by Timothy Wotring
As a child who consumed the pop culture of the 90’s, I was and still am obsessed with Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Sabrina helped me to see magic in the mundane and broaden my imagination. My family also had a black cat, like Salem, at the time Sabrina was a regular on ABC’s TGIF. Lately, I’ve been re-watching Sabrina. What I’ve gladly noticed are the many climate change references and how keenly aware they were of it in the 90’s.
In the fourth season, the episode “Sabrina, Nipping at Your Nose” focused directly on climate change (12/17/99). Sabrina tires of the winter weather and even goes as far to say, “If I see my breath one more time, I’m going smack it upside its head.” In the background, a radio host offers a free trip for four to Jamaica if a caller can answer a science question. Of course, she wins because her Aunt Zelda who is a scientist is able to answer it with ease. Sabrina brightens up and heads off to school. When she comes back, the radio announcer says that all airports are closed because of the winter storm, which means the Jamaica trip is canceled. Angry and frustrated, Sabrina casts a spell to stop the snow storm. The spell backfires and she is turned into a snowman inside the house. Needless to say, the aunts come home to find a melted Sabrina. They quickly scoop her into a bucket and go to Mother Nature in the Other Realm.
Mother Nature is dressed as a corporate CEO, with a business suit and all. When Aunt Zelda, Aunt Hilda, and a melted Sabrina enter, Mother Nature is on the phone saying, “Hello Steve? Hurricane Steve? Yeah, this is Mother Nature. I need you to make a swing to the Virgin Islands later this week… Don’t give me any of that ‘I’m just a tropical storm’ business. Get off your tail-winds and get down there pronto.” These lines hit home since in September, the Virgin Islands were hit hard by Hurricane Irma and Maria. This is such a tragedy along with Puerto Rico, Barbuda, Dominica, St. Martin, and many others. Mother Nature seems to be ruthless.
When Sabrina eventually becomes materialized by a spell from Mother Nature, she calls out her out, even if it was just quickly. Sabrina says, “Well I’m sure there’s a third-world town you need to reduce to rubble so we’d better get going.” Sabrina clearly understands that climate change hurts the most vulnerable. But at the same time, Sabrina was not able to recognize that Mother Nature is also constrained to human activity. To blame Mother Nature is to point the finger at humanity as well.
What I appreciate about Sabrina is that climate change, pollution, and a talking cat appear frequently. I continue to look for the magic in mundane, but I am not looking for imaginary solutions to our predicament. We must use and promote alternatives to fossil fuels. Make no bones about it, the transition will be difficult, but we must not give up. Like Sabrina, we must not be afraid to confront the powers with a prophetic word, cast spells even if they only take place in a ballot box, and be willing to make the bold step ourselves to promote the Fossil Free PCUSA Overture to our presbyteries.