Forgive Us, For We Know Not What We Do
I delivered a meditation on parenting and creation care in several churches yesterday. The transcript is below.
As Psalm 104 reminds, we live on an amazing planet. EB White once said: “Every morning I awake torn between the desire to save the world and an inclination to savour it. This makes it hard to plan the day.”
Here we are, on Mother’s Day, celebrating the giving of life, that most sacred of acts. And the sun is shining, the sky is blue. If we are lucky, our children are nestled in our laps or beside us on the pew.
Incongruously, incredibly, unbelievably, really, science is telling us that we are in the middle of a global emergency. 97 % of climate scientists are convinced, based on the evidence, that human-caused global warming is happening.
- We lose 200 species every 24 hours to extinction.
- Oceans are becoming so acidic from the extra carbon dioxide in the air that ocean water is starting to take the “shell” out of shellfish. Instead of the “innumerable living things, both small and great” that the Psalmist describes, our oceans are on the verge of turning into a sea of weeds.
- Extreme weather events are impacting more and more people every year, disproportionately the global poor because they already live on the margins and have no cushion when the rains don’t come or the floods destroy their crops.
But it’s not just the poorest among us. The 2013 Calgary flood was the most expensive natural disaster in Canadian history, and the Toronto flood that followed on its heels was the most expensive natural disaster in Ontario’s history.
We are the first generation to feel the effects of human-caused global warming, and the last generation to be able to stop it.
Yet it remains tucked away on page 27 of the newspaper most of the time.
Global warming is a problem that is very difficult for us to wrap our minds around. Our brains developed to focus on more immediate threats, like is this tiger going to eat me? Global warming is a vague “future” threat that can’t be seen or felt or even easily described.
A recent study took a group of people and divided them in half. Half of the group spent some time in a warmer than average room (27 degrees C) and the other half was in a room temperature setting. Afterwards each group was asked about if climate change was real. More people in the warm room said yes. Our experience forms our brain’s responses to information in conscious and unconscious ways, and often has little to do with actual data. We can’t rely on our own experience, we need to listen to the experts. And they are very alarmed; not by the problem of climate change itself, which has solutions that have been around for a decade or more. Rather, they are alarmed by the general apathy (and sometimes outright hostility) of the general population and the resulting lack of political will to act.
It’s interesting to note, on Mother’s Day, that the research suggests that parents with young children are less likely to believe climate change is a serious threat and less likely to talk about it. They are significantly less likely to have any opinion on how to deal with it.
If only we had an “enemy” we could pin it on! If North Korea was found to be pouring climate-altering chemicals into the air to increase the frequency and severity of floods, droughts, and wildfires across North America there would be swift and decisive action!
Let me put some faces on the “faceless” emergency:
Brenda is about my age, a grandmother living in Fort McKay First nation in the epicentre of the Alberta oil sands boom. There’s no clean water in the community any more. Every day bottled water is delivered to households. Brenda shared with me her sadness that her grandchildren couldn’t swim in the lake in front of her house anymore. If they do, they break out in rashes and sometimes open sores.
My friend Mark lives in San Diego. His favourite childhood memories involve eating fruit off trees in his neighbourhood. So for 20 years he’s been planting fruit trees in his backyard in anticipation of grandchildren who could experience eating a fruit picked fresh off a tree. One of his favourite trees produced big purple plums that when you bit into them the juice ran down your chin and your arm. This tree stopped producing plums 4 years ago, and when Mark brought in a branch to a local nursery he was told there was nothing he could do. San Diego’s winters aren’t cold enough anymore for the tree to go through its natural cycle. It will never produce plums for Mark’s grandchildren.
A South African delegate to UN Climate Talks in Qatar in 2012 told the assembled delegates:
“My ancestral lands are going to go through a 4 – 5 degree increase even if the world stops at 2 degrees. Grass stops growing at 38 degrees and our cattle will die. So whatever we have managed to preserve through genocide and colonization, we are going to lose through climate change. As an indigenous person, when I lose my land, I lose my culture. I am sorry about your recession, but I am experiencing a bit of compassion fatigue.”
Father, forgive us, for we know not what we do.
As Christians, we are called to love our neighbours, not to flood their homes and destroy their crops, but to love them.
We are called to be stewards of God’s magnificent creation, not to pollute it and destroy it for future generations.
Because global warming is, well, a global issue, it can be overwhelming and we can get caught in the different stages of grief – denial, anger, depression – all of which are paralyzing. The final stage is acceptance linked to action, action that is not based on our chances of success but rather on our obligation to action.
What can one person or one church do? I’m glad you asked!
- BREAK THE SILENCE! Resolve to speak to at least one new person every day about climate change. Remember, 97% of climate scientists are convinced, based on the evidence, that human-caused global warming is happening.
- Pray daily about climate change, and ask for guidance on this issue, and then allow space and quiet to listen for an answer. There will be one.
- Make space in your church community for grieving and lamenting what we have lost, and for our thoughtlessness. What Steve Heinrichs did last month was an example of this.
- The movement to divest from fossil fuels is doing important work. We should all be looking at our own, and our organizations, portfolios.
- The single most impactful action you can take to create the political will for a livable world is to sit down with your Member of Parliament and talk about your concerns, preferably with other climate-concerned constituents.
What being part of Citizens’ Climate Lobby has taught me is that politicians don’t create political will, they respond to it. Citizens’ Climate Lobby is modeled on the example of Ghandi’s “truth force”, what he called satyagraha, that propelled the British out of India last century. CCL volunteers focus on building relationships of respect and ongoing dialogue with elected officials. We at CCL are a peaceful, loving, persistent army that lobbies for a price on carbon emissions as the mechanism to shift our economy away from fossil fuels. Love it or hate it, the market economy is the single most powerful social force in human history. An honest price on carbon would harness the market to solve this problem, and unleash its creativity at the same time.
Climate scientist Dr Katherine Hayhoe says “As Christians, we are told that God is not the author of fear. God is love. When we are acting out of fear we are thinking about ourselves. When we act out of love, we’re thinking about others – our global neighbours, the poor and disadvantaged, the people who don’t have the resources to adapt. So I believe we’re called first of all to love each other, and second of all, to act.”
During the Apollo mission in 1969, astronaut Rusty Schweikart was let out of the capsule on an umbilical cord. Usually NASA keeps the astronauts compulsively busy up there but a peculiar thing happened to Schweikert. Just as he emerged from the capsule, something went wrong within the capsule; both Mission control in Houston and the remaining astronauts had to concentrate on the problem. This left Rusty all alone… floating around Mother Earth in complete cosmic silence. During this time, Rusty had two profound conversion experiences. He looked back on Mother Earth “A shining gem against a totally black backdrop,” and realized everything he cherished was on that gem – his family and land, music and human history with its folly and its grandeur; he was so overcome that he wanted to “hug and kiss that gem like a mother does her firstborn child.”
Compassion flowed through him. Trained as a jet fighter pilot, he was a typical “macho man,” but a breakthrough of something bigger came washing over him at that moment in space.
Schweikart’s second awakening in space was a political one. He was a red, white, and blue American who believed what he had always been taught – that the world was divided between the communist world and the free world. Yet, while floating around Mother Earth he saw that rivers flowed indiscriminately between Russia and Europe; that ocean currents served communist, socialist, and capitalist nations alike; that clouds did not stop at borders to test for political ideology; and that there are no nations. Nations exist in the mind of the human race alone.
On returning to NASA, Schweikart was not debriefed by any spiritual director about his mystical experiences. He confesses to having wandered about in a state of stupor for six months, bumping into walls while asking himself repeatedly this one question, why did God do this to me?
Finally, he concluded, that God did this through him so that others might hear the message. What message? Compassion. Interdependence. Shared Beauty on this shining, glistening planet. The holy earth. We must take such care of it. It must take such care of us. This side of heaven, we are each of us so nearly all the other has. There is darkness all around us, yet between us there is just enough light to get by.