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Refugia Newsletter #11 by Debra Rienstra: Leopold's shack, high gas prices, encouraging news about energy transition, Ukrainian refugia, and etiquette tips for Covid unmasking

Debra Rienstra
Debra Rienstra
Hello, friends. Welcome again to the Refugia Newsletter, a fortnightly newsletter for people of faith who care about the climate crisis and want to go deeper.
This week: Leopold’s shack, high gas prices, encouraging news about energy transition, Ukrainian refugia, and etiquette tips for Covid unmasking

Refugia News
I promised last time that I would tell you about my visit to Aldo Leopold’s “shack” in Wisconsin. I first became familiar with Aldo Leopold from a literary perspective: as one of the most beloved nature writers in the American tradition, primarily famous for his utterly delightful A Sand County Almanac, written in the 1930s and 40s. Leopold taught at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and he is credited as one of the founders of modern ecology.
In fact, he was not a literary figure at all until his 50s. He wrote A Sand County Almanac about a piece of land his family bought in Sand County, Wisconsin, in 1935. It was the family’s weekend getaway–their refugium. They bought the original piece of land at auction because the previous owner had severely degraded it. Leopold took on the task of beginning the land’s healing, working on prairie restoration and other projects.
The land came with… a chicken coop. So the family built a “west wing” onto the coop (room enough for two bunk beds) and a more-or-less functional fire place. That’s it. That’s the shack. Oh, they also built a tiny outhouse, affectionately dubbed “the Parthenon.” So hardly luxury accommodations, but they loved it.
My personal tour was kindly arranged for husband Ron and me by our friend Tim Van Deelen, a wildlife biologist at UWM. Thanks to Tim, we got to hang out at the shack with Leopold’s biographer, Curt Meine, and two young people serving as fellows at the Leopold Foundation, the folks who now care for the land. It was a glorious afternoon, with a walk along the Wisconsin River, fascinating story-telling about Leopold and his legacy, and sandhill crane sightings.
"The shack" as it appears today
"The shack" as it appears today
Apparently the fireplace never worked very well.
Apparently the fireplace never worked very well.
The Wisconsin River--and those clouds!
The Wisconsin River--and those clouds!
Curt, me, Ron, Tim
Curt, me, Ron, Tim
This Week in Climate News
About those high gas prices. Ron and I have have been merrily going about our business lately, mostly unaffected by high gas prices and, admittedly, feeling a little smug: he drives a Tesla, powered from home partly by our solar panels. I drive to work, but my commute is so short that I go through maybe one tank of gas every month or two.
Of course, Americans seem to regard low gas prices as a God-given right. It’s true that higher prices are definitely hard on people with middle and low incomes (i.e., most people), but Americans have long enjoyed relatively low gas prices that hide the full cost of driving, let alone of fossil fuel production and damages. So recent news has been full of hand-wringing over why high prices are are happening (it’s not just Russia, and even Forbes admits it’s not Biden), and what to do about it.
United Nations Secretary General António Guterres delivered a blistering speech last week, insisting that dealing with high oil prices by increasing fossil fuel production would be disastrous. Lisa Friedman of the New York Times summarized his main point: “Countries are ‘sleepwalking to climate catastrophe’ if they continue to rely on fossil fuels, and nations racing to replace Russian oil, gas and coal with their own dirty energy are making matters worse.”
Whatever happens next, the war in Ukraine seems to be forcing this watershed moment into full view: will governments, businesses, and regular citizens enable the fossil fuel industry to delay transition long enough to keep raking in profits? Or will we declare: enough is enough?
And that leads us to our deeper dive…
Deeper Dive
This is a deeper dive you really, really need to click on and read–if you haven’t seen it already. Bill McKibben published this essential essay on energy transition in The New Yorker on March 18. We have long assumed that energy transition would be costly and painful and that we simply can’t do it as quickly as the climate crisis demands. However, writes McKibben, things have changed.
We have just now reached the point where the two main practical problems facing us are legitimately manageable: scale and cost. McKibben explains not only that energy transition is more possible and economically sound than before, but also how we know that–I always appreciate understanding the process by which these conclusions are reached.
The bottom line: we do not need any kind of long-term “all of the above” strategy that retains a role for fossil fuels. We can make clean energy work.
As always, McKibben explains all this with uncanny clarity and with the perspective of someone who has been doing top-notch writing on climate for over three decades. The essay gives a fair accounting of difficulty we face–no doubt about that–but here’s the thing: it can be done.
In a World on Fire, Stop Burning Things | The New Yorker
Refugia Sighting
The number of refugees from Ukraine has now reached over 3.7 million. (Here’s the latest data from the UNHCR.) Refugees by definition need refuge. In natural contexts, when there is extreme disturbance (fire, flood, drought, etc.) creatures will seek refugia. Of course, humans do, too, and war is a primary example of human-caused disturbance.
I have been marveling over all the generous people–mostly in Poland, but elsewhere, too–who have been creating refugia for Ukrainians. These are people of all faiths and no faith. I’ve been wondering, too, about those more desperate examples of refugia: bomb shelters.
Here’s a piece in Christianity Today by Benjamin Morrison, a long-term Christian missionary in Svitlovodsk, trying to provide comfort to refugees and their own neighbors, both in their church and in the neighborhood bomb shelter:
“We are just an inn for weary travelers on the way. But we hope to serve them and help them experience the love and peace of Christ, even if only for a few hours. It is not our job to force them into faith—an evangelistic approach that rarely produces good results. Rather, we will play whatever role God grants us: to plant a seed, to water—or to harvest when ready. He is the one who brings the fruit in his time, and we can rest in that.”
Bomb Shelter Ministry in My Ukrainian Town | Christianity Today
The Wayback Machine
As of Monday, March 14, my university lifted our mask-wearing rules in the classroom for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic. I have taught in a mask–and my students have attended class in masks–since we returned to campus from lockdown in the fall of 2020. That’s a looooooong time.
I thought it would be wonderful! And indeed, I have beheld the beautiful faces of students I had never before seen without a mask. However, I have to admit: going without masks has also felt kind of naked and weird.
I wrote this humorous piece last summer, during our brief reprieve from the virus before the Delta/Omicron waves. I still find it uncomfortably applicable to the present moment. And who knows what’s next?
Petunia Unmasked: Pious Petunia Treads Deftly Through an Apocalyptic Landscape - Debra Rienstra
Thank you!
Thanks for reading! I keep these newsletters quickly scannable, with opportunities for deeper reading as you are able. I also tend to emphasize the connections between faith communities and climate action.
You can send me a response to this newsletter simply by replying to the email that brought it to you. If you are so inclined, please follow me on Twitter or Facebook @debrakrienstra. You can always contact me on those platforms, too. Also check out my website at debrarienstra.com.
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Debra Rienstra
Debra Rienstra @debrakrienstra

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Prof. Debra Rienstra, Calvin University, 1795 Knollcrest Dr SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49546