Environmentalism and the Humanities – Podcast and Resources

I was recently interviewed for the BrainBox Podcast sponsored by Oklahoma Humanities on the topic “Environmentalism and the Humanities.” In addition to the podcast, which you can listen to here, Oklahoma Humanities also put together a helpful page on their website with resources and related information on the topic. You may visit the page dedicated to the podcast here.

The podcast is related to work that I am doing as the Oklahoma Humanities State Scholar for the Smithsonian Water/Ways traveling exhibition that will be located in five different locations across the state of Oklahoma beginning at the end of this month through April of 2020. For more information about the Water/Ways exhibit and locations in Oklahoma, visit the Oklahoma Humanities Water/Ways page on their website.

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Hope for the United Methodist Church?

As United Methodist General Conference 2020 election results come in, I go back and forth about being hopeful in relation to the gains being made by progressives and centrists. I am hopeful because it is apparent that about 3/4 of the newly elected delegates from the U.S. conferences will vote to reject the punitive anti-LGBTQIA+ Traditionalist Plan that was passed at the 2019 General Conference. I am concerned however that it is likely the traditionalists will still get the 50%+1 they will need for the Traditionalist Plan to be upheld at the 2020 General Conference owing to the large number of traditionalist delegates outside of the United States.

I am hopeful because even if the traditionalists get 50% + 1 of the votes to uphold the Traditionalist Plan, it is clear that it will be nearly impossible to enforce such a plan in the United States with so many conferences and churches standing up in opposition. However, I am concerned that at General Conference 2020 we will see some sort of “compromise” made for unity, like the One Church Plan, that will once again be made at the expense of our LGBTQIA+ siblings.

General Conference 2019 made it clear that the only way to hold global United Methodism together as one denomination would be to allow a significant number of our conferences and churches to discriminate against persons who are LGBTQIA-+ and exclude them from the full life and ministry of the United Methodist Church. This is too high of a price to pay for unity.

I hope that General Conference 2020 will allow the current global United Methodist denomination to pass away in such a way that a new Methodism will be created in which all of our LGBTQIA+ siblings will know that their sacred worth equates to equal treatment as they are fully celebrated and affirmed as members of the Beloved Community of all persons and all creation. Unity based on discrimination and unequal treatment is and always will be oppressive.

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Listening to Our Climate Scientists

ECG / EKG monitor

Flatline blip on a medical heart monitor ECG / EKG (electrocardiogram) with white background

If a person ate fast food and drank sugary drinks every day and 99 out of 100 cardiologists told this person that this diet was contributing to this person’s heart disease, and if that person chose to listen to the one doctor instead of the 99, the vast majority of us would say that this person is in denial about what is contributing to their heart disease.

If a number of CEOs of fast food chains and soda companies encouraged this person to listen to the one doctor versus the 99, that would unlikely make us change our assessment that this person is in denial. We probably would remind this person that the fast food companies and soda companies have a bit of bias on matters such as this, and we would strongly encourage this person to listen to what the 99 cardiologists are saying.

But for some reason when 99 out of 100 climate scientists tell us that greenhouse gas emissions from human activity are the primary contributor to increases in global average temperatures, many of us want to listen to the one versus the 99. Many of us in denial about the reasons for our climate crisis repeat the same arguments against the 99 that are promoted by CEOs and paid surrogates of fossil fuel companies and industrial agriculture companies and fail to see the bias that they have on such matters.

In the case of individual persons denying the reasons for their heart disease, the consequences could be tragic for them. In the case of persons denying the reasons for our climate crisis, the consequences will be tragic for us all.

Wise persons and wise societies will listen to their doctors and climate scientists who base their diagnoses and conclusions on sound scientific method rather than listen to the propaganda of the companies that profit off our denial of reality. When we have heart problems, we should listen to our cardiologists, not to McDonald’s and Coca Cola. When we have a climate crisis, we should listen to our climate scientists, not to ExxonMobil and Koch Industries.

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The Cliff of Climate Chaos


Yes, both going full speed straight ahead off a cliff and not slowing down enough or turning enough to keep from going off a cliff eventually will end up with the same result of driving off a cliff, but if given a choice between speeding up or slowing down and turning, the latter is better as it gives you a little more time to realize or be convinced that more drastic measures are needed to avoid the precipitous fall to death.

In relation to the climate crisis, voting for Trump is speeding up and driving straight off the cliff. In contrast to Trump, some of the Democratic candidates have plans on climate change that if implemented would give us a decent chance of not driving over the cliff at all, but Joe Biden’s plan does not slow us down enough or turn us away from the climate crisis cliff quickly enough, which is one of the reasons why he is not my first choice to be the Democratic nominee for president.

If given a choice between Trump and Biden, however, I will always vote for slowing down over speeding up. A Biden presidency would at least give us a chance to avoid the very worst, whereas the re-election of Trump takes us quickly to the point of no return to a livable climate as all of his policies and the persons implementing them are driving us recklessly over the cliff to climate chaos.

In a Biden presidency, we would at least have an Environmental Protection Agency with some actual concern for the environment, and we would have senior climate science positions filled with actual climate scientists. We would have climate assessment reports that we could trust and an administration that would not be openly hostile to all environmental regulations. This would at least give us a window of opportunity to keep yelling to the collective driver of our societal car to slam on the brakes and take much more radically evasive action to avoid the cliff of climate chaos.

Voting for a third party in this next presidential election or sitting out the election because one thinks Biden is not progressive enough, in effect becomes a vote for speeding off the cliff. I will continue to work to elect a Democratic nominee with the strongest climate crisis action plan, but if Biden ends up as the nominee, I will do all I can to elect him while simultaneously doing all that it is possible to get us to slow down and turn more quickly to avoid the cliff. I believe in the very core of my being that another term with Trump would eliminate the possibility of avoiding a future of climate chaos and unspeakable suffering for both people and the planet.

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Dear Oklahoma and Midwest States Experiencing Extreme Flooding


Dear Oklahoma and Midwest states experiencing extreme flooding,

As we mourn the deaths of those lost in the floods, as we lament the loss of so many homes to the floodwaters, as we witness billions of dollars of crops rotting in the fields, as we assess the damage to stored grain now under water, as we count the numbers of livestock that have drowned, and as we as a nation witness the most rainfall ever experienced in a 12 month period since record keeping began in 1895; it is important to be aware of the following:

  • With each degree Celsius increase in global average temperature, the atmosphere holds 7% more water vapor.
  • This increase of water vapor in the atmosphere leads to more extreme precipitation and flooding events.
  • We are currently experiencing average global temperatures that are nearly one degree Celsius over the pre-industrial global temperature averages.
  • We are changing the water cycle of the planet, and that is not a good thing.
  • We don’t want to see what an increase of 1.5 degrees and beyond in global average temperature looks like.

Wake up to the reality of what we are doing to our planet. Wake up to the reality of what we are doing to ourselves.

The fossil fuel industry has been lying to us about the climate crisis for decades. It will not get better unless we commit our lives to saving our only home.

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An Open Letter to Leaders of United Methodist Institutions of Higher Education

duke chapel

Photo: Duke Chapel, the ecumenical chapel at United Methodist related Duke University, allows same sex/same gender weddings.


Dear Leaders of United Methodist Schools, Colleges, and Universities:

The decision of the 2019 General Conference of the United Methodist Church to pass the Traditional Plan has been a difficult and unwelcome one for most of our United Methodist related schools, colleges, and universities. The vast majority of our institutions of higher education embrace inclusivity, equal opportunity, and equal treatment of all students, including students who are LGBTQIA+. Leading up to the 2019 General Conference and in the months following it, the vast majority of presidents from United Methodist related institutions of higher education have reiterated their commitment to making sure that all persons who are LGBTQIA+ will be both welcomed and affirmed on our campuses.

For some institutions this has meant disaffiliating with the United Methodist Church owing to the decision to continue discriminating against persons who are LGBTQIA+, for some this has meant distancing themselves from the United Methodist Church, for others this has meant recommitting to inclusivity in spite of the GC 2019 decision and in resistance to it, and for some institutions it has meant attempting to preserve the status quo by affirming that the GC 2019 decision will not have a direct effect on campus life and policies (in other words – nothing will change).

As a reconciling United Methodist who is also a faculty member at a United Methodist related university, it is has been heartening to see so many United Methodist higher education institutions reaffirm their commitment to inclusivity, equal opportunity, and equal treatment of students who are LGBTQIA+. The vast majority of the United Methodist institutions understand that they would be on the wrong side of history if they were not to welcome and affirm students, faculty, and staff who are LGBTQIA+ on their campuses. They also know that it is not in their self-interest to discriminate against students who are LGBTQIA+. In an extremely competitive market for students, associating closely with a brand that is seen as being discriminatory is not a prudent course of action to take.

Even though I am generally pleased with the response of United Methodist institutions of higher education to the decisions made at General Conference 2019, I respectfully ask all leaders of United Methodist schools, colleges, and universities to speak with extreme clarity about how persons who are LGBTQIA+ will be treated on their campuses. This is not the time for ambiguity. Our students and other members of our academic communities deserve to know precisely where they stand. If we say that we fully accept, welcome, and affirm all persons who are LGBTQIA+, we had better mean it, we had better make sure that this is codified in our by-laws and in student, faculty, and staff handbooks, and we had better make sure that all policies and procedures at our institutions treat all persons who are LGBTQIA+ equally as compared to persons who are cisgender and straight. If an institution does not plan to treat all students, faculty, and staff equally; then they deserve to know that.

For example, the chapels on many of our campuses are important to the spiritual and community life of our institutions. They should be a place in which all of our LGBTQIA+ students, faculty, staff, and alumni are welcomed and affirmed. If a United Methodist related institution were to decide that persons who are LGBTQIA+ will not be allowed to be married in the campus chapel, then that institution is not truly committed to treating all of its students, faculty, staff, and alumni equally. It is not giving them equal opportunities that the institutions’ cisgender straight students, faculty, staff, and alumni enjoy. By the laws of the United States, a religiously affiliated institution has the legal right to determine who can and who cannot get married on its campus, but if it chooses not to allow persons who are LGBTQIA+ to marry in its chapel like everyone else, then it cannot rightfully claim to be a fully inclusive, welcoming, and affirming campus.

I cannot imagine that students, alumni, faculty, staff, and administrators of a college or university who are LGBTQIA+ would feel like their university is treating them equally or providing them with equal opportunity if they are not allowed to be married in the university’s chapel like all other students, alumni, faculty, staff, and administrators, especially if the university tells them they will never be discriminated against based on their sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.

Now that it is clear that the Traditional Plan will be implemented in the United Methodist Church, it is imperative that all United Methodist colleges and universities be extremely clear about how they will treat their students, faculty, and staff who are LGBTQIA+. Either they are going to be fully included and affirmed and treated as absolute equals to everyone else or they are not. If they are not going to be treated equally, college and universities need be clear about the ways and in what circumstances they will not be treated equally or be given equal opportunities. Persons who are LGBTQIA+ should not have to guess about the ways they will not be treated equally or wonder if this or that circumstance will be a time in which they will not be afforded the same rights or opportunities as their cisgender straight peers. A university should not be able to pretend to be fully inclusive and affirming and then have policies or practices that treat LGBTQIA+ persons any differently than any other person.

We owe it to our current and prospective students, faculty, and staff at our United Methodist institutions of higher education to be honest with them about how they will be treated in our communities. If all persons truly are persons of sacred worth, then it is not morally acceptable for us to offer the bait of inclusivity, acceptance, and affirmation only to switch it with discrimination and unequal treatment.

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Writing the Turning Point in Our Climate Crisis Story

The peripeteia, or turning point, of a story is sometimes difficult to ascertain the first time one is reading it. It is often only in looking back on the story in its entirety that we see the turning point that changes everything or that leads the story in a decidedly new direction. The turning point of a story can take the narrative in a wide variety of possible directions on a spectrum from the positive and transformative to the tragic and destructive.

In our current story of humanity creating a climate crisis, are we currently experiencing the peripeteia that will lead us away from climate chaos? Will the Green New Deal be the turning point? Will it be the youth climate movement gaining momentum around the world? Will it be indigenous peoples calling us, leading us, and showing us the way to more responsible care of the earth? Will it be cities urgently and creatively working together for ways towards a zero carbon footprint? Will it be communities and neighborhoods growing their own food and focusing on enhancing local and sustainable economies? Will it be a combination of these movements and ones yet to break into greater public awareness?

Or is the turning point yet to come in the near or distant future? If so, how much time is left to make the turning? Our best climate scientists are telling us that the turning must happen now, before 2030, if we hope to have anything remotely close to a positive ending of our climate story. There is genuine concern among that the time for a peripeteia towards a livable climate may have already passed us by.

We may not know whether the turning has begun or not, but it is fiercely urgent that we continue our work together of writing the turning in this story of the climate crisis of our own making. May we write together with our lives one of the greatest and most transformative stories ever told. If we don’t, we will look back and realize that the peripeteia was a turning towards the tragedy of climate chaos rather than a turning towards a livable climate for our human and ecological communities.

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