A fire swept across the Jemez Mountains range four years ago, a blaze viewable from the home of Lutheran lay theologian and climate advocate, Larry Rasmussen. Destroying just over 150,000 acres of land, the climate-induced rampage was, perhaps, the most convincing evidence of climate change to reach the Santa Fe area in some time. Is this what it takes to garner concern for the climate, inciting disturbance only after the fact?

Rasmussen suggests, “It’s the values that people want to live their lives by or the love they feel for a place or their family or for their friends that motivate them.” Rasmussen, accompanied by thousands of faith leaders, is using this experience to draw some conclusions about climate communications – conclusions further validated by Pope Francis.

When the Vatican released Pope Francis' Encyclical over the summer, no one (myself included) fully understood its trajectory. The nearly 200-page edict moved people, but how? 

One thing is for sure; it wasn't using scientific data, oddly enough. Though the document contained intermittent mentions of data points accumulated by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, those weren't the leading persuasive arguments. Rather, the Pope expressed a value system, one in which people could easily identify and categorize under their theological roots. In this instance, it was a call to 'care for the least of these.'

Is your climate message taking note of this approach and how is it working for you?


Climate of Faith: Scientists have spoken on climate change. But will it take a leap of faith for people to change?

Laura Paskus | Santa Fe Reporter

Four summers ago, a tree fell on a power line, causing a wildfire that ripped through the Jemez Mountains, charring a record-setting 150,000 acres of forest, burning dozens of homes and destroying the Pueblo of Santa Clara’s watershed. 

Today, green has returned to the landscape. But as the trees grow back, they’ll be different species from the piñón and ponderosa we lost. As plant communities change, so do the species of birds and wildlife that rely upon them. And the relationships people have with the forest—to earn a livelihood, recreate or find solace—change, as well. 

It’s just one of the easy examples of how a hotter and drier climate and the role humans play in it are altering our environment. 

“Scientists can describe the boundaries that we dare not cross,” says Larry Rasmussen, a Lutheran lay theologian who is active at the United Church of Santa Fe and retired in 2004 from Union Theological Seminary in New York City as Reinhold Niebuhr Professor Emeritus of Social Ethics. For years, scientists have been telling world leaders that to avoid cataclysmic and irreversible climate disruption, we must cut greenhouse gas emissions to limit the rise of global temperatures.

We’re seated side-by-side at his kitchen table on Santa Fe’s east side, looking out the picture window that frames a view of the Jemez Mountains. He remembers seeing the initial plume of smoke—“We had no idea what it would become,” Rasmussen says—and watching the forest burn at night.

Scientists can describe intensifying wildfires, droughts, disappearing glaciers, the extinction of species and rising sea levels. They can predict and model. But data points and scientific graphs don’t inspire people to change their behavior.

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