The Rapture didn’t come, but don’t worry, the world is still boiling.

22 05 2011

Cross-posted from Beyond the Choir
Church this morning must have been quite awkward for some people. The sermon might have gone something like “I know we’re all disappointed that the rapture didn’t come, but don’t worry, its not like it’s the end of the world or anything.” Ha ha.

I was among many progressives making fun of the rapture all day yesterday, but ultimately the joke might be on us. When it comes to global warming and climate chaos, the script is a bit too familiar. According to a recent poll, 44% of Americans believe increased severity of “natural” disasters is “evidence of biblical end times. ” That’s nearly half the people in the most powerful country on Earth. 38% believe God uses Nature to dispense justice. It’s an important poll that climate change activists and sensible people everywhere should take seriously.

The #rapture meme picked up remarkably fast. While some have seen billboards declaring May 21st, 2011 to be Judgment Day for a while now, it wasn’t until a couple of days ago that it started getting into the media and many Americans learned that a small fundamentalist sect believed they uncovered the true date of the Beginning of The End. Within a few days over a million people joined multiple “post rapture looting” facebook events, pranks were being played across the country, it was all over the news, and people were cracking jokes on twitter like there’s no tomorrow.

So why did that meme spread so quickly? Unfortunately biblical notions of the coming Apocalypse are not just entrenched in our culture, but are also rearing their ugly heads in our political landscape. And they’re shaping policy.

John Shimkus, The Republican Congressman who hoped to chair the House Energy Committee told reporters this Autumn that we didn’t need to take action to reduce greenhouse gasses because he knows the planet won’t be destroyed. How does he know? God told Noah that it wouldn’t happen again after the Great Flood. Obviously. Shimkus went on to clarify that “The earth will end only when God declares its time to be over.” And its not just Shimkus – the November election saw a wave of new Republican leadership hell-bent on scriptural justifications for inaction on global warming.

In his excellent article Apocalyptic beliefs hasten the end of the world, Jason Mark discusses the depth of biblical explanations used to explain the recent Mississippi river flooding and tornado in Alabama. He cites “two surveys by the Pew Center [that] reveal what climate campaigners are up against. According to a 2010 Pew poll, 41 percent of Americans believe that Jesus will return by 2050. A roughly similar number — 36 percent — disagree that human activity is causing global temperatures to rise.” Jason points out that while causality between these two stats is dubious, worldview clearly plays a significant role in the public’s response to climate science.

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Look mom! I’m in a new book!

19 05 2011

Cross posted from Beyond the Choir.
Look mom! I’m in a book! It just came out. Its called The Next Eco-Warriors and is an anthology of young activists working on environmental issues. While I have contributed chapters to “activist anthologies” before, this project excited me because it is designed for a popular audience. My mom could find it in a random bookstore. It’s being released in multiple countries. And most of the people reading it are likely not active themselves…yet.

Most chapters are personal stories of overcoming difficult odds in service of protecting Mother Earth. The challenge, as I saw it, was to write a personal story that could be accessible and digestible to the (likely older, white, middle class) audience, many of whom have an existing political frame of a “conservation movement.” The task was to then shift that story by underscoring concepts of economic and racial justice, privilege, solidarity, movement building, and collective organizing. I chose to write about my experience helping organize the Capitol Climate Action (CCA). While I have written reflections on this complicated action for other organizers before (here and then here), most of these accounts were analytical; they didn’t actually tell the story at all, they just explained outcomes. Even those accounts felt a little too celebratory – they didn’t fully get into the behind the scenes coalition drama, the challenges around community accountability, or ways the action itself could have better embodied climate justice. I was hesitant to write another “victory” account that didn’t interrogate these real concerns, even though its mostly “insider” debate amongst organizers. I was even more hesitant about writing a first-person narrative about a group effort – a common challenge for organizers writing about collective process to an audience who has a default framework of honoring individual efforts.

And yet, because the Capitol Climate Action was designed to mobilize thousands of “passive allies” – people who agree with us but aren’t yet organizing alongside us – the story of CCA itself seemed a useful narrative to communicate those ideas. No one had simply told the story – and used it as an opportunity to highlight and explain key justice-based concepts to the very audience that was the key demographic CCA tried to mobilize. Despite all the way I might organize the action differently next time, it was a beautiful story that was well positioned to teach some of these lessons.

So here was my attempt at it, direct from the book (also check out chapters by my friends Ben Powless and Enei Begaye):

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