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Refugia Newsletter #8 by Debra Rienstra: legal challenges to oil and gas drilling, youth climate leadership, refugia in honor of Black history month, cardboard canoes, and cavorting cardinals

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: legal challenges to oil and gas drilling, youth climate leadership, refugia in honor of Black history month, cardboard canoes, and cavorting cardinals.

Refugia News
Official publication date for Refugia Faith is Feb. 22, but books are already in the sales pipeline. I learned the term “trade release day” this week: apparently there’s a day a few weeks before the advertised publication date when actual physical books are released to wholesalers, endorsers, and so on? Never knew that.
So that’s why people who preordered have been receiving their copies already. In fact, people are telling me they have been able to get books directly from bookstores, too. It’s wonderful to see the book out in the world!
Meanwhile, this week I recorded a podcast episode on refugia for the good people at Biologos. I’ll share the episode on social media when it’s released in early March.
By the way, if you want to join the “launch team” and help get the word out about the book, let me know by replying to the email that brought this newsletter to you and I’ll add you to a very exclusive (not really, y'all are welcome) Facebook group.
This Week in Climate News
Ugh, there’s nothing fun about trying to understand the oil and gas lease situation, but it’s important. Transitioning away from fossil fuels is job one for climate mitigation, but boy is it complicated. One key element in the transition–this is just good sense–is not drilling for more oil and gas. Duh. Naturally, the fossil fuel industry with its unbelievably immense power is trying to “slow walk” the transition in order to preserve profits. That means trying to push through previous deals on new oil and gas drilling, including those on federal lands.
So is the Biden administration fulfilling initial pledges to stop new drilling? Well, not as emphatically as activists had hoped. This article by Nicholas Kusnetz helpfully summarizes the situation both in the Gulf of Mexico and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The bottom line is that these battles between the fossil fuel industry and their opponents end up going down in federal courts.
That’s why the developments reported by Lisa Friedman (link below) are so important: judges are beginning to demand a full environmental impact analysis that includes the impact of actually burning the products derived from drilling and pipelines–not just the impacts of the projects themselves. This represents the emergence of a more robust “law of the commons” legal precedent. In other words, the courts can act on behalf of regular people to defend air, land, and water from private industry damage in the long term. If future climate impacts are taken into account, it’s a lot harder to justify new drilling.
For Michigan folks, this is the same issue we’re dealing with on Enbridge’s Line 5: activists are pushing for a full assessment of the damage to the “commons” from the fossil fuels pumped through the new tunnel Enbridge claims to want to build, not just the building process itself.
Judges Increasingly Demand Climate Analysis in Drilling Decisions - The New York Times
Deeper Dive
OK, let’s recover from thinking about oil and gas leases by turning to young leaders in the climate movement. A new film called To the End focuses on young women leaders, especially women of color. One of the featured women is Varshini Prakash, still in her 20s, who helped found the Sunrise Movement, the youth climate action organization that raised climate issues to the top of the talking points list in the 2020 election and has strongly influenced President Biden’s climate policies.
An interview in Salon with Prakash (link below) celebrates the way young people are leading in the climate movement. Prakash remarks, “What is most inspiring to me is to see the level of latent energy and the firecracker that is ready and willing to explode in youth energy that is freaked out and wants to do something about it and is just waiting to be ignited.”
She also acknowledges frankly the griefs and disappointments inherent this work, most recently the frustrations over one fossil-fuel-industry-funded senator who managed to torpedo the Build Back Better Act. Her response? Renewed determination:
“Organize better, organize smarter. We need to build power that can outweigh the power of these extremely corrupt organizations and corporations that are throwing our future into peril.” 
Sunrise Movement's Varshini Prakash on not losing hope on climate change: "I'm still here fighting" |
Refugia Sighting
Two sightings today: one to celebrate Black history month and one to celebrate joy itself.
First: Green the Church. Wow, I wish I knew about this organization before I wrote my book–I would have learned more about this fantastic example of how church-based refugia can proliferate.
Green the Church provides resources and inspiration specifically to Black American churches, encouraging them to get involved in climate mitigation as a matter of environmental justice, healing relationship to land, and celebration of Black culture. The project was founded by Rev. Ambrose Carroll, pastor of The Church by the Side of the Road in Berkeley, California.
This organization seems to be seeding refugia like crazy. Hmm, maybe I’ll see if I can interview Rev. Carroll for the third season of the Refugia Podcast….
Second: Joy is a basic refugia practice, so I love this delightful essay by Rev. Jen Holmes Curran on practicing joy in the midst of trouble and sorrow. Look for the reference to the cardboard canoe race. Who knew cardboard canoes could create pop-up refugia?
A nonprofit works to 'green' the Black church | Faith and Leadership
The Wayback Machine
I did write once write an essay specifically about February, called, unsurprisingly, “February Blahs.” Reading this 2013 essay again, I laugh bitterly at my cheeky reference to a “viral plague,” by which I meant a cold. Ha! What did I know about viral plagues pre-Covid? But the part about enjoying cavorting cardinals holds up pretty well.
February Blahs - 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