Thursday, August 9, 2012

After the Flood

20Then Noah built an altar to the Lord, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. 21And when the Lord smelled the pleasing odor, the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done. 22As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.”

Genesis 8:20-22

After the flood, when the dry land appeared again and Noah gave thanks for a second chance for the world, God spoke to Noah and promised that he would never again bring such destruction.

In this summer of heat and drought, we would not wish for a flood, but a few days of rain would be welcome. In the United States, we experienced the hottest July on record, breaking the mark set in 1936, in the midst of the dustbowl. It also marked the warmest 12 month period on record. Sixty-three percent of the country is experiencing drought conditions. Unless something changes radically in the next two weeks, at the end of August we will have experienced 330 consecutive months in which the average global temperature exceeded the average for the twentieth century.

The numbers are scary.

The good news, if you can call it good news, is that more people are convinced that global warming is a reality. The bad news, apart from the drought itself, is that no one seems to be seriously proposing that we should try to do something about it.

In a recent article in the New York Times, Mark Bittman writes: “Here’s what American exceptionalism means now: on a per-capita basis, we either lead or come close to leading the world in consumption of resources, production of pollutants and a profound unwillingness to do anything about it.” We remain the only industrialized nation that has not signed the Kyoto Protocol for reducing greenhouse gases.

Global warming is not a "natural disaster" and it certainly is not an "act of God." On the contrary, this is the result of an act of humanity. The writers of Genesis recorded God's promise not to destroy the world, but they could hardly have imagined that we would do it to ourselves. 

For Christians, our failure to act in the face of global warming should be profoundly troubling in at least three different ways.

First, if we understand ourselves as stewards of the gifts that God has given us, then caring for creation must be a priority. If we believe that it all belongs to God, then we have a responsibility to take care of it.

Second, we need to trust the science. That may sound to some people like the very opposite of faith, but it grows directly out of our understanding of creation as a gift. We are supposed to think and search and experiment and understand the world. Science is a gift. We should embrace it. We will seldom find unanimity, but we need to look for the broad consensus.

Third, the consequences of global warming will fall most heavily on those who have the least and are the most vulnerable. Global ecology and global justice are directly related. As the effects of global warming increase, those who have the least will lose the most. 

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