The Question I'm Most Frequently Asked
Why aren’t you talking about climate change? More than any other question I’m asked, people want to know why I don’t keep climate change front and center in all I do. If you look at my work, climate change is mentioned or included somewhere in almost everything. However, people are right to say it’s not the primary focus. That’s intentional.
Both NOAA and NASA state there is scientific consensus that climate change is happening and is “extremely likely due to human activities.” The US Department of Defense says “the effects of a changing climate are a national security issue…” In addition, climate change is already impacting the U.S. and our public health.
Engineers and scientists know three things are needed to mitigate the impact of climate change:
1) Reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
2) Increase carbon sequestration.
3) Help communities adapt to rising water levels, more intense weather systems, extended droughts, and other challenges due to climate change.
For the most part, the financial mechanisms, policies, and technologies needed to start work on these three tasks already exist. What doesn’t exist is the preponderance of will to do so. This starts to point to why my work is not focused on climate change.
Climate change, even though it is a potential existential threat to humanity, is only a symptom of a deeper problem. If I could snap my fingers and instantly fix climate change, it wouldn’t fix other environmental problems, any of which may be the next threat. A few examples are increasing contamination of water resources, habitat destruction, and animal-to-human disease spread caused by human impact on animal populations. Like climate change, these issues are sitting in what engineers call the too-hard-box.
Projects end up in the too-hard-box for many reasons. A frequent one is lack of political, social, or financial will for a technically viable and needed project. Climate change is in the box for this reason, because addressing it will require something of all of us. Some people catch a glimpse of this fact and put climate change in the too-hard-box by deciding it doesn’t exist or is a hoax. Other people start to realize what it will cost them and put climate change in the too-hard-box by villainizing a political party, an industrial sector, a country, or a corporation; demanding they pay the cost. Either way, people don’t have to give up anything or make substantial changes in their own life.
Now we’ve come to the underlying problem where I hope to be of some service to humanity. Be it climate change or something else, humanity will lurch from one environmental crisis to another until we fundamentally change the way we’re living on planet Earth. This. Will. Be. Hard.
This type of wholesale change will require much of us. It means giving up some things we like to do and want to have. It means thinking about a greater good beyond our immediate benefit, cost savings, or return on investment. It means serving the needs of others. The needed changes are so difficult, they’ll only happen when people are called to do it for a reason beyond themselves. Hmmm. This all sounds a lot like the teachings of the world’s major religions.
As a Lutheran Deaconess, I’m called to this transformation in my own life. By sharing my struggles, I hope to invite people of faith to reflect on the way they’re living on Earth, in comparison to what their faith says about our responsibility to other people and all of God’s creation. With my environmental engineering experience, I hope to equip people to live more justly and sustainably within the limits of our planet’s natural systems. In the process, I hope to accompany people in becoming transformative agents for a world desperately in need of right relationship: right relationship between peoples; between the Homo sapiens creature and all other creatures, and between us the created and our Creator. This vision of right relationship is what I hope you see front and center in all my work.
Through it all, I hope and have faith in that which is not yet seen.