Refugia Newsletter #55
Michigan clean energy law, a circular economy, climate havens, and holiday ideas
Thankfully, husband Ron and I decided to keep things entirely low-key for Thanksgiving this year. My daughter and her husband stopped by, but otherwise, it was just the two of us. Today, we’ll head out to the lake (the Big Lake, I mean) to visit his parents. It’s been a busy few weeks, so I am deeply grateful for a few days of restful downtime.
The last few weeks have been good-busy, though. On November 7, I got to see Robin Wall Kimmerer in person here in Grand Rapids at our beautiful Frederick Meijer Gardens. She was wonderful, of course. If you want a taste of her wisdom, read this beautiful, Thanksgiving-weekend-appropriate article called “Corn Tastes Better on the Honor System.” Better yet, listen to Kimmerer read the piece, either on that page or through the Emergence Magazine podcast.
I also participated in an online panel discussion through New Brunswick Seminary. You can listen to that recording here. Warning: this is some wonky stuff on historical theological imagination regarding the God-human-cosmos nexus.
Keep an eye out for the Advent episodes of the Green Lectionary Podcast, coming out any minute now with a first episode—on the “Little Apocalypse” in Mark 13—featuring Derrick Weston, Ched Myers, and me.
Also in the past three weeks, I recorded for another podcast, spend a fabulous evening with a women’s book club who have been reading Refugia Faith, spoke at two different churches here in Grand Rapids—and of course, taught my classes, went to meetings, and graded two very large sets of student papers. Whew!
I inherited a bunch of table doo-dads from my mother. But it doesn’t seem appropriate to feature pilgrims unironically. So we’ve set up a nightmare scenario here in which cenozoic-era flora and fauna threaten the terrified would-be settlers. Oh no! I think we need a movie version now.
This Week in Climate News
Three stories today: an LNG export ban, a Biden/Xi climate agreement, and Michigan’s landmark climate legislation.
At this point, a ban on the US exporting liquid natural gas (LNG) is only theoretical. In Bill McKibben’s newsletter last week, however, he wrote:
The campaign to convince the Department of Energy that it’s time to stop feeding the president antiquated information, and to shut down the insane mushrooming expansion of Liquefied Natural Gas export facilities, is gathering all kinds of steam.
McKibben features young TikTok-ers, who have taken to their platforms to get young people involved in pressuring Pres. Biden and Department of Energy head, Jennifer Granholm, to put an end to current plans to expand US LNG export facilities and demand that “no other project will be approved, or even considered, until there’s been an exhaustive rewrite of the criteria taking into account the latest science and economics.”
If you want to join this fight, please do. McKibben’s newsletter offers ways to make your voice heard.
On Nov. 14, the US State Department announced that talks between Pres. Biden and Xi Jinping resulted in an important—if somewhat vague—agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. According to an article by Zack Colman in Politico:
China, the world’s largest climate polluter, has agreed in a deal with the United States to reduce planet-warming emissions from the power sector this decade and committed for the first time to curb all greenhouse gases. …
China made concessions in the deal aimed at mitigating climate change despite broader geopolitical and economic tensions between the two nations, according to longtime observers of the relationship. This has inspired hope the pact could endure — taming rising temperatures is impossible without more aggressive action from both nations, which together account for nearly two-fifths of planet-heating gases.
The problem here is that both the US and China have a long way to go on energy transition; meanwhile, we need each other and we’re competitors. It’s rather a case of “You go first!” “OK, I will if you go first!” Anyway, observers note that the agreement leaves a lot to work on yet, but it’s a good signal-setting thing leading into COP 28.
Finally, Michigan! I’m proud of my state for many reasons, but now we can boast that we are energy transition leaders. Back on Nov. 4, the Michigan legislature passed a package of bills putting Michigan in the “100 Percent Club,” with a commitment to 100 percent clean energy by 2040. Minnesotans and Illinoisians, please notice that you are also in the club!
require that “Michigan get 100 percent of its electricity from clean sources by 2040, along with requirements for increases in energy storage and improved access to rooftop solar”
require utilities to work on energy waste
provide incentives for consumers to switch from gas to electric power
require the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC, which oversees utilities) to “consider reliability, service quality, affordability and the effects on environmental justice communities when approving long-term plans by utilities”
give the MPSC authority to approve renewable energy projects
create an office to help workers and communities most disrupted by the shift away from fossil fuels.
That bit about the MPSC approving renewable energy is actually a sticky point. The idea is to be able to override local governments who engage in NIMBYism (“not in my backyard”) and refuse to consider solar, wind, or storage facilities. But is this a great idea? Not everyone thinks so. The article quotes an MSU professor of community sustainability who believes that “taking away local authority will contribute to a sense in rural areas that wind and solar projects are being imposed on them, and hurt the ability of clean energy advocates to persuade rural residents of the environmental and economic benefits of hosting the projects.”
Environmental justice leaders have some concerns about the lack of their involvement in the development of the bills. And utilities got some concessions not all environmental leaders are thrilled about. Nevertheless, it’s huge momentum and, as Dan Gearino puts in related coverage, “a really big deal.”
I was surprised to learn that in 2021, the Harvard Business Review published an article called “The Circular Business Model.” I don’t know why I was surprised. I guess I assumed that the circular economy was too weird and radical an idea for the stodgy old HBR. I guess not!
Anyway, the article is an easy read (really!) if you’re interested in how business people think about the possibilities for a circular economy that moves us away from our usual extract-make-use-waste patterns—patterns which are, of course, unsustainable and destructive.
The article explains and gives many examples for the three main strategies businesses might consider when moving toward a circular strategy:
RPO—Retain Product Ownership. This is where customers basically lease something from the company rather than buying it. Xerox does this successfully with copiers. Tuxedo rental companies have long used this model.
PLE—Product Life Extension. Just make your products better so they last longer! And use your products’ durability as a selling point. This can work for, say, major appliances or for a company like Patagonia, which not only sells durable clothing and gear, but also has a “Worn Wear” program in which they repair and resell used items.
DFR—Design For Recycling. Redesign your product with different materials and modular parts and work on your supply chains so everything is recyclable. Some shoe companies are working on this strategy.
The article outlines a bunch of ways to figure out which strategy or combination thereof might work for different kinds of businesses. If we had a more circular economy, I promise I would be much more eager to clean out our basement storage room.
Patagonia’s “Worn Wear” program offers credit for returning used merchandise.
Bonus deep dive: a great Climate One podcast episode featuring writer and activist Rebecca Solnit on “Why It’s Not Too Late.” Inspiring listening, maybe for that car ride to the relatives’. Or, here’s the video version of the same interview.
Wait—is Michigan a refugium?? I know, I know: I’m writing about Michigan again. But this 2021 article by Kate Yoder in Grist names Michigan as one of several Great Lakes states that are likely to attract people looking for so-called “climate havens.”
I put the phrase “climate havens” in scare quotes because the point of the article is that climate havens are not really automatic, they’re created: “Climate havens may not be something nature hands us, but something we have to build ourselves.”
Yoder points out, correctly, that even here in the Midwest—where we enjoy plenty of advantages over our neighbors in drier, hotter places—we still have work to do to prepare for climate impacts. For example, we need more resilient infrastructure to handle heavy rains and flooding as well as better protocols for protecting workers from hotter weather.
Still, Yoder writes that people are already eyeing real estate purchases and strategic moves to safer places. In fact, a woman told me this week that a real estate agent friend of hers has been selling properties in Michigan to Californians who aren’t planning to move here immediately—they just want a place to go eventually. I’m not sure how I feel about that. But Yoder’s article notes that most people aren’t going to want to move that far. They’ll seek to make their current places more resilient, and/or they’ll move as short a distance as they can from the places they already call home.
Yoder quotes urban studies scholar Vivek Shandas and check out his preferred term:
“Local refuges” might provide a better framework for discussing how to escape the worst of climate change, Shandas said. He borrowed the concept from the field of ecology, where the Latin “refugia” refers to areas where the climate conditions stay relatively safe over time, despite change happening around them.
I do wonder how many faith communities realize, though, that supporting climate migrants may well become an important ministry. If we want to become people of refugia, even a Refugia Church, then welcoming and supporting climate migrants may be a key part of the ministry mix.
(Thanks to reader and friend Dan Terpstra for referring me to this Grist article.)
The Wayback Machine
Instead of looking back, let’s look forward. I hope you had a good Thanksgiving, enjoying good food with people you love and dwelling in the key spiritual practice of gratitude. Now we Christians look ahead to Advent and Christmas, and all of us face the annual challenge of dealing with gift-giving traditions. If you are looking for eco-friendly gift ideas, you might try this crowd-sourced database.
And of course, copies of Refugia Faith make wonderful gifts for any climate-minded people on your list.
Meanwhile, if you’re worried about those awkward family conversations about climate, you might enjoy this 2021 video with Katharine Hayhoe and Jimmy Fallon. (What is UP with 2021 in this newsletter?? Is this the 2021 throwback edition??) Anyway, Fallon plays grumpy “Uncle Ernie,” and Hayhoe demonstrates how to handle him. Her suggestions hold up in 2023, too.
Finally, I want to pay tribute to my friend John Hwang, who died suddenly from health complications on October 29. John was a generous, joyful person, full of vision and determination. John believed that teachers at Christian universities are doing important work and we need to share our work on more public platforms. He built my website, urged me to get into newsletter writing, urged me to start a podcast, and supported my efforts at “public scholarship” since 2018. He was also the person behind the Reformed Journal’s online infrastructure. He did almost all this work for free while running his own marketing business. He came into my life at a moment when I didn’t quite know what was next, and he taught me what to do, always patient with my reluctance.
John, you made so much possible. We miss you. We are grateful for you. Rest in peace, rise in glory, friend.
Note: As always in this newsletter, bold lettering in quotations is added unless otherwise indicated.