Report from the Climate Summit

On Sept. 8, San Francisco became the epicenter of climate change activism, playing host to a new generation of Bay Area climate activists with a climate march and the Global Climate Action Summit, hosted by Governor Jerry Brown.

More than 30,000 came to view the climate murals and march outside San Francisco City Hall, many of whom were young people. One of the muralists was Grace McGee, a student at San Francisco School of The Arts (SOTA). McGee said “[I feel] really concerned as a young person, a part of the generation that is going to be inheriting this planet and all the problems caused by climate change, because I don’t feel like the current political administration is doing enough to protect our right to a safe environmental future.”

Young climate change activists standing in front of banner while being interviewed

Image of young climate changes activists at July 2018 march in Pittsburgh. Image courtesy of Mark Dixon.

Walking around the booths at the climate march later that day, I saw many climate organizations with founders and representatives between the ages of 10 and 25. Under a green awning, I met Tia Hatton, a 21-year-old who is one of the 21 plaintiffs in the lawsuit Juliana v. U.S. against the federal government for violating the next generation’s rights to a healthy and habitable climate. She talked about the importance of youth getting involved in politics so that “politicians are aware that young people and the next generation of voters care about climate change and are going to be disproportionately affected.”

The week after the climate march, I attended the Youth Sustainability Summit where Bay Area high school student activists networked and spoke about the impact of student groups leading the fight against global warming. Aislinn Clark, an incredibly articulate 12-year-old climate activist, presented at the summit about her lobbying work on Capitol Hill with the organization Heirs To Our Oceans. She believes that “policy is going to help us make the biggest difference we can…..[and our] lobbying efforts in Washington made an impact and were successful. A lot of people were listening to us and a few of the bills we were asking them to support even got passed.”

Amongst the youth who participated in San Francisco’s week of climate activities, many expressed their frustration with the current administration’s lack of climate action, though some believe that the only solution to the climate crisis is a complete restructuring of our economic and political system. Interspersed between the green-and-white booths at the climate march, I noticed red flags where socialist groups shared their platform for a sustainable world. According to James (last name withheld), a 25-year-old member of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, “the climate crisis has been perpetuated by capitalism and the pursuit of the profit motive… and only a socialist system can roll back or at least try to halt the damage that has been done.”

While there is a disagreement between those who believe in working within the current political system and those who have determined that the political system is too skewed towards protecting the people who are perpetuating global warming, it is clear that young people are going to be the leaders of the climate movement. As Shai Barton, a 14-year-old climate activist with Heirs To Our Oceans, said, “because of the current tone of our federal administration, it’s going to fall upon us as ordinary, young citizens to make change and not depend on our current government for policies we are not getting.”


Ellie Lyla Lerner is a 16 year old high school student and film maker in S.F.

A Permaculture for Plants and People

Elizabeth at Shanti Permaculture Farm by Vinnie the Guy

I took a drive with Elizabeth one of my first days at Shanti Permaculture Farm. We hopped in her grey GMC truck, with raccoon prints on the front window and her two field spaniels curled up in the back and headed for the farm supply store. We wove through the idyllic vineyards and redwoods of Northern California, windows down, tires barely matching the road’s edge. It was one of those rare occurrences in which someone says, “great weather we’re having,” and you can feel, deep in your bones, like wind brushing through pores, that they really mean it. My heart opened. Here was Elizabeth, saying to me the same phrase I’d heard all my life, a phrase which had become nothing more than the white noise of a suburban leaf blower, and returning it to the wind– returning the words to their purpose: to mean what they say.

I’d noticed this about Elizabeth from the moment I met her: they way in which she allows things to breathe their own essence into life. As the owner of a juvenile (3 or 4 years in the making) permaculture/sheep/duck/chicken/singular llama, farm, you’d think she’d have a more set structure to things: a plan for getting from point a to point b, a road set in concrete. And undoubtedly, Elizabeth does have a plan. She’s a woman with a will as stiff as the soil she’s rehabilitating: a woman with a purpose.

Yet the way in which she manifests this purpose is far from the black and white, step one to step two, brick by brick, path to success defined by a system overrun with way points: graduate high school, graduate college, maybe professional school, get a job, find a partner, have children, and so on. It’s a way as different as a weather man, speaking of the weather forecast with the same intonation he would use for a school shooting, is from Elizabeth, sticking her arm outside her truck’s window, looking over fields of sunshine made form, uttering “great weather we’re having,” with a way as simple and strong as the breeze.

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Theologies of Genocide and Earth Day Ethics

Children marching for climate justice in 2017

Children marching for climate justice in 2017. Image courtesy of Lorie Shaull.

While waiting to speak at an environmental event earlier this year, another speaker told me a fascinating story. As part of his work for a university program dedicated to energy research, he invited a prominent fossil fuel executive to a graduate-level seminar. For the class, these sharp and highly informed students prepared themselves with arguments to deftly rebut the climate denialism they fully expected to confront. The actual encounter, however, went different than they anticipated. The executive befuddled them with heart-felt declarations of how his corporation was doing the will of God. The students did not know how to respond.

Almost a week after hearing this story I found myself speaking to a group of church youth about climate change. One of the youth who appeared to be about 12-years of age arrived with a passionate zeal to do intellectual battle with me. Evidently, the description of the workshop had motivated him to attend so that he could disabuse me of my ideas about climate change. From the very beginning, he wanted me to know that God gave us fossil fuels, so that we – humanity – could use them. I patiently put forth the perspective that a loving God would not want humans to suffer on a large scale so that we could burn fossil fuels. I did not expect to win him over, but I did want to offer a theological framework for the other youth to interpret and assess such views.

In the case of this youth, the theology espoused is transparently a theology of genocide. It involves a view of God that justifies actions that cause and will cause human death and suffering to an enormous and horrifying extent. Yet, the theological statements espoused by corporate executives and present members of the presidential cabinet can sometimes sound more like theological candy than theological poison. The EPA’s Scott Pruitt would have us believe that the burning of fossil fuels provides an opportunity to bless humanity, not curse it.

Seminary professor Leah Schade provides a compelling biblically-based rebuttal to Pruitt that posits a different blessing – one that is revealed in the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. It is “the ability to discern how to live within the natural boundaries God has set for us.”

Pope Francis had it right. Planet earth is our common home. We don’t want our home to become the planetary equivalent of the gas station bathroom from hell just because of some bizarre moral notion that God has blessed us to spew atmospheric excrement into the air.

In a sense, Earth Day should be both a house party and a house cleaning party. We should celebrate our magnificent home, and we should be inspired to serve as caretakers of it. This requires that we all do our part, and it requires that we have a leader at the EPA who clearly embodies the caretaking ethic required of us. Instead of serving the fossil fuel industry, we need someone who serves the public by tending to the beautiful world around us. Our present health and our future wellbeing depend upon it.


The Rev. Dr. Brooks Berndt is the Minister for Environmental Justice for the United Church of Christ. He can be found on Twitter as @The_Green_Rev.

Countdown to Zero

I come from a city surrounded by water. Cape Town sits at the tip of Africa, where the Atlantic and Indian oceans meet. In precolonial times, the indigenous Khoena people called the Cape Peninsula “the place where clouds gather.” The winters of my childhood were memorable affairs, with frequent storms bringing gale force winds and drenching rains. But two years of severe drought have changed things, and now a different kind of storm is gathering.

Two and a half weeks ago officials announced the countdown to “Day Zero,” when the city will run out of water. That’s the day provincial dams are estimated to sink to a mere 13.5% of capacity. In the words of Cape Town mayor Patricia De Lille: “We have reached a point of no return.” Initially announced as April 21st, after farm irrigation was curtailed, Day Zero was moved up to mid-May. Unless the heavens unhinge or residents immediately begin abiding by strict rationing, Cape Town will become the first major city in the world to exhaust its water supply. Faucets will run dry, and Capetonians will have to collect their daily water ration from supply points. “The challenge exceeds anything a major city has had to face anywhere in the world since the Second World War or 9/11,” said Helen Zille, the Western Cape province premier.

Officials have begun announcing the 200 collection points throughout the city, at which the population of almost 4 million will be required to line up for their daily 25 liters (6.6 gallons). That’s around 20,000 people per supply point. Pundits are calling it a national disaster in the making, potentially crippling the “Mother City” of South Africa. Most schools will need to close. Jobs will be lost, property prices fall. Tourism, which accounts for 9% of the country’s annual revenue – Cape Town alone draws 2 million visitors each year – will certainly drop. Only hospitals and clinics will retain normal water supply. Despite the mayor’s explanation that “prior to filling their vessels, each person will be given a dose of hand sanitizer,” the inevitable sanitation issues mean serious potential for disease spread. While many affluent residents will likely leave the city, the millions living in the townships have no such recourse. At best, circumstances portend a logistical nightmare; at worst, chaos of dystopian proportions.

How did the situation get so dire? Continue reading

A modest measure to prevent cruelty and improve food safety

It’s not easy to think about the animals behind the eggs and meat that end up on our plates. If you’re like me, you’ve probably heard something about the troubling ways animals are raised for food. Some of the most upsetting examples are how factory farms cruelly confine mother pigs, egg-laying hens, and veal calves in cages so small they can barely move. These systems are deny farm animals virtually every instinct most natural to them. Surely, inflicting such pain on animals is a violation of the Jewish values and laws that call upon us to prevent unnecessary suffering to animals, or tzaar baalei chayim.. In addition to the blatant cruelty, numerous studies show that animals raised in extreme confinement are more likely to carry disease, requiring the worrying overuse of important antibiotics.

Fortunately, there is an important measure on the November 2018 ballot that will end this type of cruelty and alleviate threats to human safety: The Prevention of Cruelty to Farm Animals Act. This simple measure would upgrade California law by requiring not just more space, but cage-free conditions for farm animals. It would also require that all eggs, veal, and pork sold in the state be sourced from farms that comply with these modest animal welfare and food safety rules.

This groundbreaking campaign has already been endorsed by prominent faith voices throughout the state, such as Reverend Richard Mouw, former President of Fuller Theological Seminary and myself, Rabbi Michael Lerner, of Beyt Tikkun Synagogue. Other endorsers include the Center for Food Safety, Evangelicals for Social Action, San Francisco SPCA, the Humane Society of the US, Jewish Initiative for Animals as well as dozens of family farmers, veterinarians, and public health professionals who believe in safeguarding animal welfare and improving food safety.

As a conscientious consumer, I urge you to join me in supporting this important measure by getting involved here:

Religiously Grounded Pipeline Resistance

Two days ago, on October 27th, Lancaster Against Pipelines in central Pa. organized their third action in the last two weeks at the site where the Williams Partners company is laying pipe for the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline. At the previous two actions a total of 29 people were arrested in acts of nonviolent civil disobedience.

The pipe-laying and the cd is happening on land taken by FERC-approved eminent domain that is owned by the Catholic nuns group, Adorers of the Blood of Christ, which has a lawsuit pending against Williams.

An NBC News story on September 17th summarized the Adorers’ legal case: “that FERC and Williams Partners violated their rights under the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act because they are being forced to allow the pipeline to pass through their property, which breaks from their land ethic and deeply held religious beliefs.”

The lawsuit says that this violation: “places a substantial burden on the Adorers’ and Sisters’ exercise of religion by taking land owned by the Adorers that the Sisters seek to protect and preserve as part of their faith and, instead, uses it in a manner and for a purpose that actually places the earth at serious risk,”

The action two days ago was both deeply spiritual, with active participation by Adorers members, and tactically effective. It shut down work on the site for over an hour. It also  directly and personally reached out to the Williams workers, 25-30 of them, who listened quietly to songs, prayers and statements for 10 or more minutes as we formed a circle of about 70 people inside the fenced-off and guarded site where pipeline construction has been happening for a couple of weeks.

The afternoon of effective action began with a rally of close to a hundred people at the outdoor chapel built several months ago on Adorers land in collaboration with Lancaster Against Pipelines. The chapel included a kind of altar in the front and benches where people can sit. The altar is literally a few feet away from the fenced off construction site, and the sounds of machinery moving and welding happening were heard throughout the rally. Continue reading

The Waters of Remembering and Gratitude

Our well line broke this week. We live far from city water—or gas, or waste collection. We compost scraps, haul our own recycling, burn paper instead of flushing it to some unknown but surely polluted location. The issue coincided with days of heavy rain, welcome in New Mexico but also saturating the ground and thus postponing repairs. We haven’t had running water since Tuesday, especially inconvenient as we planned to host beloved friends coming here to lead Yom Kippur services.

Every hour has brought a reminder of how dependent I am on the conveniences of modern life (even our boondocks version). My body turns on the tap over and over before my mind remembers that no water will be forthcoming. I think of the people in Puerto Rico suffering from the pernicious neglect of a government that purports to watch over them. Those with homes still standing, how often do their bodies flip a light switch before their minds turn to wondering how they will survive in cities and towns without electricity?

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Paris, Trump, and the Religious Right

“Resisting the Green Dragon: A Biblical Response to one of the Greatest Deceptions

of our Day,” that is, environmentalism.

Paris, Trump, and the Religious Right

Note: This article includes excerpts from my book, Love in a Time of Climate Change, to be released by Fortress Press in July.

Like many of you, I am appalled by many things that Donald Trump has said and done in the first months of his presidency, including his announcement that he’s pulling the United States out of the (largely symbolic) Paris Climate Agreement. But we must look beyond the daily spectacles of the Trump Administration to see what’s really going on. Now that Republicans dominate Congress, they are quietly working to enact regressive policies that have been in the works for decades, policies that target the poor, people who are sick, people of color, immigrants, women, our young and aged, and yes, the environment.

Donald Trump didn’t get elected in a vacuum. He has lots of backers, including the Religious Right. This primarily Christian constituency is aligned with conservative social, political, and economic interests and is a powerful and organized force in the Republican Party. The cruel policies supported by those who espouse right-wing Christian beliefs are the antithesis of Jesus’ teachings about loving God and loving our neighbors.

The Religious Right also exerts a strong influence on the debate about climate change in the United States. This conservative religious lobby’s talking points and policy proposals on energy and climate are largely indistinguishable from those of the fossil fuel industry. Recent initiatives have focused on Academic Freedom legislation, designed to “teach the controversy” about climate change in public schools. Legislation to this effect has been drafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative secular organization that brings corporate leaders together with conservative lawmakers to draft model legislation on various issues to be presented in state legislatures. Teach the controversy legislation has also been supported by the Alliance for Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian advocacy group, and the Discovery Institute – a creationist think tank. This uninformed and deliberately confusing approach to climate change was reflected by then-candidate Donald Trump in a 2016 New York Times interview, when he said, “You know the hottest day ever was in 1890-something, 98. You know, you can make lots of cases for different views. I have a totally open mind…. It’s a very complex subject. I’m not sure anybody is ever going to really know.”

Right-wing Christian groups deny climate science and evolutionary science on the basis that they are unbiblical. The Cornwall Alliance’s website hosts a sign-on declaration, “An Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming,” stating that “there is no convincing scientific evidence that human contribution to greenhouse gases is causing dangerous global warming.” The Cornwall Alliance also offers a DVD called “Resisting the Green Dragon: A Biblical Response to one of the Greatest Deceptions of our Day,” which outlines the dangers of the new and false “religion” of environmentalism. Not surprisingly, the organization also works to prevent the teaching of evolution in public schools.

Although political and economic interests help fund and influence the Christian Right’s opposition to climate science, there are also theological factors at work. An analysis of anti-environmental sentiment within the Religious Right reveals that some are convinced that concern for the environment is based on the worship of nature. Others, who believe in apocalyptic prophesies about the coming end times, feel that it is pointless to worry about climate change. What they hold in common, however, is their insistence that the creation stories in the book of Genesis must be taken literally.

Creationism, the belief that the creation stories of Genesis are scientific fact, is widespread among conservative Christians, who seek to introduce this doctrine even in public schools. This sets the creation stories in scripture in opposition to the scientific story of the origins and natureof the universe. Was the universe created in fifteen billion years or in seven days? In pre-scientific times, most believers did take the creation stories in Genesis literally, but times have changed. Scientific discoveries have revealed aspects of the universe unknown in ancient times.

One form of denial at work in these and other conversations about climate change is people’s refusal to consider facts or evidence that contradicts their worldview. Science is continually revealing new information about the natural world, its origins and interconnectedness, and the causes and impacts of planetary warming. Reason enables us to weigh the evidence, reflect on its implications, form rational conclusions, and make informed decisions as we consider how to respond to the earth’s changing climate in a reasonable way. But in the words of Naomi Klein, “it is always easier to deny reality than to watch your worldview get shattered…”

The debate about climate change is political, not scientific, and confusion need not hold us back. Faith in the One who brought creation into being enables us to overcome denial, fear, and confusion as we seek truth about these issues. Jesus insisted that the most important measure of human life is loving God above all and our earthly neighbors as ourselves. In this time of climate change, love of God and neighbor requires honoring creation and working to establish justice for our human family, especially those who are most vulnerable, for our young and future generations, and for all creation.


Sharon’s new book, Love in a Time of Climate Change, describes some of the ways that the Religious Right has impacted US climate policy, and explores the topic of climate change in a way that takes climate science seriously and is grounded in Jesus’ teachings and example. Sharon’s blog can be found at

For more information and an analysis on the Religious Right’s backing of Donald Trump’s policies on climate change, see “Politics, culture, or theology? Why evangelicals back Trump on global warming,” by David Gibson.



Humor From Tikkun

‘Changing the Channel’ on Trump


It’s been noted – and amply demonstrated – that Trump garners his awareness of the general national and world situation – its issues, problems, crises (and proposed solutions) and even of “fluff” – from his daily diet of cable “news.”

Reporting and observation have indicated that the president watches several hours of Fox and CNN virtually every morning, and his regular tweets (often expressing alarm, ire, contempt and so on regarding various pieces of information about events and people) frequently come within seconds of the broadcast about an item he is responding to.

It’s believed the recent Trump tweet (known now as “Treets”) accusing former President Obama of having wiretapped Trump Tower during the election campaign is one of many cases in point.

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Love and Prayer as Resistance: Interfaith Action at Standing Rock

Seminary students huddle around a table with bright red ministerial stoles in an intimate, round chapel at Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley, California. The students were supposed to leave at 3:00 PM, but about twenty people from the  Starr King community want to bless them before they leave. The room is packed with parents, professors, students, friends. Together they pray, singing hymns about water. Many cry, moved by what they know is happening at Standing Rock and the show of support around them. Even though they are not ordained, the group insists the students have the red stoles.

“In the Episcopal tradition, the color red is the color of witnessing,” said Rev. Deb Hansen, an interfaith minister and Starr King student.

Immediately after the service, the eight students piled into two cars and drove for 30 hours to respond to North Dakota Episcopal priest John Floberg’s clergy call for solidarity in early November. A ninth student from Virginia would meet the group in North Dakota. A week ago, 140 protesters were arrested there after a violent confrontation with the police.

They drove together through the snowy Donner Pass, stopped at a diner in Reno, watched the sun rise over brilliant red sandstone in Utah, and gazed at the deer that lined the roads in Wyoming. They drove past oil wells and wind farms. In Wyoming they saw an armory—a giant, two-story grey block surrounded by a chain-link fence topped with razor wire. And about two hours later, one of the cars — in which the passengers were two women, a gay man, and black man — was stopped for speeding by a state trooper.

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