A Reality to save the planet — and us

So We and Our Children May Live: Following Jesus in Confronting the Climate Crisis by Sarah Augustine and Sheri Hostetler (Herald Press, 2023)

Heat waves, droughts, floods, wild-fires, powerful hurricanes and melting ice caps indicate we face a climate crisis. Is there hope for halting the slide toward extinction as a human species? Sarah Augustine and Sheri Hostetler, cofounders of the Coalition to Dismantle the Doctrine of Discovery, offer a perspective that challenges our way of life and invites change.

Taking their title from Deuteronomy 30:19, the authors argue that the climate crisis is the symptom, not the source, of the problem. They present a choice between reality — the human- centered perspective that seeks continuous economic growth — and Reality, the Indigenous perspective that humans are part of a web of life that survives by mutual dependence. Lowercase reality is a path of destruction. Uppercase Reality represents life. 

The authors write in alternating sections throughout the book. Augustine, a Pueblo (Tewa) descendant who works with Indigenous peoples around the world, says that the logic of extraction, which is the basis of our current economic system, “threatens every life-support system on the earth by polluting air, water and soil and depleting nonrenewable resources.” 

Hostetler, lead pastor of First Mennonite Church of San Francisco, describes our “normal” reality as an “individualistic, extractive, dualistic, hierarchical, reductionistic, abstract, self-referential and short-term world-view [that] has long failed those who have been crushed underneath its weight.” Now it is failing all of us. 

Many see green growth as a solution, but this assumes economic growth that requires enormous amounts of minerals and metal: “Manufacturing electric vehicles requires six times more minerals than cars with combustion engines.” And those minerals are usually extracted from areas that adversely affect Indigenous communities, while those communities contribute the least to the climate crisis.

Trying to decarbonize our economy while that economy is growing 2% to 3% annually is unrealistic, Hostetler writes. It is like trying to fill a bathtub that keeps getting bigger. Augustine notes that while leaders have no trouble imagining new weapons of destruction, we need to imagine a Reality of mutual dependence: “If we are to survive as a human race, we must collectively imagine systems that comply with life.”

As one way to live in Reality, Augustine calls for decolonization, which means that “the colonizing powers and their beneficiaries relinquish control of a subjugated people, and then identify, challenge and restructure or replace assumptions, ideas, values, systems and practices that reflect a colonizer’s dominating influence.” Such decolonization is similar to the practice of Jubilee in the Bible. Christians confronted with injustice must “directly engage in concrete support for Indigenous Peoples’ sovereignty.”

Because the crisis stems from systemic injustice, individual action is not enough. Political action is required. First-order change tinkers with the process, but second-order change transforms a system’s purpose and structure. Capitalism has a purpose: to generate profit. It “is not designed to protect life, to uphold equity, to ensure that life continues, to cooperate with the support systems of the earth, or even to ensure the well-being of humans.” She calls us to shift “our economic goals from growth and wealth accumulation to well-being and planetary health.”

We must curtail our consumption, not as an act of charity or a sacrifice but because “living in balance and in right relationship is generative. It makes our lives better.” Confronting the system of consumption requires “collaboration, acknowledgment of mutual dependence and humility.” 

As I read about how dire our situation is, I kept longing for hope. One Indigenous leader says we are “perched precariously in a balance between creation and destruction,” while our government and corporate leaders continue to choose the latter. What can be done? As if reading my mind, the authors end with a call to imagine a new Reality, one that recognizes we are a part of God’s creation and must live in mutual dependence with the Earth. They provide no simple formula but acknowledge it will involve attempts and mistakes. Nevertheless, we can work together to build new systems. “The survival of life on Earth depends on our ability to see past the fabricated reality constructed to diminish us and justify the entitled,” Augustine concludes. “We must have the courage to join together to imagine, create and construct, with hope and humility, systems that pursue life.”


Gordon Houser of North Newton, Kan., is a former editor of The Mennonite and author of Present Tense: A Mennonite Spirituality.

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