Saturday, November 12, 2011

Numbering Our Days: Five Years

Proper 28A: Psalm 90

So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom. (Psalm 90:12)

Psalm 90 contrasts the greatness and eternity of God to our fragile and finite lives with the hope expressed that we might learn to “number our days” – to be aware of our finite human condition – so that we become truly wise, gaining wisdom in our hearts. This is the psalm that reminds us that a thousand years are like yesterday in God’s sight, or like a watch in the night. Before the mountains or the land or the earth itself existed, God existed.

We take a smaller view of things most of the time, losing the perspective of this psalm; survival demands that we pay attention to our essential and immediate needs before other things, and that habit of mind then extends to less essential things. But when our essential needs are met, we can step back and get some perspective on our place in the universe and in time. 

The more we can keep hold of that perspective, the more that we realize that the world does not in fact revolve around any one of us, the wiser we become. God cares for each one of us and knows the number of hairs on each of our heads, but we are wise if we can occasionally look outside of ourselves and think about something other than our hair or wealth or comfort.

This was a heavy news week across the board. In environmental news, yesterday’s news about the Keystone XL pipeline project being delayed – and perhaps eventually stopped -- and the underlying message that the voices of Nebraskans concerned about our land and water had been heard was big news here. However, big though that story was for our state, our nation, and our planet – and it is a very big story indeed! – there is another story that got much less attention among the general public but is very important for everyone.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) released their 2011 World Energy Outlook (WEO-11) report this week. (See the executivesummary of the report here.) Among all the analysis of current energy sources, expected trends, and discussion of resources and expected energy needs as the earth’s population grows is this:
We cannot afford to delay further action to tackle climate change if the long-term target of limiting the global average temperature increase to 2°C …is to be achieved at reasonable cost.
The report says that we have five years to turn things around and prevent irreversible climate change. There have been some “steps in the right direction, but the door to 2°C is closing”. Five years – a very short amount of time even in our eyes.

What will we do in the next five years? What will be the priorities of our political and business leaders, and what priorities will we ask them to adopt? Will we in the church pray and work to preserve God’s creation and defend the people hurt first and worst by climate change, or squabble over our own internal affairs and wonder why people don’t seem to be interested in joining us? 

The past five years were critical to climate change, as were the past twenty as we really came to understand what was happening, but too little has been done to make a difference in outcome. We have been so much in denial that we have allowed our leaders and policymakers to delay taking significant action to address climate change.  The next five years are our last chance to get it right.

The WEO-11 report says:
Delaying action is a false economy: for every $1 of investment in cleaner technology that is avoided in the power sector before 2020, an additional $4.30 would need to be spent after 2020 to compensate for the increased emissions.
 In other words, delaying action is foolish, while doing what needs to be done would be wise. Given what is at stake, failing to get serious about climate change is totally irrational and morally indefensible.

So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.