Scripture: Isaiah 24:4-5; John 1:1-4
Rev. John Walsh
April 10, 2016
On April 22, 1970, we celebrated the first Earth Day. Over a million people marched up Fifth Avenue to Central Park in NYC. In San Francisco, hundreds of thousands gathered in Golden Gate Park. Literally millions all over the world demanded that we take action to address climate change. It’s been 46 years since that day and I fear we have yet to take this seriously. The kind of seriousness that will make a difference.
The Chair of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources in the United States Senate (Sen. Jim Inhofe) says this is the biggest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people. Candidates for President in 2016 remind of us how little progress we’ve made on this issue. Ted Cruz says it’s time to stand up to the anti-science hysteria of liberals. I feel like washing my mouth out with soap after saying that. Donald Trump denies that global warming is a serious issue and both he and Cruz vow to undo all the things that President Obama has done related to climate change.
It’s hard to imagine how anyone who can walk and chew gum at the same time can say that they don’t know. In a recent edition of the Scientific American (November 2015) is a story that tells us that Exxon knew about Climate Change almost 40 years ago. The company’s knowledge of climate change dates back to July 1977, when its senior scientist James Black delivered a sobering message on the topic. But as it turns out, Exxon didn’t just understand the science, the company actively engaged with it. In the 1970s and 1980s it employed top scientists to look into the issue and launched its own ambitious research program that empirically sampled carbon dioxide and built rigorous climate models. Exxon even spent more than $1 million on a tanker project that would tackle how much CO2 (carbon dioxide) is absorbed by the oceans. It was one of the biggest scientific questions of the time, meaning that Exxon was truly conducting unprecedented research. Hear the words of their own scientists. “In the first place, there is general scientific agreement that the most likely manner in which mankind is influencing the global climate is through carbon dioxide release from the burning of fossil fuels,” Black told Exxon’s management committee. A year later he warned Exxon that doubling CO2 gases in the atmosphere would increase average global temperatures by two or three degrees—a number that is consistent with the scientific consensus today. He continued to warn that “present thinking holds that man has a time window of five to 10 years before the need for hard decisions regarding changes in energy strategies might become critical.” In other words, Exxon needed to act.
A decade before Black warned Exxon, historians were warning us as well. In the journal Science, in 1968, Lynn White, Jr., a Professor at UCLA wrote a powerful article entitled ‘The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis’ in which he said it is essentially the fault of Christianity that the environment is in the shape it is currently in. Although Christian leaders called him every name in the book, White was actually a Sunday School teacher at a large Presbyterian Church near the campus of UCLA. The point he was making was that we have so misinterpreted and misunderstood the sacred texts that we got us into a human-made mess.
For decades we have been warned. The science is clear. There is no debate. Read the reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the international body for assessing the science related to climate change. The IPCC was set up in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to provide policymakers with regular assessments of the scientific basis of climate change, its impacts and future risks, and options for adaptation and mitigation. The IPCC was first formed in 1988 and since then has issued 5 Assessment Reports on Climate Change, the most recent being in 2014.
Aldo Leopold warned us in ‘Sound County Almanac.’ Rachel Carson warned us in ‘Silent Spring.’ Lynn White warned us in his op ed article. Even the scientists at Exxon-Mobil tried to warn us. Should I mention that Al Gore warned us?
Where did we go wrong? Start at the beginning. In Genesis 1:28. Now skip forward just a few chapters in Genesis. To Genesis 9:1. Notice the difference? What’s missing? Yes. Subdue! We are no longer commanded or allowed to subdue the earth. The new relationship calls for caring stewardship and love for all of creation.
One such voice, perhaps prophetic voice is that of Bill McKibben. Bill McKibben has been in the prophecy business for the last 27 years, when he wrote his first book about global warming called, ‘The End of Nature.’ Then he was a lone voice crying in the wilderness, now, people are finally beginning to listen to him and his following is growing. He has organized world-wide events to bring attention to global warming and climate change; and founded a group called ‘350.org’.
350 is a significant number for climate scientists. It is the concentration in parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, above which we can no longer sustain life on this planet as we have known it for the last 10,000 years. Unfortunately we have gone beyond that number and are approaching 403 ppm. The hope is to stop that trend by reducing the burning of fossil fuels, the greatest contributor to global warming. Scientists say that even if we immediately stop using fossil fuels, the CO2 number could still rise to 600ppm by the end of this century.
Almost all climate scientists, especially those in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) scientists would agree with him on that. It is certainly the beginning of the end of weather patterns as we know them. Our climate is changing for good and there is no going back!
The average worldwide temperature has increased by one and a half degrees Fahrenheit over the last one hundred years. It does not sound like much and yet it is already having dramatic consequences. The polar ice caps are melting, glaciers are shrinking, some even disappearing entirely, the sea level is increasing, the tropics have moved two degrees latitude north.
California’s drought is so severe that scientists are saying it is no longer a drought but represents a permanent change, the beginning of a new desert. The tropics are expanding northwards and southwards, bringing new disease with it and altering ecosystems. Less rain has fallen in the plains states and other grain-growing regions of the world reducing harvests and resulting in world food shortages.
In the South Pole global warming has been more extreme. There, the mean winter temperature has increased nearly 11 degrees killing off the phytoplankton, which feed the krill, which feed the penguins. The Adélie penguin population has been decimated 90%. The colonies of Emperor penguins there are gone forever. Many parts of the world are seeing greater flooding.
Never mind global warming, just look what energy companies are doing to our environment as they try to squeeze the last drop of fossil fuel from the earth. They are drilling deeper undersea risking future blowouts like the BP oil spill in the Gulf. Mountain-top removal in West Virginia has already destroyed 400 mountains. Hydraulic fracturing in Oklahoma where they inject a toxic brew of substances to recover gas trapped in underground shale has contaminated underground aquifers. Recovering oil from the Alberta Tar Sands has stripped away hundreds of square miles of boreal forest and produced man-made lakes of contaminated, untreatable water.
The earth is in convulsions: hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, tornados, and wildfires. We have abused it for too long! God calls us into relationship with our Creator, each other, and the earth. However, we have turned our back on God’s Creation and God, too! It is time to reestablish our relationship with the earth! We really do not have a choice!
From the Gospel of John, Chapter 3 and verse 16, we read these words: ‘…For God so loved the world.’ We all know the rest of the verse. And we all think we know the meaning of the verse. It speaks of salvation. But we have, as Lynn White warned, misread the verse. It’s context. It’s intention and meaning. The world that was translated as world would more appropriately be translated COSMOS. For God so loved the Cosmos. All of creation. All creatures in creation. The earth itself. The Christian Theologian, Sallie McFague so eloquently tells us that this is the Body of God. Just imagine.