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RPC Eco-Letter 09: Advent

Greetings! In this Eco-Letter, I'll reflect on John the Baptist and Christmas shopping, and Mary and Cop27. I will also recommend a few articles and a podcast to listen to. Peace, Jesse

John the Baptist and Christmas Shopping

We all know that consumerism during the holidays is excessive. In A Charlie Brown Christmas, first aired in 1965, Charlie Brown is depressed by everyone’s focus on money (“Oh no! My own dog gone commercial!”), until his brother Linus reminds him of the true meaning of Christmas. So, this is nothing new. Still, I want to reflect on advent and consumerism, because climate change and the biodiversity crisis make the issue of reducing our consumption more urgent than ever. In Seasons of Faith and Conscience, Bill Wylie-Kellermann writes about the advent figure John the Baptist in contrast with our consumer holiday:

“Public poverty is part of the package. Not as pretense or gimmick, but as a discipline or that flows in and out of the wilderness geography. John’s notoriety of diet and dress are part of the proclamation. His lifestyle is a sign. How bitterly ironic it is that the season over which he presides should be so attacked, and subverted by the principalities of commerce. With a violent twist, they render it the high feast of material consumption. Their hype and excess would never wash with him. His sign will never suit their festivities, except as a scandal and judgement — and as an axe to their bloody roots.”

We all know that Christmas shouldn’t be about consumerism, but it’s not easy to break with our traditions, especially when we feel like we have to meet the expectations of our friends or family. For that reason, I liked this interactive Climate-friendly Gift Guide for Every Motivation Level from Grist last year. Unlike all the many gift guides that suggest which products to buy, this one offers ways to reduce waste and focus on what is really meaningful. Beyond gift giving, this really is one of the big questions of our time. How do we shift away from excessive material consumption? What can we do to address this, not just as individuals, but as communities? Can we improve the well-being of people globally with an economy that thrives but doesn’t endlessly grow?

Mary and Cop27

World leaders, activists and climate groups met in Egypt last month for UN climate talks called Cop27. The good news is that rich nations agreed to establish a “loss and damage” fund which will provide mechanism for wealthier countries to compensate developing countries for the impacts of climate change. This is important because those developing countries are responsible for only a small percentage of historical emissions. The bad news is that the world leaders failed to come up with a plan to bring down emissions or phase out fossil fuels. The goal of limiting warming to 1.5 is now quite unlikely. Keeping below 2 degrees will not be easy either. For a first-hand report of Cop27, listen to this report from Chicago-land youth activists, including our own Emmet Ebels-Duggan at around 37 minutes. With those more vulnerable developing countries in mind, I’m thinking of Mary, a poor woman at the margins, anticipating the coming of God's justice:

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowly state of his servant. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.” (From Luke 1:46-55)

Recommended reading and listening

*Elizabeth Kolbert on climate in The New Yorker: Kolbert talks about hope, but really she wants you to grapple with the tangled mess we are in. *The Hidden Costs of Cheap Meat: From Ezra Klein’s podcast. Reba values thrift and living simply so we can share with others and that’s a good thing. But how can we consider the human and nonhuman harm caused by our food systems? *Evanston Climate Action & Resilience Plan Update: This came out in October. The RoundTable covered it, reporting that future emission cuts will be harder for the city since we won’t be able to just rely on credits.


Above photo by Jesse Miller

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