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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…

Another voice:

Declare a climate emergency!”

More applause.

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.

Elise Joshi – Twitter screen capture
Wildfire – Wikimedia Commons, NASA, public domain
Hyderabad Flooding – Creative Commons, public domain
Smokey sky over Kake Mendota – Van Deelen

Tim Van Deelen

Tim Van Deelen is Professor of Forest and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. He grew up in Hudsonville, Michigan, and graduated from Calvin College. From there he went on to the University of Montana and Michigan State University. He now studies large mammal population dynamics, sails on Lake Mendota, enjoys a good plate of whitefish, and gains hope for the future from terrific graduate students. 


  • Mark S. Hiskes says:

    Thank you for “Hope is a choice,” and for reminding us of our responsibility here. I love how you keep finding new ways to give your readers hope in the face of climate change. Kyle Meyaard-Schaap has done the same for me. Thanks too for speaking truth to your students, including those from more conservative schools who, because of parental politics, may have been shielded from that truth in high school. They all need to hear it–and especially from someone as informed and passionate as you. And may Elise Joshe’s obvious courage inspire the rest of us to speak the same truth in our families, churches, communities.

  • David Hoekema says:

    Amen and amen. There’s probably a counterpart to Ms Joshi in each of our congregations, afraid to speak up or not being heard. May we learn to listen. And act, on local and national and global levels. In hope, not despair.

  • Jack says:

    YOU keep me walking and working, keep my non-Reformed heart from breaking

  • James Steenbergen says:

    As much I lean into writers like Katharine Hayhoe, Michael Mann, and Kyle Meyaard-Schaap for hope and admire the young people stepping up and speaking out whether it’s Ms. Joshi, or Ms. Thunberg, the reality is that all of this is almost too little too late. These people have the weakest voice and we as a world will do nothing until the ice caps melting somehow flood Wall Street. Part of this has to do with how our brains are wired (the author George Marshall speaks to this in his book Don’t Event Think About It). But part of it has to do with human greed. Our world is headed for collapse and it could happen in less than the lifetime of our own children. Every scientific prediction of what would happen when you wrap our planet with a blanket of CO2 emissions has come to pass. The AMOC could collapse in less than 25 years which in itself would disrupt or destroy much of our planet’s ability to feed itself. The IPCC mistakenly took far too conservative of an approach and now sea ice chunks the size of Argentina are missing. Just since my birth in 1976, every year has had an average global temperature warmer than the long-term average, and more than half of all CO2 emissions that are currently in our atmosphere since “An Inconvenient Truth” was published. I think we as Christians would be at our best if we could start to have honest conversations about the end of days. Everything is going crazy right now and nobody is talking about it widely, or if they are it’s just “scientists are perplexed by this or that?” I would love to hear someone speak to, in perhaps a language of “stages of grief”, that accepts our immanent destruction. I struggle with this as a dad of three young girls. I’m not saying that with gloom because I recognize God’s sovereign nature and that our world is impermanent (Matthew 24:35). I had just hoped for more time for them where things would be “normal” or where they could have a life of endless possibilities. I know that’s not true anymore. I just wish Christian leaders would say so as well.

  • Dale Hulst says:

    Thanks Tim for sharing Elise’s story, and your stories of teaching.
    Keep up the good work!

  • Dale Hulst says:

    Hello James. I hear you; the losses are mounting and will become much, much worse. And so many remain asleep at the switch. (And the snake oil salesmen are preaching that it’s treason to wake up!)

    I found Debra Reinstra’s book Refugia Faith helpful in processing the grief associated with all of this:

    I also found the Climate Vigil album helpful.
    Here’s the Spotify link:
    I believe words and music are all here too:

    We as Christians need to lament, turn, and act with courage and hope that we can make things less bad than they might have been for at least some. And as Deb says, find joy in refugial communities where we see some healing.

  • Nate Rauh-Bieri says:

    All beautifully said, Tim. Thank you for speaking from the kaleidoscopic lenses of heart, science, faith, and justice – and amplifying Elise Joshi’s powerful voice. We need them all right now.

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