By Matt Russell

We’re living through the most dynamic transformation in history. In the next two decades we must transition from a world where we use fossil fuels to work against nature and into a world where we partner with nature to power our lives. All the science indicates we have to work together in ways we’ve never done before. The shared values of our faiths and conscience give us the tools to do this hard work.

After last week’s devastating derecho, we might feel justified in wondering if partnering with nature is the best approach for our future. Indeed, 2020 seems to be reminding us that nature can be a threat.

From a microscopic virus with the potential to kill millions and taking down the global economy, to last week’s derecho that damaged at least 8000 homes and nearly half of Iowa’s corn and soybean crops, to historic crises that we might not have noticed like the plague of locusts in East Africa with swarms growing to as large as 80 million per square kilometer and eating as much vegetation in a day as would be consumed by 35,000 people, we are reminded we are a part of and not apart from the natural world.

These “natural” threats are devastating, even life threatening to those of us immediately impacted. They can also feel overwhelming to all of us as we try and make sense of how to respond. But respond we must. Our faith and conscience call us to action.

I’m offering some inspiring words from the soon to be published opinion editorials of our summer student leaders. They help remind us that the transition from using polluting fossil fuels that work against nature to working with natural systems for environmental justice isn’t only necessary, it’s an empowering way to live into the values we share across faiths, over all the Earth, and throughout time.

“I believe exploring climate change, gender and sexuality, racial injustices, bias, religion and interfaith, politics, and other topics that challenge students’ thinking are extremely important and a lot more essential. After this realization I began to see a transformation in my life where I sought out things and people that challenged me into deeper thinking, progressions in my faith, and challenging discussions with my peers.” Kennedy Warner, fourth year, Graceland University.

“Moms, Dads, Aunts, Uncles, Grandpas and Grandmas, we want to say thank you for teaching us to uphold these important values. You taught us to help people in need and fix problems that need to be solved. Climate change is the problem we young climate activists are trying to fix and we need your help.” Tiffany Van Gilst, second year, Central College.

“My values and faith inspire me to do individual actions of service and love, but they do not allow me to stop there. They demand that I also work towards systemic change, and I will keep that in mind when I cast my vote in November.” Alyssa Corkery, fourth year, Loras College.

“I never thought about how my love for nature could impact my decisions as I get ready to participate in our democracy for the first time.” Samir Goffe, second year, Graceland University.

While my own farm and home was spared from any damage last week, I reached out to my friend Aaron Heley Lehman who farms near Polk City. He’s the president of the Iowa Farmers Union, has been a leader in our Faith Farms and Climate project, and is recovering from being hit hard by the derecho.

“I’m encouraged by the support I’m seeing among neighbors, friends and families, who have flocked to each other’s homes, helping cut down trees and picking up pieces of damaged barns and grain bins.”

He also says we’re going to see billions of dollars of support from our fellow Americans in terms of emergency aid from the federal government.

Iowa simply can’t recover without that support,” says Aaron. “It is a good reminder that we need to show this same sense of individual concern, community support, and smart government in all the challenges we face as farmers, as Iowan’s and as people of faith.”

As important as it is to donate and volunteer it’s even more important to call on our elected officials. As Alexandra, Alyssa, Kennedy, Samir, and Tiffany are teaching us, we have to work together to change systems in order to make this historical, global transformation into a better future.

In a democracy, government actions are some of the very best tools to deal with big problems. Individual service and charity are wonderful expressions of the Spirit moving in our lives, but billions of dollars needed to rebuild will come from the government. We need to advocate now for smart government. We need to vote for leaders who are interested in bi-partisan smart government solutions for addressing the many challenges of 2020 including the derecho, the pandemic, the movement for racial justice, and climate action. I’ll let Alexandra Lund, third year, Dordt University have the final word as we all find ways to support each other in both our individual actions and our collective civic engagement.

“This problem is big and scary, but not hopeless. Each of us has pathways to action. Our faith and conscience can help us see the connections between climate change and so many of the challenges we’re facing in 2020. This summer, I’ve learned that once we connect these dots, we can heal our common home and build a better future.”