Religions have been basically clueless when it comes to dealing with global climate change. Which is to be expected, because ecological crisis is so completely new, no one has a clue how to deal with it. Being clueless myself, last Saturday, March 24, I walked on the last day of the Interfaith Walk for Climate Rescue. The walk culminated in an interfaith worship service in Boston’s Old South Church.
I know that a walk for “climate rescue” seems pointless;– certainly, the walk had enough trappings of 60’s “counterculture” (signs with slogans, chanting, etc.) to make it seem even more pointless. And like many interfaith worship services, the one last Saturday seemed more like a disjointed collage than a unified worship service. In spite of all that, interfaith worship services and pilgrimages on foot might be exactly the right thing to do right now.
I don’t know. You watch the video and see how you feel. (6:26)
Quicktime video — Click link, and where it says “Select a format” choose “Source — Quicktime”. Wait until the file downloads to your computer, and then click play. This should work for dial-up connections, and offers higher-resolution for all connections.
The March, 2007, issue of Harvard Business Review has a good article on global warming titled “Competitive Advantage on a Warming Planet.” Authors Jonathan Lash and Fred Wellington point out that it doesn’t matter whether or not you believe global warming is real because “investors already are discounting share prices of companies poorly positioned to compete in a warming world” (take that, Wall Street Journal editorial page). They point out the effects of climate change on business become clear when you consider the kinds of risk associated with it: regulatory risk, supply chain risk, technology risk, litigation risk (they predict that companies with lots of carbon emissions face lawsuits similar to those brought against tobacco and asbestos industries), and of course reputational risk.
Most often, you have to pay to view articles on the Harvard Business Review Web site, but in this case the complete article is available free — and definitely worth reading:
It was impossible to ignore the cold weather today. I couldn’t ignore the raw northwest wind. I couldn’t ignore the chill that worked its way through the heavy coat, the warm gloves, the long johns. I realized that I have been ignoring too much of the world, I have been focused too closely on abstract ideas: congregational administration, organizational dynamics, the link between economic and ecological solutions to global climate change. Some people are at their best with abstract problems. I can get lost in abstractions.
So I stopped thinking about the abstractions. I noticed that clouds were moving in. I noticed that the sun is setting later and the daylight is noticeably longer now. I noticed the flocks of starlings wheeling overhead and lighting on the cranes on Fish Island.
On the front page of today’s newspaper: “Where’s winter?” 60 degrees Fahrenheit in New Bedford yesterday; 68 in Boston. This morning, it was warm enough that I didn’t need an overcoat walking to work. I stood out in front of the church before the worship service to say hello as people walked in. “A nice April morning,” said Paul as he walked in. “Feels more like May,” I said. After he walked in, one of those Asian beetles that looks like a ladybug landed on the stone threshold of the church. You’re not supposed to see insects outdoors in early January.
The lack of winter has me feeling disoriented. I like winter: clear cold air, ground frozen hard, snow. When we lived in California, I did not like the lack of winter. And now here we are back in New England, but there’s no winter. The lack of winter has been bothering me enough that I woke up in the middle of the night last night, and lay awake for a quarter of an hour, turning it over and over in my mind:– is this the beginning of serious global climate change? will the Arctic ice cap totally melt this summer? are all the worst-case scenarios true? — all those crazy thoughts that run through your head late at night.
I took a long walk this afternoon in the spring-like air, and it was just so pleasant.
One of the key aspects of Mr. Crankypants’s religion is that his religion is compatible with science. Call him pro-science and pro-religious — in fact, Mr. Crankypants would be proud if you called him pro-science.
Politics is not usually a topic for this blog, but there is little doubt that the current administration in Washington is anti-science. Mr. Crankypants likes to read “Bad Astronomy,” a blog written by an astronomer named Phil Plait who writes periodically about what he has come to call White House tampering of science. For example, Mr. Plait has written on White House attempts to legislate against evolution, and about how the White House distorts the science around global warming. Recently Plait wrote about how the White House has managed to slash NASA’s budget, despite what Congress had budgeted for NASA. Why slash NASA’s budget? –follow the link to the article by James Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and you’ll discover that the White House doesn’t like the fact that some of NASA’s research has been providing additional confirmation to the fact of global warming.
Hansen’s article includes a great quote by Richard Feynman:
The only way to have real success in science… is to describe the evidence very carefully without regard to the way you feel it should be.
Mr. Crankypants can’t help thinking that at least part of the reason the current inhabitants of the White House are anti-science is due to their self-professed religious viewpoint, that of Christian literalism — a religious viewpoint that dismisses solid science like evolution, atmospheric science, psychology,* and the Big Bang — because the evidence conflicts with the way the White House feels the world should be.
Religion need not be anti-science. Mr. Crankypants’s religion is compatible with science. What about yours?
* Psychology is on the short list, because psychologists have long since determined that homosexuality is not a form of mental illness, i.e., it is not aberrant behavior — a determination which conflicts with the way the White House feels about the world.
John Bullard, a member of the Unitarian Universalist church here in New Bedford, has a powerful piece on global warming (and the leadership vaccum in today’s world) on the editorial page of today’s Boston Globe. Link
John writes, in part:
Right now we are showing (and our leaders exemplify) characteristics that, in combination, are toxic. We have believed since Genesis that we are apart from nature and our job is to achieve dominion over the earth. We believe we are in control of the earth. What hubris. We are largely ignorant of science, and we hope what we don’t know can’t hurt us. And lastly, we live in denial. This issue of the changing climate isn’t really that big a deal. Arrogance, ignorance, and denial — that is a fatal combination.
What we need from our leaders is the opposite. We need them to know that there is no more important issue than reducing greenhouse gas emissions. We need a proper sense of perspective. This isn’t just about Cape Wind. This is about more Cape Winds, everywhere we can put them. This is about nuclear power because the risks from long-term storage of nuclear fuel rods pales in comparison with the harm being caused right now.
When John speaks of leaders in this piece, I think he mostly means political leaders. But I want to extend what he says to religious leaders. Global warming is no longer something religion can ignore — what will our liberal faith do to make sense out of the looming environmental disaster, and how will our faith motivate us to strong and immediate action?
In some of the old New England records, you read about “green winters”: winters when it was relatively warm, and there was little snow. We’re in the middle of a green winter. Many lakes and ponds remain free of ice, and the ground isn’t even frozen. It’s nice that we haven’t had much snow, and it’s nice that our heating bill has been low. But a green winter often means more insect pests the following summer, to the dismay of gardeners and farmers. Worse yet, in the old days cold was thought to kill of diseases, so green winters were thought to bring disease; and here we are faced with the possibility of an avian flu epidemic following a green winter. I’m enough of a New Englander that I can’t just accept the gift of an easy winter; I have to search out something the disadvantages and disasters that must accompany something good; to a New Englander, there is no such thing as an unalloyed good.