As we look toward what the future potentially has in store, I hold onto the hope of both faith and science. Our faith reminds us of the inherent love that God has for all people and His creation. I hold on to the hope that we can use the ingenuity of science and the power of community to find ways to both care for God’s people and care for God’s creation. These two things do not have to be mutually exclusive. People of faith are poised to be a driving force for reconciliation in our world, demonstrating that we can be both climate caretakers and caretakers of one another.

Hurricanes and Climate: How to Respond to Irma and Harvey

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In the past few weeks we’ve seen two horrific storms batter the United States and many Caribbean Islands.  Our hearts and prayers go out to the millions impacted by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.  As the damage is still being felt, consider these astonishing statistics:

  • Harvey dropped 52 inches of rain on Cedar Bayou, TX, setting a new all-time record for U.S. rainfall.
  • Harvey was so strong that the storm continued for a record 117 hours after making landfall—the previous record was 54 hours.
  • Irma sustained wind speeds of 185 mph for a record 37 straight hours, shattering the previous mark set by Typhoon Haiyan in 2013.
  • Irma set a new record for the highest wind speed and lowest barometric pressure of any Atlantic hurricane.
  • This is the first time the United States has been hit by two category 4 hurricanes (the second highest level) in the same season.
  • Texas Governor Greg Abbott estimates the costs of Harvey between $150 – $180 billion, far exceeding Katrina ($108B) as the costliest hurricane in U.S. history.  While it’s too soon to tell about Irma, it’s highly likely the storm damage will land in the top 10 for costliest U.S. storms in history.

That we would see two of these storms within weeks of each other is unprecedented.

Or is it the new normal?

Hurricane strength is driven largely by two factors—relative humidity and ocean temperature.  Warmer air holds more moisture, thus providing more water for storms.  Likewise, 93% of the global heat content added to our planet since 1955 has been absorbed by the oceans.  Hurricanes, even strong ones, are nothing new.  But these two changes are supercharging our hurricanes—setting the stage for more Harveys, Irmas, and Katrinas in the future.

The relationship between climate change and hurricanes is much more nuanced than this, but we can certainly state that rising global temperatures play a role in the superstorms we have experienced this month.  If you want to learn more about the relationship between climate change and hurricanes, we are planning a webinar on the topic during the last week of September.  Look for an email soon with more information.

What can you do about hurricanes and climate change?

Option 1: Pray.  Millions of people have been impacted by these recent storms.  Homes and businesses have been destroyed; crops ruined; infrastructure devastated; and many lives have been lost.  In particular, several Caribbean islands have been particularly hard hit, including Barbuda, St. Maartin, the Turks and Caicos, and the Dominican Republic.  Prayers is powerful, and these people need it.

Option 2: Bring it up.  Don’t be afraid to make the connection.  Putting the two together isn’t politicizing a natural disaster; it’s using science and education to help avoid future disasters.  See this link for sample social media posts you can use.

Option 3: Help those who have been impacted by Harvey or Irma.  Many experts recommend giving monetary donations (rather than gift donations) to help in disaster response situations.  A monetary gift to a trusted organization is much more likely to directly benefit someone in need than clothing or stuffed animal donations, which have to be sorted, stored, and distributed—often costing money and creating more work than benefit.  Not sure where to give?  Check out the “Go Fund Me” Harvey and Irma pages, where you can give directly to on-the-ground, local efforts.

Option 4: ADVOCACY CORNER: Call your Member of Congress’s office and ask them to do something about Harvey and Irma by acting now to reduce our carbon emissions.  No need for a fancy speech.  Simply tell them that you’re concerned about the connection between climate change and hurricanes and then ask for one of the following:

  • Join the Bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus (House only) – Hint: Make sure they’re not already on it before asking them to join.  If they’re a Democrat, ask them to find a Republican to join with them.
  • Advocate for the removal of tax subsidies for fossil fuel corporations in the next budget
  • Ask them to support a bill that puts a price on carbon-based fuels and then returns that revenue back to American households as a dividend

Hurricanes and Climate: Social Media posts

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Not sure how to make the connection on social media between hurricanes and climate change?  Try these sample posts:

Twitter:

  • Irma was the strongest Atlantic hurricane ever. goo.gl/NTWd49.  It’s time to take climate change seriously. #CCaretakers
  • Praying for those impacted by Irma! Praying also that we begin to #ActOnClimate to avoid even worse. #CCaretakers
  • Damages from Harvey & Irma likely in the hundreds of billions.  Climate action suddenly seems to make a lot more sense. #CCaretakers
  • Concerned about the link between Irma and climate?  Join #CCaretakers to pray for and act on climate change. http://climatecaretakers.org/
  • Did you know that ocean temp and relative humidity drive hurricane strength, and that both are increased by climate change? #CCaretakers

Facebook:

  • Many people may be wondering whether Hurricanes Harvey or Irma have anything to do with climate change.  This informative article explains what we know and don’t know about the connection. https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/what-we-know-about-the-climate-change-hurricane-connection/
  • I’m praying for those impacted by Hurricanes Irma and Harvey.  But I’m also speaking out about the links between climate change and stronger hurricanes because I don’t want to see more destructive storms like these.  That’s why I’m part of Climate Caretakers, an organization devoted to pray for and act on climate change. http://climatecaretakers.org/
  • Climate change is a serious problem that is causing massive impacts on our country.  Hurricanes Irma and Harvey were both fueled by warmer than usual ocean temperatures, a product of our warming planet.  Will you join me to pray for and act on climate change? http://climatecaretakers.org/

Living with Trees

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By Doug Satre of Plant with Purpose
This Labor Day weekend I enjoyed doing a lot of typical long-weekend activities–attending my daughter’s soccer game, extra time with friends, and catching up on sleep. I also knocked out a bit of late summer yard work, which for me always involves some time with my trees. Our family has a pretty small suburban plot, but we have managed to fit in a dozen or so fruit trees nestled in various corners of the yard – a few apple trees, avocados, figs, lemon and something called a mandarinquat. (A cross between a mandarin orange and cumquat that produces an egg-shaped fruit that one eats skin and all.)

At this time of year there are a variety of chores to do, including pruning, thinning fruit, checking for pests and fertilizing. While there is no escaping that taking care of  our trees has lengthened to my to-do list, it has also enriched my life in many, many ways. Here is a partial list:

  • Caring for trees has helped grow my understanding of one very important aspect of God’s creation. I find that the closer I get to something, the more I understand it, the greater sense of intimacy and appreciation I have. I really do love my trees, and believe that sense of stewardship is what God calls us to as creation caretakers. They have taught me more about seasons, and patience as I watch fruit slowly and anticipate the rewards of the harvest. (It’s so much more rewarding than just buying fruit from the store, and makes me more careful about wasting food, too.)
  • Caring for trees has given me a deeper appreciation for what it takes to grow food. As soon as you try to grow fruit, something will try to eat it–birds, bugs, raccoons and on and on. Like Mr. McGregor chasing rabbits in his garden, I do battle with these creatures, which mostly means trying to harvest the fruit right before they show up to eat it. Though this can be annoying at times, I’ve also learned a lot about how various animals live in harmony with trees by eating bugs, spreading seeds and taking shelter from predators.
  • Trees have enriched the biodiversity in my yard and helped me appreciate the wonders of God’s creation just outside my back door. Despite the challenges listed above, I love observing the rich variety of life that trees foster. Our yard is rich with birdlife, buzzing insects and butterflies. I need only sit still for a few moments on the patio and I am drawn in.
  • My trees have given me a greater appreciation for poor farmers around the world whose lives depend on being able to grow their own food in order to feed their families. In my work at Plant With Purpose I get to hear many of their stories, like the farmer in Haiti I met this last year who has restored his father’s degraded farm by planting trees all over it, despite limited access to water and rocky, eroded soil. In the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, my trees remind me to pray for him. We are partners in our love and appreciation of trees, and in our dependency on God’s provision through his creation.

This is just a partial list! I am deeply grateful for the opportunity that God has given me to have a part to play in stewarding his creation. May we each grown closer to God as we learn to better love and care for the world that he has made.

Doug is the Director of Strategic Partnerships at Plant with Purpose, a Christian development organization that transforms lives in rural areas around the world where poverty and environmental degradation intersect.  He lives in San Diego with his wife and three kids.