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Refugia Newsletter by Debra Rienstra - Issue #4

Debra Rienstra
Debra Rienstra
Welcome to the Refugia Newsletter! This is a fortnightly newsletter for people of faith who care about climate and want to go deeper.
This week: a jaunty chickadee, Illinois’s climate ambitions, the plastic mess we’re in, and a place where college students study environmental science while living in cabins in the Michigan woods.

Refugia News
We are on schedule for release of my book, Refugia Faith: Seeking Hidden Shelters, Ordinary Wonders, and the Healing of the Earth, with Fortress Press on February 8. One of my favorite features of the book is the interior art, created by Calvin University undergraduate Gabrielle Eisma. She’s an extraordinarily talented artist and a delightful person. Here’s an exclusive sneak preview of her work, the illustration that will introduce chapter 3. We’re all rather fond of this little fellow. Chickadees are, as Aldo Leopold wrote, “so small a bundle of large enthusiasms.”
This Week in Climate News
With the Build Back Better bill currently stalled in the US Congress, we might turn our focus to what states can do. Having passed the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act in September, Illinois has joined the “100% club”: the first Midwest state of the now ten states (plus DC and Puerto Rico) who have legislated commitments to 100% clean energy by 2050.
Keep in mind this is Illinois we’re talking about: have you ever been to Chicago? Chicago aptly represents the pollution, massive electrical grids, stinky power plants, dense vehicle traffic, and ruined waterways of a fossil fuel-era urban landscape. (I know! It’s also a spectacular city!) But change is afoot. The bill is being praised for the way front-line communities, both urban and rural, were involved in the bill’s creation, and for the bill’s provisions to ensure equitable benefits and equitable opportunities.
Illinois Shows Us What the Road to Clean Energy Should Look Like | NRDC
Deeper Dive
My English 101 class this semester studied food systems, and some of my students were rightly dismayed to discover just how much plastic waste we produce in the food system and in all our consumer systems, especially in the US. Plastic is amazing and flexible and we are well and truly addicted to it.
Congress recently commissioned a report from the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, and the findings are grim but unsurprising. “While only 4.3 percent of the world’s population lives in the United States, the nation was the top generator of plastic waste, producing 42 million metric tons in 2016, with per person plastic waste generation at 287 pounds.” You and I each produce something like 287 pounds of plastic waste–per year!
Unfortunately, recycling, at least with current tech, is not the answer. We only recycle about 9 percent of our plastics, despite the best efforts of well-meaning people.
The report’s suggestion: stop producing so much single-use plastic. The problem is that plastic production is exactly how the fossil fuel industry wants to maintain profitability. This article outlines a few possible directions for dealing with our abiding plastic addiction.
A Commonsense Proposal to Deal With Plastics Pollution: Stop Making So Much Plastic - Inside Climate News
Refugia Sighting: Au Sable Institute
Hartwick Pines, near Au Sable: one of the very few old-growth woods left in Michigan
Hartwick Pines, near Au Sable: one of the very few old-growth woods left in Michigan
A shout-out today to the Au Sable Institute. Au Sable began in the 1960s as a Christian youth camp in the woods near Mancelona, Michigan. Soon, though, the mission shifted toward higher education. Since the 1980s, Au Sable has provided Christian college and graduate students summer opportunities to study environmental science on their 80-acre, woodsy-watery campus, under the direction of Christian faculty. Au Sable now works with 60 partner colleges and offers courses on three other campuses, too: in Washington state, Cost Rica, and India. They have lots of other educational programs, too.
I’ve gotten to know some of the folks who teach at the Michigan campus, including some of my Calvin University colleagues, and I am grateful for the way Au Sable models a refugia space: a small place where life-giving knowledge and practices can take root, grow, and spread.
If you are a college student looking for a great summer opportunity, check out the Au Sable website.
Au Sable Institute
The Wayback Machine
I won’t see you again until after Christmas, so here’s a little prayer for all of us. May you experience the presence of the world’s Light this year, even amid the darkness.
A Prayer for Christmas Eve
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.
If you are so inclined, please follow me on Twitter or Facebook @debrakrienstra. You can always contact me on those platforms. Also check out my website at
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Debra Rienstra
Debra Rienstra @debrakrienstra

A fortnightly newsletter for people of faith who care about climate and want to know more and do more.

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