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Refugia Newsletter #13 by Debra Rienstra: managing doom and gloom, sources for good climate news, a not-extinct-after-all flower, ivory-billed woodpeckers, and parables about dandelions and retaining walls

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: managing doom and gloom, sources for good climate news, a not-extinct-after-all flower, ivory-billed woodpeckers, and parables about dandelions and retaining walls.

Refugia News
Hope you had some opportunity to observe Earth Day in meaningful ways yesterday. It’s still Earth Month, though, so there’s still time to attend a church-and-climate-related webinar next week.
I warmly invite you to attend an online event sponsored by the Reformed Journal, featuring yours truly and three fantastic colleagues: Kyle Meyaard-Schaap, VP of the Evangelical Environmental Network; Tim Van Deelen, professor of wildlife ecology at U-Wisconsin Madison; and Andrew Oppong, Justice Mobilization Specialist at the Office of Social Justice for the Christian Reformed Church in North America.
Meanwhile, I’ve been busy doing podcast appearances, and two episodes dropped in the past couple weeks. I enjoy doing these gigs very much. Sure, it’s a little nerve-wracking, but at least I don’t have to be on camera. (Whew!) And I enjoy “meeting” the hosts and having great conversations with them.
Check out this episode on The Bible for Normal People podcast with hosts Peter Enns and Jared Byas.
Or try this episode on the Holy Heretics podcast (great name, right?) with hosts Gary Alan Taylor and Kelly Rose Lamb.
This Week in Climate News
In response to the last IPCC Working Group report, which dropped last month (see newsletter #10 for more), I’ve been noticing an increase in conversations among the climateratti (I just made that word up) about helping people–especially young people–manage climate-related depression, anxiety, and doom and gloom.
For all of us, it can be hard to manage climate news, let’s just admit it.
In one day, you can read about President Biden backtracking on campaign promises and allowing lease sales for fossil fuel projects on public lands. And then, you read about President Biden restoring a piece of environmental law previously scrapped by the Trump administration, a huge win for climate because: “Under the changes announced Tuesday, agencies would have to consider the direct, indirect and cumulative impacts of a decision — including the effect a new project would have on neighborhoods already burdened by pollution.” This is actually a big deal!
Then you read about difficulties created for transition to electric vehicles thanks to the Russian war, which is making it more expensive and challenging to supply the metals needed for batteries. But on the other hand, the war–and resulting high gas prices–are getting more people interested in electric vehicles. And the big makers are working on cobalt- and nickel-free batteries anyway.
It’s like whiplash every day. Meanwhile, scientists exasperated by public indifference and resistance are hanging up their lab coats for a hot minute and heading out to the streets to protest in a Science Rebellion.
With all this and more to deal with, I thought I would focus today’s newsletter on managing the emotional rollercoaster. A recently published study documented that young people age 14-24 (that’s Gen Z) are stressed, anxious, and depressed about climate change. Here’s a link to the study itself. Young people are also eager for climate action–that’s the good news in these otherwise disheartening findings.
Let’s agree that, especially for people of faith, “climate doomism” is not an option. Neither is “hopeium”–a false optimism, accompanied by a passivity that waits for other people to do the work. That very same IPCC report that sent some people into a doom spiral actually insists that it is still possible to mitigate climate change and avert the worst impacts. We know how to do it. We have what we need. We just have to do it.
So how do we resist the climate doomers and deal with our legitimate worries and anxieties?
That brings us to… the Deeper Dive.
New Poll Finds Climate Change is Taking a Toll on Gen Z Mental Health While Also Inspiring Youth to Take Action | |
Deeper Dive
There are lots of good ways to remain realistic, informed, and yet still courageous and determined. For me, the best tonics are involvement, community, and action, even if the actions seem small. Another important strategy, though, is to get regular doses of good news. And there is plenty of good news out there.
Here’s some good news, then. A new Gallup poll finds that Americans strongly support tax incentives, fuel efficiency standards, and other provisions of the Build Back Better plan. People do want this stuff to happen, whatever blockages befuddle the US Congress.
Here’s some more good news. The Rights of Nature movement continues to gain ground. This is a developing legal strategy that provides some leverage against the massive power of fossil fuel developments and other industrial and governmental powers that destroy ecosystems. Ecuador’s highest court is showing the way with another landmark ruling.
OK, those are a couple stories for this week. But where can you go for regular doses of good climate news? I have some suggestions.
Future Crunch. Sign up for the all-good-news Future Crunch newsletter. They cover climate generously, along with numerous other topics, especially human rights.
Alaina Wood on TikTok. Known as the “Garbage Queen,” Wood is a young, credentialed scientist who has committed herself to excellent climate communication. She is especially mindful of discouraged young people and the dangers of falling into doom and gloom. If you don’t do TikTok, you can still find her Good Climate News videos here. Also, here’s a feature on Wood and other young climate communicators in the New York Times. Sam Bentley is another TikTok creator with only good climate news.
Damages podcast. There are many, many good climate podcasts. You are welcome to visit my website’s Suggested Resources page for more suggestions, but here I’ll feature this one since it explores the aforementioned legal remedies for climate destruction, including the rights of nature concept. Damages does great, in-depth storytelling that makes complex legal proceedings understandable and fascinating.
Alaina Wood (@thegarbagequeen) TikTok | Watch Alaina Wood's Newest TikTok Videos
Refugia Sightings
Let’s do some literal refugia today, shall we? And we’ll stay with the good news theme.
The Gasteranthus extinctus is not extinct after all! This beautiful, bright orange flower was thought to be extinct–it was actually named after its own extinction–but it was just rediscovered in the Centinela rainforest of Ecuador. Botanists found it in refugial remnants that have escaped deforestation. (Thanks to reader Tom Prins for sending me this article.)
Meanwhile, the ivory-billed woodpecker is not extinct after all, either! Not seen for sure since 1944, this big, shy woodpecker was officially declared extinct last year. But it has just been sighted in Louisiana. Another creature that figured out how to find refugia and survive. (Doesn’t it look like a dinosaur? Or maybe a dinosaur chicken?)
After US Declared Largest Woodpecker Extinct, New Evidence Supports Belief They Are Still Here
Wayback Machine
OK, this essay from May 2012 is very silly–updated biblical parables–but maybe you’ll get a kick out of it. We have had a very cold spring this year in West Michigan. My classes for spring semester ended on April 19, and it was snowing. Not even kidding. So I have not had to do any yard work yet this year. And thankfully I know enough now to delay spring clean up in order to help overwintering pollinators get their proper spring start. We’ve re-nativized a chunk of our yard now, so we have less grass. Still, summer yard work season is coming. Hope this helps you get ready, too.
Matthew 2.0 - 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
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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