Tuesday, February 8, 2011

For the Children

The Daily Office Gospel reading for Wednesday (Mark 10:1-16) includes the story of Jesus blessing the children. Jesus made it plain that even if the children didn’t have much importance to others, they were important to him. By his example of not allowing the disciples to keep the children at arm’s length from him, Jesus teaches us the importance of seeing children as individuals in need of love and protection, not as abstractions.

I’ve just begun reading a new book by Mark Hertsgaard, Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth. While many books have been written about dealing with climate change, this one has a depth to it that is helpful to those of us looking at the environment through a spiritual lens. I’ve been thinking the past year about our culture’s denial of the realities of climate change and our seeming inability to begin looking at what is happening and how we might best deal with it. This book articulates very well some of the issues involved in all of this.

Hot brings home the reality of our warming climate through a father’s passion for his own daughter’s future. Mark Hertsgaard had reported on the plight of children in other countries before his own daughter’s birth, but realized after she was born that he had been able to keep an emotional distance from the stories of these children that parents don’t have.

Reviewing Hot in the New York Times, Wen Stephenson writes that this book “raises the emotional stakes while keeping a clear head.” Stephenson then says: “This was the first book on climate change that not only frightened me — plenty have done that — but also broke my heart.” Perhaps our hearts need to be broken before we can bring ourselves out of denial and get to the place where we can help one another cope with this changing world.

In the Prologue to the book (which is available here through Google books), Mark Hertsgaard talks about the moment when his view of the world changed, when the issues of climate change became so real to him that he knew he had to find out all he could and work on figuring out how people can live through the period of climate change we have now entered. The shift came in 2005 when Hertsgaard was a new father of a baby girl. He interviewed David King, a prominent British climate scientist, who talked about climate change not as something in the future that we might possibly yet avoid, but as something that had already begun unfolding. Even if our greenhouse gas emissions were cut drastically and immediately, there would still be global warming for many years as a result of the processes that had already begun. After the interview, Hertsgaard realized that the time period they had been discussing was his daughter’s lifetime, that this warmer, more difficult world was the world in which his little girl would grow up and live her life.

Hot not only takes a realistic look at where we are now, but looks with hope at things we can do – and that some people and governments are already doing – to make the best of the future. Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth is not a religious environmental book, but its compassion for our children and its elements of hope speak to people of faith.

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