4 Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” 5 The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.
6 When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. 7 (Read the rest of the chapter, here.)
Nineveh’s Second Chance: A Metaphor for Climate Change
Let’s start with the second second chance of this chapter: In a rare instance of power listening to prophets before calamity strikes, the Ninevites take Jonah’s message of impending doom to heart and institute a citywide act of repentance. Everyone puts on sackcloth, fasts, and even causes their livestock to fast. God takes notice of their contrition, and has compassion on them.
I think the story of the Ninevites is an excellent metaphor for how we, collectively, should be reacting to climate change. The prophets have been warning us of impending doom for some time now. Warning signs – melting ice caps, wilder hurricane seasons, even migrating trees – have been shown to us as well. What if, like the Ninevites, we actually listened? And not only listened, but did something about it? And what if our politicians listened to us, like the Ninevite king did to his people? What if we instituted an official policy of reducing our footprint on the earth and not just giving lip-service to that idea? Like the king of Nineveh I say, “Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn Xyr fierce anger so that we will not perish.”
Good on you if you bike to work, eat local, and have solar panels on your roof. I really do think that’s great. But to be perfectly frank, our personal actions only account for part of the equation: They help create a culture of eco-awareness. But in order to effect real change, we need to see things done on a national and even global scale, instituting a policy of eco-awareness.
I’ll use an example with my personal eco-bugaboo: food waste. If food waste was a country, it would be third in the list of greenhouse gas emitters after the US and China. If we reduced food waste, we not only would reduce the amount of greenhouse gasses emitted by rotting food, but also the amount of water, land, and other resources used to grow or create something destined to just be thrown away. We can create a culture of combating food waste at home by buying responsibly, making just enough and eating it all, and composting what we don’t or can’t eat (like egg shells or banana peels). But this does nothing to address the institutional food waste of grocery stores, large cafeterias, or the entire prepared food industry. And while our consumer choices certainly can influence how those places view food waste, their participation in reducing food waste remains entirely optional at a time when we need it to be mandatory. A little encouraging aside: The Food Recovery Act tackles food waste, and has already been introduced in Congress. But it has languished in the Health subcommittee since 2017. Now that we have a new administration coming in and a COVID vaccine on the horizon, perhaps this is the time to call your representatives to let them know you want to see this bill passed in the new year, making it policy to reduce food waste.
Back to those solar panels and other potential solutions to climate change: We could make renewable energy a reality. And make plug-in cars ubiquitous. And focus on keeping our food systems as local as possible. And reduce our reliance on plastic packaging. The list goes on. If plug-in cars replaced gas-powered vehicles, and solar/wind/hydro- power replaced coal and fossil fuel plants, we would keep millions of tons of greenhouse gasses out of the atmosphere annually. If we focus on (and provide the support for) people to eat local, we reduce the resources needed to distribute said food. If we tax plastic bags their usage (and environmental impact) goes down 40-90%, depending upon the area being surveyed. But in order for any of this to happen we need it to be policy. Culture alone will not do it. Civil rights were not protected until the Civil Rights Act (and there’s still work to be done, but it was a start). Same with the right to vote. Same with child labor laws. Same with the ADA, the protection of endangered species, access to affordable housing, and so on and so forth: Trailblazers worked within a culture of caring and passion, bringing attention to the wrongs of everything from eagles to wheelchair access. But change isn’t fully actualized until it becomes policy.
So once again, with a new administration coming in and COVID (hopefully) becoming less of a concern in 2021, we can all call our representatives to tell them we want action on climate change. Those of us who are able can donate to Citizen’s Climate Lobby, Idle No More, and the Union of Concerned Scientists. We can urge the companies we work for and shop from to do the same thing. We can protest in the streets. Whatever it takes to make action on climate change the dominant policy. With God’s help and good grace, I firmly believe it is never too late for us to start instituting real change.
Jonah’s second chance and God’s never-ending patience
And just who is responsible for leading that change? If a culture of eco-awareness (or any other sort of awareness) isn’t enough, it is easy for us to give up and let ourselves off the hook. And that’s not very different from some of the prophets of the Old Testament. Jonah runs away from his charge to warn Nineveh. Moses, arguably the most important of prophets in the Old Testament, hems and haws and argues and bargains with God at length before going back to Egypt. Jeremiah and Gideon were also reluctant. But God is patient, and listens to all their fuss and bluster – and even lets them run away a bit – before gently insisting on Xyr ways, reminding each of these prophets, “I will be with you.”
I find this reassuring. It is easy to be distracted from what God is calling us to do. We can even convince ourselves that we are doing the right thing in running away. We are not “the right ones” for the job, no one will listen to us, we don’t have the right experience, the time, the money, the influence, and so on. And there are always other important things that need to be done, right? I, for one, am a champion procrasti-cleaner. Because really, how am I to be expected to do anything important when there’s five loads of laundry to be done and there are dishes in the sink and the downstairs hasn’t been swept in a week? And yes, those things need to be done, too, but the house doesn’t have to be perfect before I take a moment to call my representatives, before I work on the employee handbook for a new responsible-farming apprenticeship program we’re forming on the farm, or before I keep speaking my truth over here on my little corner of the internet.
The time is always right, and we are always the right person when it comes to making the world a better, more just, more green, and more sacred space. If there’s one final message I want you to take away this week, it is that we all have our part, however small it may seem, and that we don’t need to go it alone. First and foremost, God is with us, and that alone is a big thing. We might make mistakes along the way (Remember tires-in-the-ocean-to-make-reefs intitiative? Ooof!), but we should keep going. Keep speaking up, keep encouraging others, keep the myriad injustices of this world from being swept out of sight. The more we speak, the more others will see, and the more actions will be taken. Whether it’s racial, environmental, gender, workplace, or some other sort of justice – listen to what God is calling you to do, and then go do it! We always have a second chance to act in God, and we should use it to the fullest potential whenever we come across it.