Friday, October 21, 2011

Loving Our Neighbors in 2011

Part 2 of 3. Gospel for Proper 25A.

This is the second of three posts looking at what loving our neighbors requires when we live in a global community and climate change is already bringing hardship to many parts of the world.

A necessary step to loving our neighbors today is to care enough to know what is happening to other people in other places and to have enough curiosity to wonder why.  Indifference and apathy are incompatible with compassion.

Here is a sampling of a few of the things happening in our world now:

·         The drought and famine in East Africa (see Eastern Africa: Drought and Famine posts from July) continues. In a recent article in Nature entitled We thought trouble was coming, Chris Funk explains how the Climate Hazard Group from UC Santa Barbara forecast the drought. One of the factors they had considered in making the prediction was warming in the Indian Ocean as a result of climate change. Warming in the Indian Ocean had been observed to be linked to drying of spring rains in East Africa. La Nina effects, intensified by global warming, had dried the autumn rains in 2010. Funk reports that with the severity of this crisis, 11.5 million people across East Africa need emergency assistance.

·         Along with the floods in Mexico, Central America, and Haiti mentioned in the previous post in this series, flooding is threatening Thailand’s capital city, Bangkok, and has already flooded much of Thailand. A Reuters story today reports that flooding has killed at least 342 people in Thailand since July, and 247 people in Cambodia.  As a result of torrential rains since Wednesday at least 100 bodies were found near the Irrawaddy River in Myanmar and 100 more people are missing.

·         The Pacific island nations of Tokelau and Tuvalu have been dealing with severe water shortages, the result of lack of rainfall (expected to continue because of an intensified La Nina pattern) along with increased salinization of the islands’ water supplies because of sea level rise. Emergency water supplies and additional desalinization equipment from other Pacific nations have brought assistance in the crisis. The New York Times online this week carried a photo essay from Tuvalu. A related article, As Danger Laps at Its Shores, Tuvalu Pleads for Action, tells about how climate change is affecting people there now – their diet, soil, water supplies, and health all are affected -- and how they might cope in the future. Current projections are that Tuvalu will be uninhabitable within fifty years.

·         Monday’s dust storm in Lubbock, Texas, the result of the ongoing drought there, featured an 8000 foot dust cloud traveling at 70 mph. (See Texas dust storm, biggest in U.S. in decades, turns sky red and black.)
·         Here’s the view from a window during the storm:

·         The economic effects of this drought are very serious. A sobering forecast from NASA climatologist James Hansen says that “If we stay on with business as usual, the southern U.S. will become almost uninhabitable” within this century. The social and economic upheaval if this prediction holds will be enormous.

·         Jeff Goodell’s Rolling Stone article ClimateChange and the End of Australia suggests that if we want to see what is in store for us, we might look at what is happening already in Australia, where “rivers are drying up, reefs are dying, and fires and floods are ravaging the continent.” Goodell ends his story with this:
We walk for a while, watching all the happy people strolling along the boardwalk and drinking wine in cafes and surfing the waves. The sun is shining, and everything is lovely. Too bad that it all has to go.

These are all big events or well-known situations, yet they aren’t part of what most of us hear about or think about from day to day, and they aren’t part of most of our conversations in the church about our mission in the world.  The need to expand our ability to provide disaster relief is obvious. Paying attention to what is happening now helps us to see why we need to work now at mitigating climate change, lessening its extremes in future years. The more we know about how people are suffering now and will suffer in the future, the easier it becomes for us to lessen our carbon footprints as individuals and as a church and to advocate for policies that will reduce carbon emissions. And if you’ve read this far, it may be obvious that as we confront this crisis, we will require spiritual resources and care for ourselves as well as others.

What keeps us from having the conversations we need to have and from doing the work that the church should be doing to serve God’s people and care for God’s creation now and in the years to come? 

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