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Refugia Newsletter #14 by Debra Rienstra: heat waves in India, strategic voting, backyard and churchyard refugia, and monarchs on the milkweed

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: heat waves in India, strategic voting, backyard and churchyard refugia, and monarchs on the milkweed.

Refugia News
If you have read Refugia Faith and wondered, “Yeah, but what does all this mean for churches?” well, that’s a great question. As part of an effort to answer that question well, husband Ron and I will be launching a Doctor of Ministry cohort program through Western Theological Seminary–our students arrive for their first “intensive” next week!
Our topic is “The Church of Refugia.” With seven stalwart D.Min. students, we’ll be exploring what it looks like, practically, on the ground, to become refugia faith communities. Over the course of the next three years, we’ll be reading extensively, imagining together, talking with distinguished guests, traveling to a few key sites, and gathering a lot of resources. Each of our students will work on a project particular to their own context.
I’ll let you know how things go along our journey together. Which reminds me: if you know of faith groups who are doing great refugia work, please send me a note! I’m always looking for “sightings,” and you will be helping our students gather examples and inspiration.
Doctor of Ministry Degree | Western Theological Seminary
This Week in Climate News
I’ve written before about a remarkable novel called The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson. I do highly recommend it as an ultimately hopeful–though harrowing–imagined path toward a liveable, decent future. Robinson does so much research that he’s been accused of being a nonfiction writer at heart, but he’s one of the artists helping us imagine how to get from where we are to where we could be.
Anyway, the novel opens with this absolutely terrifying twelve pages describing the protagonist’s experience of an extreme heat wave in India, in which wet bulb temperatures make it impossible to cool off, even by submerging oneself in a lake. Electricity goes out, people scramble to survive, but there is simply no relief. People are poached alive. By the end of twelve pages (spoiler here, but you might as well know), millions die.
I bring this up to say that (as numerous people on my Twitter feed noted) this scenario is being played out in real life. In the past week, India and Pakistan have faced brutal heat waves, with temperatures in New Delhi above 110 or more degrees Fahrenheit. And high humidity is creating those wet bulb temperatures that are poised to kill. According to Ruth Pollard and David Fickling for Bloomberg News:
“Just 12% of India’s 1.4 billion citizens have access to air conditioning, which means hundreds of millions of people are simply unable to cool themselves when their bodies reach the point of heatstroke.”
Besides the immediate threat of death from heatstroke, the long-term implications are terrible as well. It could be weeks before monsoon season arrives to provide relief. Meanwhile, crops are toasting in the fields, which will cause food issues down the road. Workers can’t work outdoors, electrical grids are failing. And of course, worst of all, this is not predicted to be some weird anomaly, but a harbinger of more extreme heat events to come.
India's Heatwaves Are Testing the Limits of Human Survival - Bloomberg
Deeper Dive
Thanks to the SCOTUS leak of the draft decision on Roe v. Wade this week, social media is all in a tizzy about the abortion issue. I worry that people’s passions over this issue will once again entirely eclipse everything else we need to worry about when it comes to electing government officials. As you know if you’re reading this newsletter, we need decisive action on climate policy now. Dealing with the climate crisis is, after all, the ultimate pro-life issue: pro-future for life on the planet.
As the article by Marianne Lavelle (linked below) puts it, the results of the US midterm election this fall “will, in a real sense, determine whether the U.S. can fulfill its pledge to be a leader in the drive to stave off the most catastrophic consequences of global warming.”
The shared global project here is to get greenhouse gas emissions to peak no later than 2025 and then start a steep decline downward. That’s the fundamental goal we must achieve in order to have any hope of keeping warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. Keep in mind, we’re already at 1.1C above.
Americans want this to happen. Sort of. Almost 70% of American want us to become carbon neutral by 2050, but we can only make any kind of major shift by combining the efforts of individuals, businesses, and governments at all levels.
To help us vote wisely in primaries and in the fall, this Inside Climate News article offers a number of suggestions:
Watch what candidates say
Just using phrases like “net zero carbon” or “carbon neutral” doesn’t mean much. That can be rhetorical greenwashing that signals continuing support for burning fossil fuels, perhaps imagining that carbon capture technology is some sort of panacea, which it is not. Look for candidates committed to phasing out fossil fuels quickly. To find out more about what candidates’ positions are, check out Vote Climate USA.
Study candidates’ voting records
You can check out the League of Conservation Voters Scorecard to help with this part.
Follow the money
Obviously. Party affiliation is less important on this one than where candidates’ money comes from.
Give careful attention to state and local candidates
It’s not all about the federal level. Effective climate action depends a lot on states, cities, and municipalities. In fact, that’s where a great deal of climate leadership is coming from already. In many ways, federal lawmakers lag behind what localities want and are already doing. Local can lead.
Want to Elect Climate Champions? Here’s How to Tell Who’s Really Serious About Climate Change - Inside Climate News
Refugia Sightings
This week’s sighting is: your yard! If you have a yard, of course.
Ron and I do, and we have accidentally been participating in “No Mow May,” an initiative to help bees and other pollinators get off to a successful start in the spring. The idea is to refrain from mowing while “‘lawn flowers,’ such as dandelions, clover, and violets, bloom at a time when bee food is scarce,” according to the article linked below by Anne Readel.
This movement was started in the UK, but it’s spreading quickly, maybe because… who doesn’t love an excuse not to do work for a while? Here in West Michigan, we’ve had such a cold and thoroughly wet spring, the grass is growing madly, but it’s still too muddy to mow. So I’m feeling good about helping out the pollinators.
Even if you don’t have a yard, maybe your church does? Another UK movement that’s getting some traction is a set of schemes focused on churchyard biodiversity. Turns out many churchyards have long been protected and therefore operate as little refugia, not only for pollinators but for all kinds of plants and critters. Groups like Wilder Churches and Living Churchyards are encouraging churches to embrace these natural treasures and educate people about why they’re important. (Thanks to reader Nate Rauh-Bieri for sharing this article with me.)
To get really excited about backyard biodiversity enhancement, I highly recommend David Tallamy’s Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation That Starts in Your Yard. (It’s described in chapter 5 of Refugia Faith.) I heard Tallamy speak last month, and I gotta say, he’s even more inspiring in person: he combines a torrent of facts from his own and others’ research with wit, enthusiasm, and tons of adorable bird photos.
‘No Mow May’ Gives You a Reason to NOT Mow the Lawn: Leave the Weeds to Feed the Bees
Wayback Machine
Speaking of pollinators, here’s an essay from last summer about monarch populations. Thanks to widespread efforts to provide monarchs with the milkweed they need, we are seeing some improvements in their populations. A good lesson in how insects and plants have evolved to work together in very specialized ways, which is why native plants are so crucial.
Endlessly Remarkable Quiddity - 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