Creation is groaning. Climate change is warming the globe, and ecosystems are overwhelmed. That doesn’t mean individuals should also be overwhelmed.
Just over 300 attendees were called to action and hope — but not anxiety and depression — July 7 at the Youth and Young Adult Climate Summit in Kansas City, Mo.
The new event for the Mennonite Church USA convention featured keynote speaker Talitha Amadea Aho.
The author of In Deep Waters: Spiritual Care for Young People in a Climate Crisis, Aho spoke on Romans 8:22-26, lamenting the groaning of creation and hope for what is not yet seen.
Aho said hotter and colder weather and the increasing intensity of natural disasters are theological concerns because poor people suffer more from severe weather’s impacts.
“There is one vocation we all share when it comes to the climate crisis,” said Aho, pastor at Montclair Presbyterian Church in Oakland. “God calls us all to take care of one another.”
Aho encouraged youth and young adults to address climate change in both small and big ways. The challenge is massive, but that should not lead to paralysis, depression or anxiety.
“That does not belong to you. Shake it off,” Aho said. “Listen to this: the whole concept of a ‘personal carbon footprint,’ do you know who invented it? Corporations.
“I would have said the Sierra Club or something, but it was BP, the oil corporation. Rather than taking responsibility themselves, they shifted it to us as our personal responsibility, and I’m mad as hell about that.”
She suggested necessary change will come at the policy level from governments and those corporations.
Turning off “my tooth-brushing water does not make a difference when the Colorado River doesn’t reach the Pacific Ocean,” she said. “It’s water policy that got us here, not my bathroom tap. . . . Consumerist, individualist solutions are the opposite of what we need. Our best work is collective, so we need to come together. We need solidarity. That’s what we’re here for.”
Stories of solidarity and hope were shared by a panel that included Lynn Park Hur, a university student working on environmental campaigns in Los Angeles.
“Growing up in Los Angeles, from an early age I understood water is a precious resource,” she said. “. . . When you grow up in an immigrant community, everything is precious, so you don’t throw things away. That’s just normal to me. It didn’t hit me that was something environmentally conscious until later.”
Sibonokuhle Ncube, Mennonite Mission Network regional director for Africa and Europe, was introduced to the impacts of climate change in similar fashion at a similar age. As an 8-year-old in Zimbabwe, she heard adults lament about drought and saw grandparents hungry year after year.
“Perhaps that climate anxiety gripped me at a young age, before we had terms for these things,” she said. “So for a career, I looked at a path that integrated rural development, bringing in themes of sustainable development to work with farms — up to 650 a year — to try to bridge the water, energy and food gaps as they tried to make sense for the masses in their villages.”
Sarah Nahar, former executive director of Community Peacemaker Teams who is now working in nonviolent action training and interspiritual theology, encouraged young people to get active and do something, but not necessarily everything. Some interactions will be with allies, some with opponents. Persistence comes with using energy wisely.
“Not every conversation you have will be the same. Be smart,” Nahar said. “We as Mennonites have a martyrdom tradition, but that is not all of our tradition. Some of us stayed alive. . . . Who are you trying to focus on whenever you are talking to someone?”
Mennonite Creation Care Network introduced its Generation Z Energy and Spirit Challenge during the summit.
The competition offers prizes for youth and intergenerational church groups to respond to an environmental need. This could be a quantifiable approach, such as researching energy- saving measures or solar systems for church buildings, or activities like cleaning up after a natural disaster, weatherizing low-income homes or planting a pollinator garden.
“Everybody can do something,” Schrock said. “It’s not enough to have a few people doing things perfectly. We can all do something.”
High school students participating in the challenge will receive a $1,000 grant toward attendance at a college or university affiliated with MC USA.