Not Even Kansas …
David R. Weiss – February 21, 2019
The Gospel in Transition #12 – Subscribe at www.davidrweiss.com
Never mind about Toto or Dorothy, before long not even Kansas will be in Kansas anymore. According to a recent report in the journal Nature Communications (2/12/2019) one result of climate change is that Minnesota’s climate will eventually* feel like Kansas.
*It’s the “eventually” that the problem. We’re not talking a couple hundred years. We’re talking several decades. At the current rate of climate change, for instance, in just three or four decades the southern Minnesota city of Faribault will have a climate that matches areas in Kansas—500 miles to the south. To put that in even starker perspective, it’s as though the city’s climate is moving south at 315 feet per day.
There’s nothing wrong with Kansas. Still, as University of Minnesota forest ecologist, Lee Frelich, recently remarked in testimony at a state legislative hearing, “I don’t know about you, but I didn’t move to Kansas for a reason.” Frelich’s bias, no doubt a matter of both preference and profession, is bound up with the absence of forest in Kansas. An absence looming for Minnesota as well.
As a Kansas climate creeps northward into Minnesota we may keep our 10,000 lakes, but in other ways our landscape will get an extreme makeover. The temperate broadleaf forests that now shade large swaths of central and southern Minnesota will give way to savannah grassland. Minnesota’s boreal forest—the two million acres of pine and spruce in our northern reaches—will be overtaken by maple and other deciduous trees as the evergreens “retreat” to Canada. That’s a polite way of saying they’ll die off because they can’t adapt to the damn heat. When my grandchildren reach my age (fifty years out), from the headwaters of the Mississippi across to the scenic North Shore they’ll more likely be met with sprawling prairie than towering pines.
Multiply those effects across all of Minnesota’s flora and fauna and the impact becomes staggering. We’ll lose up to a third of our native species. Moose, lynx, walleye, and Minnesota’s magical bird, the loon—all gone. Ticks and mosquitos? Not so much. Their range will expand, as will the range of various agriculture pests (in part because their late fall eggs will have a better chance of surviving warmer winters and then replenishing populations earlier in the spring). From withering drought to torrential downpour, from unrelenting heat to catastrophic flood, extreme weather, so called because it’s outside the norm, will become … almost normal. But no less extreme in the mark it makes on Minnesotans themselves.
Asthma, allergies, heat-related illnesses, and insect-borne diseases will all see a boom. Because of the way that poor air quality intersects with poor neighborhoods—and the way race intersects with both—communities of color will be hit hardest. The general upheaval wrought by climate change, plus the specific disasters it will unleash—will mean an uptick in mental health issues ranging from anxiety and depression to post traumatic stress and suicide.
Remember, the key word is “eventually,” and the problem is that, with climate change, Kansas is coming to Minnesota (so to speak) way too quickly. When “eventually” is compressed into a single generation there’s simply no time for ecosystems, animals, farmland, cities, or people to adapt. I support the Green New Deal. I’m all for Minnesota setting out a pathway to 100% renewable energy. These are good—even critical goals. But the carbon already loaded (and still loading!) into our atmosphere means that a Kansas climate has already packed its bags for Minnesota. Whether it arrives in two decades or ten, and whether it reaches all the way to the Arrowhead or slows down mid-state, these are variables. But whether Kansas comes? That ticket is already bought and paid for.
Which brings me to resilience. As we’re getting that extreme makeover courtesy of climate change—and that “getting” will stretch on for decades; Kansas won’t show up overnight but over years and years; its arrival will be at once far too fast for our comfort and yet also interminably slow until it finally settles in—during that “getting,” what we will need more than anything else is resilience.
Rob Hopkins, co-founder of the Transition movement, describes resilience as “the ability of a system, such as a local economy or community, to withstand shock and then adapt to that shock. It’s the ability to flex, adapt and to change, and think on its feet in any given situation.” Resilience will be a real virtue while Kansas seems to be clobbering us from south to north. But Hopkins goes on to say, “The twist which we try to put on resilience in the Transition Network is that the ability to react to those threats shouldn’t just be a process to avoid the worst possible outcome, but should be seen as an opportunity to engage … in a positive and creative way. Resilience is an opportunity and a step forward [my emphasis], rather than purely a disaster avoidance strategy.”
You hear an inkling of (perhaps begrudging) resilience when Lee Frelich—the forest ecologist—says of his beloved boreal forest, “We’ll just have to make sure it’s the best savannah it can be. Not a bunch of invasive species. We’ll have to move some of the plants from our little tiny savannah remnants in southern Minnesota up there. We’ll just have to do the best we can.”
I happen to think Christian communities have unique resources to foster resilience, although I certainly don’t claim resilience as a uniquely Christian virtue. Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, heck, even—maybe especially—Pagans and atheists have their own unique resources for resilience (and that’s hardly an exhaustive list). But I’m writing for Christians right now and my message is that we have largely untapped resources for resilience in our tradition. And in the face of climate change that’s good news. Maybe not exactly of the sort we’d hoped for, but precisely the sort we need. I’ll unpack that more in my next post, but here’s a short teaser.
Within the Transition movement resilience is not a top-down program of specified responses. Among its core insights are these: we need to enliven imagination in a political-economic-cultural system designed to shut it down; we need to tap into deep agency, both as individuals and as local communities; we need to reclaim and share the very earthbound skills required in this moment; and we need to do these things without waiting for permission from the “governing” (political, corporate, and cultural) forces around us.
There are surprising resonances between these Transition insights and the Jesus story and the early church as glimpsed in Acts and Paul’s epistles. Surprising, because as a whole from Constantine onward the church has sought to be entwined with political-economic power and dominant cultures rather than to challenge (even subvert) them for the sake of the Gospel. But there are hints we were redeemed … for resilience. Next week we’ll start there.
PS: I’ve set up a Patreon site to help fund my work in this area. I hope you’ll invest in my thinking and writing. You can learn more about how to support me here: www.patreon.com/fullfrontalfaith
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The Gospel in Transition by David R. Weiss is a year of reflections on facing climate change, finding hope, and the alchemy of Christian community. My weekly blog posts will consider climate change, Transition, and faith—using biblical images, liturgical seasons, science, and theology, as conversation partners. Writing in a voice a bit too restless to call “devotional”; my aim is to be insightfully evocative and usefully provocative. I’d be delighted to have you join me on this journey. In fact, I hope you’ll subscribe (go to the top right sidebar!) Thanks for reading and see you next week!!
 These insights are called out by Rob Hopkins and Sarah McAdams in “The Transition Movement: Past, Present, and Future,” a keynote roundtable discussion during the 2018 Transition US Tenth Anniversary Online Summit: www.transitiongathering.org/videos.