Two essays have spoken strongly to me this season as I've struggled in the midst of Advent to absorb new information and analysis about global warming and to think about recent political responses to climate change.
It’s the End of the World As We Know It looks at some of the realities of climate change and concludes that “it's time to accept our impending demise” and let go of “the charade that things might improve”. The author is Randy Malamud, Regents’ Professor of English at Georgia State University.
Professor Malamud finds a bright spot in the opportunity to engage in the sort of self-reflection that has produced great literature as other civilizations declined. He writes:
As an English professor, I find it exciting to consider the possibilities for a new voice, a new style, a new writerly consciousness that may accompany and chronicle the winding down of our sound and fury.
For those who are spiritually grounded this Advent season and ready to take an honest look at the needs of the world, this essay is a wonderful help to processing some of the realities of climate change.
Naomi Klein’s December 12 essay for The Nation entitled Why #BlackLivesMatter Should Transform the Climate Debate suggests that part of the reason we find ourselves in this sobering situation is that “thinly veiled notions of racial superiority have informed every aspect of the non-response to climate change so far.” The amount of warming found to be “acceptable” to wealthier nations is an amount that will cause great hardship for poorer nations.
She shares this story about the way westerners tend to think about global warming:
I recently had occasion to meet a leading Belgian meteorologist who makes a point of speaking about climate change in her weather reports. But, she told me, her viewers remain unmoved. "People here think that with global warming, the weather in Brussels will be more like Bordeaux—and they are happy about that." On one level, that's understandable, particularly as temperatures drop in northern countries. But global warming won't just make Brussels more like Bordeaux, it will make Haiti more like Hades. And it's not possible to be cheerful about the former without, at the very least, being actively indifferent to the latter.
Naomi Klein’s hope in all of this is that the losses of people in the less developed parts of the world can “if we are willing to acknowledge them, willing to fully grieve them, have the power to help us grow a new and safer world. Indeed, they must.”
Conversations in the faith community around climate change caused by global warming often avoid meeting the issues raised in these two essays. We want to offer hope to people, and so we emphasize possible solutions and leave an impression that we can avoid catastrophic climate change by making some simple changes that won’t change our own lives much. We also tend to talk about leaving a better world for “our grandchildren”, ignoring both the children and adults whose lives have already been lost or made very difficult by our inaction, and also ignoring the risks many of us already alive and relatively unaffected by climate change right now will face in years ahead.
We Christians believe the light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome the light. We are people of hope, believers in resurrection. But we are also followers of the truth. Genuine hope is grounded not in denial of reality, but in truth.
The truth includes the scientific facts along with the experiences of people who have already suffered loss as a result of severe weather, drought, rising seas, and wildfires.
There is hope that human beings will be our best selves as we face the reality of global warming. There is hope that we will hear the voices of people who have not been heard, will grieve the losses of our sisters and brothers, will be open to hearing and understanding the scientists, and will be willing to work together to mitigate as much as possible the global suffering caused by a global problem.
These essays suggest to me that part of our spiritual challenge now and in years ahead is to allow ourselves to experience discomfort in conversations, to be present with those who are beginning to absorb the truth of our situation, and to be so deeply grounded in our faith that we have the courage and grace to speak the truth even when we are surrounded by people who would rather not think about what is happening.
We are in our present situation in part because of our failure to love our global neighbors as we love ourselves. Giving the needs of others as high a priority as our own needs would in the end benefit us as well. Either the desire to be better followers of Jesus’s great commandment or the desire to protect ourselves would be reason enough to pay more attention to global warming and its causes and effects and, most of all, to work diligently for a just and peaceful world.
But knowing that our present situation is worse than we are usually willing to acknowledge, we have even more reason to refuse to support violence and injustice and instead to join together to support one another and treat one another well. If we are entering a period of collapse or decline, we have the opportunity to choose to do that in a way that resonates with the best of humanity’s values instead of in way that results in chaos, violence, and even more suffering and ruin. We can live through this as followers of Christ or as unrepentant sinners concerned only with our own selfish mere existence.
This is the second in a four part series of posts about looking for hope in Advent 2014. The first, Advent: Where Is Hope, is some personal reflection on journeying through Advent against a background of climate-related news and events. The next post after this one will be some reflection on the COP20 conference in Lima along with recent news about Arctic ice, and the final post will be centered on the question: “How then should we live?” as followers of Jesus in this century.