I had another post in prep but I switched it up to go with this. This deserves to be amplified and it is so astonishingly elegant in what it communicates about the dipole hope and despair of the climate crisis.
Go watch the video embedded in this article. Cribbing from the article (author Julia Conley), the video is from a July 27 event hosted by the voter engagement group “Voters of Tomorrow” during an address by White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.
In the video, Elise Joshi, 21, first hesitates and then finds her courage, stands up, and interrupts the Press Secretary:
“Excuse me for interrupting, but asking nicely hasn’t worked out. A million young people wrote to the administration pleading not to approve a disastrous oil-drilling project in Alaska, and we were ignored. So I’m here channeling the strength of my ancestors and generation. Will… will the administration stop approving new oil and gas projects and align with youth, science and front-line communities from the north slope of Alaska to Louisiana?”
A staffer walks over preparing to intercede or quell the interruption, but Press Secretary Jean-Pierre calls him off directing staff to let her speak and then attempts to answer her.
Several in the room applauded and you could hear the brave young woman’s voice begin to falter either with the stress of the truth-to-power moment or for emotional investment in the cause – perhaps both. Joshi interrupts again:
“You have approved more projects since then, and at a faster rate than the Trump administration. We need you to act on your campaign promises…”
“Declare a climate emergency!”
Press Secretary Jean-Pierre deflects a bit (goes with the territory) but offered sympathetic support for continued dialog making the case that President Biden’s emission policies are better than any past administrations’ – which is tragically and horribly and irrefutably true in the case of the last administration.
But it’s not enough.
Last week, I walked our Au Sable students through the science of the climate crisis wearing my heart on my sleeve and briefly stepped deliberately but gingerly through the political realities. Many of our students come from conservative schools and I expect that some were challenged by what I told them. This, against a reality that their generation will be burdened more severely by an accelerating climate chaos that many of their elders choose to ignore.
I was the warmup act for Debra and Ron Reinstra’s (Calvin University and Western Theological Seminary) wisdom on addressing the climate crisis as Christians. A point that we both made is that earth-keeping piety in terms of reducing one’s personal carbon footprint is necessary but woefully inadequate. Its valuable in the aggregate and as an example but it’s also been co-opted by fossil fuel propagandists to make citizens believe that addressing the climate is a matter of personal behaviors rather than political, regulatory, and corporate-behavioral changes that could affect their very lucrative bottom lines (Investigative journalist Amy Westervelt has done extensive reporting on this). You cannot overstate the intergenerational injustice embedded here.
During my recent review of Kyle Meyaard-Schaap’s Following Jesus in a Warming World I kept returning to the implied question of whether God expects Christians to be climate activists, given the urgency and immediacy of climate breakdown. I think the answer is clear and I assigned the book to my class in hope that they will ask themselves that same question.
A little Google sleuthing turned up that Elise Joshi is a recent graduate from UC Berkeley and executive director for a non-profit activist group called “Gen Z for Change.” I admire that.
The 2:20 minute video clip of Joshi and the Press Secretary went viral on social media. Joshi’s bravery and smart timing illustrates both the profound urgency Gen Z people face in the immediacy of accelerating climate chaos and the hopefulness of Gen Z finding its political voice and using it to effect. I remembered, I told my class, that I saw them, the long lines in Memorial Union on campus, at the last election. How I saw them standing stalwart there, slumped into their smart phones. How they stood in the gap and influenced the election.
We wealthy western Christians need to have their backs. We have disproportionate agency as citizens, investors, and in the organizations we join and support. We need to use it. For Christians, it is a matter of mature faithfulness and love.
I have decided that hope is a choice. My choice is buoyed by the singular privilege of teaching and cheerleading for Gen Z right now. I love ‘em.