Saturday, May 11, 2013

400 ppm Response

As predicted for the month of May, carbon dioxide levels as measured at the Mauna Loa observatory have reached 400 parts per million for a daily average. An article from the New York Times yesterday reported the discouraged and discouraging reaction of scientists to the news; they note our failure to reverse the upward trend in these readings, the catastrophic results we face from this dramatic change in our atmosphere, and the fact that the last time carbon dioxide levels were this high on the earth, human beings were not yet here.

We know the reaction of the news media: there are some reports about crossing the threshold, including statements from the scientists, but reporters are not giving this the attention we usually give to national catastrophes or calamities. And the reaction so far from the majority of our political leaders is silence.

The Episcopal Church just finished participating in a short conference on “sustaining hope in the face of climate change”.  Our leadership acknowledges the problem. I wonder how many parishes, though, will include special prayers this Sunday after we have reached this mark, how many preachers will feel a need to address this the way we have addressed 9/11 or mass murders or large scale natural disasters, how many people visiting at coffee hour will talk about their feelings about this being the week we reached a reading of 400 ppm.

The church has an opportunity to break the great silence of the media and political leaders; the church has an opportunity to do what our faith equips us to do best, to help people look at the reality of what is happening and process its meaning and go out prepared to deal with this new world with its new needs. The church can recognize this and name this for what it is: a tragedy, a worldwide emergency, a shared grief.

When The Book of Common Prayer was written in 1979, a small number of scientists were beginning to get an idea of where we were headed with greenhouse gases and climate change. Most of us knew nothing about any of this, though, and our prayer book has no prayers or collects for reaching unthinkable thresholds of atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide. We do, however, have many prayers for people in need of healing and food and water, for the welfare of our nation and the world, for our leaders, and for our own strength and courage and wisdom. We can pray these in light of where we are now, mindful of new needs in the world and old needs of human souls that got us where we are now and can also repent and get us headed in a better direction.  And we have prayers such as these:

For the Conservation of Natural Resources
Almighty God, in giving us dominion over things on earth you made us fellow workers in your creation: Give us wisdom and reverence so to use the resources of nature, that no one may suffer from our abuse of them, and that generations yet to come may continue to praise you for your bounty; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (p. 827)

For the Future of the Human Race
O God, our heavenly Father, you have blessed us and given us dominion over all the earth: Increase our reverence before the mystery of life; and give us new insight into your purposes for the human race, and new wisdom and determination in making provision for its future in accordance with your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (p. 828)

And so that we might preach the truth and be mindful of our priorities, remembering that nothing less than our own future and the future of our children and grandchildren are at stake and that Christ gives us the strength we need to do the work before us, we might pray for the church:

Gracious Father, we pray thy holy Catholic Church. Fill it with all truth, in all truth with all peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in any thing it is amiss, reform it. Where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake of Jesus Christ thy Son our Savior. Amen. (For the Church, p. 816)

There is so much beauty in the living things around this; aware of what we may lose yet in our lifetimes, sharing our love for the beauty of the earth and thanking God for these gifts is also part of our prayer:

Monday, May 6, 2013

"Do we want to be made well?" addendum


399.68 ppm was the May 4 daily average reading for atmospheric carbon dioxide.  The Keeling Curve: A Daily record of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego posts the latest reading along with various historical charts to help in understanding the significance of the current number.

The chart for the past week shows that some hourly readings already had reached 400 ppm.


It may well be that this week, with the "Do you want to be made well?" question from Sunday's Gospel (John 5:1-9) still fresh in our thoughts, that we will hit 400 ppm for a daily average.

The Keeling Curve website includes a page describing What Does 400 ppm Look Like? .  The last time carbon dioxide levels were  this high was during the Pliocene period (3 to 5 million years ago). This is the first time in human history that carbon dioxide levels have been this high; we have changed our biosphere in a way we are only beginning to understand. What we know about temperatures and sea levels in the Pliocene period can help us understand what we may be experiencing.

Here's a spiritual exercise for today: Ground yourself in prayer and Christian hope and take a look at what 400 ppm looks like, then decide your answer to the question: "Do you want to be made well?"

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Do we want to be made well?

6th Sunday of Easter and 400 ppm CO2

“Do you want to be made well?” is the question Jesus asks in the story in John (John 5:1-9)  about the healing of the man who had been lying next to the pool by the Sheep Gate for 38 years. Unlike other stories of Jesus healing people, neither this man nor anyone else acting on his behalf approaches Jesus or calls out to him to ask for healing. Instead, Jesus approaches him and asks, “Do you want to be made well?”

In answer, the man offers an explanation of why he has not been healed: he has no one to help him be the first one to get in the water when it is “stirred up” and thought to have healing properties. After 38 years of this, he doesn't sound as if he has any expectation that he will ever make it into the pool at the right time, and yet he keeps doing the same thing day after day. Could he not imagine any other alternative?

Jesus gives him an alternative, and in giving the alternative, also gives him his healing. Jesus doesn't lay hands on him or pray over him or cast out demons. Instead, Jesus simply tells him to get up, pick up the mat he has been lying on all these years, and walk.

As May begins, we are hovering around atmospheric carbon dioxide levels of 400 ppm. The home page of shows this graphic today:

The level of atmospheric carbon dioxide scientists tell us we need to reach for climate stability that supports life as we have known it on the Earth is 350 ppm. (See the CO2 Now website or for more information about that number.)

These readings are taken at the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawai’i. Ralph Keeling, a geologist at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography that operates the observatory, said, “I wish it weren't true but it looks like the world is going to blow through the 400ppm level without losing a beat.”

On the Climate Progress blog today, Joe Romm’s post Into The Valley Of Death Rode The 600, Into The Valley Of 400 PPM Rode The 7 Billion compares our staying on a “self-evidently suicidal” path to the charge of the British light cavalry in the Crimean war that Tennyson remembered in The Charge of the Light Brigade.  Romm writes:

Certainly as we hit 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time in human existence, with not even a plan to avoid 600 ppm, 800 ppm, and then 1000 — not even a national discussion or an outcry by the so-called intelligentsia – it is worth asking, why? Is there something inherent in homo “sapiens” that makes us oblivious to the obvious?

Along with those questions, we might ask ourselves the question Jesus asked the man by the pool: Do we want to be made well?  This is a question about our priorities. Choosing health over sickness, holiness over sin, life over death is really a matter of putting first things first.  The things that help us continue to grow toward greater wholeness and the fullness of life that God desires for us are not always the comfortable or convenient things or the familiar things. It’s usually easy to find excuses for not doing the right thing; when we choose to stay stuck instead of making the effort to move forward, we can rationalize that choice so well that we often manage to convince ourselves that staying stuck is our only option or the best option or even the right thing to do. This time the consequences of staying stuck are the most far-ranging and dire we have ever approached.

We know that changing the trajectory of our carbon emissions will require some significant changes in the way we do things. Even though what we are doing is making climate change worse and worse, doing something about it, especially doing anything that requires political courage or inconvenience or change of any sort is not a priority for very many people. Doing the deep spiritual work of really seeing what we are doing to our planet, ourselves, and all living things and keeping ourselves spiritually whole and grounded in faith as we figure out how to respond seems to be an especially low priority.

Do we want to be made well? Do we want to change the path we are on? The choices are either to continue just what we are doing, or to get up and walk into a very different but healthier future.

At the beginning of May, Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, Church of Sweden Archbishop Anders Wejryd and ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson signed a statement celebrating a commitment to hope in the face of climate change. The statement includes a commitment to “walk a different course”:

As Christians, we do not live in the despair and melancholy of the tomb, but in the light of the Risen Christ. Our resurrection hope is grounded in the promise of renewal and restoration for all of God’s Creation, which gives us energy, strength and perseverance in the face of overwhelming challenge. For us, this promise is more than an abstraction.  It is a challenge to commit ourselves to walk a different course and serve as the hands of God in working to heal the brokenness of our hurting world.

Scientists, engineers, economists, and political leaders are better prepared to address big pieces of the work we must do if we are to cut carbon emissions enough to make a difference. People of faith can offer a new kind of hope. Perhaps most importantly, we can ask the important question, “Do we want to be made well?” and empower ourselves and others to get up and do the work that needs to be done.